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Doing it Unconventionally

by Roy Cooke |  Published: Oct 01, 2013


Roy CookeConventional wisdom is, by self-definition, conventional. But when situations are unconventional, the conventional wisdom needs to be modified to conform to the unconventional situation. And unconventional situations happen all the time in poker.

In those situations, applying, analyzing and weighing correct concepts to the situation should formulate a correct unconventional solution. Because unconventional situations occur so often, it’s important to learn poker conceptually if you want to perform at a world-class level and not just apply an “if this, then that,” generic strategy.

It was the first week of the World Series of Poker, a great time for poker in Las Vegas. In my $40-$80 limit hold’em game, sitting to my immediate right, was a fellow who obviously had limited hold’em knowledge. He raised with any and all pairs preflop, bet them on the flop, and took them to and called the river whenever it wasn’t totally apparent a wired pair was drawing dead. Furthermore, he never raised with A-K or any other non-pair hand for that matter, even if it was suited. In his mind, preflop, he was valuing pairs higher than A-K suited, appraising his hands strictly by the strength of their rank rather than by valuing how they play.

Mr. Pair-Raiser opened the pot with a raise in third position, indicating a wired pair, though how high was a mystery. I peered down to the ASpade Suit KClub Suit. My first inclination was to reraise. But a substantial portion of the equity of holding A-K preflop is when your opponent(s) hold an ace or king with a smaller kicker. And in this particular situation, that couldn’t be the case, Mr. Pair-Raiser had to have a wired pair.

So how should I play this hand differently than I normally would? I understood I would have to improve my hand in order to win the pot. I wasn’t going to win with ace-high. Three-betting was likely to make it heads-up against a pair, an approximate 50-50 race. Yeah, the blinds would be dead money, and there were implied odds to be had should I hit the flop, but it would also cost me multiple bets to get to the river when I missed.

If I had to improve my hand to win, it was most likely to be by flopping a pair. If I three-bet, I would tend to fold opponents’ hands which I had dominated. Hands like A-10 through K-J etcetera would be incorrect to call a raise in a pot in which an opponent held A-K. If I paired my hand, then they would also have to hit their kicker on one of the other board cards in order to win. If they didn’t hit their kicker, I had them in bad shape going to the river. They would be putting in bets in many scenarios in which they had only three wins.

Hands that might flop second pair when I flopped top pair would add postflop value to my hand. Of course, there are other hands and flops my opponents would call with that might cost me equity, but blending all the scenarios together, I thought I’d be better off in expected value (EV) by just flat calling.

I knew if I flat called preflop, Mr. Pair-Raiser would fire on the flop and I could make it two bets at my leisure postflop. This would allow me to take control of the pot at the time of my choice, and allow me to reduce the postflop price any opponent calling behind me might consider. Additionally, because my opponent three-bet only when he flopped a set when an overcard was present, I could safely get away from my hand when I was in trouble.

Feeling that the blended expectation of all plausible scenarios was greater by flat calling, I did just that, knowing I was assuming some risks, but comfortable it was the best EV play. Two players and the big blind (BB) called. We took the flop five-handed for $80, $420 in the pot. I was getting $340-to-$80 on my preflop wager.

The flop came the AClub Suit JDiamond Suit 3Heart Suit giving me top pair/nut kicker. The BB checked and, as expected, Mr. Pair-Raiser fired. With a flush draw and straight draws present, I didn’t want to trap with my hand and raised. One player behind me folded and the other three-bet. The BB folded and Mr. Pair-Raiser called the double bet. Reading the three-bettor for a hand he was going to bet the turn with, I flat called again, intent on check-raising.

The turn came the 6Diamond Suit, Mr. Pair-Raiser checked and I knuckled behind him. Mr. Three-Bettor fired, Mr. Pair-Raiser called and I check-raised. They both called. The river came the 3Club Suit. I fired and was paid off by Mr. Three-Bettor who mucked when I turned my hand over. I’ll never know if he would have called had I three-bet preflop.

The hand speaks to analyzing and adjusting to your opponents’ tendencies. Since I had to improve my hand to win, my A-K holding changed into a drawing hand. Since the “protecting the best hand” equity was diminished, letting in hands that might provide additional equity for my holding increased my EV. I understand that in this case it worked out, and I did assume additional risks, but feeling the equity when the play worked more than made up for the equity lost by the risk-assumption made it the best play.

When playing poker, your mind should be continuously looking for ways in which you can profitably adjust your strategies to your opponents way of thinking. Over time, you’ll read hands better, and develop superior strategies, ones that will increase your edge.
And greater edge means additional winnings! ♠

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 any information about Real Estate matters-including purchase, sale or mortgage his office number is 702-396-6575 or Roy’s e-mail is His website is You can also find him on Facebook or Twitter @RealRoyCooke