McHaffie: MCU lesson 081 / Four of a kind

Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published in Poker Player newspaper in 2006.

This is part of a series by Diane McHaffie. She wasn’t a poker player when she began writing this series. These entries chronicle the lessons given to her personally by Mike Caro. Included in her remarkable  poker-learning odyssey are additional comments, tips, and observations from Mike Caro.

Diane McHaffie index.

Diane McHaffie is Director of Operations at Mike Caro University of Poker, Gaming, and Life Strategy. She has traveled the world coordinating events and seminars in the interest of honest poker. You can write her online at

Diane McHaffie

Lessons from MCU

— With bonus content by Mike Caro (pending) —

Lesson 81: Four of a kind loses at the WSOP

Mike teaches that you can’t play poker like Bingo. This can be demonstrated by a hand that Mike lost during the first no-limit hold ’em event of the 2006 WSOP.

You can’t gauge the strength of your hand or know its probability based on the cold rankings: no pair, one pair, two pair, three of a kind, straight, flush, full house, four of a kind, straight flush, or royal flush. Those rankings only matter to a dealer deciding who wins.

Every hand you play will have its own rankings, determined by the situation. Mike gives an example, suppose the board is all hearts — 2-7-9-K-A. No pair, one pair, two pairs, three of a kind, straight, full house, four of a kind, straight flush, and royal flush need not be considered. This battle will be fought over the flush alone, since everyone can play at least the one on the board.

The queen of hearts is the ideal card because you can’t possibly lose with it. The bottom of the rankings would be any hand without hearts. Then you would have to play the existing flush.

First event

Now for the real story that occurred during the first event that Mike played at the 2006 WSOP, which had a devastating effect on his stack of chips.

Mike held a pair of black eights in middle position with an average amount of chips. This is often a good hand to merely call with and see what happens, which he did. The small and big blinds were the only ones in and neither raised. The flop was 8h, 6h, and 8d, giving Mike four eights. Frequently the extra card is larger than the four of a kind, posing a distant danger, and allowing an opponent the remote possibility of making a higher four of a kind. That wasn’t the case.

In Mike’s case, the 6h and 8h put a straight flush possibility into play. Usually, you shouldn’t be too concerned about this. Both players checked on the flop. He checked. He didn’t want to bet his four of a kind, since there’s only a slight chance that any opponent held anything strong enough to call with. The exception to this tactic of checking would be that you might bet into an aggressive opponent who might try to claim the pot with a forceful raise. The turn card was 10h.

Too remote

Both players checked, as did Mike. He says he could have bet here, but the fear of a straight flush was still too remote, and the pot was too small to protect. He preferred to give his opponents one last chance to bet on the river. The river card was seven of hearts. The small blind checked and the big blind bet about half of Mike’s stack. Mike just called. I asked him why he didn’t raise. Since the big blind hadn’t raised before the flop, Mike thought that it was less likely that he held an ace of hearts. More likely he was bluffing or held 9h, making a straight flush. A legitimate bet centered on the 9h (a straight flush), the Ah (the best regular flush), or a bluff. With the 9h being slightly more likely than an Ah, it wouldn’t make sense to raise if the bet had been made from strength. And Mike couldn’t throw it away, because the likelihood of the opponent either bluffing or holding an Ah meant that Mike was the favorite on the call. So that’s what he did, called.

Personally, I think it took a lot of will power and intelligence to survive in a no-limit tournament when losing with four of a kind. Now, with Mike’s guidance, I see that every hand has its own set of rankings and, using those, he made the only choice available to him. — DM

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