When you just ‘have’ to call playing hold'em poker

May 31, 2011 3:00 AM

You likely have experienced such occasions at the poker table: On the river, an opponent bets out or raises you. Your instincts and evaluation of the opponent assure you his hand wins; it’s necessary to call.

Playing low-limit hold’em at Hollywood Park Casino the other night, I was well ahead when I encountered just such a hand. . . In a middle position, holding K«-Qu in the hole, after one limper had entered the fray, I raised in the hope of chasing out players behind me with A-rag.

If everyone behind me folded, I would gain position. As it turned out, the button and both blinds called, as did the limper. So we got to see the flop, five-handed. And what an interesting flop it was. (Aren’t almost all flops interesting, one way or another?)

My holecards: K«-Qu

The flop: J«, Ku, 10«

I had top pair, four-to-an-open-ended straight, and a draw to a straight flush! Who could ask for anything more! (Reminds me of an old song; and, indeed, both my spirits and sense of anticipation were lifted to a higher realm.)

I could hardly wait to see what the turn and river would bring me. After checks by the two blinds and limper, I bet and was called by the button and big blind.

The turn brought a third spade on the board: the 8«. That troubled me somewhat. An opponent could have caught the spade flush with that card. After the big blind checked to me, I decided to bet and see where I stood. Both the button and big blind just called. No raises.

I felt fairly comfortable neither had the spade flush. Since the big blind was a rather aggressive player, I was sure he would have check-raised if he held the flush.

The Infamous River Card

With baited breath, I watched as the dealer slowly (it seemed it took forever) placed the river card on the board. It was the 5« – a fourth spade on the river! Now I had the king-high flush. Only the ace of spades could beat my hand!

The big blind came out betting; I assumed he had made the flush, too. (Perhaps it was wishful thinking!) I reasoned chances were his flush was smaller than my second-nut, king-high flush. So I raised for value, only to be re-raised by the button!

With no pairs on the board, he could not have a full-boat. I was sure he had a spade flush also. To re-raise after I had raised the big blind, he might be holding the nut flush – the A« in the hole. He was a fairly conservative player and would not have re-raised unless he was almost assured of having the best hand.

The big blind called both raises. It was my turn to declare. At this point, I was almost certain my king-high flush was second-best. The pot had grown quite large. I estimated my chance of winning was about 1-out-of-4. My reasoning was the size of the pot versus one more big bet I would have to make more than offset those odds.

Deep down I just knew he had me beat. So, with some trepidation, I called.

Sure enough the button showed the A« for the nut flush – the winning hand. The big blind held the Q«. At least I had his hand beaten. Small compensation as I watched the button scoop in the pot I almost won.

Unfortunately, in poker (other than at the end of a tournament), second-place doesn’t pay.

P.S. I still went home a big winner for the session.

Would you have folded to the re-raise on the river?

Note: "The Engineer" is the author of The Greatest Book of Poker for Winners! and Hold’em or Fold’em? – An Algorithm for Making the Key Decision. He teaches poker at the Claude Pepper Sr. Citizen Center and at West Los Angeles College. He recently received a Senior Citizen Volunteer-of-the-Year Award, in part for his poker activities, and can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]