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Getting the Max

Maximizing equity

by Roy Cooke |  Published: Jun 07, 2011


Roy Cooke

Getting the highest equity out of your good hands is mostly a function of reading your opponents’ thoughts and emotions, determining tendencies from those reads, and designing plays based on that knowledge. Yeah, it gets complicated, but do it well and you’ll be amazed at how much the equity of those extra bets adds up over time.

While under the gun in a $40-$80 limit hold’em game at Bellagio, I peered down at the 9♣ 9♠. It’s a holding that is highly situation-dependent. I’ll raise when I feel my opponents will respect my raise and are likely to fold two overcards. That both increases my odds of winning the pot and eliminates many of the two-overcard hands that would be correct to call me. Raising also narrows the range of hands my opponents may call/raise me with, as I expect them to respect an under-the-gun raise from me, making them an easier read. Against players who do not respect my raises, I’ll often call with medium pairs and hope to flop a set. Calling helps generate the additional volume I’m looking for when I flop a set, as it increases the chances I will get action when I flop a big hand.

In this particular game, my raise was going to get respect, and I fired $80 forward. The field folded to the game’s only loose cannon, who called my raise from the cutoff, and Choum, a local pro, who three-bet from the button. The blinds folded, and I called, fully aware that Choum, even from the button, must have a monster to three-bet an up-front raise from me. Mr. Loose Cannon also called.

I have played thousands of hours with Choum. Tough and gritty, he is by no means a poker-theory expert. That said, Choum has a good deal of poker experience and great “street sense.” He reads poker situations well, which offsets some of his theory miscalculations. He’s a winning player — not a world beater, by any means, but he grinds out a living. I know his game well and he knows mine well. Neither one of us is shy about mixing it up with the other, and it makes for some challenging experiences.

The flop came 9♥ 3♣ 2♠, giving me top set on a rainbow board, a powerful hand, to say the least. It’s also one of the few times that nobody would have much, if any, “drawing equity.” Since my equity on any bet that called me was high, I wanted to get as many chips into the pot as possible. Conversely, with vulnerable hands, you often want players to fold, as the pot is laying them the correct price to draw.

I thought about how best to play my hand, based on my opponents’ tendencies. Mr. Loose Cannon was not the sort to care if a bet was single or multiple. His mindset was pretty much “play or fold,” so I didn’t think I needed to make any play that might sacrifice equity to trap him into the pot. If he was coming, he was coming. If he wasn’t, he wasn’t. For this reason, I focused my calculations on Choum.

If I checked in order to check-raise, Choum would bet any of his ace-high hands, as well as his pairs. With his pairs, he would either three-bet the flop, or trap and raise the turn. Assuming he didn’t improve, if he trapped, and I three-bet the turn, I would generate $320 in flop and turn bets per player (2 x $40 on the flop and 3 x $80 on the turn). That said, I also had to consider that Choum could also three-bet the flop with overcards, in hope of getting a free turn card.

If he three-bet the flop, and I check-raised the turn, I would generate $280 per player in bets (3 x $40 on the flop and 2 x $80 on the turn), but, of course, Choum would have to bet the turn. I searched my mental database for a play that fit all the plausible scenarios and was consistent with Choum’s tendencies. I wanted a play that would generate even greater equity and solve the problem of Choum’s free-card play.
If I flat-called the flop three-bet, and led into Choum on the turn, he would read me for betting a weak hand to prevent him from getting a free card. His tendency in this spot would be to raise with an overpair as a value-bet, thinking he had the best hand. He also might bluff with overcards to induce me to lay down a medium pair, a hand he would read me for having if I played my hand that way. The fact that he might bluff added additional value to the play. I set my sights on actualizing this scenario.

I checked, Mr. Loose Cannon checked, and Choum bet. I check-raised, hoping Mr. Loose Cannon would call. He disappointed me and folded. Choum three-bet, and I flat-called, as planned. I led the turn, induced the raise, then three-bet and was paid off on the turn and river. I showed my three nines. Choum later told me he had two jacks.
The hand speaks to utilizing a player’s tendencies to increase your holding’s equity. Had I not been aware of Choum’s predispositions, I wouldn’t have been able to generate nearly as much action. This concept can also be applied to adjusting your betting strategies based on your opponents’ tendencies, to reduce your risk with your marginal hands. Poker is not about pots won or lost, but about the equity gained or lost in the play of each hand. Increase the equity where you can and reduce the potential negative equity whenever possible. You’ll be amazed at how lucky your opponents will believe you are. ♠

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.