Thursday, April 29, 2010

To Cap or not to Cap; That is the Question

Whether tis nobler....oh, sorry....

There is a major strategic divide amongst limit holdem players, born out of the neccessity to keep their hand ranges wide (balanced) in an effort to give away too much information to skilled (or even semi-skilled) hand readers. Two situations come up frequently and are at the heart of the issue. You open raise preflop, get 3 bet, and the action folds around to you, or you are left alone against a preflop raiser to defend your big blind. In both cases the question is "with what range of hands do you put in another raise?" I'm going to focus on the big blind scenario, but most of what I'm about to say applies to the headsup 3 bet case as well.

The basic problem is that most of the players I deal with would only 3-bet their own big blind heads up with a truly monstrous holding (possibly just aces or kings), and this happens to not be terribly far from incorrect against their own raising ranges (not against my raising range, but against theres). If a tight old man raises up front and it folds to me in the big blind, what range of hands do I really have an equity advantage with here? The list is pretty darn small in a lot of cases, and if I raise with those hands even the dullest opponent is going to be able to read my hand pretty accurately. So what should I do? Well, one thing I could try is to open up my range and 3-bet more hands, adding in stuff that rates to be behind the opener's range. Obviously there's a huge drawback here. You're putting in a raise when you rate be at an equity disadvantage, and are out of position to boot! Now against some opponents who are truly opening a ton of hands (like if say WTK were on the button), this method works just fine because you can 3-bet all kinds of stuff and probably be OK equity-wise. But against weak tight old men, you just can't add enough hands to make your range wide enough to cause problems.

So what's the other solution? Don't 3-bet. Just call with 100% of the hands with which you wish to continue, keeping your range extremely wide. The basic idea here is that if 3-bet, most of the time your opponent is just going to call and then you're going to lead the flop. But what if you just called? Most of the time you'd check the flop and your opponent would bet, and with your good holdings you could check/raise. The situation is exactly the same bet wise in both cases (you put in the same number of bets with the 3-bet/lead line as the call c/r one), and not 3-betting gives you more options. For example, if you just call with JJ and the flop comes AQ7, you don't HAVE to check raise. You could just call (or even fold against some of the people I run into at Commerce).

So what's the right answer? I'm not exactly sure, but I have a theory that there exists a point where the raiser's range becomes wide enough that you should shift from "always call" to "3-bet light" mode. Where this line is probably also depends on how good a hand reader the opponent is, but in general once somebody's range is wide enough that you can 3-bet a reasonable wide range without taking the worst of it hot 'n cold equity wise, it's probably better to go ahead and error on the side of raising more. Against extremely tight players it's probably better to just call all the time, because you rate to be behind with all but your biggest hands and raising only them is going to set off (accurate) alarm bells in your opponent's head because you'll basically be doing exactly what he'd do in your shoes (albeit with a little more thought behind your actions). In practice live I seldom 3 bet my BB or cap heads up out of position. Online, it varies by how loose the player doing the other end of the raising is.


J said...

Things were so much simpler back when I used to play limit.

Ken said...

Against nitty old guy, I think it depends a lot on your recent image. If you've been 3 betting or capping very recently (for whatever reason) and he sees you as totally crazy - and you're blessed with aces...cap em! Otherwise you're definitely right to call with your continuing range.