Avoiding Losing is Winning ; 3 Big Elements for Hold’em ; Fear of Checking


win or lose

In poker you are doing well if you win one big bet per hour  

by George Epstein www.gamingtoday.com  

Consider you are doing well in a limit game if you can average winning one big bet per hour. So, it follows, if you can avoid losing two big bets in one hand, that is really quite significant, isn’t it?

Let’s say you are in a $6-12 limit hold’em game, holding A-K in the hole in a late position. The flop brings you a king. There are no pairs and three different suits on the board – rainbow! Your pair of kings with the ace kicker looks pretty good to you.

Sure, an opponent could have connected with a set or two-pair; but those are low-probability events. The odds are you are way ahead of the field – your hand is favored to win at this point. You make the bet and get called by two early position players.

The turn brings a second club on the board, but there are no pairs, and no possible straights based on the four community cards spread out on the board.

Both opponents check. Based on your observations during previous hands, you know one is a tight player; the other is aggressive and deceptive.

You bet your kings. The tight player folds but the aggressive-deceptive player calls after a short hesitation while studying the board. Trying to get a read on his hand, you rationalize that he doesn’t have a big pair because, being aggressive, he certainly would have raised preflop, if he did. Nor is it likely he has two-pair.

If he did, since he is aggressive, he most likely would have bet out or raised after the flop. The short pause seems to indicate he has enough outs to make the call worth his while. It seems apparent he is drawing to the club flush; or, perhaps, he flopped a small pair, and hopes to make trips or two-pair.

On the river, your favorite dealer (at least he was in the past) puts out a third club. Now a flush is quite possible. Your lone opponent, the aggressive-deceptive player, checks to you. You want to believe you have the winning hand – that your kings have held up all the way to the river.

So you show your confidence by making the big bet – $12 in this case. Without hesitation, your opponent then raises. Oh, oh! You fell into his trap. As you call his check-raise, you hope he is trying to bluff. After all, he is deceptive.

No such luck; he shows down the club flush he made on the river. Sure, it was a long shot, but even at card odds of 4-to-1 against him, the pot was big enough to warrant his call to see the river. And it paid off for him.

There was no way you could have avoided losing that hand; that’s poker, as they say. But you could have avoided losing two big bets on the river. When the third club fell on the board, you should have realized he might have the flush. Did you make a wise decision when you bet on the river?

Consider the possibilities: If he had anything less than a big pair, he most likely would have folded when you bet on the river; so your bet would have gone for naught. If he had connected with a flush and believed he had your hand beaten, he was bound to raise.

After all, a check-raise is a typical – and quite acceptable – deceptive strategy to build the pot. The only hand he might have just called your bet on the river was a big/medium pair.

You had little to gain by betting on the river – at most one big bet. But you had the potential to lose two big bets; and you did indeed.

So, readers, what’s your opinion?

“The Engineer,” a noted author and teacher in Greater Los Angeles, is a member of the Seniors Poker Hall of Fame. Contact George at GeorgeEpstein@GamingToday.com.



3 number

3 elements to consistently winning in Texas Hold’em Poker

by Irene Edith



Playing poker, week after week, day after day, in the long run you are either a winner or a loser. There is no “Mr. In-Between.”

What does it take to be a consistent winner? Why do most players go home losers more often than not; while others (a minority to be sure) usually win? It must be more than luck because, in the long run, luck is bound to even out.

What’s more, the winning poker player must overcome the handicap of the casino rake (unless he is playing in a home game where there is no rake). He has to win more than that and also overcome other costs to play such as a bad-beat jackpot drop and a tip to the dealer.

There are three key elements that characterize the winners’ abilities, and vividly distinguish them from the rest of the pack. Perhaps we should better label these as “essentials” because, without these, you are bound to be a loser. In fact, these same elements apply to life, in general, as well as the game of poker: Decisions, Control, Skill.

There are many key decisions that must be made even when first being seated at your poker table, starting with game, table and seat selection. You can hardly expect to win at any poker game if you neglect these; and, yet, most players seem oblivious to the need to make rational decisions on these seemingly mundane selections.

Of course, during the play of every hand, there are so many other decisions that are vital – starting-hand selection; call, raise or fold on the flop; semi-bluff on the turn; bluff on the river; and on and on.

Decisions…Decisions…Decisions: The opportunity to make these decisions puts you in control. Knowing how to make these decisions in your best interests requires real skill.

Of course, it’s essential to know how to make these decisions. The really skilled player has it down pat. He doesn’t just guess. Considering the average hold’em hand lasts just two minutes, he has to be skilled enough to accommodate that short time span. That takes quick thinking – lots of skill!

You can quickly spot the winners and the losers.

Aside from looking at their chip stacks, it’s really not difficult to distinguish the winners from the losers. The losers came to play; whereas, the winners play to win.

The skilled players realize the majority of hands dealt are not viable starting-hands. They know any player who stays to see more than one-third of the flops is bound to be playing inferior hands – and is almost certain to go home a loser.

But what about luck? Playing the slots, roulette or Keno, and so many other games that are outright gambling, there is little if any skill involved. More often than not, there is little rationale for making your play decisions in such games.

It’s you against the casino; and the casino always gives itself the edge. It’s simply a matter of trusting to luck – chance. The laws of probability are not involved. You might just as well bet on random numbers on the roulette wheel.

