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Most winning players agree that your preflop call-or-fold decision is the most important in playing Hold’em. In a fixed-limit game at the Hustler Casino the other evening, I was in a middle position when I peeked down at my holecards:

My Holecards

Now, that’s a hand we consider one of the few exceptions to the Hold’em Algorithm (see Hold’em of Fold’em – An Algorithm for Making the Key Decision). It was my turn to declare after the Under-the-Gun (UTG) player called to see the flop. 

Should I call, hoping to flop at least two more clubs to the nut flush? Of course, we all know that you are much more likely to miss than hit on the flop. If you do improve, it’s more likely to pair up one of your holecards. The odds are 2-to-1 against pairing up; while the odds against flopping two more clubs are about 8-to-1. In other words, if your hand should improve at all, you are four times more likely to flop a pair than four-to-the-flush. I did consider calling to see the flop, but I had done my “homework” and had evaluated most of the opponents. Glancing at my notes to be sure, I reminded myself that there were two aggressive players behind me; one (or both) was very likely to raise the bet. That would make it too costly with my A-3 suited, a very marginal drawing hand. So I (wisely) folded and prepared to observe the hand as it played out. And, indeed, there was a raise; several called. No surprise there. . .

As I calmly watched the action, the flop included another trey and one more club. There were two spades:

The Flop

Everyone checked on the flop; I would have had a free card to see the turn. I watched to see if a third trey fell, or perhaps another Ace that would have given me Aces-and-treys, two-pair. And, what’s more, another club would give me four-to-the-nut flush; at that point, I would have a good shot at the big flush on the river – almost certain to be the winning hand, if. . .

The turn was the beautiful King of clubs. Now, had I stayed in, I would have 14 outs: Nine outs to the nut flush, two outs to trip treys, and three outs to two-pair, Aces and treys. Had I called to see the flop, I would now have a good shot at the pot with the best hand – depending, of course, on the river card. With 14 outs, I could expect to connect about 30% of the time; the card odds would be about 2.5-to-1 against. And the pot odds would be so much higher, making it a Positive Expectation situation for me. “Had I made the wrong decision?” The thought crossed my mind. 

On the river, when the dealer slowly placed another Ace on the board, I shook my head side-to-side. I would have caught Aces and treys, two-pair. “Oh shucks,” I muttered to myself, “I could have won that pot.” At least that’s what I thought – until I took a closer look at the board. The river card was the Ace of spades. Now there were three spades on the board; and, indeed, the player to my left took the pot with a spade flush. My hand would have been second-best; and that is bound to be costly.

Yes, I was glad I folded preflop!!! 

“The Engineer,” noted author and poker 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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