Keep an eye on secondary ways to win poker hands

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Starting with a small pair – 7-7 down to 2-2 – in the hole, you limp in to see the flop. Hopefully you will catch a set on the flop. The odds are about 8-to-1 against you. Looking at the positive side, you can expect to connect over 10 percent of the time. Any set, even a small set as low as three deuces, is likely to take the pot on the showdown.

And, if you fail to connect on the flop, most of the time you will then fold to a bet. (Of course, if everyone checks, you get to see the Turn for free. Never refuse a free card. You never know what will fall on the board. It could be your set!)

After all, having missed on the flop, usually you will be left with only two outs – just two cards that may still be available among the remaining 47 unseen cards. That is a huge longshot with card odds of about 11-1 against you with the Turn and River yet to come. If you miss on the Turn, the odds against catching your set on the River go up to over 22-1. So, it would be natural to plan to fold after you miss on the flop.

But, wait a minute! Carefully study the board before you muck your hand. Occasionally, the board my offer opportunities you did not anticipate.

Example 1

Let’s say, you were dealt 5-5 in the hole, and stayed to see the flop. When another 5 does not fall on the flop, you are left with just two outs with the Turn and River yet to come. That gives you very poor card odds. You are ready to muck your cards. But, when you look more carefully at the board; it shows 2-3-4 offsuit.

Hey, that gives you an open-ended draw to a straight. So you actually have eight outs to a straight – the four Aces and the four 6’s.

Add those outs to the two more 5’s that are deemed to be available; that’s 10 cards that can give you the winning hand. With the Turn and River yet to come, the card odds are less than 2-to-1 against you. And, the pot odds are bound to be substantially higher. You have a Positive Expectancy. It’s worth a call.

Example 2

Another example is holding the 5-5 in the hole, on the flop. The board shows three cards of the same rank, say it’s 2-2-2. Now you have a full-house – deuces full of 5’s. At this point, think back: Were there any raises before the flop? If not, there is a good chance your pocket 5’s is the best hand, and likely to take the pot.

In that case, what is your best strategy? No matter how many opponents are still in the hand, you should be aggressive. (We call this selective aggression – betting or raising for value – when it is to your best advantage.)

If all of your remaining opponents fold, your 5-5 wins the pot. Even if one or two opponents do call, it is quite possible your hand is still in the lead. However, if your opponent is a tight player, it is prudent to be cautious; he may have a bigger pair in the hole. Don’t bet into him.

On the other hand, a loose player may very well be hoping to pair one of his holecards. In that case, the odds are well in your favor. Make him pay to see the Turn and the River.

The moral

The moral of the story is don’t act in haste. Don’t let the dealer or an opponent rush you to act. Don’t overdo it and take forever to make your decision. Study the board carefully and think.

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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