Pocket pairs no guarantee for success in poker

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The other day, I was waiting to be seated at a limit Texas hold’em game at my favorite casino, Larry Flynt’s Hustler Casino in Gardena, Calif. To pass the time, I was reading the latest issue of Gaming Today, which is available in the casino. An elderly gent came up to me, shook my hand and said, hello. I recognized him as one of my former students in the hold’em poker class I used to teach at West Los Angeles College. It’s been quite a few years since I gave up teaching classes because my hearing got so bad. He and his wife subsequently joined our Claude Pepper Seniors Poker Group.

“Can I ask your advice?” he said with a smile. Returning his smile, I nodded and said, “Of course.” He explained that he is playing 4-8 limit hold’em with Half-Kill. That effectively made it a 6-12 game.

In a middle position, with the “kill” button in play, he was dealt 10H-10S, and decided to raise preflop to help protect his middle pair.

Four opponents called and saw the flop with him. It came down with two picture cards:

After the two blinds checked, he opened with a c-bet; three opponents called. The turn was a rag. Again, it was checked to him; so he continued to bet, and was called by two opponents. Another rag fell on the River. This time, he decided to check; and both of his remaining opponents checked along.

To make a long story short, his pocket 10s did not improve to a set. Showdown: The Big Blind turned up a Queen with a deuce as his kicker, beating him out of the pot. The other player held A-9 offsuit.

Hee looked me in the eye and said: “What’s your advice on playing that hand? I thought I played it right. But it cost me a lot of chips.”

My reply was that pocket pairs are quite common in hold’em. At a table with nine players, on average, you can expect someone to have a pocket pair one out of two hands dealt.

In low-limit games such as 4-8, even with a “Kill,” players are wont to stay to see the flop with any Ace, King, or Queen. 

Unfortunately for him, that’s what happened. Wouldn’t it have been wiser for him to just limp along to see the flop? Then, if no card higher than a 10 fell on the board, he could continue to bet his pocket 10s – this time for value and to further reduce the playing field.

But when the two picture cards fell on the flop, he should have played more cautiously, and invested less money in that pot.

In fact, in that case, if there was a raise, it would have been appropriate to consider mucking his pocket 10s –saving his chips for a better opportunity.

Middle pairs in the hole are dangerous. It’s best to just limp along pre-flop, and see what the flop brings. If your middle pair is an over-pair to the flop, then a c-bet or even a raise is appropriate.

In playing such hands, give consideration to the type of players involved with you. Tight players must be respected. Muck your pocket 10s if one raises the pot. But consider calling a bet from a loose or aggressive player, especially if you suspect he may be bluffing.

At that point, I was called to a table. Fortunately, it was a good table for me. My former student thanked me profusely, and returned to his table to get back into the action.

Rules of the road

Recently, we promised to occasionally share with you our Rules of the Road. Here is one for your consideration – how best to increase your winning sessions;

If you start with a big pair lower than A-A, consider mucking your hand on the flop if an Ace falls on the board. Exception: If it’s checked around to you when you are in a late position, making a bet may be to your benefit.

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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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