‘Good’ hands

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 (This is the 6th in our series on mistakes poker players make. In the opinion of our Claude Pepper Seniors Center Poker Lab, Mistake #5 is: Unable to Throw Away “Good” Hands that are Losers.)

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist (I was in my earlier career) to understand that, unless you hold the nuts, any hand can become a loser. You thought it was “good” but it wasn’t after all. The second-nut flush (king-high) will lose to the nut flush (ace-high). I once held the nut flush – with no pairs on the board, so a full-house was not possible – and lost to a straight flush on the river. Ouch!

It’s easy to understand when a marginal hand loses to a better hand. But what about when you hold a really GOOD hand – and still end up second best? Avoid going on tilt; that will cost you still more … a big mistake!

Our Poker Lab thought that being unable to throw away a “good” hand when it’s a loser was so costly that it had to be a big mistake. How can you throw away a full-house just because a tight player raised from an early position? You know he has a strong hand; but does his hand really beat your full-boat? Could he have made a higher full-house or four-of-a-kind? If he were a loose or tricky player, you would have no qualms in calling his raise. We all know that, in a limit game, you should call on the river if you have a reasonable chance of holding the best hand.

How can you judge that your “good” hand has become a loser?

Example: You are dealt A-A preflop (and the hole cards are Kc Kd 10d); then an opponent catches the cards that give him a better hand. Pocket aces are rare (probability: one out of 221 hands); it’s the best starting hand. In a limit game, you raised preflop and got a few callers, including a tight-tricky player in an early position. He must have a decent starting hand. The flop spells danger (for you):

You have two-pair, aces-up; but an opponent could have caught a monster hand. Tens-full of kings; trip kings; or kings-full of tens. In that case, you would have only two sure outs: the two aces remaining in the deck. Everyone checks to you. You decide to continuation bet and see what happens.

If everyone folds, you take a small pot. But if a tight player raises you – a check-raise, consider folding. Throw away your “good” hand. (It wasn’t that good after all.) Look for tells before folding. On the other hand, if the check-raiser is loose-aggressive or tricky, consider reraising him. The only likely mistake here would be calling a check-raise by a tight player in an early position.

What if the flop has all connectors – a coordinated flop? Flopping 7-8-9 rainbow is scary. An opponent holding 10-J has the nut straight, making your hand “chopped liver.” Proceed with caution. Fold if anyone raises.

What if the flop cards are all suited – not matching either of your hole cards:

A flush or flush-draw is likely. An opponent holding Q-J has flopped a straight. Proceed with caution. If there is a bet and a raise before it gets to you, your pocket aces are a liability. Fold. Calling all the way to the river would be costly. Worse yet, what if you caught a third ace; it’s hard to fold a set of aces!

We have received several comments about mistakes players make. Submit your candidate for the Top 10 Mistakes at limit hold’em; briefly describe how to avoid making that mistake. A copy of my Hold’em Algorithm booklet will be awarded to the winner. (There may be more than one!) Contact [email protected] Please include your name, address, and where you play poker. We may use your name in a column if your “mistake” is selected.

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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