The Importance of Detailed Hand Histories

You’ll notice whenever we talk about a hand on the podcast, we give a lot of background information. For live poker hands, we try to always include a physical description, age, past hands, tells, etc. We end up mentioning a lot more information than most poker podcasts or the standard hand history posted on 2+2. A lot of it at its surface can seem peripheral, and at first glance it might seem like some of the details don’t help us better understand the hand. But when we’re playing poker, especially live poker at the low stakes, we’re often consciously and subconsciously taking many seemingly minute factors into account before we make a decision. It should never be as simple as a player bet this amount on this board, what should we do now?

There are some players where just the way they bet, not even how much they bet, can override the ‘fundamentally sound reasons’ for choosing an action. For example, imagine I am playing with a middle aged person that looks like a typical recreational player at 1/2-2/5. Imagine we are playing a heads up pot and this player cuts out a big stack of chips to bet only to check and then stare me down. He will very likely have a draw or bluffcatcher. This combination of physical tells normally screams, “I don’t want to face a bet”. This player will likely have a weak range and will to fold to a single bet greater than half the pot. So if I have a weak hand too and would ordinarily check back to give up on the flop, I will now likely bet on the larger side for at least one street expecting to win the pot very often. Of course there is a small minority of capable players who will do a reverse tell of common live poker tells, but this happens so infrequently that I don’t think it’s worth giving much weight to when playing against an unknown at the low stakes.

If we're discussing a hand with a friend, on an online forum, or really in any context, it's difficult to really know the best action without sharing all the little details of the hand. To illustrate this concept, below is a hand history of mine from a recent session: 

Ceasers Palace Oct 23 8 pm second orbit new table 1/3 500 max game

Hero opens to 13 UTG+1 with pocket 10s with 500 behind. Played three hands so far in about 15 minutes, I'm talking a lot, and I probably have my default fairly loose and aggro image to the people at the table. There are two villains; a vegas local mid 50s female Asian, and a big talker who is not a reg at Caesars. The woman deliberates for about 15 sec pre then calls in MP. She has played one hand to showdown thus far, where she flatted with 99 preflop, called two streets with second pair on a dry board against the young preflop raiser in a heads up pot, then open folded on the river when no scare cards came in. Has about 200 to start hand. The big talker bought in 200, has about 130 now. He's from Boston, first time in Vegas, playing super loose passive so far with one hand where he donked 10 into 40 then 15 into 70 OOP in three way pot on the turn, and folded to a raise of 35 when the board didn't really change. He calls in the SB, pot is three ways going to flop.

Flop (40) 742r, Boston makes it 25, I flat, Asian lady flats fairly quickly. My read was that he would likely fold to any raise, maybe even a minraise, and by calling I can also keep the player behind's worse pairs/sometimes overcards in the pot.

Turn (115). Jc completing rainbow. Boston guy looks legitimately urked and checks. Hero? I bet 35 to set up pot sized river shove (thin value) against both players that wouldn't be perceived as too big. Asian lady thinks for a while and calls. Hard to tell if this is hollywooding or not given no real reads because it's a new table. Boston guy had 35 cut out already but then thinks for a while and folds.

River (185). 10s . She has about 140 now. I figure I can either get max value from her hollywooded slow played sets, maybe 74s, or around just 50 in value from her pairs 7s-9s. My sense is that with the way she played pocket nines before, and this little history between us, she likely would not call a big bet with just a bluff catcher. Hero shoves.

On every street of this hand I played the hand differently than I would have without the specific reads I had on the other players in the hand. On the flop, if an unknown recreational player donks out on a low board and I have a decent overpair, it's almost always the best play to make a small value raise then and there. But due to information I observed earlier, I thought he would likely fold even to a minraise and I thought the person behind me would call with almost any pair, which led me to a call versus a raise. On the turn, I bet smaller than I normally would because I thought both would likely call a fairly small bet and neither would call a bet over the half the pot on this street due to how they've played just a few hands I've seen thus far. On the river, instead of making a value bet of a little over half the pot to value target her one pair hands, what I would do against most players who get to the river like this, I shove to get max value from her slowplayed hands given I didn't think this would player would hero call me with a middle pair for anything more than about 1/3 of the pot.

It’s definitely the tendency of most live poker players to incorrectly make a decision because they factored in everything discussed thus far to too high of a degree. I want to be clear that poker is still very much about the fundamentals: understanding your opponents’ ranges, how to adapt to different types of board textures, bet sizing, etc. But for those that play low stakes live poker, we’re lucky enough that people often give off tells that are so obvious and reliable that we have to take those into consideration. These tells can often override the fundamentally sound decision, and other times, even when someone doesn’t have an obvious tell, we can make generalizations about that player just from general observation. An old woman drinking a cup of coffee that makes a big river bet in a big pot will likely have a bluffing frequency near zero. Even if by taking this exploitative line of folding everything that is not the nuts or the near nuts to a big river bet from an old woman leads to us occasionally getting bluffed out of a pot, in the long run we will make a lot more money than calling with bluff catchers any percentage of the time.

So a lot of the information mentioned in our hand history discussions might be downright trivial, but we feel like it is our duty to provide our listeners and readers with as realistic of a sense of what happened in the moment of play so you can have as much information as possible when thinking about the hand yourself.