Swing and a Miss—Oh Well
Everybody goes through this many times during any session lasting more than 20 minutes. For example, you are dealt A♥K♥ on the button, and five players have called the big blind. You happily raise and everybody calls. Nice! There are now 10 small bets in the pot (or 10.5 if the small blind folded). Assume the flop comes, as shown in Figure 9.4.
Figure 9.4 This flop looks nothing like your cards.
Ugh, no good. There are all sorts of problems with this hand.
First, it’s the wrong “flavor” in that you now have no chance at all of making a flush (at most there will be two hearts on board at the end of the hand for a total of four). If some- one doesn’t already have a flush, there is almost certainly at least one club in someone’s hand. It’s also very possible that someone has an Ace and an Eight, which means you would be drawing to the three remaining Kings in the deck to make a higher pair while under the mistaken impression that you would also be “good” if you hit an Ace on the turn or on the river. In fact, you would then be going against two pair with one or no cards to go. Another vulnerability is that it is very likely someone has a Nine in their hand, as in lower-limit games it is very common for someone to call two bets with a hand like J♣9♦. In this situation, you would be vulnerable in two ways. First, this player has an open-ended straight draw, which means they will make a straight if either a Ten or a Five comes on the turn or on the river. In addition, they have a medium flush draw. Pop quiz! Why would J♣9♦ be a particularly strong hand here? Answer: Because if a Ten shows up, the hand will not just be a Ten-high straight but a Jack-high straight! And if the Ten is the T♣, the player will have an unbeatable straight flush! In the end, there’s simply no way you can play this hand after the flop.
You are only as good as the flop! The perfect example comes when Doug slowplayed (limped in for one bet) a pair of Aces before the flop. The flop came two Sev- ens and a Deuce! Guess what the big blind had. Yep, Seven-Deuce! Imagine the embarrassment when the cards got turned over. Doug did have two shots at one of the two remaining Aces to make Aces full of Sevens, but still. Makes you sick….
This is the part where a player will have a hand requiring some skill, some knowledge of the players they’re going against, and a solid grasp of the percentages involved to be a winning player.
Three of a Kind
Three of a kind (“trips” or a “set”) is very often a winning hand in Hold ’em. To flop a set is mainly a great thing but is all too often a heartbreaker. When you have a pocket pair and a third one comes on the board, you’re way ahead! Well, except for a few things.
Let’s say you have 9♠9♣, and the flop shown in Figure 9.5 appears.
While you are obviously in a great position with your trips, this is a major danger flop, which means your strong hand is very vulnerable. Let us count the ways. First, you’re vulnerable to any straight draw or made straight. QJ is a common hand in loose games, so that’s a possibility. Unfortunately, any 7 or J now has an open-ended straight draw, giving them two shots at eight cards (any of the four 6s or Qs). In addition, anyone with two diamonds in the hole will now have two chances to catch another diamond and make a flush. Of course, you can solve this little problem by pairing the board with an 8, 9, T, or if the turn and river cards pair themselves—for example, if the turn and river are both 3s. Once in a great while, the T♦ and/or the 7♦ will come before the end of the hand and give someone a straight flush.
In that case, all you can do is raise a couple of times, either on the turn or the river, and have the sense to realize they’re not going to stop raising and call. When you’re on the Internet, no one will see you cry.
Two Pair (or Something’s “Up”)
This is another very good hand to get on the flop, but it also has vulnerabilities, similar to trips, in addition to being far behind someone else also holding trips. Doug actually met a good friend of his at a $10–$20 Hold ’em table when this sce- nario played out. He held T♥J♥ or something like it, and the flop in Figure 9.6 appeared.
Figure 9.6 You need to recognize when you’re behind.
He of course bet and re-raised on the flop, oblivious to the fact
that he was up against a set of Fives. Another Ten or Jack came at some point, and his full house was victorious over the underset full house over his opponent (Jacks or Tens full beat his Fives full). Doug didn’t really understand how big of an underdog he was after the flop at that point in his poker career. In this case, he needed to hit one of the four remaining Jacks or Tens to win. Anyway, Doug was very pleased with himself and looked to the guy to his right, expecting some sort of positive feedback. What he got instead was a snort and “Wow, you were way behind!” Doug asked how that was, got it explained to him as just described, and learned from it.
In this case, you have a hand higher than the highest hand on the board. To illustrate, let us tell you a brief story about Smitty, a good guy from a home game Doug used to play in. He likes to play what became known to the group as “Smitty Hands,” which would be small suited or one-gap cards. Through an online promotional tournament, Smitty won a $5,000 seat in the initial Borgata World Poker Tour no-limit Hold ’em main event. He was going along well, until he got into a hand against top pro Layne Flack. Smitty held 3♥5♥, while Layne held a pair of Tens. The flop came, as shown in Figure 9.7.
