Sunday, February 27, 2005
Here's a question I was thinking about the other day. What kinds of players can be pushed off of hands? When I say "pushed off of hands," I mean middle pair or bottom pair, or maybe top pair with a weak kicker, as well as miracle draws like gutshot straights and runner-runner flush draws.
In order to have a shot at pushing somebody off of a mediocre hand, that person would typically have to be passive in nature. For anyone using PokerTracker, that would be a post-flop aggression factor somewhere around 1.2 (not including pre-flop aggression). If a person tends to rely primarily on the passive moves (checking, calling, and folding), you may be able to peg them as a passive player.
But not all passive players are apt to fold a hand. Just because a player isn't betting or raising, doesn't mean you can push them off their hand with your own aggressive play. Your opponent needs not only to be passive in nature, but should show tendencies of weakness.
Don't try to bluff a calling station!
A calling station is someone who prefers to call bets on each street and chase cards instead of folding his hands that miss on the flop. If you bet into a calling station, and he's got bottom pair or maybe an overcard to the board, chances are - he's calling you! (Even though he, at that street, has a very low probability of catching a hand better than yours). If you've got the nuts or a very strong hand, that's great. Bet into the calling station and build that pot. With a weak or mediocre hand, however, you're not going to bluff a calling station out of the pot, and if they're a lucky calling station, you may find yourself getting sucked out on (or, as we affectionately like to call it - rivered).
If you're using Poker Tracker, I'd note a calling station as someone that has a low post-flop aggression factor, but goes to showdown with more than 35% of all hands when he's seen the flop. In plain English, they're the players who rarely bet or raise (preferring to check or call opponents' bets), but often seem to take hands to showdown without folding. You may notice a calling station showing down hands with Ace high, overcards, and busted draws, where you think, "How did she call a bet that huge with nothing?!"
That brings us to the players who CAN be pushed off of a mediocre hand - the passive players who don't mind folding to a bet on the flop, turn, or river. With PT, again you're looking for people with a post-flop aggression factor of less than 1.2. When it comes to taking hands to showdown, however, these players don't often get there. If we assume that an average stat for "went to showdown when saw flop" is in the mid-20% range, a weak player makes it to showdown less than 20% of the time when he saw the flop.
Another somewhat less important factor to deciding if you should use aggression to try to push a player off of a non-stellar hand is the general types of hand selection that the player makes pre-flop. A loose or slightly loose player plays many more bad hands than a tight player, so ragged flops can actually be more dangerous than monster flops. You really have to be ready for anything when you're against more loose opponents, and if you sense that your typically weak opponent is calling-calling-calling you, there's a reason; he probably caught a piece of the board with the junk in his hand. Pay attention to what your opponents do and how they react to the board and to your bets; sometimes, they really will have good hands and nice draws and pot odds to call you down! If you're betting into someone you've decided is weak, but they aren't budging (or, heaven forbid, they bet out or re-raise you!), watch out and change your plans accordingly. Maybe you're beat! It happens.
After spending some time thinking about what types of players I may be able to push off hands (even if I'm not holding the nuts myself), I turned the tables on myself. How do I become a player that's not so easy to push off a hand? I know that I will fairly easily muck bottom or middle pair on the flop. I wonder what my own statistics are. Am I mathematically one of those weak players that can be pushed off a hand?
My "auto-rate" icon in PT has me ranked as aggressive post-flop, but I certainly feel like I fold pretty easily if a flop doesn't hit me or leave me with a strong draw and pot odds to continue in the hand. Of all of my hands, I wonder what my WtSD% is.
I was shocked to see my results. They're much higher than I expected. I fold more often post-flop in ring games than tournaments, but my overall average is around 30% WtSD. 27% or so in ring games and 34% in tourneys. My post-flop aggression, however, prevents me from falling into the "passive" category post-flop. In ring games, my flop-turn-river aggression factor, overall, is 2.03, and in tourneys, 1.94.
I guess that leaves me around average in terms of push-ability, if not a little too far towards the end of excess. Maybe I'm betting my weak hands too far down and should slow up if I'm being called down. Maybe I'm calling hands down a little too often myself.
The trick is to find the balance between making smart laydowns and smart bets, and to seek out only the draws that give you proper odds to chase them (unless you have reason to otherwise believe you can take down the pot - maybe by pushing your opponent off their hand with some well timed aggression).