Get on the pot!

Apr 4, 2006 2:40 AM

We often hear a lot about "pot odds" and other mathematical calculations that poker players like to cite when they’re contemplating playing a hand.

And, while these computations can be helpful, they must be used with caution and while keeping several caveats in mind.

One of the most important things to remember is that pot odds shouldn’t be substituted for good judgment. Even though you might be getting tremendous pot odds, it may not be worth the risk if losing the hand will either knock you out of the tournament or cripple you severely.

With that being said, I think that pot odds can be very helpful in situations in which you’re trying to determine whether to stay in a hand with mediocre cards. That is, can pot odds be helpful in determining whether you should call with certain hands.

Here’s a situation that may illustrate the concept. You’re on the button with a hand of 9-10 suited, and the action in front of you unfolds this way: there’s a call, a small raise, then two more callers.

With this many callers, I’m getting at least 4-1 on my bet, so calling is the right play for me. In fact, if you add one of the blinds so that my pot odds are now 5-1, I would even call with a lesser hand, such as 7-8 off-suit.

Of course, if you have a much better starting hand, you might even consider a raise.

Nevertheless, here’s the point I’m making: the weaker your starting hand, the more players you need to call in front of you.

The basis of this strategy is this: I’m trying to look at as many flops as possible — and as cheaply as possible.

Most of your top players understand that oftentimes their best chance to knock out an opponent or capturing a huge pot comes from playing so-called "mediocre" hands that are improved dramatically on the flop and beyond.

Another point to keep in mind when using this strategy is your chip count. Obviously, if you’re on the short stack, you’re not going to play every hand while hoping for a fortunate flop. So, you can play this way if you have a decent amount of chips.

By seeing a lot of flops, you’re going to see flops that are totally useless to your cause. At that point, you need to know when to get off the pot.

Also, if your opponent comes out firing after the flop and you’ve only managed to flop a middle pair, you have to be prepared to let the hand go.

Now, let’s briefly turn our attention to head-to-head action at a final table. Hopefully, you’ll find yourself in plenty of these situations!

Many times we see players on the World Poker Tour calculating their pot odds when faced with an all-in bet.

But in my estimation, at this point is less about pot odds and more about weighing a risk: are you willing to risk your tournament life on a what often amounts to a coin flip?

For myself, I would rather pick a better spot to put in all my chips.

Besides, the longer you play head-to-head, the better chance you have of picking up something from your opponent, maybe a "tell" or tendency that you hadn’t noticed before.

Despite all of your best-laid plans, luck can always toss a wrench into the works.

A couple of years ago, while playing in the World Series of Poker, I had what was called by ESPN analysts as the worst bad beat ever.

Now, I don’t know how true that assessment was, but it sure felt like it at the time.

I was dealt a pair of 5s and raised the pot to $60,000. My opponent raised to $160,000 and I called. (With a stack of about $600,000, a $100,000 raise would not have crippled my position).

The flop came 9, 4, 7 with no significant suit pairings, and my opponent goes all-in. Believing he had something like high overcards, I called.

I turned over my two 5s and he revealed ace-king.

Then the unthinkable happened. The turn revealed a 9 which was followed by a 7 on the river. The result was 9’s and 7’s, with his ace out-ranking my 5.

For some reason, ESPN seems to enjoy showing this hand periodically on TV.

Hopefully, this year I’ll give them sa better final table result!