At this point Layne had the overpair of Tens and Smitty the top pair on board and a straight flush draw (any Ace, Six,
Five, or heart would have won Smitty the pot, actually). Flack had more chips than Smitty and bet enough to put him all-in. Statistics demonstrate that Smitty held a 65 to 35 percent advantage after the flop because of his draws, but in this case he failed to improve and Layne busted him out. We’ll talk more about the statistics surrounding such danger flops a little later in this chapter.
To have overcards is when both of your hole cards are higher than the highest card on the board. A very common hand to have in this case is AK or AQ. To say you have overcards could mean you have a straight or a flush draw, but common usage is reserved for the times when you have neither. Instead, you’re hoping to catch a pair higher than your opponents are holding. Of course, this could leave you in the position of having false outs, which are cards you believe will give you a winning hand but will actually put you even farther behind. Let’s say, for example, that you have A♣K♦, and the flop comes, as shown in Figure 9.8.
One of the most important skills a successful poker player must possess is the ability
to put someone on a hand, meaning they are able to analyze the situation and figure out what hand their opponents are most likely to have. In low-limit poker, several players often see the flop, and it is not at all unusual for a player to play K9 suited or A9 either suited or unsuited. Should you be up against one of these hands, there are two implica- tions. First, against A9 unsuited, you will only win around 13.2 percent of the total money over time. Against K9 unsuited, you will be for all intents and purposes just as large an underdog (winning only 14 percent of the money in our simulation) because in both cases you will be shooting for only three cards in the deck instead of six, as your hand is now reverse dominated. To be reverse dominated is to have an opponent who has made a pair on the flop who also holds one of your unpaired cards. In wrestling terms, they have “reversed” your hold in that your dominant hand is now the one dominated. So be aware of players who might have these hands, and look closely to see if you might have a draw- ing hand to get yourself back in.
Any flush is consistently a winning hand when only three suited cards are on the board. Let’s say you hold Q♦K♦, and you get the flop shown in Figure 9.9.
This is a very good draw for you in one way, but it’s also a vulnerable holding. Four ways in which your K♦Q♦ can be
beaten come to mind immediately. First, someone could have A♦x♦, which means you’re basically out of luck unless a King or Queen comes and you also dodge an Ace. Second, a player may have played small suited connectors such as 5♥6♥, which means you will now need to catch your flush to win the pot. It is impossible for you to make either a straight or a full house, so you’re shooting for one of the nine remaining diamonds in the deck, which is a little bit more than a 5:1 disadvantage for you on each of the turn and the river.
A third way in which you are endangered is if someone plays what is known as “Ax.” A, in this context, represents an Ace, and you’ll recall that an “x” means any card under a Ten. In low-limit Hold ’em, it is very common for someone to play Ace-anything. It’s what’s known as Aces and spaces and puts the player at a huge disadvantage, but that doesn’t stop them. A5 or A6 unsuited is particularly dangerous hands for you, as they give the
holder a double gut shot straight draw. In this example, either a 2 or a 6 for the A5 and a 2 or a 5 for the A6 will give them a straight. In this case, they are not drawing to the nuts (neither are you, technically, since you don’t have the Ace, but compared to them you are), but they do have six outs to beat you. Do you know why it’s six and not eight outs? That’s right, it’s because one of each card is a diamond, which would make your flush, assuming your opponent is not holding a diamond.
Finally, someone could have a set. It’s unlikely someone would have two pair because Threes, Fours, and Sevens don’t play well. (One exception: Beware of someone who plays any two suited cards; they have an annoying habit of flopping two pair. It drives you cra- zy, it really does.) Low pairs, like Threes and Fours, are usually only good after the flop if they catch a set, but a pair of Sevens is a very different story. Phil Hellmuth, for example, puts pocket Sevens as one of his must-play hands for beginners, based on the success he’s seen them have over his years of playing. If someone has a set, they can make quads by catching the case (sole remaining) card they made a set with, or the board can pair another board card on the turn or on the river, which is six, and then nine, chances for the three of a kind to fill up.
Straights are strong hands and will often win in Hold ’em. Straight draws come in a few varieties. The best straight draw is one in which either of two cards will give you a straight. There are a few ways to get there. The first is an open-ended straight draw. Let’s say you have T♣J♣, and you see the flop shown in Figure 9.10.
Figure 9.10 Open-ended straight draws are usually worth pursuing.
