Weighing the upside versus the downside, what you stand to lose versus what you stand to gain, is pretty universal. It’s how we figure out what to do in any given situation, assuming the governing factor is logic. Poker, like many important life decisions, should be approached with a risk versus reward analysis.
Good poker players assess the risks they face in a given situation and the potential reward they may receive if the cards come their way. Of course, most poker equations have an effectively infinite number of variables, plus the decision is based on incomplete information, as you can rarely be sure of your opponents’ exact holdings. So, poker decisions are based on educated guesses, taking into account all of the known variables, the possibility of unknown variables, and your conceptual knowledge level. The greater your conceptual knowledge level and information, the better your decisions should be.
The game was $40-$80 limit hold’em. It was a generally solid group, with a couple of weak players in the mix. The field folded to one of the weak players, who limped in from three off the button. As a general rule, I do not like the play of limping to open a pot from late position. It can be correct when it is done as a “trap” play in order to induce players to make incorrect calls later in the hand, but that is the right play in fewer situations than you might think.
When you open the pot with a raise, you add the possibility of winning the blinds without a struggle into the plausible scenarios. If there is little or no chance of winning the pot without a call, the play loses some value. But even when the raise won’t win you the pot right away, if you utilize good hand selection, the likelihood that you’ll have a better hand than your opponents who always call a raise from the blinds is great. Of course, a limper in front of you changes the scenario some, as it increases your risk and almost eliminates the chance to win without a flop.
After the weak player limped, the button (a solid player) called and the action was on me in the small blind. I looked down to see K-9 offsuit, not the best of hands by any means, but it had some potential. Still, the hand was very marginal. I could easily make a hand, only to find that it was second best.
In marginal hand-selection situations, I include other factors in the equation to define my risk-reward ratio. What types of opponent(s) am I up against? Are they easy to read? If I make a second-best hand, am I likely to be able to get away from it? Will I get good value out of my hand? Is my hand likely to get paid off? Can I likely bluff the pot or otherwise outplay my opponent(s)? In this case, the limping player was likely to call me down, as he had a tendency to pay off everything. The button would very likely play his hand correctly no matter what.
In this situation a major variable to consider was the likelihood of the big blind raising. He was a tight raiser, particularly when out of position, and I felt little threat of a raise from him. Since I already had half the bet committed, the pot was laying me 7-1 now, so I called. The big blind rapped the table and we took the flop fourhanded.
The flop came Q-J-3 rainbow, giving me a gutshot and an overcard draw. With the weak limper in the pot, I did not think that betting as a semibluff would be a strong play, as he called most everything and also had position on me. I checked, hoping to get a free card. The weak limper disappointed me and fired $40 into the pot. The button folded. The big blind, yet to act behind me, appeared to have lost interest in the hand. I was the only viable contender left.
The pot was laying me 5-1 ($200-$40). I was 43-4 to make the gutshot; 43 cards missed the straight and four completed it. That was not currently a good enough price to draw to the hand. Did any other factors add value? Would a king also be good? It might or might not be, but overall, I believed it had added value. Also, Mr. Limper paid off everything. If I made the straight, I should be able to extract additional bets out of him, and they would likely be bets placed in the pot with him having little chance of winning. Additional bets placed in the pot with your opponent stone dead have much more value than bets placed in the pot with your opponent having a chance of drawing out.
There was also the slight possibility that he would check the turn and I would benefit from a two-for-one sale: two cards for the price of one. The additional value that those factors added to my hand turned my hand from a fold to a profitable call. I flat-called the $40 and took one off.
The turn card was the Situs pkv games Jspades, pairing the board and putting a two-flush up, also. I checked, once again hoping to get a free card. Once again, my opponent disappointed me and bet.
The price I was getting now was $360-$80, 4.5-1, which was not far off the price the pot offered me on the flop. But things had changed! No longer was there the possibility that I could see two for the price of one, as only one more card was to come. Also, the chance of my making my hand and losing had gone up. My opponent could already have a full house. And he could have picked up a backdoor-flush draw in spades, thereby reducing some of my outs. Add to that the fact that my price had gone down, and my hand had turned into an easy fold. I tossed my cards into the muck.
This hand is not the most interesting poker story, but most poker hands aren’t. It does speak to the concepts of adjusting your play based on the strengths/weaknesses of your opponents, how the hand plays, and how you must adjust your odds based on your likelihood of winning, not just improving.
With the turn of each card and each bet by my opponent, my risk-reward ratio changed. In poker, you have to make your decision based on the situation at the time — and if you don’t understand the way changing conditions have changed the situation, you’ll likely find yourself always taking more risk than the potential reward justifies.