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Questions for the Inside of Your Head - Ask yourself questions to obtain information during the play of a hand

by Roy West |  Published: Aug 09, 2005


Hi. Come on in. I thought we'd have some healthy snacks today. Luckily, that thought quickly disappeared and I ordered a large deep-dish pizza with extra everything. Dive in.

You new players being welcomed to our beloved game of poker should staple the next sentence inside your money pouches. "Your actions in poker, if you plan on being a consistent winner, should be based on information, not guesses."

The way you get information is by closely observing your opponents, and by asking questions of yourself – questions for the inside of your head.

The question that should always be rattling around inside your head while you're playing poker is, "What's my objective? "Different people have different objectives when going to the poker room. Some are there just to have a good time for an afternoon. Some are there to win money. And some just want to have a few poker stories to tell when they get back home. However, I mean, what are you trying to accomplish right now with the cards that you're holding at this moment against the players and the cards they are holding in this hand? (Wow, that's a mouthful!)

The next question to rattle in your head should be, "How can I best accomplish this objective?" That, of course, depends on your objective, but be aware that sometimes you can't accomplish your objective. Here's an example from seven-card stud (hold'em players will see the application to their game). Generally, your objective with a big pair such as kings on third street is to play the hand against one other player. You accomplish that objective by raising.

But wait a minute! Suppose the forced-bet low card is immediately to your left. He opens and five or six other players call before the action gets to you. Your raise at that point probably would eliminate the low card and one other player. At the medium and lower limits, once these players have some money in the pot, you can't get them out with a cannon. So, you can't accomplish your objective of playing against only one other player.

If we now move your seat, that big pair becomes easier to play. This time, let's say the forced-bet low card is immediately to your right. Now, you're going to act from under the gun, so you have a chance to put in a raise and eliminate most of your opponents. Not having already invested in the pot, they are much less likely to come in. Of course, you're not going to knock out any big hands, but you'll probably get rid of the drawing hands and the small pairs that might have stuck around to make trips and beat you. Your objective is accomplished.

The observant player (hopefully that's you) always asks himself, "What are my opponents' upcards?" The only way you can know for sure which cards are out of play or not available to you is to see them on the board, starting right from third street. If you don't pay attention to them, you could end up drawing almost dead, having missed seeing that most of the cards you need to fill your straight are already gone.

Two more questions and you can take the rest of the evening off. "If I make the hand I'm drawing to, is it likely to be the winner?" You don't want to find yourself drawing to a straight when three other players are drawing to flushes. Even if you make the hand, you probably are going to lose. The same is true with small flushes drawing against big flushes, and with any flush when two opponents each have made open pairs and have started a raising war. One or both have probably made a full house.

Somewhere among all of the questions, this one should creep in: "Do I want my opponents in or out?" The answer, of course, is, it depends on what you're trying to make and what you perceive your opponent is trying to make. If you have a big pair on third street, you want most of your opponents out, to increase your chances of winning without improvement. However, if you start on third street with a drawing hand, you want opponents in, to give you the proper pot odds to draw to the hand.

I'll have more questions another time.

You have three kinds of cheeses on your chin. And I have a full tummy and need a nap. Take a couple of pieces of the pizza and kill the light on your way out.

Roy West, best-selling poker author, continues giving his successful poker lessons in Las Vegas for both tourists and locals. Ladies are welcome. Get Roy's toll-free 800 number from his ad on Page 126.