You will now complete your straight if an Ace or a Nine comes
on the turn or on the river. This draw, also known as an up and down straight draw, is quite good in that anyone with two hearts, diamonds, or spades will need for them to come runner-runner on the turn and river. It will be very likely you will be behind in the hand because it’s a safe bet someone’s stuck around with a Queen or a King. Someone could also be playing Ace-2. If someone raised before the flop, it could be they’ve made a set, which should set alarms off in your head when that kind of flop comes out. If they have a pair of Aces, you have what is known as a trap hand in that if a third Ace comes before the end of the hand, they will have made trips and will often think they’re in the lead, but you will have completed your straight. If there’s no pair on the board, you have the nuts. If the board has paired, you will need to decide how aggressively you play the hand. It may do you well to check and call. If you don’t think they have it, you could sim- ply bet; but if the player is aggressive, they may be betting because they know the only way they’re going to win is if you fold. The pot will almost always be big enough to call one bet on the end, so if you think you’re probably beat, check and call. Do call, though, when the pot is in any way substantial.
A second way in which two ranks of cards will make your straight is when you have a gut shot straight draw. For example, if you have J♦Q♠, and the flop comes, as shown in Figure 9.11.
You will now finish your straight if you catch a King. As of now, you have only one way to make the straight, which could change on the turn. You are now hoping to catch one of the four Kings, which only gives you half as good a chance as an open-ended straight draw. At about 12.5:1 against, the pot must be quite large to justify staying in. If you were to have two suited cards, your hand would be slightly more playable, but don’t count on making a living chasing gut shots.
In previous discussions, we’ve described the various ways in which a hand has both strengths and weaknesses. We’ll now specifically identify three scenarios you will commonly confront.
First, you could have a straight draw with two suited cards on. For example, you hold Q♠T♠, are against an opponent holding A♦4♦, and the flop in Figure 9.12 appears.
In this specific case the flush draw will win 70.5 percent of the money, as it is more likely a flush will come by the end of the hand with nine remaining diamonds out versus the six non- diamond straight cards. The news is much better if you are against A♦4♦ and the flop in Figure 9.13 appears.
In this case you would still have a straight draw but also a pair of Queens, the percentages change to 56.3:43.7 percent in your favor. We can work with that!
The second kind of seemingly vulnerable hand is when you flop a straight or a flush draw, but there is a pair on board. Let’s say you have Q♠T♠, and the flop in Figure 9.14 appears
Figure 9.14 This hand is dangerous for straight draws.
Against three random hands you will win 32 percent of the money, which isn’t so bad. Check and call one bet here if you want to play conservatively. If you want to be a little cheeky, you can go for a check-raise, as flush draws will be afraid of a third Nine, and a Nine will be afraid of a flush draw as well as a Nine with a higher kicker. Danger hands for you here are of the JT or J9 variety, as they give the opponent a second pair, trips, or even a full house. These are both commonly played hands, so watch the betting pattern.
Straightforward play would be to check a Nine on the flop and bet it on the turn because of its strength, while a Jack will likely be bet out to get rid of straight draws. If someone does have a third Nine, such as A♥9♥, you are a major underdog, winning only 26.5 percent of the money. Against AJ, you are on the wrong end of the equation, but not as badly at 61:39
percent against. At this point, you need to decide whether the pot is large enough to stay in. More about that in a bit.
A flush draw with a paired board puts you in no better shape. Let’s say you hold Q♠T♠, and you get the flop in Figure 9.15.
Figure 9.15 Potential flushes rarely beat made trips.
Against A♥6♥ you are a 25.2:74.8 percent loser going to the turn. Hey, the player holding the Six has made their hand and is more than happy to let you come a-chasing. Your one saving grace is that a player holding the Six will often check the flop, so you will perhaps get a free shot at one of the nine spades in the deck. It’s even worth calling one bet if the pot’s big enough. If you call two bets, turn off your computer and go to bed—you’re too tired to play any more tonight.
Finally, we’d like to talk about when you flop two pair, but there is both a straight draw and a flush draw on the flop. Admittedly, this is not as common of an occurrence as the other two situations, but it will happen. Let’s say you’re in the big blind with 9♣7♥. Ick. Yuck. Never play these two cards, unless no one raises. If, by some miracle, you get to click Check and see the flop, you might see the miracle shown in Figure 9.16.
Figure 9.16 Sometimes trash turn to gold then back to trash.
Yippee! You’ve hit the Big Blind Special. But have you? This hand is good, but there are a lot of ways it can lose. First, any-one playing JT will have a straight, leaving you with four cards(the remaining Nines and Sevens and, OK, two running Eights, whatever…) to win the pot. You are officially an 82:18 percent underdog as of now. Against a Ten or a Six, giving one opponent an open-ended straight draw, however, you are a solid favorite at 69.4:30.6 percent. Aggressive players will push their straight draws, so it may behoove you to bet or raise for information. If a re-raise comes, it will be best to slow down, unless the turn gives you your miracle. If it looks like the turn completed someone’s straight, and there are a few players left, it may just be time to cut your losses. Look at the pot, though, and think hard before mucking two pair. Just how crazy are these folks? One more big bet in limit poker rarely kills anyone, especially against only one other player. If someone has a double draw with A♦T♦, you are virtually 50:50 percent to win the pot.