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Fighting Fuzzy Thinking: Basic Poker Theory

I was the small blind in a $30-$60 hold’em game at the Bellagio. Three players limped in and I called $10 more with the 8h 10h . The big blind raised. Everyone called. The flop came Ah 8d 5c . I bet. The original bettor hesitated and called. One other player called.The next card was the 5h I bet again. The big blind folded and the other player called. The last card was the Jc . I checked. My opponent bet and I called. She was bluffing with 6-7. The big blind said he threw away two queens.

I would be wrong to say that I played this hand especially insightfully or expertly. I merely played it properly. None of my moves took poker talent. They only took the ability to read words, not hands. It is true that only talented poker players would play the hand this way if they hadn’t read my stuff. But you don’t need those talents if you are willing to study basic poker theory.

In the hand in question all plays should be almost automatic, especially in a fairly tough game. The bet on the flop — though seemingly odd — is clear-cut. It is indicated because

(a) the ace on the flop will scare out overcards to your pair;

(b) the ace will possibly scare out the likely pocket pair (above eights) to your left, not only because he thinks you have an ace but also because there are three players yet to act who may have one. (This play is much less strong if you can’t put the “squeeze” on the raiser);

(c) You have a three-flush to give you extra outs if you are called; and

(d) You have middle pair and a kicker that is likely better than someone who has middle pair with you.

When I failed to get out the queens on the flop I might have stopped betting at that point. But the five of hearts on the turn made a second bet automatic. Since, in general, if you must call you are better off betting. This play is also right out of the book. This second bet convinced the queens I had a good hand so he was done.

The check on the river was trivial. Clearly I have a better chance of making more money by checking than betting.

I won $420 on this hand. Most players would have lost $90. So that is a $510 difference to those with talent. Or those who read.

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