Be care­ful not to become too over­pro­tec­tive of your hand

The Mercury News Weekend - - PUZZLES - By Jonathan Lit­tle Jonathan Lit­tle is a pro­fes­sional poker player and coach with more than $6 mil­lion in live tour­na­ment earn­ings.

A com­mon mis­con­cep­tion among recre­ational poker play­ers is that you should al­ways try to pro­tect your hand. Many play­ers seem to be­lieve that be­ing out­drawn by an in­fe­rior hand is the worst thing that could pos­si­bly hap­pen at the poker ta­ble.

Yes, it’s good to win pots and to not be out­drawn. But it’s im­por­tant that you do not play gi­gan­tic pots when your op­po­nent has you crushed, which is ex­actly what can hap­pen when you shovel money into the pot with strong but non­nut hands.

Let’s say you have a stack of $200 in a $1-$2 cash game. Two play­ers call the big blind, and you pick up A-J, A- Q or even Q- Q.

In a spot like this, many play­ers think they are sup­posed to raise to an amount that will force the op­po­nents to fold. So, they raise to about $25 and hope ev­ery­one lays down their hands, and that is of­ten what hap­pens.

How­ever, from time to time, one of the ini­tial call­ers or some­one yet to act will reraise to $75 or so. Once this hap­pens, it should be clear that A-J, A- Q and per­haps even Q- Q are in bad shape and should be folded. But many play­ers are sim­ply in­ca­pable of mak­ing what should be an easy fold. They do not prop­erly un­der­stand their op­po­nent’s range. In­stead, they call to see the flop (or, even worse, they go all in).

With hands such as A- Q, you will usu­ally be dom­i­nated by a player who reraises to $75. This usu­ally leads to you ei­ther fold­ing to a flop bet when you miss, win­ning a small pot when you hit, or los­ing your en­tire stack when you hap­pen to be es­pe­cially un­for­tu­nate.

Sup­pose the flop comes Qh 7s 2c. A- Q is es­sen­tially an un­fold­able hand on this board, which means you’re prob­a­bly des­tined to lose your en­tire stack when you are up against pocket aces, kings or queens. You’re likely to win a small pot against A-K.

On a flop of, say, As 8d 7c, you’ll lose your stack to A-A and A-K, and you’ll prob­a­bly win a small pot from K-K and Q- Q. On a flop of 8d 5h 2s, you can eas­ily lose by fold­ing to a con­tin­u­a­tion bet. That is a lot of los­ing.

In­stead of mak­ing a gi­gan­tic pre­flop raise and then call­ing the reraise, you should make a smaller pre­flop raise, re­sult­ing in your op­po­nents stick­ing around with much wider ranges. While you will be out­drawn from time to time, you will also keep your op­po­nents in the pot with many in­fe­rior hands that nor­mally strong hands such as A-J crush.

This strat­egy re­quires you to play well af­ter the flop, but with ex­pe­ri­ence and study, you will find that this ap­proach will work out much bet­ter for you over the long run.

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