Part one of the poker two step
July 11, 2017 3:00 AM
by George Epstein
The “two-step” in poker is not a fancy dance maneuver. It’s a viable tactic, conceived to help you become a consistent winner at the poker table.
In case you were not aware, that’s a serious challenge if you play in a casino where the cost-to-play adds up to about $25 per hour – the rake, the bad-beat jackpot drop, and tip to dealer. To win, you must make up for this inevitable, non-relaxing cost that grows steadily as time passes at the table. No bargains here.
With that in mind, I have often taught my seniors’ poker group students to use the Two-Step before and after the flop as they play Texas hold’em. It may well be the best way to get an edge over your opponents. Actually, it’s quite straight forward once you are cognizant of it.
It begins when you are dealt two holecards that are other than pocket Aces, Kings, or Queens – “made” hands preflop. You can expect one of those only about one out of 70 hands, so you do want to make the most of it. But, those are not part of our two-step concept.
Step 1: Starting hands
Preflop, to select starting-hands, use the Hold’em Algorithm, including the Hold’em Caveat for marginal (mediocre) hands and early positions. There are also charts available in various poker books. It’s best not to depend on memory. Of course, we all realize the better your starting-hand, the more likely you will emerge a winner. No guarantee, of course. Even pocket-Aces in the hole, rare as it is, sometimes loses. Step 1, then, is wisely selecting your starting-hand.
Step 2: What’s the flop?
Having made that starting-hand decision based on the Hold’em Algorithm criteria, carefully observe the flop as it relates to your starting-hand. The board must improve your hand. If you don’t catch a made hand (one that could win without further improvement), then you must have a strong drawing hand. That essentially means you should have substantial “outs” – at least six, preferably more – to warrant further pursuing and investing your hard-earned chips (money) in that hand.
The more outs, the lower will be the card odds against you, and the greater your chance to improve to a strong – hopefully, the winning – hand. The idea is you want sufficiently low card odds compared to the pot odds for a Positive Expectation (i.e., pot odds much higher than the card odds).
Simple, isn’t it?
When playing limit hold’em, we can best illustrate this concept with typical examples:
Starting with a small pair from a middle position: Let’s say you are dealt a pair of sevens while in a middle position, meeting the criteria of the Hold’em Algorithm. It’s a multi-way pot (three or more opponents) with no raises, satisfying the Hold’em Caveat. So, you invest to see the flop, hoping to make a set of 7’s on the flop.
You know the card odds are about 8-to-1 against you; but if you do connect, it could easily be the winning hand more often than not. If you do not connect, usually you should plan to fold to any bet; otherwise, you would be chasing with just the turn and river cards to come. Of course, if it’s checked all around, you get to see the turn for free. (Never refuse a free card.)
Starting with middle connectors from a middle position: Suppose you have been dealt 8-9 offsuit. According to the Hold’em Algorithm, that scores 24 points for you – just enough to meet the starting-hand criteria for a middle (but not an early) position. You limp to see the flop. That’s Step 1.
Unfortunately, the Button raises it up. For one more small bet, you call to see the flop. Again, as in the previous example, the flop must improve your hand. That’s Step 2. If not, prepare to fold and save some chips for a better opportunity.
Of course, there are many examples of using the Two-Step. We’ll discuss a few more in my next column.