Don’t let one ‘good’ card cloud reason in poker

May 19, 2009 5:08 PM
by George “The Engineer” Epstein |

"Half-a-hand" is a term I recently coined to describe when you are dealt one big card and one small card in the hole. The big card might be an ace, a king, or a queen; the small card, a 7 or lower.

For example, consider K-6. What’s the problem with such a hand? The fact that you hold a king might entice you to stay to see the flop. That could be costly.

If the hand improves on the flop, most likely it will be to pair one of your hole cards. Suppose you caught a second six on the flop. Well, you have a decent kicker (the king), but almost anyone else with a pair has your hand beaten. The kicker won’t help you.

OK, suppose you catch a second king on the flop. That’s just as likely as pairing your 6 in the hole. If it’s top pair, you may believe you have the best hand. But, if another player also has a king in the hole, chances are he has a higher kicker than you do.

Your hand is "dominated" by his because he has you "out-kicked." (It happens often that two players have the same pair; but the higher kicker takes the pot.)

But you can’t toss away the top pair, can you? So you bet or call all the way to the river – and end up losing because of your small kicker.

That makes your "half-a-hand" quite costly.

Picture cards in the hole are always attractive. Perhaps you have been waiting patiently a full orbit to be dealt a reasonable starting hand. Hand after hand, you got nothing but garbage in the hole. What kind of dealer is this guy?

At last, you have a big card in the hole. Even if it is only one big card, you are tempted to stay to see the flop. After all, with the flop, you will be able to see over 70% of your final hand.

You are strongly tempted to see what the flop will bring. And, if an opponent raises after you call the big blind, well you just have to call his raise because now you already have an investment in that hand and, besides, the pot looks pretty healthy at this point.

You wouldn’t have this problem with two unpaired, unsuited small cards in the hole. Fold’em! But that big king makes it all so different this time. It’s beautiful to behold. (Here’s an analogy for half-a-hand: It’s like a male reacting to the sight of an extremely beautiful, voluptuous woman – so tempting but could be dangerous.) Besides, it’s time to play a hand, you think to yourself. How patient must I be?

So don’t get too excited when you look at your hole cards and see half-a-hand. Usually it isn’t worth your investment. Patience is indeed a virtue.

Comments? You can reach George "The Engineer" at [email protected].

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