Be careful when counting your poker outs

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In our previous column related to counting and using your outs, we explained why some outs are different than others. It all depends on their value toward making the best hand. Today, let’s look at two other examples where it would pay to scrutinize the real value of some of your outs, and adjust accordingly.

Counting an out twice Suppose the flop gives you four-to-the-nut flush plus an inside draw to an Ace-high straight. For example, you start with As-Js as your holecards; flop Ks-10h-3s.

Any spade gets you the nut flush; and any Queen would give you top straight – Ace-high. Either hand is likely to win the pot for you at the showdown.

Let’s count your outs: 9 spades and 4 Queens, for a total of 13 outs (9+4). Not so! Did you notice you counted the Queen of spades twice – once for the flush and once for the straight? Actually, you have 12 outs. (Being conservative, we are not counting the 3 Aces and 3 Jacks as outs, as explained in our previous column.)

Some “bad” outs Most outs are “good.” They will improve your hand to become the probable winner. On the other hand, there are situations where you might be inclined to count an out that is more valuable to an opponent. That is certainly a “bad” out! While it may make a big hand for you, it would give your opponent a much better hand – one that beats yours. Oh, no!

By way of illustration, your starting-hand again is As-Js. Preflop, the Big Blind raises. You and three others call to see the flop. This time the flop comes down Ks-9h-9s

As in the previous hand, you have a draw to the nut flush (any spade). That should give you 9 outs. But, there now is a pair of nines on the board. That could signal danger. (Flashing red light!)

The Big Blind, after raising preflop, comes out betting on the flop. Pause and think…Try to get a “read” on her. What kind of player is she – tight, loose, aggressive, passive, deceptive? Having observed her playing traits for two hours, you recognize she is a tight (conservative) player, and is not prone to play deceptively – unlikely to be bluffing.

What’s more, her preflop raise suggests she has a strong starting-hand, probably a big pair in the hole. All things considered, it is quite possible she flopped a big two-pair – less likely, trip nines.

In actuality, unbeknown to you, she was dealt Qh-Qc, pocket Queens, so she now holds two-pair, Queens and nines. Another Queen will give her a full-house, slaughtering your beautiful nut flush if the Queen of spades falls on the turn or the river. (Note: The same applies to any other pair she might have in the hole.) If you are wise, you really should not count the Queen of spades as one of your outs. Better to recognize you have 8 good outs for the nut flush, not 9 – discounting the Qs.

The turn is a blank. Again the Big Blind bets out. With one card (the river) to come, your card odds are almost 5-to-1 against making the flush versus about 4-to-1 if you had counted the Queen of spades as one of your outs. That’s a significant difference. It strongly suggests you be extra cautious.

If the Qs falls on the river, making your nut flush, your beautiful hand would be a poor second-best against her possible full-house. If she again bets out, you might be inclined to raise her with your nut flush. Instead, consider the likelihood she has caught a full-house. Save your chips – even more had you raised and she reraised!

The pot odds require that you call her bet – just in case. What a shame. You have been rivered; and, understandably, you are infuriated that you just suffered a bad beat. That could put you on tilt. In that case, slowly get up from your seat and go for a walk while you relax, breathe deeply, and reassure yourself: “Oh, well, that’s poker!”

“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].

About the Author

George Epstein

A retired engineer, George Epstein 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 courses and conducts a unique Poker Lab at the Claude Pepper Senior Center under the auspices of the City of Los Angeles Dept. of Recreation and Parks and at West Los Angeles College.

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