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Be Careful What You Ask For

Just make the best decision that you can at the moment

by Roy Cooke |  Published: Nov 26, 2010


Poker decisions are risk-versus-reward evaluations. That’s why it’s called gambling. If you bet, you risk being called or raised by a superior hand, and your reward is your bet’s equity. If you check, you risk giving an inferior hand a free card, and your reward may be saving a bet. If you check with the intention of check-raising, you assume the risk that one of your opponents may not bet, which will cost you at least one bet and may cost you the whole pot, and your reward might be protecting the pot or acquiring an extra bet(s).

Accurately defining your risk is tricky, because you are almost never sure of what your opponents are holding or what they will do. For even the best players, it is an educated guess.

At Bellagio, I had just posted the big blind in a wide open $30-$60 limit hold’em game and was holding the 5♣ 4♣. The under-the-gun player open-raised, four opponents called, and the button three-bet. The small blind folded, and it was two bets to me. While I play small suited connectors when I think the situation is right, I tend to value them less than most limit hold’em players. Often, the justification that a situation is right is that there are several players taking the flop. Well, the reason why lots of players are taking the flop is that they’re often playing suited hands, and if their suited hands are the same suit as mine, they’re likely to be higher ranked than mine. You don’t want to be drawing dead when you flop a flush draw!
That said, this pot was laying me $590-$60, assuming that everyone else called behind me and the pot wasn’t reraised; the pot odds were very good for a call. I called the double raise, optimistically looking to hit the flop solidly and take down a monster pot. Everyone flat-called the three bets, and we took the flop seven-handed.

The flop didn’t hit me solidly, but it did give me a piece. It came 10♥ 7♣ 4♥, giving me bottom pair and a backdoor-flush draw. I knuckled, hoping to get a free card but understanding that it wasn’t very likely. The field checked to Mr. Button, who wagered. Being next to act put me in a dire position. Getting more than 20-1 current odds, I wanted to take off a card and see if I could hit a 4 or a 5 or pick up a draw. But the fact that there were five players to act behind me, any one of whom could check-raise, increased my risk. If it was raised and possibly three- or four-bet, I would be forced to call multiple bets or fold, thereby leaving my initial call with no equity.

In such situations, I factor in the likelihood of the pot getting raised. Several of my opponents rarely check-raised; they mostly led when they held a hand, even when a check-raise was likely to succeed. That fact lessened my risk of being raised. Because the pot was massive and likely to get bigger, I felt that the potential reward was worth the risk. So, I called the single bet. The rest of the field called behind me.

Swish, nothing but net! The 4♠ hit on the turn, giving me three fours. I considered leading, but I really wanted to eliminate opponents in an effort to protect this huge pot. I didn’t think anyone would fold a straight or flush draw to a single bet, so I checked, hoping the button would bet again, enabling me to check-raise to eliminate some of the players with draws. To my great disappointment, the field checked to Mr. Button, and he knuckled.

I nervously awaited the river card, knowing that many cards would cripple my hand. “Five of hearts,” I said to myself. That would be the perfect card — filling the flush draws, maybe even giving someone a straight, and giving me a full house.

Like a gift from the heavens, the 5♥ hit the river, and a sense of relief rushed through me. I fired a bet forward. To my delight, it was raised and then called. I hit it again, thinking the raiser had made his flush, the caller wasn’t full, and my hand was supreme. Anxiety struck me when the raiser hit it again. The caller folded, and now I made a crying call and looked at his 5♦ 5♠. The 5♥ on the river had given my opponent fives full.

I thought about how I played the turn as I watched the winner stack the chips — my chips; or at least they would have been mine if I had bet the turn. Did I make an error by checking the turn? I had read Mr. Button as having an overpair when he three-bet preflop and then bet into six opponents on the flop. Obviously, it was an incorrect read — and that wrong read cost me the pot!

But, poker is not a game of perfect information. If in hindsight I can rationalize my reasoning, I don’t beat myself up about the play. I’m much more angry with myself when I determine the best play and don’t pull the trigger on it.

I had assumed a risk by checking the turn. I thought I had read the situation correctly, but the scenario was one in which Mr. Button was at the bottom of his range. Yeah, I had taken a bad beat, losing a big pot to an opponent with one out. That’s not a fulfilling moment, but that’s poker. Obviously, in hindsight, giving him the free turn card was not the correct play. But if Mr. Button had bet, there were scenarios in which the same play might have saved me the pot, and I thought the likelihood of Mr. Button betting was great.

Was checking the turn the correct play? Even in hindsight I can’t quantify that decision. I do know that it sure didn’t feel like the correct decision as I watched him stack the chips. ♠

Roy Cooke played poker professionally for 16 years prior to becoming a successful Las Vegas real-estate broker/salesman in 1989. Should you wish to get any information about real-estate matters — including purchase, sale, or mortgage — his office number is (702) 396-6575, and his e-mail address is His website is You also may find him on Facebook.