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Do you have a nemesis – a particular opponent at the poker table who seems to always end up with a better hand than you, taking away pot after pot you were sure to win?

It seems that at almost every table there is one person who, hand after hand, draws out on me. What could be more frustrating than to start with pocket aces, flop a set of aces – and then lose to a medium straight on the river?

For me, my nemesis is usually a little old lady sitting across the table with a pleasant, friendly smile behind her bifocals.

She almost seems apologetic as she scoops in what I felt certain was destined to be my pot.

I had played patiently, using the Hold’em Algorithm to decide which hands to play. Then, when I was dealt the pocket aces in a middle position, I promptly raised to force out players behind me, hoping to play against three or four opponents.

That strategy worked just fine. Then, when I flopped the third ace with a rainbow board – A-7-8, I was already “counting the chips;” this had to be my pot. Oh boy! It seems my nemesis had been dealt middle connectors – 9-10 offsuit, and was drawing to an open-ended straight at the river.

The 6 of diamonds on the river did me in. She had made a 10-high straight. In hindsight, she played her hand perfectly, calling all the way to the river then check-raising me on the river. With an open-ended straight draw on the flop, her eight outs gave a reasonable shot at the straight (at the river, card odds of about 5-to-1 against) and the pot odds were much higher than the card odds.

She made the right decision in calling me to see the river. Still, with a set of aces, I had 10 outs and was much more likely to fill up or make quad aces on the river, but it didn’t work out that way for me.

It seemed that every time I went in with a strong hand, my nemesis stayed to see the flop – and ended up with a superior hand. Shortly after the set of aces “episode,” I was on the button when looking down at the queen and jack of clubs.

I called to see the flop, there were no raises. My nemesis had also called before me. With five of us to see the flop, I caught two more clubs on the flop. Oh boy! I had a good chance to make a queen-high flush. The big blind made the opening bet and was called by three other opponents. Now it was my turn to act.

With nine outs on the flop, I had card odds of less than 2-to-1 against making the flush on the turn or the river. I raised for value. All four called my raise. Skipping ahead, a club fell on the turn, giving me the queen-high flush. (Great!) Then the river brought a fourth club on the board. Trouble.

I was confident (wishful thinking?) that my queen-high flush would take the pot until my nemesis came out betting on the river. Could she have a higher club in the hole than I? Of course I had to call her, my nemesis. She showed down ace of clubs, 10 of spades.

The dealer pushed the pot to her; and I feigned a weak smile as I said: “Nice catch.” She smiled back at me. But I must tell you that before the evening was over, I did get my revenge and made a few hands that bested my nemesis.

Driving home that night a winner, I pondered: Why does it seem there is always one nemesis at my table?

The curse of the nemesis.

“The Engineer,” a noted author and teacher in West Los Angeles, is a member of the Seniors’ Poker Hall of Fame. Contact him on line 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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