Mistakes in poker can be costly, part 2

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by George “The Engineer” Epstein |

This is the second in our series on mistakes poker players often make at the table. My previous column discussed the mistake rated No. 1 by our Poker Lab at the Claude Pepper Sr. Center in Los Angeles: Playing Too Many Hands. Today’s column will examine Playing Ace-Rag Offsuit, our second highest-rated mistake.

An ace in the hole is exciting to behold. You hold your breath in anticipation as you peek at your other holecard. There’s an emotional letdown when it’s a “baby” of a different suit: Ace-rag off-suit

Note: Some experts consider a “rag” as 9 or lower. (Ref. Drawing Dead to a Gutshot – How to Talk Poker by Brant Janeway.) Since A-9 and A-8 may be considered marginal drawing hands in some cases, I prefer to regard 7 or lower as “rag” hands, like this one:

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Many players will call the blind with it, hoping to connect on the flop. The trouble is the flop is more likely not to match either card; the odds are 2-to-1 against improving on the flop. And, one out of three times, when the flop does improve that hand, it could match either the A or the rag, leading to a difficult situation – a “dominated” hand:

Catch an ace on the flop; a pair of aces with the rag kicker is a predicament: Any opponent with an A in the hole most likely has you “outkicked;” your hand is second-best. That could be very costly as you go all the way to the river, hoping your aces will take the pot at the showdown.

Likewise, pairing the rag also presents a potentially costly problem: You have a great kicker (the ace) but your small pair is beaten by a bigger pair or better in an opponent’s hand.

Even so, the majority of poker players make that mistake – at least in limit hold’em. (In no-limit games, players usually are more cautious with starting hands – and less likely to make the mistake of staying in with A-Rag off-suit.)

Yes, playing A-Rag Offsuit is a big mistake. Such players are PokerPigeons – bound to go home losers. Such players may well comprise the majority of the 80% – 90% of poker players that almost always go home losers.

Your Logical Follow-Up Question:

OK, I now understand why playing A-Rag Offsuit is a mistake; but what if my A-Rag in the hole is suited? Would it be a mistake to play that hand? I regard this as a potential exception to my Hold’em Algorithm; the score is lower than what you would normally require for a playable hand preflop.

But it does offer the opportunity to make the “nut flush;” and that would be a great hand! It beats every other flush except a straight flush. My recommendation is to play A-Rag Suited only if you can see the flop cheaply (no raises) in a multi-way pot (three or more opponents staying to see the flop), and preferably from a late position.

The odds are much against making the flush; but, the payoff can be great when you do connect and the implied pot odds are high because it’s a multi-way pot.

Here’s Our Deal for YOU:

Send us your most significant (costly) mistake in limit hold’em, explaining how you would avoid making this mistake. The best responses – to be judged by Esther, who created the now famous Esther Bluff, and me – will receive a copy of my Hold’em or Fold’em? booklet. (It’s powerful!) Please include your name, address and where you play poker; we may publish your comments in a future column. E-mail your response to [email protected]

Meanwhile, try to avoid making mistakes!

You can try out your strategy by playing our free live online poker.

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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