The Sunday edition of the Los Angeles Times features a poker column. I read it regularly, hoping to improve my own game. Sometimes I do, but often I find the writers missing the mark.
A recent column was devoted to playing A-K. I was suspicious from the start when the writer referred to these hole cards as “Anna Kournikova” (a one-time tennis star); whereas most of us know A-K in the hole by the nickname, Big Slick.
That seems more appropriate to me, considering it’s the top premium drawing hand. (Just to be sure, I checked it out in Wiesenberg’s Official Dictionary of Poker.)
Some players prefer the A-K (even if it were not suited) over pocket Aces or pocket Kings. If you connect on the flop, you have top pair with top kicker; that’s a very strong hand – usually a big favorite to hold up to the end and take a decent pot.
What’s more, if you miss on the flop while an opponent connects for a big hand (say, trips), it’s a lot easier emotionally to get away from the “unfulfilled” A-K than it would be from A-A.
At the start of the column, the writer focused on “knowing your opponent’s hand range and betting pattern.” Sure, those are important issues, but there are other “reads” that are more significant and easier. You can only guess at hand range and betting pattern. Most often you are up against more than one opponent, at least until the flop comes down.
The more opponents in the hand, the more difficult it is to make good guesses. After all, you don’t get much time to make decisions. Better yet, I teach my poker students to evaluate their opponents.
Simply classify each as: tight or loose; passive or aggressive; deceptive (likely to check-raise and bluff); a calling-station (hard to bluff out) or a combination of these. You can accurately identify most opponents on this basis within the first 15-20 minutes of play.
With that information safely tucked away into your memory bank (or noted on a small piece of paper), you can refer to it whenever necessary; whereas being half-way accurate in determining their hand ranges and (often-changing) betting patterns is extremely difficult. (Try it.)
The writer might have applied a little logic and basic probability theory to the situation. (And you don’t have to be a math expert.) With A-K in the hole, raising preflop seems to be an automatic bet for most players; but that’s a big mistake.
Sure your raise will thin the field, but it is more likely to force out the very hands you would like staying in the pot with you – at least for a few rounds. Unchallenged, most players will stay in to see the flop with Ace-anything, even A-rag.
Do you really want to force them out before the flop? Suppose an Ace does flop, then the A-rag most often will pay you off all the way to the river. And if your unlucky opponent has A-Q, he may even bet into you or raise. The same applies to the King.
Remember, your goal is to win chips (money) – not just hands. When you hold the best hand, the more chips in the pot, the better it is for you. Certainly, there is always the possibility your opponent may connect with his kicker while you miss, but the odds are with you from the start.
Note: According to Tom Green (ref. Texas Hold’em Poker Textbook; www.pokertextbook.info), the best hand on the flop will win the pot 73.5% of the time. Those are great odds!
As it turned out, the writer took the pot with his unimproved A-K suited when an opponent with Q-J suited folded to an all-in three-bet (a re-raise) before the flop. (The Q-J flashed his hand as he folded.) He would have caught another Q on the turn.
A little luck always helps!
“The Engineer,” a noted author and teacher in Greater Los Angeles, is a member of the Seniors Poker Hall of Fame. Contact George at [email protected].