Build those poker pots as big as you can

Nov 27, 2012 3:00 AM

By now, most poker players have learned to avoid playing hands that are likely to be losers. They know the importance of starting-hand selection. 

Likewise, they realize that, in the long run, every poker player will receive his fair share of winning hands. But, if everyone gets the same share of winning hands, then we should all be destined to be losers because of the house rake from every pot. Not necessarily so.

The best way out of this dilemma is to optimize the size of the pots you win – build them as big as possible. Then your share of the winnings will be higher than those of your opponents. (For this column, we are not considering avoiding losses by discretely folding your losing hands. Nor are we allowing for the value of successful bluffs which also contribute to your winnings.)

There are ways to increase the size of the pots you win – to make sure you go home as big a winner as possible. (Use Money Management methods as described in my first book, The Greatest Book of Poker for Winners; contact: [email protected]) Otherwise you risk losing back all your winnings and then some.) 

Two strategies for optimizing the amount of chips you gain when you hold the winning hand, come to mind: Betting for value and Trapping.

The basic concept is quite simple: When you are almost certain to have the best hand, bet to increase the size of the pot whenever possible. The more chips you can get into the pot, the greater your reward! 

For example, if you catch a full-boat on the river, and everyone checks to you, making your bet is obvious. Checking along would be a big mistake. (It’s highly unlikely an opponent has quads or a straight flush.)

Even if an opponent could possibly have a better hand than yours, consider betting after he checks to you. Say you have top two-pair, but there is a chance he has a straight or a set. If your opponent is not a deceptive player, likely to be planning a check-raise, make the bet if you believe your hand will be the winner more often than not. You are getting better than 50 - 50 on your bet. 

Even if you have not completed your hand and still have a drawing hand that must improve to give you the best (winning) hand, you might still want to bet or raise, rather than just checking along or simply calling an opponent’s bet. Example: From a middle/late position, holding A-10 suited, you called to see the flop: 7 hearts, 5 clubs, 9 hearts.

Consider the card odds and the pot odds. With 9 hearts (9 outs) remaining in the deck, any one of which that will give you the nut flush – presumably the winning hand, the 4-2 Rule shows that the card odds are about 2-to-1 against making your big flush on the turn or the river. (We could also consider the 6 outs for your two overcards to the board, the Ace and the 10.) 

With two or more opponents still in the hand, the pot odds are much higher, so you certainly want to call a bet to see the turn. If there are three or more bets before you, a raise would be wise. You are getting at least 3-1 “money odds” on that raised bet. The three opponents before you will almost certainly call a single raise after already making the initial bet to see the turn. If an opponent behind you also calls, that’s even more chips for you to win. 

The pot odds in your favor are far greater than the card odds gainst you, giving you a “Positive Expectation.” The amount of additional money going into the pot will more than offset your additional investment – in the long run. 

Next issue we will discuss the second tactic for optimizing your winnings – trapping. 

“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]

“The Engineer,” noted author and poker teacher in greater Los Angeles, is a member of the Seniors Poker Hall of Fame. Contact George at [email protected].

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