To muck or stay? GT readers weigh in

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Several readers offered interesting comments regarding my column, “Muck or stay? Every poker Player’s dilemma” in the February 20 issue of Gaming Today.

To recall, it was about a hand that I was dealt in a limit $4-$8 hold’em game with 1/2 Kill at Larry Flynt’s Hustler Casino in Gardena, Calif.

On the button, I looked down on pocket tens – 10-10 in the hole. Of course, everyone will agree that’s a very playable starting hand.

Indeed, on several occasions, I have seen it take the pot on the showdown without improving. But much more often, it needs to improve to beat out all your opponents, especially if it’s a multi-way pot with three or more opponents staying to see the flop.

Best would be to catch a set on the flop; but the odds are heavily against it: about 8-to-1 against.

Preflop, before the betting got to me there were three raises. That’s the limit for the number of raises allowed when three or more players are in the hand. A 4-bet such as this suggests that your opponents have powerful hands; there may already be higher pairs out against you.

What’s more, the aggressive betting is likely to continue after the flop. Victory will be hard to come by; and it could get very costly.

So, after much thought, with much hesitation, I mucked my pocket tens. And then, considerably relaxed, I sat back to watch the action. But that did not last very long.

To make a long story short, the flop was 10-A-10. I would have made quad tens. Wow! So, naturally, I wondered if I had made a big mistake by folding before the flop.

In addition to winning the pot, we would have shared the Bad Beat Jackpot when one of the players turned up pocket Aces, giving him Aces-full-of-tens, which would lose to my quads.

Our readers responded. Pepe B., a professional artist living in Philadelphia, has been playing poker since his late teens. He doesn’t mince his words.

“You did the correct play — and you know it,” he reassured me. “You will lose far more times than you will win with a hand like that in the long run, under the same circumstances.”

I liked that response, confirming the wisdom of my decision in that situation.

On the other hand, Michael M. disagrees.

“Your total investment would have been probably $36,” he said. “By the time it got to you preflop, it was $16, but there were multiple players in already so you were priced in.

“When you play 4/8 sometimes you have to gamble and hope for the best as bluffing does not exist. I think you made a bad fold, but I have done the same many times.”

My response to Michael: I would rather not gamble unless I have to; it’s much better to consider the odds. With an 8-to-1 longshot to catch a set on the flop, I was getting only 4-to-1 pot odds.

As for bluffing, Michael may be interested to learn that I win about 80 percent of my bluffs. Often, it’s the difference between a winning and a losing session.

Players who never bluff are bound to be losers. But it does take skill to be successful at bluffing.

John M. who much enjoys playing in tournaments in Las Vegas, stands on the fence.

In response to my question, he says, “There is not a textbook mathematically correct answer since, in poker, with cards and opposing players, there are personalities involved.”

In closing, he said: “I like your column almost as much as I love poker. It’s the first thing I read every week in GT.”

With that, I must agree. Now, if only I had a poker player’s magic crystal ball to foretell the future.

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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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