When poker luck is running poor be cautious

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Playing in a 4-8 limit game with a kill, it was a full table of nine players. The cards had not cooperated with me; I was behind for the evening. But, I was still patient – waiting hopefully for my luck to improve.

My poker buddy, Ron R., was standing behind me, observing the game, while waiting for me to cash out and pack up for the drive home.

In this game, there was just one blind – the Big Blind. I was it. Looking at my holecards, I had A-3 offsuit. Five opponents paid to see the flop; there were no raises. So, I got to see the flop for “free.” At first sight, I was rather pleased with the flop: A-6-2 rainbow.

I had top pair, A-A, and even a remote chance to catch a straight. But, needless to say, my small kicker – the trey – was of much concern. I was apprehensive lest someone had an Ace with a better kicker in the hole. If so, I was a big underdog.

With two unseen Aces remaining in the deck, the chance one of my opponents also had an Ace in the hole was about 60 percent. So the odds were about 3-to-2 that I was in trouble. If so, only another trey could help me – assuming my opponent with an Ace in the hole did not also pair his kicker.

Being the Blind, I was first to act on the flop. My best play was to bet out, probing for information. Just checking, I would learn little about my opponents’ hands. If anyone raised me, depending on the type of player he was, I could gain valuable information. If the raiser was a tight player, I would put him on a big Ace – and fold my hand.

As it turned out, on the flop, there were two callers and no raise. Perhaps (hopefully) my pair of Aces was good, despite the poor kicker. But, I realized one of the callers could still have an Ace with a middle kicker and be reluctant to make the raise. Both were fairly loose players, prone to chase; neither was timid.

Being in a limit game, I could not scare them out with a huge bet. I did use the Esther Bluff tactic to encourage opponents to fold. Three opponents did fold, but two called to see the turn with me.

The turn was a middle card that probably did not help anyone. At least, it didn’t change my situation. I was still concerned an opponent had a better Ace than I. By then, the pot had grown enough that it could help me get almost even for the session – if my A-A held up.

Perhaps my two remaining opponents held pairs – lower than my A-A. At least, that was what I hoped; but, since no one had raised preflop, that was less likely. I realized the odds were 3-to-2 against me that at least one of my opponents had a bigger Ace in the hole. That was my main concern.

I decided to go for a check-raise on the turn – sort of a semi-bluff. Perhaps, an opponent holding an Ace with a middle or lower kicker, would fold. A woman in a middle position bet out; the next player folded.

My best chance of winning that pot was to get her to muck her cards. Unfortunately, she called my raise. We saw the river: another rag. I saw no point in betting out. Anyone with an Ace would not fold.

Showdown: She showed A-8. My hand was a poor second-best. It had been dominated from the start. On our way out of the casino, Ron asked a good question: “George, why did you play A-rag that way?”

Encore: How would you have played this hand? The best answer submitted within two weeks after publication of this column will win a signed copy of Hold’em or Fold’em? – An Algorithm for Making the Key Decision. Email your answer to [email protected].

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