Even poker celebrities can botch hands

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We all make mistakes. It’s only human. Poker celebs (highly regarded experts) also can make mistakes! One prominent celeb who writes a regular poker column in a leading publication told how he played a hand during a major WPT tournament event, which knocked him out of the tournament.

He shared his hand with us, hoping to “find a better way to play it.” My suggestion: Avoid mistakes.

Holding 9-5 spades in the Big Blind, he called an early-position preflop raise by “a somewhat tight aggressive kid,” along with two others. Was it wise to invest in such a poor hand after a raise by an early-position tight player?

According to the Hold’em Algorithm, 9-5 suited is not even a marginal drawing hand; it usually should be mucked. But, as he pointed out, the immediate pot odds were “amazing.” How about his card odds for comparison? Were the pot odds high enough to gain a Positive Expectation?

Yes, he was getting great pot odds; so it’s hard to fault him for wanting to see the flop. But that is only half the story. The probabilities were much against him. Starting with a non-pair in the hole, he could expect to pair one of his holecards about one out of three times.

Catching trips or two-pair were huge longshots. Catching two more spades for a four-flush will happen approximately one out of nine times. So, all things considered, the celeb’s hand was, by far, most likely to miss altogether or catch a pair on the flop. In both cases, calling bets after the flop would not be wise. So he was depending on plain old luck.

The card odds against further improvement post-flop likely would be much too high compared to the implied pot odds – a Negative Expectation. And, what did he expect the raiser to hold after the flop? Most likely a pair, a premium drawing hand, or perhaps a flopped set. Our poker celeb most probably would have to fold, thus wasting his chips.

He could get lucky and catch two more spades on the flop, for a four-flush. That’s what actually happened. The flop was Qc-7s-2s, giving him a draw to a 9-high flush.

Now, he had good card odds for improving his hand: about 2-to-1 against, with both the turn and river to come. One out of three times he will make the flush. But, an opponent may also have caught the flush – most likely a bigger one. Second-best is costly.

Poker celeb checked his 9-high four-to-a-flush, whereupon the initial raiser bet 18,000 into the 34,000-chip pot. One other player called. Holding his four-flush, celeb pondered over how to respond. He decided to raise all-in, hoping his 9-high flush would be good if he connected on the turn or the river. Actually, his raise was a semi-bluff.

Here’s where he made another mistake: Apparently, he did not use the Esther Bluff tactic. Perhaps he was not familiar with it; if so, then that too might be considered a mistake.

As it turned out, the Queen of spades fell on the river, giving our celeb his flush; but it also gave his opponent a full-house, busting celeb out of the tournament.

In Summary

Early-position raises by tight players always should be respected. While the pot odds preflop were very attractive, 9-5 suited was much more likely to miss on the flop, wasting the chips to call the preflop raise; but, more important, he was playing to get lucky – always a mistake.

Furthermore, if the celeb got lucky, and connected to a 9-high flush draw on the flop, most likely it would lead to a costly series of postflop bets. So, calling the raise to see the flop was a mistake.

After the flop, when he decided to go all-in with his four-to-a-flush draw, he made another apparent mistake by not using the Esther Bluff tactic. Perhaps he had not yet learned that tactic.

Nevertheless, he is a great poker player.

“The Engineer,” a noted author and teacher in Greater Los Angeles, is a member of the Seniors Poker Hall of Fame. Email: [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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