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Why A Good Player Never Has The Flush!

by Reid Young |  Published: Oct 30, 2013

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Reid YoungAdvanced poker strategy is all about navigating the brain’s pesky tendency to misremember emotionally charged events. As respectable strategists, we must (for the most part) cast aside the emotional impact results can have on rational decision making, and continue with informed decisions that are based on combinatorics and game theory — easier said than done!

By the way, good players actually do make flushes (I know, right?). Cutely hyperbolic titles aside, the notion that solid players abuse is that weaker players so strongly recall losing large pots to other players with flushes. The weaker player’s fear is disproportionate to the probability of an aggressive player of holding a flush. Being the player who overrepresents flushes, and other types of made hands in particular spots, often means that you are able to win more than your fair share of pots by bluffing. To understand exactly what it means to over-represent a particular type of hand (flush, two pair, etcetera), one needs a sound understanding of how often one has the represented made hand. In this case, how often do you have a flush at any given point in a hand?

Let’s say that we open raise in a six-max game under the gun (UTG) with just over 12 percent of hands, or 164 hand combinations, depending on the hands you select as part of your opening distribution. Just for consistency in this article, let’s choose an open raising range, or a distribution, if you prefer, of A-A-to-5-5, A-K-to-A-J, K-Q, A-10 suited, K-J suited-to-K-10 suited, Q-J suited-to-Q-10 suited, J-10 suited, 10-9 suited, 9-8 suited, 8-7 suited, and 7-6 suited. This range is created with more consideration behind it than how well it does against a random hand, but that’s another topic beyond the scope of this article. The suited combinations are particularly important for flopping flushes, of course.

Now that we have our preflop range, let’s determine how often we flop a flush with that range. The odds of flopping a flush knowing that our hole cards are suited are 118-to-1, or a 0.84 percent chance. In our preflop raising distribution of the hands above, there are 14 spade-spade combinations out of our 164 raising combinations. So given that we have raised preflop, there is a (14/164)*(0.0084) chance we flop a flush with our preflop raising range, or a 0.072% chance. That is rare! Of course, this remote possibility of flopping a flush isn’t the whole picture.

Keep in mind that we should not continue on the flop with all of our preflop raising range, and of course there are factors like equity with a flush draw to consider when we choose to continue. We can continue with more hands than a flush. We should, anyway. So the actual value of a continuation bet isn’t so hopeless as the preflop raiser’s ability to represent a flopped flush, which might sound obvious, but less obvious when your continuation bet is facing a raise. He may also have some strong and medium-strong made hands with a good draw that are good enough to step in and take the heat when facing a raise.

The important discovery is that because it is so rare that we flop a flush as the UTG preflop raiser, that a player who bluff-raises the flop might gain an incredible amount of leverage over his opponent if the player refuses to put more money into the pot with hands weaker than a flush. The leverage might occur on the flop, inspiring too many continuation bets and then folds; it might occur on the turn after a wide flop bet/calling range is check-folded unimproved; or it might occur on the river when an opponent has missed a flopped flush draw and concedes his made hand (think JHeart Suit JSpade Suit on 10Spade Suit 6Spade Suit 2Spade Suit). If a player improperly reacts with hands weaker than a flush, then the raiser has the ability to overrepresent flushes and bluff far more often than what is only necessary to confuse his opponent. By creating profitable bluffing opportunities based on a weaker player’s misplaced (or misremembered) emotional outlook at a board texture, the raiser stands to win quite a bit of money on average.

The tendency to misremember and incorrectly weight events has to do with something called the “Law of Small Numbers.” Basically, the “Law of Small Numbers” is the misapplied belief that statistical relevance is applicable after a very small sample. In this case, the sample is inappropriately weighted in the weaker player’s memory. Really, the time this happens in hold’em is with flush draws and on three-flush boards (three cards of any single suit are present). A similar phenomenon occurs on paired boards. So hopefully, you’ll no longer be so worried when facing a raise on a monotone board, only doing so proportionately to your opponent’s ability to have a strong hand or draw. As long as you continue with the proper proportion of your hands weaker than a flush, you won’t be bullied so often that you allow your opposition profitable bluffing opportunities. Now you can see why a good player “never” has the flush. ♠

Reid Young is a successful cash game player and poker coach. He is the founder of TransformPoker.com.