Play every coinflip you can
Okay, this is pretty basic stuff, so if you may just skip it if you have any grounds to say you’re at least an intermediate player, or if you’ve read Perfect Preflop Play’s book (http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/perfect-preflop-play-poker/id549569867?l=pt&ls=1&mt=8). That’s the real useful theory, as well as the app itselft, which will give you concrete numbers against each preflop range.
However, this here is to address a wrong mindset, and while I’m at it I guess I’m gonna name it. Let’s call it the Phil Hellmuth mindset. Now, this is not meant as an attack on Phil Hellmuth, but the name is appropriate. It’s tough to argue against his 12 bracelets (sick, right?), but we ought not to be blinded by them either. A lot of great players say Phil plays horribly, and I agree. This is simply because, even though Phil is well aware of the math of the game, he feels it does not apply to him.
That’s just fucked up. I mean, he raise-folds 13 BB with Queens, he folds a straight flush draw on the flop if he thinks he’s flippling against a set, etc. I won’t even get into how dreadfully horrible such plays are. I’ll just tell you that, at least with large blinds, you should always play every coinflip you can get your hands on!
Now, wait a second. If you’ve read some articles in this blog or the PPP book, you know that isn’t quite how it works, because you always have a defined hand (yours) against a range (opponent’s), so you don’t analyse hands like “I have KQo versus Fives,” but rather “I need 1.18 to 1 with my KQo versus the 17% range,” which is actually a number that PPP gives you in two seconds to help you decide and play accurately in real time.
But you do hear some people say, “I avoid coinflips,” and Hellmuth is the most high-profile of those players. So, if you somehow know that you’re gonna play a coinflip, here’s why you should always play it.
First, in a coinflip you are usually a little under or a little over 50% to win. And because of the way that poker betting works, you should always take a bet where you’re a little over 50%, and almost always take a bet where you’re a little under that.
First, let’s take an actual coinflip, with a coin. You and your friend each bet 1 dollar on each side. Needless to say, this is a break-even bet. You have one chance in two (50%) to win, which breaks even for a bet of one to one ($1 versus $1). Now let’s give you Fives in the big blind, and your opponent JTo on the button. There are antes in play at an 8-player table so the starting pot is 2.3 BB, and he has 10 BB behind against the 9 BB you have after posting. This is the closest matchup I could find to an actualy coinflip (each hand is almost exacly 50% to win). Now the button goes all-in for 10 BB and you know his exact hand and you must call 9 BB to stay in the hand. Should you do it.
This is the point, and I hope you get it. It really doesn’t matter what player you are (sorry, Phil). There is a mathmatical truth to the situation. You should definitely call, because, even though having 55 vs JTo is just like having heads versus tails, you are no longer getting 1 to 1. The way poker betting is designed, there are always forced bets (blinds, antes) before play begins. But when you call someone’s bet, you only need to match their bet in order to be elligible to win the money left behind by others. In this case you would be calling 9 BB to try to win the current pot of 12.3 BB. Because the blinds are high relative to the stacks, the amount the pot is laying you is a big deal (unlike calling 60 BB to win 62.3 BB), and now you’re getting a whopping 1.37 to 1! Meaning you would break even if you had as little as 42.2% equity. So calling with 50% should be a no-brainer. Your expectation is to end this hand with 50% of the resulting 21.3 BB pot, which is 10.65, instead of the 9BB you would retain by folding. Calling is a great play, and folding is an awful mistake.
And that’s it. You should definitely play a lot of coinflips with high blinds, because of the simple fact that the pot in poker is always giving you more than 1 to 1. You never have to be an actual favorite in order to play profitably!