Math can make you throw away aces in poker

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Let’s begin with starting-hand selection this month, shall we? I’ll go out on a limb and say most of us don’t regularly play 7-2 under the gun. Why is that? Because we know everyone else at the table is going to have a better hand and we aren’t likely to win the pot from out of position with what’s known as the worst starting hand in hold’em. We’re talking about probability. The odds are against us. The math tells us we’re not going to win most of the time, so it becomes a situation we avoid.

The later our position, the more we can widen our starting-hand requirements if we’re first into a pot. We’re more likely to be in position postflop, more likely to be able to get everyone to fold (since there are fewer players to act) and more likely to win on the flop with a standard continuation bet. Whenever we’re more likely to have a bunch of good things happen, we’re more likely to succeed and are using the probability (math) to make better decisions and set ourselves up for success.

We must make high-percentage plays. Many players simply play hands in a vacuum, not considering their position, other players and the relative strength of their hands. Suppose you start a hand with two black aces and you raise your standard amount that typically results in taking down the pot preflop. This time, however, you get five callers. Without knowing their cards and without seeing a flop, how likely are you to win this pot? Well, against just one hand, you’d be 80 percent on average to win. For each additional caller, you can kiss 10 percent of that likelihood goodbye. So do the math! Pretty easy, right? With five callers, you don’t even have to know their cards and you don’t even have to see the flop. You know you’re now the underdog.

Sure, you still have the best starting hand, but you’re only 40 percent likely to be the one that wins (half as likely as you would’ve been if you just had one caller). Get ready to detach yourself from those lovely aces. You held the nuts preflop and now you’re about to see a flop with five people. Since you know the math now, you must play for set value, or do your best to get to showdown as cheaply as possible. If any of your opponents shows strength postflop and you haven’t flopped a set, just ditch the hand and wait for the next profitable spot.

In this situation there’s no need to be mad about it, and here’s why: You got five opponents to give you action preflop when you held the stone-cold nuts, and you had the discipline to fold when it was likely to be unprofitable. These are all positive things and you need them to be successful at the tables.

Use the math to make good decisions. Like most math in poker, it’s not complicated. The more time you put into the game the more you’ll realize there’s little difference in the math and pure common sense. If you keep your senses about you, play by mathematical rules and certainties of the game, and just stay disciplined, you’ll have a distinct edge on most of your opponents and your bankroll will thank you.

Decide to Win!

— Lee Childs is founder and lead instructor of Acumen Poker. He also is an instructor with the WPT Boot Camp. Go to www.acumenpoker.net.