Getting ‘Positive Expectation’ poker bets

Sep 4, 2012 3:00 AM

Most starting hands are drawing hands. They usually must improve to have a decent chance to win the pot at the showdown. Most often, your cards will not improve enough on the flop to warrant further investment in that hand; so you calmly fold.

Certainly, you want to see the flop as cheaply as possible. What’s more, when you stay to see the flop, it is preferably a multi-way pot with three or more opponents staying to see the flop. Rationale: Most of the time your hand will not improve on the flop, but, when it does, you would like high implied pot odds. Like any wise investor, you want a high return on your investment. The more leverage, the better.

Sure, like everyone else, you would like to see the flop. After all, it represents over 70% of your final hand. (According to Tom Green, author of the new book on poker math – Texas Hold’em Poker Textbook – the player with the best hand on the flop will win the pot 75% of the time.)

All the more reason for prudent starting-hand selection: Give yourself the best chance of holding the best hand on the flop. Using the Hold’em Algorithm (described in my book, Hold’em or Fold’em? (see ad in GT), you are in a better position to achieve that goal: 

 Invest as little as possible to win as big a pot as possible.

A recent analysis revealed that you would play only one out of six hands preflop from an early position if you rely on the Algorithm for starting-hand selection. PokerPigeons – we love them at our table – stay in much more often. Invariably, they are losers. They contribute to the winnings of us PokerSharks – who are much more discriminating in selecting starting hands.

On the flop, your hand may not improve to a made hand – one that could win the pot without further improvement. That does not mean you must always muck your cards. As I teach my seniors poker groups, you can continue in the hand if you flop six or more outs – unless there is a lot of raising on the flop.

Being in a late position, you know if there are any raises before you must act. With eight or more outs, you might even be the raiser. How so? Example: With four cards to the nut flush (you hold the ace in the hole and you have at least nine outs), the card odds are less than 2-to-1 against making the flush on the turn or the river.

With three or more opponents calling your raise, you are getting at least 3-to-1 betting odds. In the long run, that’s a Positive-Expectation bet – a sound investment.

To prove the point …

In a late position, you hold K-10 offsuit and only one opponent limps in; the others fold to you. It will not be a multi-way pot. 

Same case but with three limpers. Your requirement for a multi-way pot has been satisfied; so you call to see the flop. On the average, the flop will help your hand one out of three times. Suppose the flop is K-9-2 rainbow. You now have a made hand – a pair of Ks. Make the bet! You are building the pot, hoping your K-K holds up or seeking to gain information: If you get raised, time for caution. If he is a tight player, just fold your hand and wait for a better situation. Why chase, hoping to pair your other hole card?

With just three outs, the odds just won’t make much sense. All the more reason to see the flop cheap when starting with a drawing hand.

“The Engineer” Epstein, a noted author and teacher in West L.A. is a member of the Seniors’ Poker Hall of Fame. Contact him at George­[email protected].