Folding Kings

I have recently made friends with an Australian poker player, Emma Grace, and she has started her own poker website, I know I am giving her a shameless plug. She had commented on my blog and I actually awarded her the prize for best comment last month, only to find out she lives in Australia.

I visited Emma’s site and gave it a quick look; she just got it up and running. Emma has articles and a blog on her website and I read an interesting article about folding pocket kings. I can honestly say that I do not have enough information to accurately write a detailed analysis; but I am never one to let facts get in the way of a good story so we will forge ahead.

Emma is a single mother with two young daughters and probably has a modest bankroll. I say this because she mentions her father putting her into a $110 satellite because she was concerned about the cost. Emma won a seat into the main event of the 2009 World Series of Poker in the tournament.

Emma and her father travelled to Las Vegas and she played the Main Event. Her father is her poker coach and stayed with her the whole way through the tournament. Emma was part of the APL, Australian Poker League, and they had jerseys they wore for the tournament; I do not know how much help and support the “team” provided one another. The fact is, Emma and her father invested quite a bit of time and money to be at the tournament.

On day four of the tournament, Emma was running bad and had run into a few tough spots. A couple times her pre-flop raise with AK was re-raised and she had to dump it. She got sucked out on a couple times; once by a player who called a pre-flop raise with 74 (I thought this was the main event and people would know poker). Day four was the bubble and Emma found herself getting perilously short stacked about ten places from the money.

In the story Emma wrote, she did not give me the size of the blinds at the bubble and I do not have the exact details. Emma did however mention having about 120,000 chips left. Emma took a break and went for a walk with her father who is her coach.

Her father told her to forget about all the negative crap and focus on making it into the money. “Forget about that now… you’re still in the running…you could leave now and not play another hand and you will make it to the money…. We did not come all the way over here Emma to miss out just before the money, Did we?” I am quoting from Emma’s writing and I am sure it is probably a paraphrase.

At this point, Emma returned to the table with the idea of folding her way into the money. I am sure this is what her father had reinforced. I am not sure Emma felt as strongly as her father about the strategy of folding into the money. The tournament was hand for hand with five players left before the money. Emma made a decision to fold everything and wait. Emma mentioned that she was dealt pocket kings and gave a sigh and folded them.

I will take another piece of Emma’s writing and use it,

“You must be able to fold your top hands at certain times, it may be because you are beat or it may be because of the timing of the tournament, or it may be because of your chip size, whatever the case is you will know when you do fold that you have mastered the art of discipline.”

I totally agree with this philosophy.

My real question is whether this was the time to fold kings or aces. I am going to say that the only reason folding kings makes sense is because the $20,000 is life changing money. If Emma needed that money so bad that she had a risk tolerance of zero and it was a certainty that she would cash if she folded, then it is the correct play.

My analysis has to revolve around making a standard pre-flop raise of three times the blind. I would have raised the blinds with the kings. I may, in fact, have been unwilling to go broke with the kings but I would have raised the blinds. If the blinds were 10,000 and 20,000 and my raise would have been to 60,000, I may be forced to think long and hard about the hand. If the pot was already raised or there was a very aggressive defender of the blinds in the big blind I could make an argument for folding.

I was asked, “Why even be at the table if you plan to fold everything?” The reason is that you may actually receive a walk in the big blind. If you are not there you will not have any chance of getting the walk.

Simply put, folding every hand pre-flop to make it into the money is not good poker strategy. In an unopened pot just before the bubble you have to raise and pick up the blinds with kings unless there is a compelling reason to believe your chips are going to be at risk.

“However you look at it, I made a decision based on my evaluation of my opponents, how I thought my opponents’ saw me at that time, and risk versus gain. “ This is Emma summing up the play. She made the right decision for her at the time she made the decision.

I enjoyed reading the account Emma gave of her World Series experience and wish she had given me a few more details of what she considered to make the decision to fold kings before the flop. The key decision of your tournament life should be made based upon good information. I would have probably folded aces in that situation if I had all the information.

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