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Keep Flopping Aces



Poker for Dummies
with Richard D. Harroch
Contents and More Information
List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 298 pages
Date: April 10, 2000
Publisher: IDG Books
ISBN: 0764552325

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Big Hands and Big Payoffs

This article originally appeared in Card Player Magazine.

Big hands are not always big money makers, and that's often frustrating. This is particularly true in split pot games like Seven-Card Stud Eight-or-Better High-Low Split, and Omaha High-Low Split (mercifully abbreviated as 7-stud/8, and Omaha/8, respectively).

In these games, where the high and low hands split the pot as long as there is a qualifying low hand, it's possible to make very big hands that don't win very much money. Imagine being dealt three kings in 7-stud/8, catching a fourth king on the next card against one opponent who is obviously drawing for low. You can bet and raise at every opportunity and if your opponent makes a low hand, all you'll wind up with is half of the antes as your net profit.

While scenarios like this are more common in split-pot games than in games where th high hand wins it all, you see examples of it all the time in 7-card stud and Hold'em games too. Sometimes you have such a big hand that nobody else has a prayer. An example of this might be a flop of AcAd4s with our hero holding AsKs. There are no flush or straight possibilities on the flop, and our man's flopped top set with the best possible kicker and a backdoor flush draw to boot.

If someone bets you can raise, or just call quietly, planning to checkraise on the turn - when the betting limits double. But you're not likely to get much action. After all, there's not much out there that anyone else could have. While it's possible that an opponent could be holding a pair of fours and was fortunate enough to flop a full house, that's not too likely. And even if he has, a running pair, the fourth ace, or any of the three remaining kings on the turn or river will make quick work of him.

But let's forget about the slim chance that your opponent flopped a full house. Most of the time your opponents will fold when you bet. If you are really fortunate, one of your opponents might try to steal the pot on the turn if everyone checks the flop, and when you raise, he will probably fold. This, of course, allows you to gain a bet because your opponent - unaware that you flopped a huge hand - has tried to steal the pot.

But if none of your opponents try to get aggressive, you're likely to be the one who bets and wins a small pot because no one else has enough of a hand - or even enough of a draw - to call.

So what's the lesson here? Aside from the realization that big hands do not necessarily lead to big pots, there are a number of things worth bearing in mind. First and foremost, it's important to realize that in poker - as in so much of life - all is relative. You don't have to have a huge hand to win, just a hand that's better than any your opponent's are holding. Determining when you have the best hand is often as much an art as a science, and is one of the skills that top players have plenty of, and lesser players seem to lack altogether.

Some players are mesmerized whenever they make a good hand, even if they know deep in their heart that it's not the best hand and ought to be released. While it should be obvious to all that a bet saved is worth just as much as a bet won, it seems difficult for many players to release losing hands, so they make costly crying calls again and again.

It's also a major source of frustration for many players. After all, one does not get all that many big hands in a session, and when those big hands garner meager pots, it can be very frustrating. Not only that, but the frustration is inevitably exacerbated when someone wins a fairly big pot on the next deal or the one after that, and does so with a relatively puny holding.

I've seen players win a small pot with a big hand and become so unnerved because the payoff doesn't match what they believed they should have won, that they go on tilt and give it all back and more.

Whenever you flop a very big hand and do get some callers, you can probably bet the river with impunity as long as that last card does not portend a flush, straight or full house. If an opponent is going to raise, chances are he'll do it on the turn. If you've got a big hand and your opponent simply calls on the turn, you can bet and expect a simple call on the river unless it happens to be a real miracle card, or a card that makes a straight or flush a distinct possibility.

You don't have this latitude with smaller hands, like one pair. You might suspect yours is the best hand, but frequently you're just not sure. As a result, checking the river becomes the preferred course of action.

To make money with a big hand, your opponents have to have something too. That something might be a set, top two pair, or a draw to a straight or flush. If you flop or turn a big hand and get action, you have to do more than revel in the glory of whatever you might be holding. You have to determine whether you have the best hand. It's shocking how many players never look beyond their own hands, and that can be a very costly mistake. If you are driving a hand when your feet ought to be firmly planted on the brakes, it can cost three or four bets that you could have saved by considering the relative merit of your hand - rather than its absolute value.

Next time you find yourself holding a big hand, count your blessings if you win the pot, and if you find that you're getting a bit more action than you expected, take it for what it is: a flashing yellow light that says "Caution, danger ahead."

Lou Krieger
June 2000

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