Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was first published (2013) in Poker Player newspaper.
Today I’m going to share a simple trick about hands with medium prospects. It will revolutionize the way you play poker. If you use it correctly, your profits will soar. Yes, really.
In order to take advantage of my trick, you need to understand that an ace is higher than and king and that a king is higher than a queen. That’s all.
From now on, whenever you’re involved in a poker hand, you will always be translating your hand into a single card — ace, king, or queen. Just pretend that, no matter what your actual cards are, there’s a super card floating in your face. Ace, king, or queen. Visualize. Ace. King. Queen. Got it?
Okay, now I’ll explain.
Decades ago, I wrote a tale about poker in a nuclear winter. It was an over-the-top fantasy about what would happen if there were a nuclear war and everyone froze, except for two poker players. In order to conduct a game, cards needed to be located. First an ace was found, but obviously that wasn’t sufficient for two players. Then a king was added, but that wouldn’t work, because — even if you bet on a one-card hand — if you held a king, you’d know your opponent held an ace and vice versa.
Fine. So, then we added a queen and suddenly we could play poker in its most simplistic form, because three cards are enough to gamble intelligently. This three-card reality pointed to a powerful poker truth.
Powerful poker truth
Assuming there were an initial ante to make the pot worth fighting over, then a player holding the ace could always bet and a player holding the queen could never call. With the king, you would call sometimes, hoping your opponent were bluffing with a queen. Obviously, with the ace, you were safe and couldn’t lose.
In this pure-as-snow nuclear winter scenario, one thing was certain. What? It was that you could never bet a king, because your opponent would always call with the ace and always fold with the queen. And that turns out to be a primal truth about poker.
The poker truth: You should almost never bet a hand that is medium for the situation.
You can justify betting with medium-strong hands and better — and even, sometimes, with medium-weak hands and worse. But you can’t ever justify betting a plain old medium hand, unless you’re trying to get an opponent to become confused and fold a superior hand.
And that “unless” exception can be completely ignored and you’ll still be on the right track often enough to dramatically improve your game. I mean, sure, you can argue that, for example, in seven-card stud, you might bet a medium hand, hoping your board will improve on the next card and scare away an opponent. And all games provide tactical exceptions to the medium-hand rule, when playing at a world class level.
But forget the exceptions. Why? Because for the vast majority of players, these exceptions will only account for a tiny increase in profit if played perfectly. And, sadly, most serious poker players lose money overall by trying to make sophisticated tactical adjustments. They don’t make exceptions at the right times for the right reasons. And, come to think of it, that applies to some world-class players, too.
So, let’s return to the power of the simplified concept: Never bet a medium hand.
You see, this concept is violated so regularly in big-money and small-money games, that the loss is monumental for most players. You’ll probably see violations of the simple rule the next time you watch poker on television.
And yet, the cost is just as real as betting a king in a game played with a three-card deck. You’ll only get called by an ace and never by a queen. Of course, the boundaries are a bit more obscure with a full deck and more complex games. But the concept is the same.
The problem is that it’s hard to know whether your hand, at the moment in an exact situation translates to an ace, king, or queen. Making those evaluations correctly constitutes the process of mastering poker.
Still, you already have skills, whether they’re just evolving or advanced. So, you can estimate, based on those skills, whether you think you hold an ace, a king, or a queen. As you improve at poker, you’ll become better at imaging the correct card in front of your face, serving as a reminder. But the trick is to always do the imagining, regardless of whether your assessment is perfectly accurate.
You need to know that you’re not basing the ace-king-queen status on the isolated strength of your hand. You’re basing it on the strength of your hand relative to the situation. This means that the quantities of imaginary aces, kings, and queens aren’t usually equal. In an early seat in hold ’em, for instance, most of your first-betting-round starting hands will be queens. That means you should fold to the blind bet and not invest any money.
During the course of a hand, always re-evaluate your cards relative to what you seem to be facing at the moment. Filter the current status of your cards to a single, imaginary ace, king, or queen. With an ace, consider betting or raising first and only check or call if you’re trying to deceive. With a king, you have a medium hand. So, check whenever you have the opportunity and either call or fold otherwise. With a queen, fold or occasionally bluff.
By playing this pretend game and visualizing a single card right in front of you at all times, you’ll never copy the horrible mistakes that poker opponents make in the heat of fast-action decision making.
You’ll never make the mistake of betting medium hands, because you’ll see the king. And your decisions will always be reasonable. It’s just that simple. — MC