Long before he took home over $150,000 for his 2nd place finish in the $3,000 limit hold'em event at the 2006 World Series of Poker, Jerrod Ankenman got his start playing poker at low-limit games in Southern California cardrooms. A longtime member of the rec.gambling.poker and BARGE online communities, 29-year old Ankenman is also the co-author of the acclaimed book "The Mathematics of Poker" and has tournament cashes in games as varied as deuce-to-seven lowball, stud 8 or better, razz, and yes, Crazy Pineapple. Jerrod joins us this week to talk Pineapple strategy, specifically that for the 8 or better version of the game. (For a quick refresher on the rules and the basics, take a look at my earlier piece on Pineapple).
Nicole Gordon: Where and when were you first exposed to Crazy Pineapple?
Jerrod Ankenman: Well, it's commonly spread at low limits in the Los Angeles area cardrooms (where I used to live), so I was originally exposed to it that way. At some point I wrote a spoof on the 2+2 "for Advanced Players" series about the game, where I tried to stick some good information in amongst making fun of Mason (Malmuth).
NG: In terms of hand values, one or two pair can often be a winning hand in hold'em and Omaha players are almost always gunning for the stone-cold nuts for both high and low. How different are hand values in Crazy Pineapple? Facing action on the flop, should I feel as uncomfortable with trips or a set and a second or third nut low draw in Crazy Pineapple as I do, say in Omaha 8 or better?
JA: Well, you can't really have those hands, right? It's pretty hard to make a real two-way hand apart from low straights and flushes and hands where there's no low on the board, where you have a two-way hand by default. I think generally speaking, the quality of hands is of course better in Crazy Pineapple because everyone gets to match up three cards to the flop. However, the lack of counterfeit protection makes Crazy Pineapple a lot different than Omaha. In Omaha you can often trail along with some kind of good draw one way and back into a hand for the opposite way. In CP you don't really do this, because you have to discard your third card.
NG: What are some of the more common mistakes you see from novice Pineapple players?
JA: Well, playing too many hands, but that works for any poker game pretty much. Overplaying top pair, top kicker, especially on two-high boards. In tighter games, failing to manipulate the action to drive players out or keep them in. Crazy Pineapple is a pretty tactical game, because there are lots of situations where if you get heads-up you are in great shape but in a three-way pot you're probably in trouble. When you have an ace and a middle low card kicker (like a 7), playing heads-up is great, because you rarely get scooped. So when I play Crazy Pineapple, I like to try to get people's money in pre-flop and then push them out on the flop by making them face two bets cold liberally with hands that are mediocre both ways.
NG: What are some marginal starting hands beginning players should avoid and/or only play using extreme caution?
JA: Well, a general rule is that hands without an ace are pretty bad. Obviously there are some exceptions, but I think most players overvalue medium pairs (which are pretty bad except for the set-flopping aspect) and little cards with no ace like 2-3-5, which are OK, but just not that good. Also hands like Q-Q-7 are just pretty yucky, but I see people getting excited because they see the Q-Q and think of hold'em. Remember, in Crazy Pineapple your opponents will be profitably in there with A-x all the time; this in contrast to most hold'em games where the A-xs will often fold pre-flop.
NG: How important is it for starting hands to contain a strong low feature?
JA: Well, it's nice, but I'd hardly say it's important, except that your hand has to have something to make it good. Hands like A-K-J are fine, but I'd rather have A-J-8, frankly. Making the most out of weak low draws and ace-high is, I think, key to beating a game that isn't really loose. In really loose games, you just try to make flushes and nut low and stuff, like a sort of less extreme Omaha. So A-2 is great, of course. But don't overlook the value of A-5.
NG: Let's say I'm in the cutoff seat with the . Two loose players limp in and I decide to raise. An aggressive, tricky player on the button three-bets, the small blind folds, the big blind throws in two bets, the limpers fold, and I call putting 11.5 small bets in the pot. The flop is the . The big blind bets, I raise and the button re-raises. How should I be feeling about my hand at this moment, and which card would you discard on the flop given the action?
JA: I'm not crazy about my hand here; the button's action on the flop is fairly often going to be aces or A-2, and against neither of those am I very happy. At least I know he can't have . With the big blind also betting out, my guess would be to draw for the flush and hope to get to the river for one bet on the turn.
NG: Pre-flop, it's a multi-way limped pot and I have the in the small blind. I complete the bet, the big blind checks, and four of us go to a flop of , giving me top pair, top kicker, a backdoor nut flush draw and a low draw. I decide to check, intending to check-raise a bet from one of the loose late position players. Instead, I check, the big blind checks, a middle position player bets and the button raises. Ai-yah, what do I do now? Am I just crushed here by a set or two pair? (And would I have been better off leading on the flop despite being out of position?)
JA: I don't know, I still like my hand here. I'd three-bet and see if the guy in the middle folds. If he does and the raiser just calls, then it's probably surprisingly close between playing the A-Q and playing the A-4. A-4 in this spot has some things going for it:
1) If you miss your low completely, you don't have to pay off on the river.
2) If you hit a low spade on the turn, you can play pretty fast on the turn.
But then again, A-Q is top pair, top kicker and it's heads-up, so I'd probably play that.
If they both play, though, I'm pretty much playing the A4 and hoping no one limped in with A-3, or better yet, the will hit the turn.
NG: In a three-way limped pot, I check the big blind with and land a dream flop of . The small blind checks, I bet, the third player raises, the small blind folds, I re-raise, and the third player calls. When it comes time to discard, is it better to hang on to the after the flop for its backdoor low possibilities or should I keep the king just in case I have to fight a kicker battle with that third player who re-raised me on the flop?
JA: I'd usually keep the deuce, because of the backdoor low possibilities — it's hard for your opponent to have hit a seven and not have an ace in his hand. Maybe some hand like 8-8-7? I don't know,, but generally speaking I think the backdoor low is worth more than the kicker win, because the kicker win comes up quite infrequently.
Ed note: Want to play Crazy Pineapple online? Download Ultimate Bet and sign up today.