M-Game to Blame

The casino was alive. Crowds of hopeful gamblers speed walking to slot machines, waitresses keeping the drinks flowing, and a packed poker room. Jason, a seasoned pro, finds his way to a table, says hello, and goes into grind mode. After a few hours, he has the table figured out. He knows that there is only one other player at the table that has any clue what he is doing. This information allows him to adjust his play accordingly.

Jason’s thought process above taps into what’s called the metagame or M-Game. The M-game allows Jason to make plays assuming that the pro is on a different playing field than the amateurs. He may play some hands the exact same against a pro and amatuer or he may adjust. Consider a player that has not been involved in a hand for hours compared to one that is raising on every hand. If we’ve been sitting at the table and are aware of this information, we’re more likely to think a hand like J-J is ahead of the raising player, while behind of the conservative opponent. A random bystander would not have enough information to know what we know, even though the hand looks standard at face value; we are aware of the M-Game and the bystander is not.

In today’s example, we’ll look at how the M-Game has a strong impact on our decision making. It’s important to keep in mind that no matter how many levels deep you are into the M-Game, it’s always possible that your opponent has a big hand. Don’t over think it.

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I’m holding Kd-4c on the Big Blind with $32,625 with the blinds and antes at $55/$275/$550. By dividing 32,625/550, I can calculate how many big blinds I have, which is about 59. Taking it one step further, 59 big blinds qualifies as a large stack which gives me about 9 big blinds to get tricky with if I see an opportunity. See previous posts or search on the site for specifics on these rules.

The only stack that is below the 20 big blind marker is moneyhunting, who has 17 big blinds. This means that he is more likely to move all-in rather than open raise, unless he is trying to induce action with a big hand. For example, if moneyhunting were holding K-K, then he would not want to open shove (go all-in with no other players in the hand in front) because he’d be relying on others to have a big hand that is second best to his K-K, like Q-Q to get value. If he open raises with K-K instead, then he may get a hand like 9-9 to move all-in over the top, where he can then call and be dominating. 9-9 will usually fold to an open shove of 17 big blinds depending on table position, but will move all-in over the top of an open raise more often.

With a hand like K-4, we would not be calling an all-in. Other stacks at the table are medium to large because they are over the 20 big blind marker.

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The action folds around the table all the way to the Small Blind. Recall that on the Button, players attempt to steal the blinds because they only have two other players on their left to make fold. Our first breath of the M-Game comes to light here. Most players can see that it’s looks easy to steal the Pot from the Button. When gr8_1 elects to fold, it’s clear that he is not choosing to steal from the Button based on the fear that he may get a 3-bet because of the common knowledge that he may be stealing. This is an M-Game fold, not necessarily a “bad hand” fold. While it will ultimately depend on his cards if this was a good or bad play, the takeaway here is that gr8_1 must have some understanding of the M-Game to make this fold. We now know that gr8_1 is not a player that raises from the Button every time the action folds to him, which helps understand that his hand may be a bit stronger if he raises from the button on the next revolution. The Poker Model takes some of the guesswork out by giving you precise qualifying hands and stack size rules for when to raise or fold pre-Flop. These can also be found elsewhere on the site.

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The Small Blind raises to $1,255, which is 2.28 times the big blind of $550. My first thought is that his sizing is correct and he may be playing a wide range of hands in an effort to steal my big blind. Go back to the tight player in the beginning of the article that only raises with big hands, no matter what table position he is in. A raise from that player would have me thinking that he does have a big hand and I’d probably fold for this reason. kyjmbxz, however, is not that tight and makes me think he is trying to steal the Pot. If you have ever run through this thought process while playing then you have already participated in the M-Game!

Add in the variable that I have over 50 big blinds and have room to make a play. For me to 3-bet, I’ll need about 6 big blinds. With 59 big blinds I’ll still be left with over 50 if unsuccessful. If I had less than 55 big blinds here I’d fold because the play would put me under the large stack maker after the play.

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I choose to make a 3-bet for the following reasons:

  • kyjmbxz has great table position to steal the blinds and antes as there is only one player to beat in the Big Blind
  • kyjmbxz raised the correct amount which means that it is more likely that he is aware that he can raise with a weak hand here
  • My cards do not have great post-Flop potential so a fold here is not catastrophic; we would not make this play with hands that have strong post-Flop potential because in that case we would like to see a Flop
  • have over 50 big blinds which is enough chips to make a tricky play

While it may seem like we should slow play a big hand in this situation for the above reasons, we advise that you play a big hand, like A-A, the same way as we do with Kd-4c. There are many times in this situation where your opponent will have a hand and move all-in. There are also times when your opponent will refuse to believe that you have have a big hand on the 3-bet and will 4-bet bluff. These are the easiest situations to win a big Pot with the least amount of risk. You can thank the M-Game when your opponent moves all-in with 2-3 to your A-A.

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kyjmbxz moves all-in and we must fold. Even though our play was unsuccessful, there are still some positives that came from it. First, the entire table now knows that we are capable of making a 3-bet bluff. This means that the next time we 3-bet, with a hand like K-K, then we are more likely to get action. This table image can work well for use and allow us to make back the $2,990 we’ve lost on this hand and then some. It’s also important to reflect on the idea that everything we did was calculated. We knew that we could only make the play in the first place because we had enough chips to do it.

   So did our opponent actually have a big hand or did he bluff? We will never know. From experience I can say that most players will not bluff their entire tournament away because they want to stay in the tournament.

The M-Game is why No-Limit Texas Hold’em can never be fully mastered. There are computer programs that can tell us exactly what to do in every situation mathematically, but these programs cannot account for a gut feeling or personal vendetta at the table. The Poker Model teaches balance. We believe in an extra strong sense of systematic, replicable play, but we don’t ever want to take the human element out of the game. Be careful when exploring the M-Game and be sure to make it out alive.

Brett

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