Picky poker

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If you use it to play the ‘right’ hands

It’s OK to be biased while playing poker – especially if you want to be a WINNER!

Notice that I didn’t say it’s OK to be bigoted, which is sometimes confused for “biased.” There is a world of difference between those two terms.

Bigots are intolerant of others who are different in one way or another. That’s bad news as far as I am concerned; I hope you agree. Personally, I won’t tolerate bigots.

Bias implies an inclination, a predisposition – leaning in one direction rather than another. As I tell my poker students, in poker it is OK, indeed it’s prudent, to be biased, especially preflop and on the river. In particular, I advocate being biased toward folding your hand before the flop and calling on the river.


The most important decision you must make during a hand of hold’em is whether to pay to see the flop – hold’em or fold’em? Preflop, if you decide to call the blind or a raise, you are making an investment.

Our Hold’em Algorithm (see Hold’em or Fold’em? ad elsewhere in SlotsToday) helps you make that decision. Sometimes it’s easy. With made hands – pocket aces, kings or queens – it’s a no-brainer. You might even raise; likewise with premium drawing hands – A-K, A-Q, A-J, K-Q and middle pairs.

But most other hands that meet the Hold’em Algorithm starting-hand criteria are marginal drawing hands; this is where being biased works in your favor. Using the Hold’em Algorithm, those would be hands that just barely meet the numerical score criteria, depending on your betting position. You aren’t sure whether to make that investment.

In that case, my advice is to be biased – inclined – to fold unless the implied pot odds are so much greater than your card odds. When in doubt, fold. Avoid making the investment; wait for the next hand. (Meanwhile, observe your opponents – how each plays his hand, the kind of hands he plays and raises. Learn all you can about your opponents.)

On the River

The other time it pays to be biased often occurs on the river. Perhaps you didn’t make the flush to which you were drawing but you did pair up. An opponent bets. You ask yourself: “Should I call?” (It’s OK to talk to yourself; just don’t let anyone hear you – and don’t move your lips.) There is a decent-size pot waiting for the winner. It’s just you against the bettor. You had two shots at the flush, but missed. All you have is a middle pair. Try to guess what hands your opponent might hold. What kind of player is he? If there is even a small chance your hand could beat his, then it usually is prudent to call the bet.

In other words, be biased toward calling on the river. All it will cost you is one big bet, and you might win the whole pot. Perhaps the bettor also was drawing to the flush – and didn’t make it either. Perhaps he was betting with A-K or A-Q and did not connect. A fairly aggressive player, he may have been semi-bluffing on the turn, hoping to induce you to fold while planning to bluff on the river if he did not connect.

The pot odds often make calling a viable decision. Suppose there are 10 big bets in the pot, giving you 10-to-1 pot odds. If there is even one chance out of nine that your opponent’s hand does not have yours beaten, then you have a positive expectation (PE). In the long run, with a positive PE, calling will earn money for you! It’s wise to be biased in that case too. Call.


Comments? George “The Engineer” Epstein can be contacted at: [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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