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Getting it in Good

That’s all you can ask for

by Roy Cooke |  Published: Sep 04, 2009


There are lots of good poker players out there these days. They analyze the math, compare hand ranges, and discuss poker theory and concepts amongst themselves. But what is most difficult about the game is adjusting your play to how a hand plays. Possessing the feel to effectively analyze how a hand plays and then correctly adjusting your play to get the greatest value out of your holding will place you at a level above those who have just read the books and understand the fundamental concepts. Of course, that is easy to say and tough to do. You must both read hands well and know conceptually how to create correct plays that are applicable to the current situation.

It was World Series of Poker time, and I was in a $30-$60 limit hold’em game. I’d been card-dead for hours, just blinding off. My present table image was a tight one, tighter than I was truly playing. A solid but relatively passive early-position player raised and I three-bet him from late position with the ADiamond Suit ASpade Suit. The button, an aggressive, solid pro who respected my play and raises, four-bet. In spite of his position, I knew that he held a gigantic starting hand, as he was both observant and knowledgeable enough to be aware of my overly tight play. Both blinds folded, the original raiser called, and it was up to me. I thought about how the hand would play.

I could five-bet and get in two extra small bets, but if I did that, I thought the button would read my hand as A-A — which, of course, is what I held. If he read my hand correctly, being a good player, he would know how to play his hand correctly against my holding. But if I flat-called, I thought he would read me for having a different, lower-ranking hand, and that fact would likely give me extra value later on in the hand, when the bets are bigger and my edge on those bets might be greater.

I think that too many people tend to play A-A deceptively preflop, limping along and letting in a multitude of hands that can crack them. But in this situation, the field was already defined, and the value of deception was high. I flat-called.

The flop came 8Heart Suit 8Club Suit 3Heart Suit. A paired board with low cards tends to be favorable for A-A. The opener double-checked his hand, thought for a moment, and checked. The flop clearly interested him, and given its texture, that implied a flush draw. I checked, seeking to check-raise the button, who had shown strength preflop. He dutifully bet. The opener flat-called, and I check-raised, thinking the button would automatically reraise me whether he held an overpair or A-K. Once again, the button cooperated. He three-bet me. The opener instantly called. His quick call confirmed my thinking that he held the heart draw — as he would have had to put more thought into his decision with any other hand.

I thought about how to best play my hand moving forward. If I played it fast, I might get reraised and be able to check-raise the button on the turn. That would be a good scenario for my hand. But even though the button clearly held a big mitt, he read hands well and respected my play. Furthermore, my image was a tight one at the moment. Also, if the opener made his flush on the turn, I would be drawing to four outs. I thought that if I flat-called and led the turn, Mr. Button would misread my hand, think I was trying to stop a free-card play, and raise me with any overpair, or maybe even with A-K as a bluff. I would make this play only if a heart didn’t come, and I also would trap the opener’s probable flush draw for three big bets on the turn, when the edge of those bets was much more in my favor. Feeling that it was the best play due to the fact that I would get away cheaper if a heart came and create more expectation if one didn’t, I flat-called.

The turn card was the 6Club Suit. Mr. Opener checked, and I wagered $60. The button again cooperated, and raised me. The opener called, and as planned, I three-bet it! The button seemed confused. He thought for a long moment and warily called, as did the opener.

The river brought the 5Heart Suit, completing the flush. The opener fired $60 into the pot. I seldom lay down a competitive hand to a single bet in big pots, as I lose too much the small number of times that I am wrong. But in some cases, while the pot is laying you long odds, the chance that your hand is good is even longer than the odds the pot is giving you. This was one of those cases. The playing style of the opponent who bet and the way the hand played made it an easy read. I pitched my hand into the muck.

The button, with a frustrated look on his face, thought for quite a while, then said, “It’s a big pot, I’ll give you $60.” He tossed in a call. He was giving away $60. The opener showed the AHeart Suit 10Heart Suit, the nut flush.

Yeah, I lost the pot. The way that I played the hand cost me the maximum in chips. But I got my money in good, and had the best edge on my wagers by playing my hand tactically the way that I did. And that is all you can ask for. You can’t control the cards that come, but you can play them in a way that gives yourself the best mathematical advantage over your opponents. And if you’re successful at that, over time, you’ll get the chips. Spade Suit

Longtime poker pro and author Roy Cooke’s Card Player column has appeared since 1992. A successful Las Vegas real estate broker since 1990, his website is Should you wish to inquire regarding real-estate matters — including purchase, sale, or mortgage — his phone number is (702) 396-6575. Roy’s longtime collaborator John Bond’s website is Find John and Roy on Facebook.