Sometimes in live poker it’s better not to have hand filled out

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A full-house on the river sure is beautiful to behold, especially if a higher full-house is not possible.

Excited? Try to constrain your emotions. (You don’t want to give your opponents a tell.) Happily, you muse: “I have the nuts!” Then you bet out, raise or check-raise to get as many chips as possible into the pot – YOUR pot! So you think…

But wait a minute. Take another look at the board, and ponder a minute. That pair on the river that gave you the full-boat, could it have helped an opponent?

Here’s a hand I had the other night in a low-limit hold’em game at a local casino. I was on the button and a little ahead for the evening. I had been paying close attention to the game and had a good “read” on my opponents’ betting styles and traits.

Four of us stayed to see the flop. It gave me a pair of 8s, top pair on the board, with top kicker. A bet by an early position was raised by the cut-off position. He was an aggressive player, prone to bluff at the pot on occasion.

He very well might be raising on a straight draw, even a small pair. Of course, he might also have raised with a set on the flop, but that had to be a huge long shot, I reasoned… I called as did the other two players.

The turn brought another 8, giving me trip 8s with top kicker. The 8 was the highest card on the board, so no one could have a better hand at that point. Wonderful! My only concern was that an opponent might be drawing to a diamond flush.

The two early/middle position players checked to the raiser in the cut-off position, who promptly made the bet. I contemplated raising his bet, but with two opponents still to declare I thought it best not to risk forcing them out with a raise.

Holding the nut hand at this point, I wanted to build the pot as big as possible. I would wait until the river to raise. So, I just called with my trip 8s. As hoped, both of the other players called to see the river.

Here is where it gets interesting.

Mind you, at this point, I was only concerned with the possibility of a third diamond falling on the board that might give an opponent a flush to beat my trips. As I silently prayed to the poker gods for “no more diamonds” on the river, the dealer turned up a 2 (heart).

My prayer had been answered: No flush was possible. But more important, I considered, I now had a full-boat (8s over deuces!) I felt invulnerable. I was wrong.

After checks by the early/middle position players, the cut-off made the big bet. Sort of a continuation bet, I thought. He might even be bluffing. This was the time to raise. The early/middle positions both folded.

I was surprised when my one remaining opponent re-raised me, going all-in. At least that was fortunate for me, otherwise I would have re-raised him. With only two players remaining in the hand, there is no limit on the number of raises allowed.

I could hardly believe my eyes when he turned up pocket deuces. His quad deuces beat my full-house!

Just think: Had the board not paired up on the river, my trip 8s were an easy winner. Perhaps I was too rambunctious – too carried away with the excitement of catching the nut full-house on the river. I’ll try to remember that full-houses don’t beat four-of-a-kind.

Yes, it would have been much better for me had I not filled up, so long as no one made a flush on the river. And, then quads would not be possible. Sometimes you win more by not filling up.

For comments or questions contact “The Engineer”at [email protected]

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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