Sometimes luck is not connecting in poker

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You are playing in a $4-$8 limit hold’em game with a kill. (Note: This is probably the most popular game currently among recreational players in casinos).

Question of the day: When would you be very lucky NOT to have connected on the flop?

Sounds strange, doesn’t it? We all want to improve our hands on the flop – to connect with a strong hand – a made hand, if you will. So, how is it possible a skilled player might very well be glad he did not improve his hand on the flop – and, then, mucks his cards to wait patiently for a better hand?

Here’s a good example of such a situation: You stayed to see the flop with a pair of 5’s in the hole, hoping to catch a set of 5’s. Now then, a set (three of a kind) is a very powerful hand, we all agree. It’s a made hand that could easily win the pot without further improvement.

Well, it happened to me recently. I was in the big blind and got to see the flop for “free” when there were no raises preflop. It was – at first sight – a great flop for me: 5c-Kc-2s. A set of 5s is not to be sneezed at. I decided to bet for value and also to thin the playing field a bit, so my set would have a better chance of holding up to the end. Three opponents called to see the turn. The 2h paired the board. My 5’s-full-of-deuces stared back at me and warmed my beating poker heart. I managed to hide my excitement. (No tells from me.)

It was at a loose table so I anticipated being able to build a big pot for my (greedy?) self. On the turn, I bet out again, and was called by all three remaining opponents. The pot was growing so nicely, I smiled to myself – confident.

The river was a blank. Again I bet out. This time a middle-position player hesitated a few seconds, took a peek at her hole cards – and then raised me! I had not expected that raise. I looked at her – an attractive young woman who, judging from her two full racks of chips, appeared to be well ahead for the evening. Her face was a blank – a “poker face.”

As the others folded, I studied the board and checked my hand. Yes, I had a full-house. That certainly is a powerful hand; but, it isn’t the nuts. What was the chance she had a better hand than mine? I studied her, hoping for a tell. No such luck.

No matter; there was no way I would muck my full-house. I called her raise, hoping she had two-pair or less. Thereupon, with a big smile, she proudly – and triumphantly – flipped up pocket Kings. She had me beat all the way!

Thinking back, as long as I was doing the betting, she just called along – slow-playing her monster hand – so the pot could grow. She played her hand quite well, slow-playing until the river round of betting when she raised my bet. And she got the maximum amount of chips from me in this situation. (I’m glad it wasn’t a Kill hand.)

So, now, let’s get back to our original question: When would you be very lucky not to have connected on the flop? This was certainly such a case. Had my small pair not improved to a set, I would have folded my hand on the flop – without any hesitation. Consider all the chips I would have saved! I would have been lucky to miss the set.

“The Engineer,” a noted author and teacher in Greater Los Angeles, is a member of the Seniors Poker Hall of Fame. Email: [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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