Some sage advice from a fellow poker writer

Jonathan Little is one of my favorite poker writers. I never miss his columns in the Sunday editions of the Los Angeles Times.  

His Jan. 19 column caught my attention. I had to stop and ponder. Let me quote:

“In poker, before you make any bet, you should stop to think about what the result of that bet will be. … Then, based on the probable results, determine whether betting is in your best interest.”

Playing low/middle limit Texas hold‘em, just how good is that advice? How helpful is it? Will it make money for you — or cost you chips? 

My answer? It depends on several factors. Let’s look at a couple of actual hands that I recently played from the Big Blind.

Usually, I rely on the Hold’em Algorithm to select my starting hands (Ref. Hold’em or Fold’em? — An Algorithm for Making the Key Decision) which provides a score based on:

• Value of your two hole cards

• Your betting position — early, middle or late

• Have there been any raises?

• Number of opponents staying to see the flop

• Your opponents’ traits  

• The texture of the game — tight (raises are rare), loose (many players calling during the playing of the hand), or aggressive (lots of raises). 

But there are times — albeit quite rare —  when you should stay to see the flop even when most of these factors are not favorable.

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Awhile back, I wrote about a hand I was dealt in a $4-$8 limit game:

3 of clubs-2 of hearts in the Big Blind

I was about to muck my cards when I realized that no one had raised. Never refuse a “Free Card” — especially the flop. It would permit me to see over 70 percent of my final hand for free. Four opponents and I watched as the dealer slowly put three cards, side-by-side, face-up on the board: 

3 of spades-3 of diamonds-2 of clubs

A quick peek at my hole cards confirmed my hand: 

3’s-full-of-deuces for a full-house

Wow! At that point, I slow-played to keep the “enemy” in the pot to build it as big as possible. That “free card” added a rack of chips to my winnings.

A few days later, I was dealt 3 of clubs-4 of clubs in the Small Blind. That’s another hand I would normally muck. But there were no raises and most of my opponents limped to see the flop, making the potential pot odds very attractive. So for only two more chips, it was worth the small risk.  

Sure enough, I was lucky when the flop came down:

Ace of clubs- 2 of diamonds-5 of spades

I had flopped the nut straight. No flushes or full-houses were possible at that point.

Careful not to give any tells, I slow-played my hand. Keep them all in the pot to build a big win. After I checked on the flop, the Under-the-Gun (UTG) opened the betting. Four others and I called to see the turn. A great start on building “my” pot.  

But, much to my dismay, the turn put a second Ace on the board. With a pair on the board, there is a chance someone could make a full house, but the odds were still well in my favor.

After I checked on the turn, UTG again opened the betting. But this time, UTG+1 raised it up. Two other opponents called the 3-bet. After some thought, I decided to complete the betting with a third raise. I silently prayed to the Poker Gods: “No more pairs on the board.” 

Guess what? A third Ace fell on the river! Any player with a pair in the hole or who had paired one of the hole cards had me beat with a full-house. After my check, the UTG also checked. Then the UTG+1 made the bet with a big smile. 

A tell? Almost certain that I had been rivered, nevertheless, with the pot so big, I just had to call.  

UTG+1 turned up his K-2 for Aces-full-of-deuces. Then, UTG and I mucked our cards. After that hand, I took a long break and quit for the evening shortly after. Oh, so close.

I will never forget those two hands. Jonathan Little’s advice is always worth considering. 

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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