Plenty bad players to go around

Jul 26, 2005 12:46 AM


You are playing in a fairly loose hold’em game and raise in an early seat with a pair of queens. Three people call behind you, the button raises, you re-raise, and everybody calls. On the flop, you see queen, four, eight of different suits. You check, get one bettor from the middle, the button raises; you re-raise, and there are still two callers. You bet out when the next round turn-card is a two of the fourth suit and get called by both players. Again you bet on the river card five, but this time the middle player raises.

Time for a quick review. You do not have the nuts, but nothing should be better. The straight possibilities are ace-three, three-six, and six-nine. None of those hands, even if they were reckless enough to play them suited, should be in after the flop. None of the three pairings even make an open-ended draw on the turn. So, you go for the gusto by firing down to the cloth, which drops one player after two raises.

Guess what? Ace-three suited, right? Admit it, you were slightly worried about that one. Nope. Three-six off-suit has just cleaned your clock. You are ready to cry, kill, quit, or go on tilt ”¦ take your choice.

Maybe you have not had this exact nightmare, but chances are that you have fallen victim to something similar. If you believe that you would repeat every action of the player above then you need help. Let me speculate that you are probably a winning or at least a breakeven player most days of the month, but you suffer from some heavy loss days, maybe big enough to clock in a loser for the month. You have a mind-set that will prevent you from becoming a winning player.

What do you think of the player who has just beaten you with such bad cards? "He’s a moron, a sub-human" ”¦ "They shouldn’t let people like him into the game" ”¦ "Keep that up and they’ll carry you out in a box."

Wrong. If everyone played great poker, you wouldn’t be able to make a living. You should be glad this player is in your game. Do not try to tell him how bad he is or that he shouldn’t play the way he does. You are upset because you want to win. Your first priority is to understand why this player was in the hand. Maybe this player doesn’t want to fold a possible winner. Maybe this player doesn’t understand hold’em. Maybe this player tried good cards and lost so now he is trying to win with bad cards. Whatever the reason, you must know the motive before you can counter. The object is to win, not teach this player a lesson.

So how should this hand have been played? A working player needs to show steady profits to survive. The example describes a player who is always swinging for the fences. Any baseball fan knows that means a ton of strikeouts along with the occasional home run. Maximum risk, maximum gain is not going to produce a viable living. Bets and raises are a form of communication. A bet is like saying, "I have a winner." A raise means, "I have a better hand." A raise by a good player means that the first bettor has been analyzed for playing patterns and the raise is either a statement of superiority, a hand that is close that cannot stand more competition, or a hand with potential that wants to get full value when it comes in.

In the example above, the strong hand made mostly good moves until the end. He asserted superiority before the flop but did not reduce the field. After the flop he made the draw hands pay and the weaker hands suffer. A good player should always put players on hands and then narrow the possibilities as the betting gives information.

Let’s look at a difference in communication. The pair of queens will not raise early without superior cards. He assumes every player takes that into consideration when calling. The subsequent action confuses the queens. Bad players want to see the flop. That’s a fact of life, accept and profit from it. Raises do not mean "watch for quality hand" to bad players; raises mean action. Bad players figure you can’t win if you don’t play. The worst fear a bad player has is that he will be bluffed out of a pot he should have won. The player with the queens isn’t even speaking the same language. How can he hope to win?

At the end, a big mistake is to assume that a player could not have a better hand when you do not have the nuts. You must assume that bad players will play bad hands, no matter how illogical. Why? Because they have different goals than you have and they fit just fine in their system of logic. However, you must also consider that a bad player can hit a winner.