Getting most of ‘Monster’ hands playing poker

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As I tell my students, our goal is to maximize the amount of money ($$$) won at each poker session – rather than the number of hands won.

Sure, if you play every hand all the way to showdown, you will win more hands – but you’ll go broke sooner or later. We all know that winning players are selective in their starting hands. That’s a good start, but our goal is to win as much $$$ as possible.

Having decided to stay to see the flop, where do you go from there? If you flop a monster hand, it would be wise to ponder: “How can I maximize the size of the pot I expect to win? Deception plays a key role.

USING DECEPTION

The three most deceptive (“tricky”) strategies are (1) bluff; (2) slow-play; and (3) check-raise. As for bluffing, using the Esther Bluff, you may convince an opponent to fold a hand that is better than yours. That may win the pot for you but it will not build the size of the pot. So let’s focus on slow-play and check-raise…

Example: In a middle position with K-Q suited, you call an early-position preflop raise to see the flop, along with several opponents. The flop is fantastic: (hold cards: king spades, queen spades; flop king hearts, queen hearts, king clubs)

Kings-full of queens is practically unbeatable – almost the absolute “nuts.” Wow! The early-position preflop raiser makes a continuation bet and is called by player to his right. Your turn.

You are tempted to raise but realize that a raise might scare out opponents behind you. Sure raising here would get more $$$ into the pot right now, but you can gain much more by waiting for a later street when the bets are higher.

Remember your objective is to win as much $$$ as possible. So you just call. You are slow-playing your hand. Four players see the turn.

The 7 of hearts puts a possible heart flush on the board. It would be nice if an opponent made the flush against your full-boat, you muse. Again the early-position player comes out betting. Maybe he has the flush, but he’s been making the opening bet since the preflop betting round.

Having observed his prior play, you know he is a loose player and goes in with a wide variety of hole cards from any position. He could have anything, but his bet on the flop from an early position suggests he may be holding a queen or a big pair in the hole. Likely, he believes his is the best hand.

Little does he realize that your kings-full has him beaten. The only way he could beat your hand would be to hold pocket aces and catch a third ace on the river – a 20-1 longshot. You are comfortable with your hand, fully expecting to pull in a huge pot.

You plan to make a raise, but then the player to your left, makes the raise. Oh, boy! Maybe he has the nut heart flush, but your kings-full has to be the winner. So, to encourage continued action, you just call the raise.

Surprise! The Button, an aggressive player, then re-raises. The others call as do you. Let’s wait to raise on the river round of betting.

The river card is another 7. The board shows two kings and two sevens, and a possible heart flush.

The first two players check. Missed your chance to check-raise, but in preparing to bet, you observe the Button pick up a bundle of chips. That’s a tell: He’s planning to bet. So you check to him and he makes the bet.

The other two opponents call his bet after some contemplation. They rationalize, the pot is too big to give up on. Now you make your check-raise. All three opponents call to see the showdown. It’s the biggest pot of the night – and it’s yours, all yours…

Comments? George “The Engineer” Epstein can be contacted 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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