Lesson 35 – Pushbot Strategy and Response

Home Poker School Lesson 35 – Pushbot Strategy and Response

What you will find here is an approximate strategy (and I stress approximate because certain assumptions are made) for dealing with opponents that play multiple Sit ‘n Go single-table tournaments like the Double-or-Nothing (DoN) games found at Poker Stars, although the concept applies elsewhere. Because they’re sitting at 6, 8, 10 or even more tables at a time, these “pushbots” as they’re known, are for the most part, playing poker at its most rudimentary level. If they get a premium hand like AA, AK, KK, etc., they’ll play it strong just like most of us would. But, because such hands are few and far in between, you’ll often see them at some point begin pushing all-in, particularly from late position hoping to double up and make it into the money (which is half the field in the 10-player DoN games). If they make it, fine. If they miss, no big deal because it’s just one game out of 20 or 30 they might play today. Because the DoNs are basically coin flips (50-50, minus the casino entry fee), the losing streaks of anyone with any type of skill are going to be short, so the more one plays, the closer their results will trend to expectation. Of course, because of the casino fee – about 8% – the long-term mathematical expectation is to lose unless skill can overcome that – you need to win 54% of these puppies to break even, so it’s not nuclear physics but it’s definitely more fun to win 60% or 70% of them. That’s where the charts you’ll see below comes in.

In my studies of the Poker Stars DoNs, I visited some Web sites where the pushbots discuss their play and have attempted to discern the strategy they use. As I said at the beginning, this is approximate at least insofar as their choice of hands with which to push from various positions is concerned. Most will begin pushing when their chip stack is down to 7 or 8 Big Blinds. For example, if the blinds are T50-T100, expect to see some players (not all of whom are pushbots) with T700 or less stacks to start pushing. There’s a sound reason to do this and it’s not just the obvious need for chips. The pot already has T150 in it, so if a player with T700 just puts in a “standard” 3x raise of T450, the Big Blind (who already has T100 in the pot) needs to call only T350 in a pot that contains T600 – assuming the Small Blind folds – which is pot odds of 1.7 to 1. Pot odds like that require only a 37% probability of winning to make it a break-even call. This might surprise you, but a hand of 6-2 suited wins 37.67% of the time against a random hand. If, on the other hand, a player with T700 pushes all-in, the Big Blind must now call T600 in a pot that contains T850, which is pot odds of 1.4 to 1. These odds require a 42% probability to make it a break-even play, which isn’t a huge increase of course, but it does require a better hand to profitably call. Pot odds of 1.4 actually makes the 60-40 hands like A-Qo versus 8-9s (the old “two live cards” hand) slightly unprofitable if you’re the 40 side, which you are with 8-9s.

For the most part pushbots aren’t going all-in with two random cards; they’re aggressive and somewhat “mechanical” but they aren’t stupid. That said, they aren’t waiting for A-Ko to push, either. It really comes down to position. If they’re in “Early” position (any position that acts before the Cutoff) the cards are typically better than the cards they’re pushing with from the Small Blind after everyone else has folded to them. I want to stress that not every Pushbot is using this strategy; some will be tighter and some will be looser; but as a relatively tight player myself, I feel comfortable in using this chart when I play because sometimes I become a pushbot, even though I seldom multi-table. Hey, when the chips are low, pushing is usually the only option left!

Here’s the chart upon which (I believe) many pushbots base their all-in moves. Take a look at it and I’ll provide some explanation below:

The Strategy

Push With 7 BB left:

From SB: Any pair, Ace or King; any Q or J-x suited, 10-9o, 5-4s+, 6-4s+ (43%)

From Button: Any pair, any Ace, any K-x suited, any 2 face cards, Q-To, 5-4s+ (38%)

From Cutoff: Any pair, A-2s+, A-6o+, K-8o+, K-4s+, Q-Jo, Q-10s+, J-10o (20%)

From Early Position: 7-7+, A-6s+, A-10o+, KQo+ (10%)

