Slow play vs. building pot with a four of a kind

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Once in a while you will find yourself in a situation where you must quickly make an important decision. It happens in life as well as at the poker table. In life, it can even be life-threatening. At the poker table, it can only cost you some chips.

At my favorite local casino, I was in a $4-$8 limit hold’em game. The texture of the table was rather loose-aggressive. Many players stayed to see the flop, often with a raise before and after the flop. In this particular hand, I was the Big Blind, holding the worst possible starting hand – 7-2 offsuit, a hand I would usually have mucked without any hesitation from any position, even if no one had raised preflop.

Several opponents limped in to see the flop, and there was no raise. So I got to see the flop for free. (Never refuse a free card.) And what a flop it was! I watched as the dealer turned up 2-2-2 on the board. Awestruck, I could hardly believe my eyes. I could literally hear the table grow silent as everyone – both the players and the usually vociferous dealer – pondered over that hard-to-believe flop – three deuces!

I studied the board again to be certain. Yes, there were three deuces and even more awesome, with my deuce in the hole, I had been dealt the nuts – quads! (Don’t even think about the odds against that!)

Unquestionably, there was no doubt this hand was mine; so, of course, I wanted to build the pot as big as possible. (Remember, your goal is not just to win hands, but to win as much money – chips – as possible.)

Now, please pay close attention: At the end of this column, I am going to ask for your opinion. And, there will be a valuable prize for the best answer to my question: Did I make a big mistake in how I chose to play this hand?

In the Big Blind, I was first to act, and had to make a quick decision. There were two options. Should I slow-play to keep as many opponents in the pot as possible? If I did so by checking, it would likely be checked around. Then, on the turn, with so few chips in the pot, opponents probably would fold to my $8 bet. The pot odds would not justify an opponent’s calling unless he had caught a big pair.

On the other hand, thinking of the image I likely had earned up to this point in the game based on my play, my opponents would likely think of me as a rather aggressive, somewhat deceptive player (which I admit I am). By my betting out on the flop with three deuces on the board, they might well assume I was trying to steal the pot.

In that case, they would call my bet – and help to get some chips into the pot. Then, when the bets doubled on the turn and river, they would be more inclined to call – or even raise. Holding the nuts, that was my goal.

I opened with the $4 bet on the flop, expecting some of my opponents to call. On the contrary, one after the other tossed his cards into the muck. Instead of building a huge pot, I won a very small one – with my four-of-a-kind.

I don’t have to tell you how disappointed I was. And so I thought: Did I make a mistake by betting out? Should I have just checked – slow-playing my quad deuces – to keep some opponents in the pot so they might call my bet later on the turn? I have not been able to get that hand out of my mind. I still don’t know if my reasoning was correct.

So, I turn to you, my fellow readers of GamingToday. What do you think? Did I make a big mistake? And, most important, please explain your rationale. There will be a prize for the reader who sends the best answer.

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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