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Poker Strategy With Ed Miller: Don't Rush It

Miller Talks About An Error Many Amateur Players Make At The Table


Ed MillerThere’s a strategic error that many, if not most, fairly strong amateur no-limit players make. They make this error predictably and routinely. It’s a pretty big one too. I call it the what-the-heck? shove.

It happens on the flop and turn. The player has a hand that has equity or apparent showdown value. Maybe it’s a pair and a flush draw. Maybe it’s top pair, top kicker. Maybe it’s two pair on a flop that’s all one suit. But there’s a problem. An opponent is being aggressive, representing a strong hand that won’t fold. This is the time many players break out the what-the-heck? shove.

“What the heck?” the amateur thinks, “If I’m beat, I’m beat.” Or, “What the heck? If he calls, I’ve got outs.”

Let’s break down the problems with this play.

Fear Of A Future Bet

When I ask a student why they’ve made a what-the-heck? shove, the answer usually takes the form of a question. “If I call, what do I do when he bets bigger on the next card?”

Let’s get concrete with this. Say it’s a $2-$5 game. You’re playing $800 stacks. A limper calls from four off the button, and you make it $25 with AHeart Suit 10Spade Suit. The small and big blinds call, and the limper calls. There’s $100 in the pot.

The flop comes 10Heart Suit 9Heart Suit 7Heart Suit. Everyone checks to you on the button, who bets $60 with top pair and the one-card nut flush draw. The small blind folds, but the big blind raises to $200. The limper folds, and it’s our turn.

This is a spot where many players make a what-the-heck? shove for $575 more. They figure, if they get called, their pair and flush draw will be strong enough to justify playing for stacks. And they worry, what if I call, a brick comes on the turn, and he bets again? Or, what if it’s a card like the 10Diamond Suit or ADiamond Suit, but the opponent shoves the turn? At that point, it could be a difficult decision.

It’s better, they figure, to be the one betting all-in rather than calling. And this way, it eliminates the possible tough decision.

There’s a big problem with this line of thinking, however. Many players at the $2-$5 level won’t check-raise the flop—certainly not a raise this big—without a hand they plan to go all the way with. So, while poker theory says that it’s better to be the bettor than the caller, if your fold equity is nearly zero, the advantages of betting mostly disappear.

If the player was bluffing, the most likely card he’d hold would be the AHeart Suit but you have that card. Your opponent would likely have to hold a hand like QHeart Suit JSpade Suit to be bluffing, and, even then, many $2-$5 players wouldn’t invite a huge pot by check-raising such a hand.

What’s the bottom line? Against many $2-$5 players, if you shove, your opponent will nearly always call you. And in these cases, you will be the underdog, as you will be up against a lot of made flushes, straights, and sets. Sure, you have equity, but when stacks are deep (as they are in this example), there’s usually a better way to play a hand than one that gets your entire stack in bad.

There’s Nothing To Be Afraid Of

Another common situation for the what-the-heck? shove is on the turn with a decent top pair. Say it’s $2-$5 with $600 stacks. There’s a limper, and then a regular makes it $20 from the hijack. The big blind calls, and the limper calls. There’s $62 in the pot and $580 behind.

The flop comes AHeart Suit 10Heart Suit 9Spade Suit. The big blind and limper both check. The preflop raiser bets $50. The big blind calls with ADiamond Suit7Spade Suit. The limper calls.

The turn is the 3Club Suit. The big blind checks, the regular bets $170, and the big blind shoves for $360 more.

I see this sort of turn play with some frequency. The player is unwilling to give the regular credit for having a pair of aces beaten, but he’s also concerned that if he just calls the turn, he will face a big river bet. Either a scare card will come off (bad) or the reg will shove the river on a brick (also bad). So, to avoid that possibility, the player just what-the-heck? shoves the turn.

The problem with this shove is roughly the same as the problem in the previous example. Usually the turn bettor won’t fold, and when he calls, the player with ADiamond Suit 7Spade Suit should expect to be significantly behind on average.

The trick to these situations, at least in your typical $2-$5 game, is that there’s nothing to fear from a bigger bet on a later street. In general, big bets are a problem only when there is a serious threat that they are bluffs. If your opponent is typically unwilling to bluff when he bets $300 or more, then whenever your opponent bets $300 or more and you have a marginal hand that loses to the sort of hand that would be appropriate for such a bet, you have a simple decision. You fold.

That’s really all there is to it. Sure, it can be unpleasant to realize that a hand you thought was good isn’t quite good enough. But, if your opponent doesn’t bluff often enough on big bets, then you are nearly always right to fold any hand you can reasonably consider folding. (A good rule of thumb is, unless you think your opponent would make the bet with your hand and one or two weaker ones, it’s a good fold).

In many cases, that big bet you were worried about won’t come. When it does come, it’s usually not a bluff, and you can just fold. So the decision you were worried about isn’t really a decision, and, by folding, you can often save your stack.

There’s No Harm In Waiting

Often in the cases where players unleash a what-the-heck? shove, delaying commitment by just calling is a good option. Sometimes you’re better off folding outright (which is likely the best play in the A-7 hand above), but many players perceive these situations as raise-or-fold, and they are not. If your hand has equity, like the A-10 example above, then you can often just call to try to realize your equity.

If you feel you have significant fold equity, then sure, go ahead and semi-bluff raise. But in many cases, I see people shove pair plus draw hands with no real hope of either getting a fold or being ahead when called. In these cases, if the stacks are relatively deep, it’s nearly always best to just call.

If you miss on the next card and your opponent shoves, then you may have to fold if you don’t expect to draw out often enough to justify the call. But that’s fine. You’re better off taking that line than you would be getting stacks in one card earlier.

In general, no-limit players are too anxious to resolve hands by shoving. Don’t rush it. Your bankroll will thank you. ♠

Ed’s newest book, Poker’s 1%: The One Big Secret That Keeps Elite Players On Top is available now at his website You can also find original articles and instructional videos by Ed at the brand new site