The position of “Early” for the purposes of this chart is anyone that must act before the Cutoff, from UTG up to what’s now known as the “Hijack” seat, which is to the immediate right of the Cutoff. The Cutoff acts before the Button and of course the Blinds act after the Button. So, following this chart, if you are on the Button with a hand of, say, A-2o (“any Ace”) and have 7 or fewer Big Blinds left, you should push. If you happen to be in the Big Blind and want to push all-in, you should use the SB list unless you think someone has limped in trying to trap you, in which case you should use the Early Position list or just check and see how the flop looks. Notice that the pushing range expands as one gets closer to the Big Blind. In Early position, only the top 10% of all hands are pushed, but in the Small Blind, over 40% are. These percentages, by the way, are how the hands rank in probability of occurrence. In other words, you’ll receive a hand of K-Qo (or better) only about 10% of the time.

When you’re facing a range of hands you believe your opponent may be raising with, the theory of optimal play is to call that opponent with a tighter range of hands – fifty percent being correct most of the time. The example I use to demonstrate this is where you learn over time that Bob, the “rock” in your weekly home game raises UTG only with A-A or K-K. The optimum response for you is to call only with a hand of A-A which is fifty percent of his range. When he raises with A-A and you call with A-A, you’ll usually just chop the pot. When he raises with K-K and you call with A-A, you’ll usually win the hand. That’s an over-simplification of course, but I think you get the idea.

The Response

Having what I believe is a pretty good read on the range of hands the Pushbots are going all-in with led me to a range of hands with which to call. Here’s where things get a little complicated, so let me give you an example. Say you’re on the Button with A-6o and an opponent in Early Position pushes 7 or fewer BBs. You should fold because your hand is outside the 5% level that’s appropriate to call the 10% range of hands the player might be pushing with. If your hand had been A-10s or higher, then a call is proper, at least from a mathematical point of view as you can see on the chart below. Of course, your opponent may be pushing with A-A, in which case you’re toast, but this is a response to a range of hands, not a specific hand. After many such situations you’ll show a profit, which is exactly the Pushbots are trying to do. Your response when following this chart counters their strategy. Some opponents – mostly those who do not have a specific strategy and rely only on desperation – will push with more hands than they should and your response may pick them off, thus giving you the opportunity to profit even more.

This chart is organized by the position from which your opponent is pushing, which is the primary way of calculating the strength of his or her hand. From a strict mathematical point of view, you should call any time your hand is as good as those listed, whether you’re short-stacked, big-stacked or otherwise. From a practical point of view, part of the skill in SnGs is knowing when to keep your powder dry, especially when you’re on the “money-bubble” so blindly calling may not be the best strategy. But if you choose to call you’ll at least have the satisfaction of knowing you made the optimal play. This won’t work every time, but it will work often enough to eventually show a profit.

A 7 BB or less push is made by:

SB (you’re in BB and the other players have folded) call with: Any pair, A-8o+, A-3s+, K-7s+, K-Jo+, Q-Jo, Q-8s+, J-8s+, 8-7s+ (22%)

Button (you’re in SB or BB) call with : Any pair, A-10o, A-6s, K-8s, K-Jo+, Q-10o, Q-9s+, J-9s+, 10-8s+ (19%)

Cutoff (you’re on Button, SB or BB) call with: 8-8+, A-Jo+, A-9s+, K-Qo, K-10s,+, Q-10s+, J-10s+ (12%)

Early (you’re on Button, SB or BB) call with: 10-10+, A-10s+, A-Ko+, K-Qs (10%)

Special Situation

If the push is by the SB, you’re in the BB AND no other players are still in, you can call with a wider range of hands because of the one bet you already have in the pot. In this case, where you will close out the action, it’s actually profitable for you to call with the same range of hands that the SB is pushing with, particularly if antes are involved as happens at the DoN tables when the 25/50 blind level is reached (as this is being written in January, 2009 but check to be sure ).

Here’s the list of hands to call with in this case: Any pair, Ace or King; any Face-x suited, 10-9o, 5-4s+, 6-4s+ (43%).

I’ll see you here next time.

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