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This mistake regarding “tainted” outs was offered by Byron Ziman of Marina del Rey, Calif., who has participated in many of our Claude Pepper Senior Citizen Poker events (most recently when Linda Johnson and Jan Fisher presented a Poker Workshop at the center, and when the Normandie Casino hosted our Seniors Poker Group to a seminar by poker pro Don Vance, followed by an elegant buffet luncheon, and then our own low-buy-in limit hold’em tournament with cash prizes).

An “out” is a card that will improve your hand – hopefully to become the winning hand. What’s a “tainted” out?

Byron may not have coined that term; but it is very descriptive. All outs are not alike… “Clean” outs are preferable. A “tainted” out will improve your hand – but that card might also help an opponent even more so. Failing to make allowance for tainted outs can be costly.

Example: Preflop, five players stay to see the flop. No raises. In a late position, you hold A-10 suited. The flop gives you four-to-the-nut flush; the turn doesn’t help.

Count your outs to make the nut flush. If you said there were nine diamonds left in the deck so you have nine outs, you are overly optimistic. Sure, any diamond that falls on the board will give you the nut flush – but is it necessarily the winning hand?

An opponent may have flopped two pair; or he might have hit a set of sixes, deuces, sevens or treys. Sure, the 7¨ or 3¨ gives you a nut flush; but, by pairing the board, it also confers a full-house upon your opponent. Now you are in deep trouble – your hand is dead!

As you can see, the 7¨ or 3¨ falling on the board could be very costly if an opponent has a set. It’s certainly not a clean out for your hand. It’s tainted! But what if your opponent did not flop a set after all. (The odds of flopping a set with a pair in the hole is about 8-to-1 against; so it’s possible but still a longshot.)

We use the outs to estimate the card odds. With 9 outs, the odds of hitting the nut flush on the river is about 4-to-1 against you. But if you don’t count the tainted 7¨ and 3¨, then you have just seven outs, giving you card odds of 6-to-1 against. That’s a big difference. But it is possible your opponent doesn’t have a set or two-pair; then you have no need to fear, and your outs are all safe. If only you knew.

One way to deal with this dilemma is to give yourself partial outs: Tainted outs are not as valuable as clean outs. Byron suggested half an out for each card that could hurt you – such as any card that pairs the board, giving an opponent a possible full-house. With fewer outs, the card odds are higher; then, the pot odds may not be high enough to justify calling a big bet on the river.

In Review

We started this series on the Top 10 Mistakes by listing them in the order voted by our Claude Pepper Seniors Poker Lab:


The 10 Most Significant

Mistakes Players Make

(highest rating first):

1. Playing Too Many Hands

2. Playing A-Rag Offsuit

3. Neglecting the Poker Odds

4. Not Betting for Value

5. Unable to Throw Away “GOOD”

Hands that are Losers

6. Poor Money Management

7. Poor Table Selection

8. Lack of Focus

9. Over-Confidence

10. Not Reading Opponent’s Hand


So today we add an 11th mistake: Neglecting “Tainted” Outs. Next week, we will add yet a 12th Top Mistake submitted by a reader.

As his reward, Byron Ziman will receive a copy of the Hold’em Algorithm.

Comments? George “The Engineer” Epstein can be contacted at [email protected].

You can try out your strategy by playing our free live online poker.

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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