In poker, remember to build pot you expect to win

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When we speak of luck, usually we refer to good luck. It’s the chance something good will happen to you. Good fortune will come your way.

The other night, I was playing in a $3-$6 limit game at the elegant Hustler Casino in Gardena, California. I had not been at the table more than 20 or 30 minutes when luck struck me head on.

I was in the blind (there is only one blind at this casino) with a dismal 9-clubs, 4-diamonds. You don’t need to use the Hold’em Algorithm to know this is a folding hand.

There were no raises so it didn’t cost me even one more chip to see the flop. There were six of us in the pot. Believe me when I say I was awestruck as I watched the dealer neatly lay down the flop: 9-spades, 9-diamonds, 9-hearts.

I consciously tried not to show my surprise and excitement. That could be a tell. There’s no skill in flopping a great hand; it’s how you play it that counts. Certain I held the nuts, my challenge now was to build the pot as big as possible without giving any information as to the strength of my hand.

So I checked, hoping someone would make the bet. An elderly gent across the table complied. Having observed the players while at the table, I knew he was a rather aggressive player – not quite a “maniac.”

He played almost every hand dealt to him, and often raised the pot. He had lost several hands in a row and seemed to be on tilt. Let’s call him “Tilt.” I felt certain I could count on him to bet, perhaps even raise. He was anxious to win back his losses. Several others and I called his bet on the flop.

The turn was the K-hearts, putting two on the board. There was a good chance one of my opponents had a King in the hole; and someone might be drawing to the heart flush. That pleased me no end.

I slow-played and checked, planning to either check-raise this round or wait until the river. John, the player to my left, came out with the big bet and was called by the next player. John might be representing he had matched a King in the hole, but I put him on four-to-the-heart-flush. I assumed he might be semi-bluffing – hoping to take the pot if everyone folded, but holding at least 9 outs in case he was called.

Then “Tilt” raised and I was next to declare. Remembering my goal was to build that pot as much as possible, I decided not to re-raise. Undoubtedly, a double-raise would have provoked some of my opponents to fold, but I wanted to keep as many as possible in the hand.

So, after some readily observable hesitation, I just called the raise. This was sort of a Reverse Tell: I wanted my opponents to think I had a decent hand but not suspect I held the nuts. John and one other opponent also called “Tilt’s” raise.

The river brought a third heart. I sure was happy to see that (this time). Once again I checked, expecting to check-raise. The player to my left came out betting. (I assumed he had a big flush.) Then “Tilt” made his raise. This time, with some hesitation, I re-raised. Both remaining opponents called, with “Tilt” going all-in.

As I turned up my 9-4, the player to my left quickly folded. Then “Tilt” slammed his holecards face-up onto the board. He had 9s full of Kings. I don’t blame him for being angry. He scowled at me and shouted, “why didn’t you raise on the flop!”

I smiled as I scooped in that monster pot.

The Moral: When you are lucky and catch the nuts (or even a monster hand), think of how you can best build the pot you fully expect to win.

“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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