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Betting the Worst Hand

Analyzing the different scenarios

by Roy Cooke |  Published: Jul 01, 2010


I’d been getting my butt kicked for six hours straight, was stuck big-time, and was grumpy as hell. My $30-$60 limit hold’em game had some loose-aggressive players in it, as well as a few passive marginal players and several local pros. A woman playing in speedy mode opened with a raise from middle position.

This lady is the type of player who varies her style by responding with her gut to emotions that are based on how she is running. When the cards are not running her way, she plays very tight, thinking she will save money while she waits out her unlucky streak; she is Ms. Wimpy. But when the deck is hitting her in the face — as it was during this session — she raises almost every hand, pushing her “rush” in an effort to maximize her good fortune; Ms. Speedy!

Of course, cards often run in cycles. Mathematical fluctuations dictate that streaks of positive events and streaks of negative events occur. But the thinking that past events somehow affect the mathematical chances of given results occurring in future trials is for the ignorant. If a coin lands on heads 10 times in a row, the chance that it will fall on heads the 11th time is still 50-50.

Lots of players are superstitious, and believe in the “on a rush” theory — both positive and negative. They think that past events somehow influence future events, that cards run in good and bad streaks, and that there is some kind of predictive factor in effect.

How you are running affects your table image, and should be a variable that’s considered when you design your plays. Your winning or losing streak can influence how your opponents react to you. You should exploit this. But, you shouldn’t adjust your decisions based on the idea that running well or badly will affect how you catch cards, as so many players do.

Ms. Speedy was called by a weak-tight player in the cutoff. On the button, I looked down to see the 8Heart Suit 8Diamond Suit. I three-bet, folding the blinds. Both opponents called, and we took the flop off three-handed.

The flop came QDiamond Suit 10Diamond Suit 5Club Suit. It was not a flop that I liked much. Both players checked to me.

Ms. Speedy didn’t necessarily have a premium hand, by any means. “Tightie” was a guy who could be moved. And there was some chance that my hand was good. There was currently $320 in this pot, and I didn’t want to give up on it. I had position, and betting might generate information on how to play the hand on later streets. And a bet could possibly take the pot. While I didn’t particularly care for the flop, I fired, nonetheless.

Speedy folded, but Tightie called.

I felt that Tightie could have a wide range of hands. He was a little intimidated by my table image, despite my running sour all session. My reputation and minor celebrity sometimes serve me well in that way. Given my three-bet preflop, he would not likely raise a flop bet from me with just one pair, even a queen for top pair. He also would check-call any draw. I had little or no read as to where I was in the hand. I might have the best hand, but also might be drawing to only two outs, which was not a situation in which I wanted to be.

The turn card was the 5Heart Suit. Tightie checked. I didn’t think my hand was a favorite to be good. That, however, didn’t necessarily make betting the wrong play.

If I checked, Tightie would likely read me as having no pair and an A-K type of hand. I’d be inviting a bluff on the river. He also would bet many of his legitimate hands on the river if I checked. His range included many draws. If he bet the river, I would be forced to call with my two eights if the river missed the possible draws.

But if I bet, he might fold a hand like A-J, with which he would be correct in calling. Heck, he might even fold a 10.

Betting gave me several advantages over checking. It might stop a bluff on the river, and possibly fold hands with which Tightie would be correct in calling. If he folded those hands, I would gain from winning the pot when he would have beaten me yet folded, and I would pick up an extra bet when he called and missed.

I would give up a bet when he missed and bluffed, and I would lose a bet when he called and made a hand, in which case I would have folded. But the advantages outweighed the disadvantages. I fired a wager forward, and Tightie called.

The river brought the 9♦, completing both the flush draw and the K-J straight draw.

He checked. I checked behind him, feeling there was little chance that I could win the pot with a bet. He showed me the QSpade Suit JSpade Suit, having flopped top pair and checked it twice.

I could have gotten away from the hand for at least one bet less, but taking a risk had gains in other plausible scenarios. When considering the best play, you need to analyze how the different scenarios will play out, the likelihood of each scenario playing out that way, and the value that each scenario adds to your holding. Only then should you determine which play creates the best value overall. As always, you are looking for the greatest positive expectation.

Easy to figure, right? What makes the game a challenge is that it is a contest of incomplete information. If we all could see everyone’s cards, we could calculate the correct play in every situation with 100 percent certainty. The math whizzes would win all of the money. It’s a good thing for me that that’s not how it works. If it were that easy, everybody would quit his job, play poker, and sleep until noon! Spade Suit

Roy Cooke’s Card Player column has appeared since 1992. A successful Las Vegas real estate broker since 1990, his website is To inquire regarding real-estate matters — including purchase, sale, or mortgage — call (702) 396-6575. Roy’s longtime collaborator John Bond’s new McKool Poker Mystery, Trapped, appears in Florida Heat Wave: John’s website is