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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

Order online from:
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Quick Counts, Part 1

This article originally appeared in Card Player Magazine.

Some folks are numbers people. Others aren't. Most among us fall somewhere in between. We run the gamut between those who are quite mathematically literate and those who never met a number they really liked -- or even understood. While you might be prone to say "different strokes for different folks" right about now, the fact remains that there are mathematical and statistical underpinnings to poker that cannot be ignored. You can try, of course, but you do so at your own peril. After all, these relationships are always at work, and they don't care whether you pay attention to them or bury your head in the sand like an ostrich.

I'm somewhere in the middle. I'm not a numbers guy -- not by a long shot. That's the province of Mike Caro, David Sklansky, and an entire coterie of poker players who post to the Internet newsgroup, rec.gambling.poker -- many of whom are as quick and facile with numbers as a magician with a hatful of rabbits.

For those of you who are numerically challenged, or statistically phobic, this column is for you: A simple, easy-to-use, paint-by-numbers piece. It's not the whole answer either, not by a long shot. And it won't provide the same kind of clarity and depth of understanding that a knowledge and familiarity with mathematics and statistics will. But it is a crutch, and for those of you who need it, it's a lot better than nothing at all.

Quick Count Number 1: How Many Opponents? Consider these common situations.

I have ace-king and the flop missed me entirely. Should I come out betting?
I have a pair of eights. If one overcard flops, what's the likelihood that my hand is any good?
All else being equal, does my bluff stand a chance of winning the pot?

Questions like these, and a wide variety of others can be answered by counting the number of opponents in the hand with you. In most cases the magic number is three. If you have only one or two opponents, these and many similar questions can be answered affirmatively. With one or two opponents you can be aggressive. Even if the flop missed you entirely, Big Slick may be the best hand, and a bet gives your opponents a chance to fold.

If you have three opponents, you are right on the borderline between aggression and caution -- and I'd lean a bit more on the side of caution in most cases. With four or more opponents, it becomes progressively more unlikely that your prayers will be answered. Anytime you have four opponents or more, you can usually count on the flop helping someone. If you're not that certain someone, it's best to assume that one of your opponents now has a hand that's better than yours.

When that happens you need a draw to a good hand -- or some other reason, aside from your intuition, the fact that you've got your mojo working, or the coming of a long-awaited harmonic convergence -- to pay for another card.

The moral to this story is simple. As long as you can count to three, that's all the mathematics you need know to provide a foundation for play when confronted with these kinds of decisions.

Quick Count Number 2: How Many Times Does the Flop Have to Hit You?

I called in late position with 7c 6c and five others also took the flop, which contained a seven. What should I do? While a bit more information is needed to answer this question, you can make a couple of assumptions that generally prove out. If overcards flop and there is any appreciable action before you act, you can usually count on at least one of your opponents having a hand that's superior to yours. If the flop contained all low cards -- perhaps it was 7-3-2 of mixed suits -- you might have the best hand right now. When that's the case, go ahead and bet, especially if you believe it would force some of your opponents to fold, thereby reducing the likelihood that one of them would get lucky on a subsequent betting round.

What if you call from late position with the same hand, only to have the button or one of the blinds raise? With more than three players active, you're forced to call the raise. But now you know the odds favor one of your opponents having a hand that's bigger than yours. So you take the flop knowing that it will have to hit you twice to give you much hope. If you're incredibly lucky it will hit you three times, and serve up a straight on a silver platter. But the odds of that are really miniscule. You've got about a two percent chance of flopping two pair, and that coupled with the chance of flopping a straight or flush draw, or the minor possibility of flopping trips will allow you to see the flop.

But if none of those longshots comes to fruition, and the flop did not hit you twice -- three times hit is even better -- you are skating on thin ice if you continue to play your puny pair of sevens in the face of any appreciable action.

The second and final installment of Quick Counts will explore the number of outs for various hands, provide you with some handy odds to use whenever you're confronted with common hold'em situations, and we'll also delve into counting the pot and comparing the payoff that it offers -- the pot odds, as it's called -- with the odds against making your hand. Once you can do this, and it's not difficult at all, you'll be able to play within the mathematical parameters of the game. In other words, you won't find yourself taking the worst of it simply because you might be confused by the seemingly difficult mathematical computations that go into these decisions.

Lou Krieger

Read Part 2 >>

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