Keeping score

Dec 7, 2004 12:22 AM

One of the curiosities of poker is the player who wins the most hands but does not walk away a winner at the end of the night. Perhaps that might seem enigmatic to a beginner, but the veteran has a better appreciation of the value of each bet.

Lose more bets than you win, and the net result is a losing session. In high-low split games, winning half a pot is not half as profitable as winning a whole pot. The easiest method of proof is to measure the outlay against the return for a half pot and a whole pot. With pots of any significance, the numbers should verify that assertion. This is an interesting idea, but how does it apply to real situations? Does that mean players should not stay in even if they know they will win a half pot?

Half a pot sounds good compared to no pot, but sometimes more than two players are involved. Many home players know that, with a "lock" (guaranteed winner) for one side and more than one player contesting for the other half of the pot, the lock player has to make money on each bet.

What is not as obvious is whether it is profitable to stay in when more than one person has a lock compared to the other half of the pot. The following are Omaha high-low hands which illustrate this idea.

For those not familiar with the format, players must use two cards from their hand with three cards from the board to make the best high and the best low hand possible.

A low hand must be five unpaired cards, nothing higher than an eight. An ace may play either high or low, and straights and flushes do not count against low. A full board is five cards, and each player has only four cards.

Seat four: Ah, 2h, 3s, 4d. Seat six: 8h, 8d, 9c, Jc. Seat eight: 2c, 3c, 5h, 6d. Board: Ac, 7h, 8s.

Note that seats four and eight have the absolute best low hand at this time using the two and three. The best high hand is seat six with three eights. There are two more cards to come, each with a betting round. Before the flop, seat four raised and seats six and eight were the only callers. If seat four bets and seat six calls, seat eight should probably raise. Seat eight figures that seat four has either the best low or three aces and hopefully not both. Seat six is probably weaker with a draw to the best low or a high hand.

The object of the raise is to determine the strength of the other two hands. With a raise, seat eight hopes seat four reraises to force out seat six, leaving just two players to contest for the other half a pot. Seat eight can hit a straight with a four or nine and hopes a two or three might swing the low half (although this is not true). If seat six reraises when seat four bets out after the flop, the response is totally different. Now seat eight has to be worried that there are more than two nut lows and the return, if the four or nine do not hit, is only one sixth of the pot. Also, no player is going to drop, so the chance for heads-up play has disappeared.

If this were a tight game, no player would be in a position of profit. Each player has some money that should be certain, but no player can win everything. With two bets invested in the hand, the likely total cost for this hand is at least eight bets each. Total pot expected equals 25.5 bets with blinds, and at best, total return is 8.3 bets or anticipated profit of .3 bet. Three quarters of the pot nets a better return, but in limit play, committing too many chips in a small profit expectation will result in larger swings of chips compared to waiting for better opportunities to make money. A seat eight call in limit play is marginally profitable, and a fold is not totally out of line. In pot or no limit, seat eight is in a much weaker position.

Seat four: Ah, Ad, 2s, 3d. Seat six: 2h, 3s, 5c, 5d. Seat eight: 2c, 3c, 5h, 6h. Board: Ac, 4h, 5s.

Given the same betting, each hand has the absolute best low, and no other cards will change that. So the contest is just for high. Seat six is dead last, losing money on each bet. It comes down to a full house draw vs. a made straight. The full house has three fours and one ace plus the possibilities of the next two cards being paired. Seat eight, with the straight wrap, looks good as well, can hit one, two, or three and four sevens, two different flush pairings, and can even make several straight flushes. Seat eight is a minor favorite with the dual flush draws. A diamond or spade turn card swings the edge back to seat four. Reading the bets and knowing the player’s styles is the key to picking the right time to push for the extra quarter or half a pot, but folding early is not bad, either.