Having 13 reasons ‘raises’ good points in hold’em poker

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Today’s column will complete our discussion of the “13 Reasons for Raising.”

Playing hold’em, in a middle position, you flop top pair (Jack of spades, 10 of spades) with a decent kicker:

There are also two suited cards on the board. An early-position comes out betting. What’s the best way to play this hand? Certainly, don’t act in haste and repent at leisure. Think about it. There are two opponents who will declare after you.

Chances are one or more stayed to see the flop (10 diamonds, 8 diamonds, 5 clubs) with high cards, especially an ace or a king. If the turn or river brings an A, K, or Q – a card higher than your pair – your hand likely becomes second best. With two suited cards on the board, it’s also possible that an opponent might be drawing to a flush. That could be costly to you if he stays and makes his flush.

Instead of just calling the bet, raise with confidence – just as if you were making an Esther Bluff. You are raising to protect your hand by forcing out some opponents. Most likely you are in the lead with your top pair, but with five outs at best (three jacks and two tens), the odds are at least 4-to-1 against further improving your hand.

And, even if your hand does improve – say, to two-pair, Jacks and Tens – an opponent could catch a flush on the river, or a higher two-pair, or perhaps a set. So it would be wise to raise to force out opponents who have a reasonable chance of catching a better hand on the turn or river. (I hate to get rivered! Don’t you?)

The fewer opponents staying in, the better chance your top pair will hold up. That raise is the best way for you to keep the lead – and win the pot at the showdown. You have protected your hand!

Bluffing is common in poker. Our 13th reason for raising focuses on a strategy few players are aware of: Raising to force out a bluffer.

It is rarely practiced in low-limit games, but does work. It is more common in no-limit poker, including tournaments.

You have been carefully observing how your opponents play. You may have noted that seat No. 3 is deceptive (“tricky”) and often bluffs. Drawing to the nut flush, the cards fail to cooperate. No nut flush this hand! The river card, however, paired your kicker. You can employ this strategy even if you don’t pair up. But you have a better chance even if it’s a small or medium pair.

The tricky player in seat No. 3 opens the final round with a big bet. The board is not threatening – no aces or kings, no straights or flushes likely. You believe he is bluffing, hoping to steal the pot from you. Remember, you know he often bluffs. So you raise – betting as if it were an Esther Bluff, reinforced by the Richard B. Reverse tell.

Most likely your opponent will growl a bit as he tosses his hand into the muck. But, just in case he should call – because it’s a huge pot or he holds an ace in the hole and thinks it might be the best hand – it would be better for you to hold that small/medium pair.

And I challenge you.

If you can identify any other Reason for Raising, there will be an award for you and we will announce your name and where you play poker. Contact: [email protected]

(George “The Engineer” Epstein is a noted author and teacher, who is a recent inductee to the Seniors Poker Hall of Fame.)


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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