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Don’t Sweat The Weird Stuff

by Ed Miller |  Published: Oct 14, 2015


Ed MillerReaders and students frequently bring me hands to analyze. Out of the thousands of hands these folks play, the ones they choose to bring me tend to share a few common threads. The pots are big. Something out of the ordinary happens. They lose. Here are a few recent examples.

My student had 9-9 and raised two limpers to $15 in a $1-$2 game. The blinds folded, and both limpers called. The flop came 9Spade Suit 4Spade Suit 3Spade Suit. The first limper immediately went all in for $185 into the $48 pot. (Yes, he did end up having a flush.)

Another student had K-K. There was an open-raise to $10 in a $1-$2 game. My student reraised to $30 on the button. The big blind cold-called, and the original raiser called. The flop came 8-2-2 with no flush draw. Everyone checked, and my student bet $60 into the $91 pot. The big blind folded, and the original limper called.

The turn was a 6, and the original raiser bet $40 into the $211 pot. My student raised all-in to $170, and the player called (He had A-A).

I told both students that I would have played both hands a similar way. But, beyond that, I don’t think either of these hands is particularly instructive. The biggest mistake I think my students made with either of these hands is that they singled them out for further analysis (at the exclusion of other, perhaps more educational, hands).

Why do I think these hands aren’t really worth looking at? They’re weird. I can’t remember the last time I played a hand like the one if the first example. You flop top set on a monochrome board, and instead of taking a more normal line, an opponent just open-shoves for almost four times the pot.

What does it mean when someone open-shoves a monochrome flop? I surely don’t know.
It almost never happens. From the perspective of my student, it’s impossible to decode this bet with any accuracy, since the lifetime sample size of this situation is so small. Could it be a flush? Apparently. Could it be a smaller set? I don’t see why not. How about the ace of the flush suit? Sure. An overpair with a flush draw? Why not.

I don’t know. I have a lot more insight into more common betting patterns. If someone check-calls a flop and then leads out on the turn, I can tell you with some accuracy the sort of hand you should expect to see. That’s because I’ve encountered that particular situation thousands of times.

This one? Almost no one open-shoves like this in cash games, so I have little insight into what they might do it with. I can construct narratives for why they might be doing it. “They’re trying to get me to fold,” or, “They want to make it look like they’re trying to get me to fold, so they must be trying to get me to call.”

Which one is right this time? Again, I don’t know.

In this case, my thinking would go something like, “It could be a flush, or it could be not a flush. If it’s a flush, I have equity with my set. If it’s not a flush, there’s a good chance I’m way ahead,” so I’d call.

But, and here’s the key point, I don’t think I win at poker because I’m good at making decisions on hands like this one. I win at poker because I’m good at making decisions in the hands that I have a whole lot more experience with. In the weird hands, I’m basically guessing, and that’s what almost everyone else is doing also. So these hands don’t give me an edge.

“But Ed,” you might ask, “Why not try to get good at these hands so it gives you another edge?”

I’d say not to sweat it for two reasons. First, I’m not sure what it means to get good at weird hands. Sure, I could try to get good at the times someone open-shoves for four times the pot on a monochrome board. But the next weird hand I play will be completely different. Someone will limp behind limpers and then cold four-bet my big blind reraise. Or someone will bet $90 into an $8 limped pot on an A-A-5 flop.

Will the knowledge I gained by analyzing the monochrome flop apply to these other hands? Maybe, but probably not. Weird is weird. Every situation is different, and I don’t think it’s fair to say, “When people do something weird, they tend to have this or have that.”

Second, these hands are weird for a reason. They just don’t come up that often. Getting really good at something that almost never happens is just not very valuable. It’s much more important to get a little better at something that happens all the time.

I know it’s tempting to focus on hands like these. Often the pots are big, so they can make or break your tournament or cash game session. And often they leave you feeling bewildered (especially if you lose). They leave you feeling like after all the work you’ve done to improve your game, you still don’t really understand anything.

I would advise you to look at these hands a different way. They are little bursts of randomness in your poker career. You will sometimes win them. You will sometimes lose them. The best you can do is use your judgement, make a decision, and move on.

Final Thoughts

So if you shouldn’t worry about the weird hands, what hands should you worry about?
First, you should analyze any big pot you played where the action was normal. What is “normal”? It’s when instead of thinking, “What the heck does this mean?” you think, “She’s got a flush. I know it.” Or, at the very least, you know that your opponent is representing some hand, but possibly could be holding another.

For example, say instead of the first example, the hand played out like this. Two players limped, and my student made it $15 to go with 9-9. The blinds folded and the limpers called. The flop came 9Spade Suit 4Spade Suit 3Club Suit with two spades instead of three. The limpers checked, and my student bet $40. One player called. The turn was the QSpade Suit. The flop caller now bets $80.

This is a “normal” hand. If you play enough, you’ll see action like this repeatedly. The flop caller and turn bettor is representing the flush. Win or lose, this hand is worth a second look.

Beyond that, review any situation that arises repeatedly. Have a value betting decision on the river with two pair? Analyze that hand. An opponent check-calls twice and then bets the river, and you have top pair? Analyze that hand. This is the study that will help you win going forward.

But if there’s an open-raiser and a reraiser and then someone shoves all-in blind for $300 and you have J-J. Well, I hope you won, but if you didn’t, I would shrug it off and move on to the next hand. ♠

Ed’s newest book, The Course: Serious Hold ‘Em Strategy For Smart Players is available now at his website You can also find original articles and instructional videos by Ed at the training site