Not-so-blind luck in poker

Apr 21, 2009 5:08 PM
by George “The Engineer” Epstein |

In last week's GamingToday, we promised to explain: How skill can permit you to skew luck so that it favors you more often, and, as a consequence, you will win more money at the poker table.

We can best explain this with an example: In an early position in a game of limit hold’em, you look down at your hole cards:

They’re beautiful cards, but it’s still a drawing hand, meaning, you most likely need to catch another king or a queen – at least – to win the pot.

The probability of flopping a K or a Q is about 1/3. The problem is, with five cards to be placed on the board by the dealer, any opponent holding an ace has about the same probability of catching a second ace on the board. Then your hand would be second-best – even if you paired your king. Second-best is costly.

The best strategy here is to force opponents holding an ace to fold by raising the bet. (Note: Remember that your opponents do not know what you are raising with. They can only guess.) Considering probability, at a full table, you can expect at least one opponent has an ace in the hole. About half the time, it will be A-rag. Many (if not most) hold’em players will stay to see the flop with A-rag if they can do so cheaply – by just calling the blind. But faced with a double bet, they likely would fold after your raise.

If you had not raised, then you might consider yourself unlucky when both a king and an ace came on the board. On the other hand, if your raise forced that opponent to fold his A-rag, then he can’t beat you, can he? You have just skewed luck in your favor by using your betting skill.

It helps to know your opponents and be selective as to what table you play at. This strategy will work best at a table full of conservative players – those most likely to fold A-rag when faced with a double bet, but not at a table full of loose-aggressive players. In that case, you can only hope that the board pairs your hand and does not bring an ace; then you are depending on random luck.

Let’s make the point clear: In this example, if your raise forced an opponent holding A-rag to fold, you have just skewed luck in your favor. In addition to knowing when to make the raise, it also takes skill to properly assess your opponents and select a favorable table at which to play.

Certainly the chances of catching a king, or of an ace falling on the board, have not changed; but your chance of winning the pot is greatly enhanced by making that raise against the "right" kind of opponents.

In summary, we have demonstrated that, with skill, you can make decisions that will give you a better chance to win the pot – making you more "lucky."

SKILL is Helping Yourself to Get LUCKY!

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