Hunches can help or hurt you at poker table

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You have been playing $4-$8 limit hold’em for about one hour and are a bit behind. There is plenty of time left to get ahead, you assure yourself. 

Seated in the Under-the-Gun (UTG) position, as the hole cards are being dealt, you peek at them, slowly turning up their corners one after the other. The first is the 10 of clubs. O.K. so far. The second is the 8 of clubs. That’s hardly a hand you would ordinarily choose in which to invest your chips, especially from an early position. But you have a hunch. . .

They look so pretty — 10c-8c in the hole. You are so tempted to see the flop. It could improve your hand. Besides, it is not a very aggressive table. You might get to see the flop for just one bet. Three others and you stay to see the flop — no raises. It comes Ace of clubs, 7 of clubs, and 3 of hearts. 

Four to the nut flush! “Pretty good,” you think to yourself. “See, my hunch was right.”

Now, you have 9 outs and with the turn and river cards yet to come, a good chance of making the flush. As you recall, the odds are less than 2-to-1 against you. 

The turn is the 5 of clubs. Yes, indeed, you have caught your flush. Great! Your hunch was right on. You open the betting, and two opponents call; but, then the Button raises.

Oh. Oh. Could he have caught a higher flush? Possibly. And then you reassure yourself. “I’m sure my 10-high club flush is the winner. You know it’s just a hunch; but, you think, “I’ll be smart and play cautiously the rest of the way.” 

The river is a blank. You are first to act and quickly check your hand. You take a quick peek at your hole cards. Yup, you have the 10-high club flush. One middle-position player calls. Now, it’s up to the Button who had raised your opening bet on the turn. There are no pairs on the board, so no one can beat you with a full house or better. 

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Besides, from your observations, you know that the raiser is a loose-aggressive player. You stare across the table at him; no tells. You are tempted to open the betting — to show him who is boss. On further thought, you decide to check your flush — but it sure looks good. Tempting! The betting is checked to the raiser on the Button. 

It’s no surprise when he opens the betting. The other players muck their hands. Now, it’s down to just you and the Button. A quick glance at the pot. For certain, the pot odds are good — undoubtedly higher than the odds against your hand prevailing. Of course, you call his bet.

He turns up his hand. As you feared: King and 9 of clubs. With the Ace on the board, his King gave him the nut flush. Your hand was second-best.

Be Aware that “Connectors” (two cards in sequence) have much more value than do suited hole cards. Better to be tempted with them than with suited hole cards. As a matter of fact, the Hold’em Algorithm for selecting starting hands gives connectors more than three times the value of suited cards,

Best, of course, are high-ranking hole cards, especially Aces and Kings. I love honor cards in the hole. 

The moral of the story: intuition and hunches too often are little more than wishful thinking. There are no substitutes for the facts and probabilities.

The lesson to be learned: rely on the facts; rely on probabilities — not on hunches. Second-best is always costly.

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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