...and why each of them is actually a good thing. Seriously.
In this session of Zone poker, I make a bad bet on the river when the river trips the board with three 3’s. This of course causes my jet-lagged brain to tangent off on the topic of losing in poker.
There are three basic ways to lose a hand of poker. First, you can suffer a bad beat (and I explain why this is actually a really good thing). Second, you can run into a cooler (which is a neutral just-part-of-poker thing). Finally, you can make a mistake or bad decision, and get your money in with the worst of it (negative EV). This third way of losing can actually be a good thing, as it can lead you to recognize your mistake and plugging that particular leak for future hands to be played.
Question: You and a friend are flipping a coin. It comes up heads 4 times in a row. You flip it again. Neither one of you is cheating and the coin is fair. If you were to gamble on the outcome of the 5th flip, what would you do?
Question: You’re in a $5/$10 NL 6-handed cash game. It has folded around to the cutoff, who is a weak player. He has a $400 stack and raises to $40. You have him covered, and you re-raise from the button to $100. You hold Ac-Ah. He calls. The flop comes out Kd-6s-4s. He bets $100. What should you do?
Back in Issue #40 of the Exceptional Poker Newsletter, I posted a short article on why “betting to protect” against draws is not smart poker. Wow, I struck a nerve. I’ve subsequently received a half dozen emails and questions on the subject. Most were polite and respectful, but some weren’t. Here’s an example:
“…You obviously don’t understand the reasons to bet in texas hold-em. When you have top pair hand and you’re [sic] opponent has a straight draw that can beat yours you have to bet to protect your hand against the straight. Read any book on poker and it will tell you this is why you need to bet. I don’t think you understand poker as good as you think you do if you tell us not to bet to protect against draws. I am going to unsubscribe from you’re [sic] newsletter because of this bad advice…”
Uh, I’m sorry you’re leaving the list, but I respectfully disagree with your statement about betting to protect. You should never bet in poker to “protect” your hand, just as you should never bet in poker to gather information about your opponents’ hands. These two things (protection and information) are nice side benefits of betting, but they should never be the primary reason you make a bet or raise. The only* two reasons to bet are: a) for value (i.e., you think you can get a worse hand to call) or, b) as a bluff (i.e., you think you can get a better hand to fold). Sometimes we bet as a middle-ground combination of these two things (e.g., semi-bluff), but we never, ever, ever should bet for the reason “protecting” our hand. Doing so is dumb poker, and it’s costing you money. Let me explain why this is so with some escalating hand examples:
Using Probabilities and Expected Value To Make Good Poker Decisions Over and Over
You might have heard the admonition on an old TV western. Or perhaps it was spoken by your Aunt Mildred at a kitchen table penny-ante game: Never draw to an inside straight, sonny-boy. We are told that gut-shot straights are bad news. They’re long-shot draws, and only suckers chase long-shots, right? Wrong. Let me explain.
Beginning poker players often make “crying calls” because they somehow think they’re priced in to do so– even when they are near certain they’re beaten. They say things like, “I already have so much money invested,” or “I had half my stack in the middle, so I had to call.” Frequently, these same beginners also defend their blinds far too much. They feel under attack whenever someone in late position raises what they think is “their” blind. They somehow believe that the chips they posted from the small or big blind belong to them. Guess what? Those blinds aren’t theirs. Neither is any money they spent on prior streets when they’re now on the river facing one of those “crying call” situations.
In this post, I explain the concept of sunk costs, why you should not think of your posted blinds as “yours,” and why you need to emotionally detach yourself from any other money you push into the middle of the table. Making solid math-based decisions in poker is entirely about the now and the future, and has nothing to do with the past or how much money you’ve already “invested” in the pot.
Question: You’re in a $5/$10 NL FR cash game with a $1000 stack. A very tight, inexperienced player with $1000 makes a standard raise from EP to $40. You are on the button with 9h9s and call the raise. The blinds fold. The flop comes 9cKdAs. The villain bets $60, you raise to $200, and he re-raises to $500. What should you do?
Question: It’s the early rounds of a tournament. Blinds are 200/400 with 25 antes. You have T14,000 in chips. The table is 9-handed. You’re in the cutoff seat with Ah9c. Everyone folds to you and you raise T1,200. The button folds and the small blind goes all-in for a total of T4,000. You don’t have much information on your opponent, except that he seems solid and you assume he has some kind of a real hand. The big blind folds and the action is back to you. What should you do?
Using combinatorics and dead cards to narrow and refine your opponent's hand range
When we are putting an opponent on a hand range, we can use “blockers” to adjust the cards within that range. Because there are only 52 cards in a deck of cards, and only four cards of each rank, we can make adjustments to a villain’s range if we know, for example, that we hold an Ace in our own hand. We say that our Ace “blocks” certain combinations within the villain’s range. This can help us improve our reads, and therefore improve out ability to decide on the most profitable line to take.