I am not a poker professional. I make a living as a Senior News Editor for PokerNews and other freelance writing gigs. That said, I do consider myself a semi-pro as I spend a great deal of my free time supplementing my income by playing poker, be it in cash games or tournaments. At the 2013 World Series of Poker, I was even fortunate enough to win Event #1: $500 Casino Employees No-Limit Hold’em for a gold bracelet and $84,915 in prize money.
Thanks in part to that success, PokerNews has asked me to write a weekly strategy column called Hold’em with Holloway, though I intend on discussing pot-limit Omaha and other games from time to time. So what all can you expect from this column moving forward?
My goal is to share with you my poker journey as I strive for even more poker glory. My usual games, which are all played live, include $1/$2 to $5/$10 no-limit hold’em and pot-limit Omaha, and tournaments ranging from $50 buy-ins up to $1,500. From time to time I find myself playing other games, and I've been known to take some shots in $40/$80 H.O.R.S.E. and both $5,000 and $10,000 buy-in tournaments. If you play at similar stakes, then you may find value in this column. If you’re primarily an online player, have a strong mathematical background, or are all about technicalities, well let's just say I am a layman and will be writing as such.
I’ll also be the first to admit that the things I write about in this column aren’t always going to be right, and if you disagree with what I say or have another option for my rationale, hopefully you’ll share your opinion. Truthfully, I hope to learn and improve my game through interactions with you, the reader. So please, if you have something to say, leave a comment below and let's have a discussion.
Making a Read and Trusting It
In this inaugural Hold’em with Holloway piece, I want to discuss an interesting hand that took place in a $65 buy-in qualifier for the Mid-States Poker Tour (MSPT). The tournament awards the top 20 percent of the field seats into $250 qualifiers, which then advance the top 20 percent from that tournament to the main event. On this particular evening, there were 31 entries, meaning six seats were up for grabs.
Players began the qualifier with 10,000 in chips and played 20-minute levels starting with the blinds at 100/100. In Level 2 (100/200), I was down to about 7,000 when a gentleman named Lester limped under the gun. I looked down at -offsuit and decided to limp as well. This inspired five other players to limp behind, including a buddy of mine named Derek. When action reached a short-stacked player in the big blind, he opted to move all in for 3,000. Lester, who had 3,100 total, kind of shrugged and made some sort of comment akin to “Let’s gamble.”
This may seem like an easy fold, but my read on the hand suggested otherwise. I had played a lot with Lester in the past, and while his under-the-gun limp might signal strength to most, I learned over the years his comment was a sure sign of weakness. I was highly confident he had meager holdings and was just getting it in either to double or reenter. Likewise, the big blind seemed to be on tilt and shoving light, such as any ace down to queen-jack. I really thought my ace-ten was out in front of them both, but there were still five limpers behind me.
Calling wasn't really an option, but I thought an all-in shove would encourage all the limpers to fold. After all, if any of them had better than ace-ten, wouldn’t they have raised? Even if they did have better, say ace-jack or a small pocket pair, chances are they would fold to so much action. I shoved and hoped they read my early-position limp as strength.
One by one my opponents folded back to Derek, who had limped from the button. He barely had me covered, and he hemmed and hawed before calling. Based on his holding, I assume he was ready to rebuy.
I was surprised that Derek called so light, but I was thrilled to see I was ahead (is there any better feeling than having your read validated?). Even so, according to the PokerNews Odds Calculator I only had 27 percent chance of winning the hand, which put me on par with both Lester and Derek, while the big blind would come from behind just 14 percent of the time.
The flop gave me two pair, but it put out both straight and flush draws for my opponents. Long story short, the river gave both Derek and Lester a jack-high straight and I was out. I reentered, but my second bullet proved no more fruitful than the first. I failed to win a qualifier seat.
In hindsight I probably should have folded the hand and moved on to the next one, but this could be considered results-oriented thinking. Still, I think it’s important to make reads and trust in them. Unfortunately, even if you’re right, it doesn’t always mean you’re going to win. The key is to take solace in the fact that your poker radar is spot on.
Do not be results oriented. Keep making good reads, trust in them, and I guarantee they’ll pay off in the long run.
As for me, I’ll continue to play these qualifiers as I hope to win my way into the MSPT Running Aces and Ho-Chunk Gaming Wisconsin Dells stops, both of which are coming up later this month. Even if I don’t, I will likely buy in directly, so you can be sure that I’ll be covering those in future editions of Hold’em with Holloway.