Raising to thin the field seems the move with pocket pairs

June 27, 2017 3:00 AM


To illustrate a very important message, let me tell you about a hand I recently played. It’s not that unique a hand; you probably have had similar poker hands many times.

In a $4-8 limit hold’em game at my local casino, seated in the cut-off position (just before the Button), I was dealt pocket Kings – the second best hand possible pre-flop (second only to A-A). K-K is a “made” hand that could win the pot even without improving. Now, I know it is best to play such hands against two or three opponents – not four or more.

With more opponents staying to see the flop, a made hand becomes an underdog – more likely to lose than win. And, with fewer than two opponents staying in, you cannot make much money with your great starting hand. That would be a waste.

It was a rather tight table, so I wasn’t surprised when only one opponent before me called see the flop. My turn to act: Starting with a made hand, ordinarily I would be inclined to raise; but, with only one limper before me, I reasoned a preflop raise might force the players behind me – the Button and the two Blinds, who were yet to act – to fold. Then, I would be left with only the limper, who – unless he had a very strong hand – might follow along and muck his hand, too.

Even if he did call my raise, with only one opponent it is bound to be a small pot for me to win. So, I just called the bet – no raising. The Button and Big Blind (BB) limped along, gaining me the three opponents I sought to see the flop with me.

“Good,” I thought. “Now I can win a decent-size pot.” Fortunately for me (I thought), the flop was: 9d-4d-6h and did not contain an Ace that would constitute a threat to my K-K.

On the flop, the BB and the middle-position both checked to me. I was inclined to bet for value; but then I thought: “They are rather tight players, and likely to fold to a bet.” At this point, I wanted to build the pot, hoping they would call my bet on the turn, which would be twice as big. So, I also checked, as did the Button.

Could that decision have been a big mistake for me?

The turn was the 4h, pairing the 4d on the board. This seemed like a safe card. I doubted any of my opponents held a 4 in the hole. Although a set of 9s or 6s was possible, as were draws to heart and diamond flushes, I felt confident my two-pair, Kings and fours, was the best hand.

After the BB and middle-position checked to me, I made my big value bet – hoping to see the pot grow. The Button folded. Then, both others called to see the river. When a deuce of hearts fell on the river, I paused to think: “I hope no one has made a flush.”

I felt relieved when both opponents checked to me. Hesitatingly, but still confident, I made the big bet. The BB folded. But, then the middle-position raised me. I sat up in my chair, focused my glare at him. No discernable tells. “He’s not a deceptive player,” I thought.

Of course, I had to call his raise; the pot was too big to give up. I hoped I still had the best hand, but I didn’t! He had check-raised me with his Queen-high flush, and scooped the pot right in front of my eyes. I was devastated!

Later, taking a break and thinking about that hand, I wondered if I had made a big mistake by not betting on the flop. He might very well have folded his Q-3 hearts, and I would have won the pot, even if it was a bit smaller.

Was I too greedy?