Tuesday Sessions 10: When to fold strong hands

Index to Tuesday Sessions

The following lecture was the 10th Tuesday Session, held December 1, 1998, and later appeared in Card Player magazine.

  1. Calling a raise on the river.
    One of the most costly mistakes made by experienced players is that they call too frequently on the final betting round against a bet and a raise. If you could tally all calls made by all players in this situation, you would quickly see that an overcall against the final-round raise loses money.

    Why? It’s because players don’t seem to realize how much extra strength they need to make this call. They get caught up in the moment and are awed by the size of the pot. But, actually, the pot size is much smaller, relative to the size of the call, than it would be if there had been no raise. That’s because the call costs double, and the pot is only one bet larger than it would have been without the raise. This means, for a very big pot, your pot odds are only about half as good, but your hand needs to be much stronger than usual to win. The second player is probably figuring the bettor for a big hand, and yet he is still raising. This tells you that your run-of-the-mill strong hand isn’t enough in most such situations. You need extra strength to call.

    Also, remember that most players who are squeezed between you and the first bettor are reluctant to raise without super-strong hands. They’d rather play it safe, and maybe win a call behind. (Beware that some tricky players will try to freeze you out of the pot by raising if they think the bettor might be bluffing, but this is rare.)

    The point is this: I have no doubt that most readers understand what I just said and that it isn’t news to them. Still, the fact remains that most sophisticated players (and almost all weak players) call far too often on the river against a raise. If I could take a statistical sample of all such calls ever made in poker games, I’m betting that the result would be a significant loss.

  2. Getting over-carded.
    In hold ’em, you should almost routinely fold any large pair if the flop contains two different higher ranks.

    This is another great mistake made by many players who otherwise pride themselves on correct decisions. When you’re dealt J♠ J♦ in the pocket and the board is A♥ Q♣ 4♠, you should not hesitate to make a laydown against a bet. It’s simply not a big laydown. Of course, there are certain players and certain situations in which you might make exceptions and call or even raise. But your basic strategy – the one you should choose in the absence of factors indicating a contrary decision – when you have a high pair and two higher cards of two different ranks flop should be to fold.

    This is much different from having a less significant pair when two (or even three) higher unpaired ranks flop. In that case, it’s not the fact that those ranks are higher than your pair, but how much higher that should dictate your decision. Especially if there has been raising before the flop, high cards are more dangerous and more likely to pair your opponents than medium cards. Therefore, if you hold 6♠ 6♦ and the flop is 9♥ 7♣ 2♠, you should not fold quite so routinely.

  3. Beware of garbage.
    In seven-card stud (and other games, too) you should willingly lay down strong hands when you are unexpectedly raised by a player with a "garbage" board. These players tend not to bluff, because they aren’t showing any strength to make it believable.
  4. When bluffing is less likely.
    Tend to fold big hands that look like they might be big hands to your opponents. Opponents are less likely to bluff you if you have strength exposed.

    However, folding with too much strength exposed is dangerous. It blatantly shouts to opponents that you are willing to lay down big hands and tempts them to bluff unexpectedly at your expense in the future. (See point #6, too.)

  5. Image matters.
    The looser and more unpredictable your image is, the more successfully you can fold strong hands. Think about it. You, yourself, are less likely to bluff into loose or tricky opponents. Your opponents think the same way. So, when they bet, they typically have stronger than average hands against your loose and treacherous image.
  6. Consider calling.
    You should consider calling, even if the call is not quite profitable, if your opponents know you have a strong hand. That’s because, one of the worst things you can do is make your opponents think you make "considered" laydowns. That’s just inviting unexpected bluffs – and long-range disaster.

    In fact, I try never to let my opponents know that I ever make carefully considered decisions, period. I want my image to be one of impulsiveness, perhaps that of a loose cannon, firing everywhere, at everything, not aiming, not caring. When I stop to ponder, count pots, think long, I’m destroying that image. And that image (and it’s only an image and not reality, remember) is precisely what fools opponents into providing me with extra profit.

  7. Don’t show.
    You should never show a good laydown just because you’re proud of it. Showing good laydowns also invites unexpected bluffs later.
  8. Best times to fold.
    There are two types of players that are especially profitable to make laydowns against when you hold medium hands with which you might otherwise call. They are (1) non-bluffers who bet and (2) non-bettors who raise.

    You should fold against the non-bluffers because typical calls that are barely profitable earn a big share of that profit by catching bluffs. When there are no potential bluffs to catch, you need a much stronger hand to justify a call. And players who are reluctant to bet are typically reluctant to raise with marginally strong hands, also. So if you have a marginal raise-calling hand against them, you should fold. You need something much stronger. – 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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