Part 1: ‘Nuts’ what poker players aspire for

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The best possible hand, considering all of the cards on the board, is “the nuts.” It’s unbeatable. Every poker player aspires to catch the nuts. No one can make a better hand. It’s invincible.

One problem: Far more likely you will catch a monster hand that is not quite the nuts – “almost the nuts” – on the flop or on the turn. But, the next card on the board could negate that high and lofty status. So be aware, and be prepared to reverse course.

Playing Texas hold’em, you have been dealt pocket queens – a made hand. Your Q-Q in the hole most likely is the best hand before the flop. An opponent would have to have pocket Aces or pocket Kings to beat it; those are very rare. From a late position, you raise to thin the field, so your Q-Q has a better chance of keeping the lead. Your raise also helps to build the pot, in case you improve or your Q-Q is best at the showdown, so you scoop the pot.

The flop comes down: Q-J-6 offsuit. You have caught a set of Queens – a powerful hand! At this point, no one can possibly beat it, no matter what cards he was dealt. Even pocket Aces cannot beat your set of Queens. If an opponent has made a set, say three Jacks if he had been dealt pocket Jacks, his hand is second-best to yours. Nor is a straight or flush possible, considering the cards on the board.

An early-position comes out betting and is called by two others. You raise the bet to build the pot; you are so confident it is soon to be your pot. After all, you think, “I have the nuts!”

On the turn, the dealer lays the 3 of spades on the board. Bound to be a blank for everyone, you think to yourself. Your opponents quickly check to you; so you make the bet, and get called by two opponents.

Then the Big Blind raises your bet. It’s a check-raise – a tactic a skilled player might use when he has caught a likely winner and wants to build “his” pot. What could he have? At best a set. That would be the case if he started with pocket Jacks, sixes, or treys. No matter, there is no way he can beat your set of Queens – at this point. No one can have a higher set; nor is a straight or flush possible. No question, you have the nuts. So you re-raise. He and one other player see the river with you.

Another trey – the 3 of clubs – falls on the river. Now, the Big Blind comes out betting. With a pair on the board – two treys – the only way his hand can possibly beat yours is with quad treys. Checking your notes on him, he is a loose player, often playing marginal starting hands; and prone to chase with just a few outs – a PokerPigeon. The odds against his making quads on the river are huge – over 40-to-1 against him even if he had a set on the turn.

Your first inclination is to re-raise him. Based on probability, it would be a sound bet. After all, you now have a full-boat – queens over treys; and the pot odds are very favorable. But, something tells you not to raise; if he has quads, he will re-raise you. That would be very costly. Perhaps the river gave him quad treys – the nuts.

It is possible. After you call his bet, he turns up two red treys. Yes, indeed, he caught the absolute nuts on the river. He had just one out, but he caught it – one single card out of the rest of the deck! Luck was on his side.

Next issue, we will examine a more common case when your nut flush on the turn becomes second-best on the river.

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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