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Mucking The Winner

by Roy Cooke |  Published: Feb 05, 2014


Roy CookeIf you never fold a winner, you’re calling way too loosely. Often, the pot is laying you a shorter price to call than is statistically correct, but nevertheless you might be good. For example, when the pot is laying you 10-to-1 on a river call, you can beat only a bluff, and you estimate your sole opponent will bluff five percent of the time. Edgewise, it’s incorrect to call. But if you fold, five percent of the time, you’ll occasionally have egg on your face because you folded a winner.

I was holding 5Club Suit 4Club Suit in the big blind (BB) in a nine-handed $20-40 limit hold’em game at the Bellagio. A tourist who called loosely preflop, but raised tightly, opened with a raise in the BB plus 4 position. The cutoff, button, and small blind (SB) all called. I tossed in the extra $20 and we took the flop five handed, $200 in the pot.

The flop was delightful, at least I initially thought so. I flopped a flush with the AClub Suit KClub Suit 2Club Suit. The SB checked to me. Because Mr. Raise-Opener raised tightly, I assessed that flop would hit a large portion of his range and knuckled, envisioning a check-raise. He fired and, was called by the cutoff and Mr. Button. The SB folded and I check-raised as planned. Mr. Raise-Opener three-bet, folding the cutoff. Surprisingly, Mr. Button four-bet. I tanked!

I thought Mr. Raise-Opener had a big mitt, something along the lines of a set of aces or kings, A-K for top two-pair or an ace with a high club. I didn’t think a flopped flush was much of his range as the AClub Suit and KClub Suit eliminated most of his club raising range.

But what did Mr. Button have that he could flat-call two bets as a flop trap play, then four-bet when reraised? I didn’t think he had A-A, K-K or A-K since he had flatted two cold preflop on the button. He appeared proficient enough to know not to do that. Did Mr. Button have the nut flush draw with the QClub Suit and play it in a trapping manner looking to either cultivate volume or pick up a free turn card? It was possible, but I was swayed against that thought because he didn’t “club check” his hand on the flop and I didn’t think he was proficient enough to memorize his cards by suit. I reasoned that he either knew he had a flush or knew he didn’t. I deduced that if he didn’t have the flush, then 2-2 was the chief portion of his non-flush range. And if he had a flush, I was drawing dead.

The combination of possibilities didn’t seem favorable. Even if I wasn’t dead to an opponent’s flush, I was likely to get drawn out on by either another club coming or the board pairing. Facing at least two additional postflop bets, any future bets I would put into the pot would probably be of marginal value or be totally dead. When you’re facing such situations you must weigh the value the pot is laying you and the value of the future bets and formulate a best guess estimate of whether it is correct to proceed.
In this case, there were three combinations of deuces available to Mr. Button and since I’d seen him play unconventional suited cards in previous hands, I judged there were many combinations of two club hands he would play, definitely more than 15.

Additionally, I discounted the propensity of Mr. Button to hold two deuces because I thought his strategy of playing his hand didn’t correspond well to that holding. Meaning, if he held 2-2, he would not have played them in such an unorthodox way. That being the case, I weighted his range more towards holding a flush over having a set of deuces than the mathematical odds dictated of him holding each starting hand.

By now, the dealer was looking at his watch to hurry my ass up! I pitched my hand into the muck. Mr. Raise-Opener called the fourth bet, and check/called the turn and river when blanks came. Mr. Button turned over the ADiamond Suit KDiamond Suit having flopped top two and Mr. Raise-Opener showed the AHeart Suit QClub Suit, having flopped top pair with the nut-flush draw.

Damn, I‘d folded a winner. And the pot was pretty big too. What the hell had I done? I retraced my thinking to ascertain if I had made any intellectual errors. When I folded, it was $40 to me with $400 in the pot. It could have been raised further, so I need to extend my price to accommodate for that assumption of risk. And there were turn bets to consider. Additionally, if I called the turn, I was likely to pay off the river too! How should I estimate all of these variables to determine whether I had made the correct play?

Truth be told, all I can do is best guess estimates. Sometimes I would go to the river and pay off, other times I’d fold if the board paired, a flush card came or future action dictated a fold. Let’s use a blended estimate of $120 to get to the showdown. And let’s estimate that the pot will average $600 “strange” including the money I had put into the pot before the decision point. Was I 1-to-5 to win the pot with my little flush?

If Mr. Button was four times more likely to possess a flush than a non-flush hand, and I was going to get drawn out on one-third of the times that I had the best hand, then folding would be the correct play. Did my read of my opponents’ ranges validate that equation? At the time in my mind it did, but in hindsight I might have allowed for a wider range from Mr. Button had I known he might flat with A-K on the button. But even with the “hindsight” knowledge, my fold was still correct as the probability for Mr. Button to hold a flush over a non-flush hand was greater than 4-to-1.

Yeah, I understand that the methodology I used was mathematically imprecise. But processing poker equations in that type of “rough justice” manner helps me to calculate close “best guess estimates” when I’m incapable of exactly mathematically quantifying the situation in my head.

And I hope that sharing my methodology will help you to analyze these types of situations better.

Of course, I did have to wipe the egg of my face! ♠

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