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In the past, I have gone to great lengths to make it easy for my poker students and those who have learned the Hold’em Algorithm to decide whether their hole cards are worthy of investing to see the flop.

I must add that we all recognize some hole cards make better starting hands than others. My point today is to stress there are times to fold a playable hand before the flop.

We distinguish between marginal and strong starting hands; i.e., marginal starting hands barely satisfy or slightly exceed the card-point numerical criteria for your position. Some poker players refer to such hands as “borderline” starting hands.

We recommend using the Hold’em Caveat in such cases: In order to call to see the flop, there must be no raises preflop and it must be a multi-way pot (three or more opponents staying to see the flop).

Just to be perfectly clear, here is a typical example: You have been dealt Q-10 offsuit in a late position. That’s 22 points (12 + 10) according to our Hold’em Algorithm; it barely meets the starting hand criteria.

If there are no raises before you, and you don’t anticipate a raise from a player after you, and three opponents have called to see the flop, then you should make the investment too. If the flop improves your hand, you may want to invest further in that hand – perhaps even raise.

If the flop misses your hand – or improves it only slightly, folding on the flop often is the wise move on your part.

On the flop, you must have at least six outs (if not a “made” hand) to warrant calling a bet to see the turn with a drawing hand.

Another case: There is yet another situation when you should consider mucking a starting hand that would normally be considered playable. It seems to be happening to me more often lately; but that’s probably my imagination.

More likely, I am just paying more attention to such cases. And, I have observed that folding in those cases has saved me chips. The chips you don’t lose are even more valuable than those you win.

By way of illustration, let’s say you are in a late position with A-7 offsuit as your hole cards. According to the Hold’em Algorithm, that gives you 23 points (16 + 7). That’s a playable hand from a late position (but not from early or middle positions). As the betting proceeds before the flop, an early position player makes a raise. Then he is quickly called by two others.

Ask yourself: What do I know about the raiser? Since you have been observing his play for several orbits, you have noted he is a tight player. Undoubtedly, he is holding a very strong starting-hand. Quite likely, at least one of the callers has also observed that the raiser is a tight player.

Still, he called the raise without hesitation. He too must have a strong starting-hand. Your A-7 is bound to be a long shot in this case. Even if you connect on the flop, could you be sure you held the best hand? Besides, the odds are 2-to-1 against improving your hand by pairing one of your hole cards.

What if it’s a pair of 7s? That doesn’t beat a higher pair; and if one of your opponents does hold a higher pair, you would have just five outs (two outs for the remaining 7s, and three outs for the Ace). It might be enough to keep you in the pot, hoping to improve further on the turn or river.

At best, you are a 4-to-1 underdog. With just five outs, you would be chasing; and, we all know chasing is a costly venture.

“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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