It’s all a matter of luck; but you still have the house’s edge to contend with. There is absolutely no skill involved! And, you have absolutely no control over luck. When playing poker, in the long run, it will be the player who has the skill who will be the winner. Make sure it’s you! And that’s true in poker and in life.

Life is like a poker game.

It takes skill to succeed.

A little luck along the way also helps.

In both cases – poker and life – the winner walks away with the rewards.

We invite your comments. Email to IreneEdith@GamingToday.com.




Poker Strategy With Bob Ciaffone: Fear Of Checking

Checking Isn’t Always A Sign Of Weakness

by Bob Ciaffone 


I think we are all familiar with the player who is afraid to bet. He does not want to put any money into the pot unless he is quite confident his hand is the best. Even when he does have a good hand, his preferred method of putting money into the pot is to check, hoping to induce a bet, and then calling the opponent’s wager. In that way, he does not give away the fact that he holds a good hand. He is actually mimicking the way he usually plays a poker hand, which is chasing.

But there is another type of player who has an emotional problem that interferes with optimum play. That is the player who is afraid to check. Perhaps he is a guy who feels it is unmanly to show weakness. Perhaps he feels that any show of weakness will cause the opponent to make a big wager that will take the pot away from him. Perhaps he does not want to ever risk giving a free card that might give the opponent a chance to make a hand could cost him the pot. At any rate, a player of this mentality looks at first glance as if he is a good player, but in fact, he is giving up one of the tools that should be in the arsenal of every good poker player — the check.

I still remember a hand that was played by T. J. Cloutier some time back in the early nineties that made an impression on me. T. J. had a short stack and had raised the pot preflop holding pocket queens. There was about five thousand remaining in T. J.’s stack and about that much in the pot. The flop came K-x-x rainbow. T. J. checked and his opponent made a bet that put T. J. all-in. It sure looked to me by the way he bet that he had a king to give him top pair. T.J. thought a bit, then flashed the two queens and folded, saying “I guess you have me beat,” then threw his hand away. His opponent flashed a king and took the pot.

A big reason the way Cloutier played his pocket queens impressed me is because I knew if I had held those queens, I would have been out of the tournament. My usual method after I had gotten half my money into the pot preflop was to put the rest of my money into the pot on the flop no matter what came. Beat my queens, take my money. T. J. not only avoided going broke, but also had a chance to make some money after the flop if his queens were good. True, he ran a risk of getting beat by a free card (an ace on the turn would have been a beastly card to catch, as the Brits say.) But it should be obvious that an opponent who is behind has only two or three outs to beat you, which looks to me like an acceptable risk, compared to what was gained.

One of the reasons a lot of players are afraid to check is they do not have confidence in their ability to read the opponent. They worry a lot about inducing a bet that brings about an unpleasant situation to face. Well, some opponents are tougher to read than others. As you get better at reading people, you will feel more comfortable checking every once in a while when the situation looks appropriate.

Here is a hand I played in the 1987 WSOP championship event. I had a suited ace on the button and it was folded to me. I raised the pot, and Dewey Tomko called. The flop came with one intermediate sized card and two parts to a wheel. All I had was a gutshot-straight draw and an overcard, so I decided to just check instead of making a continuation bet. Lo and behold, my gutshot four came on the turn. Dewey bet and I raised. Dewey, who had made trip fours, decided to go with his hand and reraised me. I wound up doubling through him and got off to an excellent start on the first day of play.

I am not trying to get you to do a lot of checking; I just want you to feel that sometimes a check can be the best play, and sometimes the check makes you a little less predictable. Here is another hand where my checking the flop gave me a good result. In a tournament, I had pocket queens, raised the pot preflop, and got one caller. The flop came K-x-x rainbow, there was about 700 in the pot, and my opponent checked. I decided to check it back. Some little card came and he checked again. This time I bet 300, pretty sure that my hand was good. My opponent called. Another innocuous card came at the river, and my opponent checked. I felt that my initial check had convinced him that I did not have much (he did not seem like an experienced player), so another value bet was in order. I bet 500 and got paid off by a lower pair. That was 800 that I had made by checking the flop.

To get away with checking and not taking any betting pressure, you have to check a good hand often enough to make the opponents realize that check does not necessarily mean “take it.” So every once in a while, check a good hand like top pair to vary your game.

Here are some pleasant things that can happen when you check a decent hand in back position that might have been bet:

1. You hit a turn card that improves your hand.

2. The opponent thinks you are weak and pays off, when he would have folded had you bet the flop.

3. The opponent had a big draw on the flop and would have played his hand strongly by check-raising, and you would probably have folded. He likely will not get so sporty with only one shot at making his draw. Checking the flop can defang a draw.

4. If you act weak by checking and the opponent still does not show interest in the pot, you might be able to take the pot without a fight, despite having checked on the flop betting round.

5. The opponents see that you might be checking a good hand and will be less likely to get aggressive with you if you check.

You’ll notice in most of my examples, the boardcards do not offer much opportunity for a drawing hand. The board is of a character that whoever is behind has few outs to overtake the leader. I am a lot less happy checking a hand where there is a two-flush on the board or a couple of cards close in rank that are in the playing zone.

Don’t remove checking from your poker toolbox; use it on occasion. ?

Bob Ciaffone’s new poker book, No-limit Holdem Poker, is now available. This is Bob’s fifth book on poker strategy. It can be ordered from Bob for $25 by emailing him at bobciaffone@gmail.com. Free shipping in the lower 48 states to Card Player readers. All books autographed. Bob Ciaffone is available for poker lessons.


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