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Poker Strategy With Steve Zolotow: His Worst Mistake Occurred After the Hand Was Over

Zolotow Explains Why You Shouldn't Always Show Your Hand


Steve ZolotowWhen I’m in Las Vegas, I do much of my poker playing in the no-limit hold’em games at Bellagio. My win rate has been somewhat higher in $5-$10 than in $10-$20. I’m not sure if this is due to the lower quality opposition and more game selection or the relatively small sample sizes. The following hand was recently played in a $5-$10 game:

Two players ahead of me limped. I also limped in late position. The player on my left came along, as did the big blind. The flop was 7Spade Suit 6Spade Suit 6Heart Suit and the big blind bet $40 into the $50 pot. He had a stack of more than $1,000. I called with a stack of about $550, as did my left hand opponent (LHO), who was the button and also had over $1,000. The turn was the 8Diamond Suit. The original bettor checked, and I bet $150. LHO called and the big blind folded. The river was the JClub Suit. I now bet $250, which was approximately half the pot. LHO thought for a long time, then folded. When he folded he showed the table 9Club Suit 6Club Suit and asked me what I thought of his laydown. I honestly replied that I didn’t like the way he had played the hand, but didn’t go into detail.

I don’t mind the preflop limp, although a button steal is also a possibility. I rather like the call on the flop with trips and good position. You may not have the best hand, but you probably do. It is, however, a dangerous board for letting two opponents see the turn. I don’t like his call on the turn. When the initial bettor checks, he is almost certainly weak. My bet could be made on anything. A lot of the time I will have a bluff or semibluff type hand (straight or flush draw.) Some of my value bets will be based on hands like 8-7, A-7 and 6-5. He beats all these hands. It is certainly possible I have a better hand like eights full or three sixes with a better kicker. The only excuse for calling with trips and a straight draw is that you want to lose less when you’re beaten and allow me to keep betting when I’m bluffing or I am betting a worse hand for value

The river fold is absolutely horrendous. You have played a strong hand as if it was a weak one, which will attract bluffs and weak value bets, and then folded a hand that will probably win more than half the time for a one-half pot bet. Then you have showed the table you are capable of making a big laydown by showing your hand.

A few orbits later, another hand arose featuring my LHO. At this point, both he and the man he was involved against had stacks of around $1,100. This man had raised preflop. LHO flat called with A-K suited. The flop was K-10-8, and the raiser bet about the size of the pot. LHO called again. The next card was a 7, and the aggressor made a large bet, which LHO called. There was now close to $1,000 in the pot. The river brought an irrelevant low card, and the aggressor went all-in for about $600. LHO again tanked forever. He asked his opponent some questions, but didn’t seem to draw any conclusion from the answers (Note: Bellagio has the inane not talking law, but everyone does it and no one is penalized for it. I will spare you my long rant for now). Finally, he showed his suited A-K and folded, while asking his opponent to show. The aggressor showed a pair of nines—a complete bluff with a missed straight draw. LHO had again played a strong hand as if it were weak, and then folded on the river. I have no idea if the bluffer would have attempted this play without seeing the earlier tight fold, but the fact that LHO was capable of making a big laydown had to figure into his calculations.

Along with talking during head’s up pots, I also like showing hands. I think both of these make the game more enjoyable and more social. A friendly, social game attracts non-professional pleasure players and keeps them playing longer. But it is important not to give away vital strategic information with hands you show. If you are in the big blind and everyone folds, you can show your hand, whether it’s aces or 7-2, and not give anything away. If you raise under the gun, get reraised by the big blind, and then make a big four-bet, which wins the pot, then showing aces probably doesn’t give your opponents any vital information. If, however, you show 7-2 in this spot, it certainly does. They will know you’re capable of playing like a total maniac. If you think it will put the raiser on tilt and if your plan is to play squeaky tight after, it might be okay. But if you like to mix it up, then showing this hand was completely wrong. ♠

Steve ‘Zee’ Zolotow, aka The Bald Eagle, is a successful gamesplayer. He has been a full-time gambler for over 35 years. With two WSOP bracelets and few million in tournament cashes, he is easing into retirement. He currently devotes most of his time to poker. He can be found at some major tournaments and playing in cash games in Vegas. When escaping from poker, he hangs out in his bars on Avenue A in New York City -The Library near Houston and Doc Holliday’s on 9th St. are his favorites.