Let’s do something a little different. Since we are all here to play poker, let’s do exactly that. Suppose we are sitting in a structured limit hold’em game. It could be $10-$20 or $20-$40, or some other limit. You are two off the button, two players have limped in, and you hold Kh 4h.
Should you play?
Clearly, this is not a raising hand. In fact, in most cases it should be thrown away. The hand is fairly weak and many bad things can happen. But it becomes right to play under one circumstance. This would be when the rest of the players (including those in the blinds) are loose and passive. Now you would be getting the multiway action — at little risk of a raise — that this hand needs to be profitable.
But this point alone does not make this situation worthwhile. You must be able to play the hand well, and that may include flopping top pair and then throwing it away. If you can’t do this, then having the above condition met is probably not enough.
Well, let us suppose the circumstances are right, and you go ahead and call. Both players call behind you, and both blinds call, producing a seven-player pot for one bet each. The flop comes Kd 9h 5d.
The two players in the blinds pass. The next player bets. The player on your immediate right folds — and now it is your turn. What should you do?
First, let’s agree if there was a lot of action before it got to you, this hand should probably be thrown away. This could mean a bet and a couple of calls, or a bet and a raise. This is partly because there would be a good chance that you are already beat, and partly because if you did happen to hold the best hand you could still be beat by the players behind you who have not yet acted. Fortunately, this is not the case.
You should also be thinking about how likely the bettor is to have a king in his hand. Many players when they hold a high card and have the opportunity to be first in will either raise or fold. They won’t call with the hand. You also need to think about whether this person will automatically bet a flush draw like many players do and how likely he is to be a hand like 9s 8s which now gives him middle pair.
Let’s assume this analysis is favorable. If that’s the case, you should raise, and hope for the best. Part of the reason for this raise is that you think you may have the best hand, and part of the reason is that you don’t want to give someone with middle or bottom pair, or a gut-shot, correct odds to call behind you. So you raise. One of the players after you cold calls. The original bettor calls. Everyone else folds. The turn card is the 2c.
The original bettor now checks to you. What do you do?
First, let’s agree that we don’t like the fact that the player behind you called the two bets cold. He could be on a flush draw, but he can also easily have a better hand than what you are holding. This could be a king with a better kicker, or a hand as strong as a set. But it can also be something that he shouldn’t be playing. Many “live” players would make an incorrect call in this pot with something like an A-8 hoping to get lucky. They feel if they catch that ace or make three-of-a-kind, they can gain three big bets from you and also collect additional money from the other player(s). However, they need a much bigger pot to make this call correct. In addition, if this player is on a flush draw, it makes it less likely that the initial bettor is on a flush draw, but this certainly could be the case. That is, they both could be drawing for diamonds, especially in a seven-handed pot.
Despite all the problems, your play is to bet. You just can’t give a free card in this spot. If you get raised (by either player) you will have to strongly consider laying your hand down. It is just not strong enough to continue unless you feel there is a good chance the raiser is making a play at the pot.
You bet; both players call. The river card is the jack of clubs, making the board Kd 9h 5d 2c Jc.
The first player checks to you. What should you do?
It should be clear to most of you that you should also check. The reason is not that your hand might not be best — just the opposite is true. The reason is that it will be difficult for a weaker hand to call unless you are against very poor players who will pay off with anything. If someone else bets, you should probably call unless you are very sure this person rarely bluffs. There are now many bets in the pot and you don’t want to be throwing away the best hand.
This ends our analysis. If you had trouble following all of it, your hold’em game can probably use a little work. If you disagree with some of it, well, there’s always a chance that you are right and I’m wrong. It doesn’t take much to change the way a hand should be played, and in hold’em it can sometimes be very difficult to decide upon the correct strategy. For instance, you might be able to make an argument for just calling on the flop and then raising on fourth street.
There is one point, however, that I wish to drive home. This was not a terribly difficult hand. It did require some sophisticated thinking. But if you want to be successful at the poker tables, it is the type of analysis that you will need to do all the time.