Here’s a mistake that is so common while playing poker

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In our last column, we described the two types of mistakes that we (too often?) make at the poker table. The “Ignorant Mistake” can occur without your even realizing it. Likely, when you lose that pot, you blame it on bad luck. That’s human nature.

The “Aware Mistake” happens when you know you are making a mistake but go ahead anyway. I gave an example of an Aware Mistake for which I recently was guilty; it was very costly.

Today, let’s discuss another “Aware Mistake” – one that so many poker players are wont to make, even experienced and skilled players.

Betting on flop with nut flush: In a limit cash game, our “hero” starts with A-hearts, 8-hearts in the hole and limps to see the flop. It’s a multi-way pot (three or more opponents staying in) and no raises. That satisfies the Hold’em Caveat (as discussed in Hold’em or Fold’em? – An Algorithm for Making the Key Decision; third edition). That’s fine thus far.

Ideally, our hero would love to see three hearts hit the board on the flop. That would give him the nut flush, with three rounds of betting available to build “his” pot. But he knows that’s an incredibly long shot: the probability is less than 1%.

Indeed, he’d be quite happy with two more hearts – a four-flush. On average, in the long run, that will occur only 11% of the time – also a long shot; but at least it’s within striking range.

With four-to-the-nut-flush on the flop, hero is getting excellent odds to make his big flush; the card odds are less than 2-to-1 against connecting either on the turn or the river. And, of course, the pot odds are much higher!

Can you imagine our hero’s excitement when three hearts actually fall on the flop! He is overjoyed. He does his best to contain himself, and not give his opponents a tell. His inclination is to express his delight by betting out. That’s a big mistake!

If he is in an early position, he is almost certain to lose all of his opponents. He knows that he cannot make any money if all of his opponents fold on the flop. On the other hand, if in a middle or late position and an opponent had bet, his call would not tip anyone off as to the strength of his hand.

If one opponent bets and then all the others fold to him, another mistake would be to raise. Now his sole remaining opponent is forewarned; he suspects that hero has a heart flush. Most likely the opponent had bet into that board – three glaring hearts – because he had paired up or better. Perhaps he holds two-pair or even a set.

Think about it. It’s a limit game, so the bets are defined. At least, our hero might have waited to raise on the turn after the bets doubled. His opponent doesn’t have to be super-skilled to realize that hero may very well be way ahead of him, holding the heart flush. So he would be more prone to muck his hand.

At the very least, he is less likely to bet into our hero.

Bottom line: Knowing all this, our hero is making a huge “Aware Mistake” by being first to bet or raising another player’s bet on the flop. Hero knows better. In the heat of battle, we often act rashly, only to regret it shortly after.

Take the time to think before you act. What are the likely consequences of your action? Certainly, if you are lucky to flop the nut flush, nurture it as best you can. Get the most value possible by just calling along on the flop.

Wait until the bets are doubled on the turn or on the river to do any heavy betting or raising. It could be an excellent opportunity for a check-raise. Get the chips into the pot. Better later than right now, on the flop. By all means, avoid the costly mistake so many are wont to make.

“The Engineer,” a noted author and teacher in Greater Los Angeles, is a member of the Seniors Poker Hall of Fame. Contact George at [email protected].

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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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