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Mind Over Poker

Rethinking a Familiar Situation

by David Apostolico |  Published: Mar 02, 2009


One of the things I love about no-limit poker is that there are few, if any, absolutes. Conventional wisdom can be turned upside down. Opponents' preconceived notions can be manipulated to great advantage. Maybe one of the few constants is that someone who plays predictably can easily be exploited. With that in mind, I try to mix up my play and not get into a mindset that I can't do something in a particular situation.

In a recent hand in which I slow-played a full house over three days and still couldn't get anyone to bet into me, I realized that I do have one preconceived notion that I needed to rethink. I will rarely bluff into a family pot, operating under the assumption that it is much harder to move a large group off a hand than a small group. While that is generally true, it is by no means an absolute. Of course, there have been times when I'm short-stacked in the big blind in a tournament - yet with still enough fold equity - and I've pushed in to scoop a pot that four previous limpers contributed to. However, rarely will I entertain a naked post-flop bluff into four or more players. I may need to rethink that.

Let's get back to the hand I referenced. Yes, you read that right. I'm playing in the world's largest and oldest e-mail tournament at On Saturday, with three limpers in front of me, I limped in from late position with the 7 5. The button limped, as well, and the big blind checked his option. Six of us saw the flop come 7 7 5. Now, all I needed was one of the four players in front of me to bet into me. By late Sunday, everyone had checked around to me. With only one player to act behind me, I was tempted to bet, but checked instead. The player behind me checked, as well. The turn card was the 3, putting a potential straight, flush, or straight flush on the board. I had been hoping for a spade, so I was now again hopeful that I would get some action. It took until Tuesday morning for everyone to check around to me. With that much time, there's plenty of opportunity to contemplate my move. I ended up making a 1,500 bet into a 2,700 pot. I had another 17,000 behind, and every other player in the pot save one had me covered. I was hoping to get check-raised by someone with a made flush or even the naked A. If someone had the straight flush, there was no way I was going to avoid going broke. To my disappointment, everyone folded and I won a modest pot.

Now, let's take the exact same situation and change one factor - my cards. If I held blanks, I wouldn't consider that situation a prime bluffing spot. I'm still not advocating that it is, but it has caused me to rethink how I play family pots in general. There are certainly times beforehand that I would make position bets on the flop to isolate a player and then bet him out on the turn. My general frame of mind, however, has been not to get too fancy or nuanced in a family pot. There are going to be better spots for strategic play.

While that thought process still holds, I do think that I can pick spots to be more aggressive - or make plays - in family pots. I have been doing that successfully since then. The point I want to make is that no matter how much we think we challenge existing operating procedure, I believe we all have some set standards we follow religiously that maybe we should re-evaluate. I can't tell you how many blogs or hand descriptions I read that include words like "pretty standard play here" to rationalize a mistake. If we take the time to rethink some of our personal conventional wisdoms, we can cut down on those mistakes and improve our games.

David Apostolico is the author of several poker books, including Tournament Poker and The Art of War. You can contact him at