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Laying in bed the other morning, I thought about a particular hand I recently won at the Hustler Casino. It was a $4-$8 limit hold’em game with a full table of nine players. I was a bit behind, and it was close to the time for me to pack up and go home; so, I was hoping for a win that might make me a winner for the session. (I hate to go home a loser!)

As it turned out, this particular hand was decided by runner-runner cards on the Turn and the River. I caught trips to beat out an opponent’s overpair to the board. The odds are heavily against catching runner-runner. Somewhat more often, runner-runner occurs when drawing to a straight or flush.

In the cut-off position, I looked down at A-J spades – a great starting-hand. An early-position raised, and four others and I called. It was a multi-way pot. If I connected, it would likely be a good size pot that could easily put me ahead for the session.

The flop came down: 10s-7h-2c. With my A-J spades in the hole, I had three to the nut flush, and two overcards to the board. There was a reasonable chance I could improve to the best hand. So, along with two others, I called the early-position’s bet; no raises.

The Turn was Jc, giving me top pair on the board. I reckoned my hand was now in the lead – but quite vulnerable. So, after it was checked around to me, I bet out to reduce the number of opponents staying in the hand. I was hoping my pair of Jacks would hold up to take the pot on the showdown.

The River was another Jack, giving me trips. It was runner-runner Jacks for me! When we showed down our hands at the end, the early-position held pocket Queens; he was ahead all the way until the River. Boy, was I lucky! Thanks to the poker g-ds, that hand put me ahead for the session. I was a happy 91-years-young man as I left the casino that night.


Catching runner-runner on the Turn and River is a huge long shot. In this case, catching only the Jack on the Turn would have left me a loser to early-position’s pocket Queens. On the River, I had just five outs – three Aces and two Jacks. The odds were about 9-to-1 against me. Back on the Turn, the odds were even higher (about 20-to-1) against my catching runner-runner Jacks. Had I known this, the pot odds would have been much too small to warrant my making the bet. I had a negative expectation but didn’t know it. No doubt about it: I was so lucky.

Bottom Line

Like it or not, there are situations where luck is the key factor. Catching runner-runner is a good example. It’s all luck! In the long run, everyone gets his fair share of luck – good and bad. Poker skills will give you the edge, making the difference – a winner or a loser. The key skills include:

• Selecting your starting-hand – Is it good enough to warrant your investment?

• Folding to a bet if your hand does not improve on the flop (with some exceptions);

• Knowing how best to use the pot odds and card odds (number of outs) when you hold a drawing hand;

• Observing and using your opponents’ playing traits and tells, and deducing (guessing) the range of their hands;

• Slow-playing to build the pot when you have a monster – better yet, the nuts;

• Knowing when it is to your advantage to raise;

• Knowing when and how best to thin the field to protect a vulnerable hand;

• Bluffing properly when it is appropriate.

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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