Tuesday Sessions 04: Handling tricky situations

Index to Tuesday Sessions

The following lecture was the fourth Tuesday Session, held October 20, 1998, and later appeared in Card Player magazine.
More From the Classroom: Poker Profit from Tricky Situations

OK, let’s continue with our classroom lectures. In the previous two columns, I have taken the speakers notes that I pass out at my Tuesday Sessions and enhanced them especially for Card Player. These 40-minute classroom lectures are designed to add a new weapon each weak to your poker arsenal.

We’ll look at the fourth Tuesday Session, held October 20, 1998. The title was…

“Handling Tricky Situations”

Betting second pair in hold ’em.
People make key mistakes in hold ’em about whether to bet a pair of the second-highest rank on the board. You should not be afraid to make that bet into one or two opponents when you’re first to act. If you only bet top pair, you are being too conservative.

However, you should routinely check second pair, even with a good kicker, if players behind you bluff too frequently or are especially deceptive. The bigger your kicker, the more likely you should be to bet. You need to mix it up, though. Sometimes check; sometimes bet. You should be more willing to bet second pair if the top board card is small, such as 10-8-4, than if it’s large, such as A-8-4. (Of course, there are only a few situations when you would hold a pair of eights after the flop.)

It’s easy to go overboard once you give yourself permission to bet second pair, so you need to strike a happy balance. Against typical opponents, betting about half the time or a little less will adequately mix up your strategy, add to your aura of deceptiveness, and enhance your overall profit.

Seldom call awful-looking cards in seven-card stud.
In seven-card stud, you should usually call when you bet and are raised on the river. That’s because the pot is usually large enough to justify that call. Even though you will normally lose, you’ll win often enough to earn a long-range profit.

But, if you made a legitimate bet with a medium-strong hand and are raised by a player with exposed cards that look awful, you can usually fold confidently. Most opponents won’t try to bluff with hands that show little potential strength. They don’t think you’ll believe them. Therefore, this raise almost always means a strong hand.

Bluffs come more willingly and more often from opponents whose hands look strong but aren’t than from opponents whose hands look weak.

Careless overcalling.
A common mistake is made by even some advanced players to overcall on the river (last card) with the same kinds of medium-strong hands they would make a single call with. Your hand should be much stronger to overcall.

A very simple way to explain this is to show that the pot odds change dramatically when someone else calls. Let’s say the pot is $100 after an opponent bets and it costs you $10 to call. This means the pot is laying you $100 to $10 or 10 to 1. That’s what we mean by pot odds. In such a situation you would only need to have one chance in 11 of winning to break even. More than that, you should make the call. Less than that, you shouldn’t. Still confused?

OK, suppose you played the same situation just 10 times. You called $10 each time, hoping to win that $100 pot. You figure you were a 9 to 1 underdog, and you were right. As fate would have it, by golly, you won exactly as many times as you projected for those 10 calls – namely, just once. So, nine times, you lost $10, for a negative total of $90. Once you won the $100 you were pursuing. So, overall you won $10 on 10 calls and each call was theoretically worth $1. Fine. We now see that if you’re a 9 to 1 underdog when the pot is laying you 10 to 1, you can call and make money. Now what?

Here’s what. If someone else calls that same pot before you do and you think you have just as good a chance of beating the opener as the caller does, you might be tempted to overcall. After all, the pot is now bigger than before. It is now $110, ($100 after the first wager, plus $10 after the other player called). So, an overcall is tempting.

But, wait! That caller only added $10 to the pot, but your odds of winning were disproportionately lowered. Why? Well, I already said that the caller has just as much a chance of beating the bettor as you do. That means, even if you are right and you beat the bettor one in 10 times, you still need to beat the caller. Since you only have a 50 percent chance of doing this, your odds are twice as bad. You now only have one chance in 20, not one chance in 10, of winning the pot. That’s 19-to-1 against. Is the pot laying you 19-to-1? Heck, no! Only $110 to $10, or 11-to-1. If you call you will be losing forty cents on the dollar. Huh? How do you figure that? Easy. Same way as before. Nineteen $10 losses, or $190 negative total. One $110 gain. Total for 20 calls is an $80 loss, which averages a $4 loss for each $10 call – or 40 percent of your investment. That’s 40 cents on each dollar down the drain.

And, my friends, this is exactly why so many overcalls don’t compute. Most players – even seasoned professionals – don’t realize that in both limit and no-limit poker their hands need to be very significantly better to overcall than to call – not just marginally better.

Betting “on the come.”
In hold ’em, you often start with two suited cards and catch two more of that suit on the flop. If everyone checks to you, whether to take a “free card” qualifies as a tricky situation. Sometimes, you simply should check and take the free card — and this is usually true in no-limit games, where betting means you are charging yourself for the opportunity to connect and might even get raised large enough that you’ll have to fold.

But, in most limit games where the stakes increase following the flop, you should usually bet, unless your opponents are very deceptive and likely to check-raise. By betting, you will often get a free card on the next round where the limits double. And if you connect, you can just keep betting your flush, which has gained deceptive value. The same holds true for two cards higher than the board. Then, if you pair on the turn (fourth card), keep betting. Otherwise, usually take the free river card.

When to bet weak hands.
Betting weak hands into other weak hands is one of the most fundamental talents you can master in poker. If you check them, you are likely to be outplayed and surrender the pot.

It’s especially important to bet out on the final round when there’s a reasonable chance that your opponent is also very weak. If you check, you may be bluffed into – and be unwilling to call. That costs you a whole pot! Checking and hoping to win in weak showdown situations is usually the wrong choice. When you’re reasonably sure your lone opponent is weak, but it’s near fifty-fifty whether you can win in a showdown, then the best choice is usually to not risk a showdown. Just bet, instead. This is especially true in limit games where final bets tend to be small in proportion to the pot. But you should also employ this wager sometimes in no-limit, choosing a medium bet size. It works. – MC

Next Tuesday Session

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Mike Caro

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Known as the “Mad Genius of Poker,” Mike Caro is generally regarded as today's foremost authority on poker strategy, psychology, and statistics. He is the founder of Mike Caro University of Poker, Gaming, and Life Strategy (MCU). See full bio → HERE.


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