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I was explaining to one of my senior poker students that he needed to fold more of his hands before the flop. He had been losing too often.Wrinkling his facial muscles expressing disbelief, he queried me: “Does that make sense? If I fold more often during the opening (preflop) round of betting, you say I will be rewarded by winning more chips.”

True, it may seem to be an oxymoron – sort of self-contradictory. How can you win more money by not playing?

The key words are “fold more often.” The idea is to play only those hands that have a better chance of leading to the best hand. In fact, that’s exactly what the Hold’em Algorithm is all about. Considering all the factors involved, which starting-hands are worthy of your investment?

Then I went on to explain. Playing Texas hold’em, the majority of hands dealt to you are not playable for one reason or another. Be discreet. Play only those hands that have significant promise.

For example, I see so many players (losers!) staying to see the flop with Ace-rag. (A “rag” is a 7 down to deuce.) The odds are one of every two holecards will pair up about one out of three times. Pair up the rag, you have a great kicker (the Ace) – but a small pair (7s down to deuces) is too easily beaten when one or more opponents start with or connect to a higher pair.

That will happen quite often. (In this discussion, we are not considering the potential for winning by bluffing. That’s another issue.) That small pair with the Ace kicker could be very costly when you lose on the river to a player who connected with a bigger pair.

What if you are fortunate to pair your Ace? Top pair of Aces looks great – but what happens when an opponent also holds an Ace in the hole, with a bigger kicker? In that case, your hand is seriously dominated. You have just three outs to pair your kicker. But, your opponent could just as well pair his (bigger) kicker. Best would be to muck those cards before investing any chips. Chances are you would lose that hand. Best to avoid it!

Playing the other night in a $4-$8 limit game with half-a-kill at the Hustler Casino in Gardena, California, over and over I saw players making that mistake – a costly one most of the time! When a player makes a pair of Aces on the flop, he is bound to bet or call all the way to the showdown. Can you imagine his disappointment when his opponent also turns up a pair of Aces, but with a bigger kicker? (The kicker makes a big difference!)

This is but one of the more common examples of playing a hand that should have been folded from the start.

Another frequent starting-hand mistake is playing any two suited cards to see the flop. On the flop, the odds are about 8-to-1 you will not catch two more of your suit for a decent draw to the flush; more likely you will pair one of your holecards. (By contrast, the odds are only 2-to-1 against pairing up on the flop.)

The Hold’em Algorithm gives a bonus of only two points for suited holecards from middle or late positions; one point only from an early position. Contrast this with a bonus of 7 points for connectors. The higher the cards, the greater their value. Don’t play cards only because they are suited; rank is more important.

There are so many marginal (borderline) starting-hands that usually should be mucked when the Hold’em Caveat is not satisfied. With such hands, stay to see the flop only if it’s a multi-way pot and there are no raises.

Bottom line: Before investing precious chips to see the flop, be sure your holecards have a reasonable chance of connecting for a powerful hand that likely will win the pot on the showdown (unless you are good at bluffing).

“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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