Unsuitable hands?

Aug 15, 2005 1:37 AM

For years, we’ve repeatedly stated how video poker is NOT table poker. Table poker involves bluffing, raising and tells. It is as much psychology as it is math.

Of course, that is not to say that there is not math involved. Given the incredible popularity of Texas Hold’em, given all the television programs and the World Series of Poker, I would be remiss if I didn’t occasionally turn my attention to the math behind table poker.

I must put a disclaimer on this, however. I am only covering the math portion of table poker. You are on your own when it comes to the psychology side of the game.

While television has raised the popularity of Texas Hold’em to new heights, it has also -created a new generation of players who, quite frankly, don’t understand the game. Spend some time watching a table or listening to some real players talk about what they’ve seen, and it won’t take much to convince you that people are simply not playing smart.

Texas Hold’em is a game where you spend a lot of time watching the other players. I won’t be so bold as to suggest a specific percent of the time you should fold, but I’m quite certain it is not a small percentage. The specifics depend on where you are relative to the button, what two cards you are dealt and whether or not someone raises before your turn.

The simple reality is, however, that there are a lot of hands that should be folded instead of adding any more money to the pot.

I can only guess that today’s world is simply too fast paced for so many people to fold so often. As a result, you will see many payers staying in or worse, raising on some rather poor hands. It is one thing to bluff. It is another to overestimate the power of your hand.

I have noticed that the average new player seems to do this with suited hands — where both pocket cards are of the same suit. While the player wouldn’t even consider playing the hand if they were unsuited, they give no thought to playing the same hand suited. Obviously, suited hands are worth more than their unsuited counterparts, but by how much?

There is no absolute way to measure the strength of one hand vs. another. I do, however, like to use one that gives some idea of the strength of a hand. Basically, I determine the win percentage of a particular hand against a blind opponent. I assume that the hand is playing head to head against one other player, who never folds. Obviously, this doesn’t take into account how an opponent will react to your betting or how the other player will bet. But it does give us an idea of how often we can expect to win the hand assuming that neither player folds.

So, using both a suited 9-10 and an unsuited 9-10, I ran my program. The results may surprise many of you. We can expect the unsuited 9-10 to win about 49.6% of the time. The suited 9-10 will win about 52.5% of the time, or a little less than an additional 3% of the time.

Simply put, this is just not enough to turn the hand from a fold into a "bet everything" type of play. Yet, I’ve witnessed many players raising heavily on a mediocre hand simply because the hand is suited.

The advantage of the suited hand is obviously the ability to draw a flush if three of the community cards are of a matching suit. However, with cards like a 9-10, the problem with this philosophy is that if another player also has two cards of the same suit, he is very likely to beat you.

Additionally, if a fourth card of the same suit should show up in the community cards, you’re stuck holding a 10 as your card in the fush. This leaves the J, Q, K and ace as cards that can beat you, unless they are already exposed.

The bottom line is that you are only going to draw a flush an additional 4.4% of the time. This means that a suited hand is worth more than an unsuited hand, but not by all that much.

By the way, an unsuited K-7 will win 53.3% and an unsuited J-10 will win 53.7% of the time. This shows that the power of the pocket hand is based far more on the rank of the cards than on the suited or unsuited nature of the cards.