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Andrew Brokos -- Poker Strategy -- Falling In Love

Don't Fall In Love With Your Big Pairs

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Andrew BrokosIn the financial world, an often-repeated bit of advice is “don’t fall in love with a stock.” In other words, investors need to take in new information and constantly reconsider the way they value their holdings. No matter how good of a buy you expected a particular stock to be when you bought it, new information could always come out that drastically changes how that stock is likely to perform. Refusing to sell at what is now a good price because you once thought the stock would go higher is a common mistake.

Poker players are also investors. We are constantly making decisions about whether to invest in a particular hand, and it’s just as important that we stay open to new information and avoid falling in love.

Like stocks, poker hands fluctuate in value. You rarely know for certain that your hand is best until you see the showdown. Yet, you have many opportunities to invest in your hand prior to that and many opportunities to take in information about what’s likely to happen at showdown. Making good decisions either to “buy” (put more money in the pot) or to “sell” (fold) requires an open mind and a willingness to re-evaluate what your hand is worth.

Information From Cards

In hold‘em, the flop is one significant source of such information. Preflop, no matter how pretty your cards are, you’ve only seen two-sevenths of what you will ultimately have at showdown.

This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t invest heavily in good preflop hands. If you hold pocket aces, you’ve got all the information you need to invest everything you have. Of course the investment won’t always pay off, but you know it will always be a good investment.

If you don’t get all-in preflop, though, you can’t fall in love with the aces. Once more information is revealed in the form of the flop and your opponents’ reactions to it, you must be ready to re-evaluate what your hand is worth.

In my experience, players who have a strong hand on an early street are more likely to make a bad call on a later street than they would had they made a hand of the same strength on a later street. In other words, a player holding pocket aces will call a bet when the third flush card comes in on the river more often than he would had he rivered a pair of aces that also completed a possible flush. This is because he fell in love with his hand early and failed to re-evaluate it properly.

Information From Actions

Even if they don’t always act on it, most players realize in theory that a strong hand on one street is not always a strong hand on the next. Fewer players recognize that action on the current street can also turn a strong holding into a weak one.

For example, suppose that in a $5-$10 no-limt hold‘em game, you raise to $50 in early position with a pair of nines, the button calls, and everyone else folds. You bet $70 on a K-8-3 rainbow flop, and he calls. The turn is an offsuit 10 and you both check. You believe your opponent would have bet for value with K-Q or better, so his check makes you feel pretty good about your hand.

The river is a deuce, which is about as safe as it gets. You believed you had the best hand on the turn, and this card changes virtually nothing, so you still expect to have the best hand. Betting for value would not be out of the question here, but for whatever reason you choose to check. Your opponent bets $200 into the $255 pot.

I often see players call here without thinking too much about it. And why not? We just said you were probably ahead and could even think about value betting. What’s changed?

What’s changed is that your opponent bet. This provides new information about his hand, but if you fall in love as soon as you see the deuce on the river, then you won’t take in or process this new information correctly.

Just as you would any other time your opponent takes an action, you ought to reevaluate his range in light of this new information. What can your nines beat?

They can beat a bluff, but a bluff isn’t very likely in this scenario. There were no draws on the flop, so your opponent can’t be bluffing a busted draw. And given how little strength you’ve shown, he’s not likely to turn a small pair into a bluff. Very sophisticated or aggressive opponents will try this, and against them you can call, but your average opponent will be happy enough to check it down with 4-4 or A-3 – he’s not going to feel the need to bluff with them.

Could he be value betting worse? Maybe, but it’s a stretch. A-7 is a possibility, but presumably he’s not calling pre-flop with Q-7, J-7, or T-7. Betting 9-7, 8-7, or 7-6 for value is getting pretty thin, especially for a bet of this size. Even if he would value bet those hands, you have to weigh that part of his range against K-J, K-T, Q-Q, J-J, and 2-2. If you believe that he would value bet all the way down to 7-6, then go ahead and call, but recognize that that’s what you have to assume.

Against more passive players who don’t make thin value bets, this is a fold. Your hand figured to be ahead when you saw the river because your opponent’s range is full of sevens and small pairs. His range changes when he bets, though. Unless you believe he would bet those hands, either for value or as a bluff, then his range is now weighted towards hands like K-J and K-T and you need to fold.

To see this, you can’t be in love with your hand. Things can change even after you see the river. ♠

Andrew Brokos is a professional poker player, writer and coach. He’s a member of Poker Stars Team Online and blogs about poker strategy on ThinkingPoker.net. Andrew is also interested in education reform and founded an after-school debate program for urban youth.