You can expect to lose playing poker sometimes

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Even the best poker players can expect to lose sometimes. To the extent that chance (luck) and probability are heavily involved in the game of poker, there are bound to be occasions when the cards turn against you.

A vivid example is when you are “rivered.” You hold the best hand until the river. You are an odds-on favorite to win the pot – only to have a long-shot card give your opponent the better hand at the showdown. It is bound to happen if you play much poker.

Example: Here’s a hand that recently ended my poker session in a limit hold’em game with ½-kill at a local casino. The cards had not been favorable for me most of the session; then, I started to enjoy some good fortune. (Call it “variance.”) But then came the biggest pot of the night; and I worked hard to build it. In late position, I was dealt pocket tens. Almost everyone called to see the flop. I decided not to raise in the hope of improving to a set on the flop and then winning a huge pot with so many callers.

The poker gods smiled on me when the flop was a 10-clubs, followed by K-diamonds and 2-spades. Wow! My set of tens looked so good. And there were no likely straights or flushes at this point. I had visions of a monster pot that would put me ahead for the session. That became my goal.

An early-position came out betting. I put her on a pair of Kings or two-pair, possibly a draw to a straight. Everyone called. The pot was growing; I liked that. Rather than raising, I decided to slow-play by just calling, and waiting for the turn to raise when the bets would be doubled. Being in a late position, my raise would build the pot even greater. By that time, the pot would be so big “chasers” would readily call my raise. (That’s “raising for value” as contrasted with betting to thin the field.)

I hoped the turn would pair the board, giving me a full-boat; it didn’t happen. The turn was the 6-clubs. The early-position again opened the betting. Perhaps she had two-pair or even a set of deuces. My set of tens would still be in the lead. Most of the others called. Then I made my raise. All called to see the river. I had visions of winning a huge pot!

On the river, again I hoped the board would pair for my full-boat. Instead the dealer turned up the Q-spades. I didn’t like that at all; now there was a possible straight out there.

The early-position came out betting again, but this time she was raised by a gent in middle-position. At this point, I decided to just call. The early-position also called. I considered that the middle-position raiser could have caught a straight on the river; but, of course, I called, hoping both of them had two-pair or a smaller set than I. After all, my set of tens was well hidden. No such luck; the middle-position showed down his A-J for the big straight. I had been rivered again, and decided to call it a night. I hate being rivered!

In hindsight: Driving home, I thought about that hand. I think I played it well. The player who caught his straight on the river actually had (at most) just four outs – a huge long shot with card odds of over 10-to-1 against him.

Of course, he may have thought his Ace in the hole gave him three more outs. (With 7 outs, the card odds on the river would be about 5-to-1 against him.)

In any case, with so many chips piled high in the pot, he had a monster Positive Expectation. There was no way he would not draw to see if the river helped him. And, unfortunately for me, it sure did. I wouldn’t call it a bad beat, but it sure took “the wind out of my sails.”

Oh well, in the final analysis, you can expect to lose sometimes – like it or not.

“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].

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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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