Mistakes are made even by poker pros

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History repeats itself… It seems just a short time ago the Sunday edition of the Los Angeles Times ran a poker column about playing A-K (Big Slick). In that case, I thought the poker pro author had erred in playing his hand.

Now, once again, the L.A. Times has published another column wherein a well-known poker pro (he won a bracelet in the 2013 World Series of Poker), apparently unaware of it, made the very same mistake. We’ll call him Bob. Since he is a pro, I assume he is a fairly good player; but, we are all liable to make mistakes – especially when we don’t know any better. (Hopefully, we learn from our mistakes.)

Bob attributed his loss to the fact he was up against another poker pro (well over $1 million in lifetime earnings). Let’s call him Joe. But that’s not really why Bob got knocked out of that tournament. He just played his hand wrong. He would have lost that hand against an amateur.

The Mistake

Big Slick is a great starting-hand – a premium drawing hand. Many players likely would have played this hand the same way: Raise preflop. That’s their mistake.

Here’s how the hand played out: From an early position, holding A-K offsuit, Bob opened for a raise to 3 times the big blind. (Keep that in mind.) After four others limped, Joe, in the big blind position, re-raised to 18 times the big blind. That should have given Bob cause to stop and ponder. Instead, he responded by four-betting with another big raise. All the limpers folded. Then Joe paused a few moments before shoving all-in.

Bob was convinced he had it all figured out: Since Joe was a pro, he was making a move with a hand such as A-Q offsuit – that was dominated by Bob’s A-K. So, Bob called the all-in raise… and subsequently, lost the pot – and the tournament – to Joe’s pocket Aces!

Bob attributed his loss to “an external factor.” He misread Joe’s hand because of his status “as a well-known pro;” and that determined how he played his hand. But, Bob’s big mistake (even though he did not realize it) was his initial preflop raise.

Explanation

With A-K, expect to pair up on the flop about one-third of the time. That is a statistical probability. Most of the time, you will miss. (Even a small pair beats A-K.)

What’s more, raising preflop will likely thin the playing field – so, if you do connect, the pot is expected to be much smaller than if you had just called to see the flop. Your preflop raise also may encourage players with weaker Aces or Kings to muck their hands; whereas, those are the very opponents you would love to have remain in the pot to help you build it – after another Ace (or King) falls on the flop. (Remember, the flop permits you to see over 70% of your final hand. That is vital information.)

As the hand played out, Joe’s pocket Aces would have taken the pot no matter what Bob did. But, if Bob had waited to see the flop (2-3-7 rainbow), most likely he would have played more cautiously and saved most of his chips. Instead, he lost all his chips and got himself knocked out of the tournament.

Most important

This hand also illustrates why poker math and logic are much more important than trying to guess at how your opponents will play their hands. How well can you actually “read” your opponents?

At best it’s a guess; whereas the probabilities are indisputable facts. Put the odds in your favor rather than flouting them based on assumptions about your opponents – no matter their skills and reputations.

The probabilities clearly show why just calling before the flop would have been the wiser play for Bob. His assumption about Joe’s motives in how he played that hand were wrong; but, more important, the inviolable probabilities should have made Bob play much more cautiously preflop. Who knows, he might have won that tournament.

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

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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