Do you ever consider the number of players in a pot? This question is seldom discussed. When players describe a particular hand they were involved in, do they ever start with how many players saw a flop? I doubt it.
There’s a good reason why when describing a hand this doesn’t occur: Everyone wants to know the outcome of the hand, and not how they got there. Outcomes occur for specific reasons, which seldom are discussed when storytelling degenerates to “the donk called me all the way down,” or similar comments we’ve all heard.
When a student asks me what I would’ve done in a particular hand, I always ask, “How many players were in the hand?” With few exceptions, the person asking can’t tell me how many players were in the hand. Reflect on your storytelling and ask yourself the same question.
Playing winning poker requires players to enter pots in many different ways. Let’s examine the reasoning for entering a pot.
Big Pairs or Big Suited Connectors: With large pairs or suited connectors, A-K suited, you should always enter the pot with a raise that would be designed to take down the pot or get heads-up with someone who is out of position to you. Never slow-play a big hand preflop. You may not agree with this approach, however winning poker requires capitalizing on big hands that rarely come your way. The saying “getting it in good” applies during every betting round in the hand. Preflop with a big hand you’ll know how many players are in the hand after the betting round is completed.
Average Hands or Drawing Hands: These hands are tough to play in all positions. An A-Q suited in middle position is difficult to raise with preflop on an active aggressive table, and at best is a drawing hand.
If you limp into the pot, that may allow several marginal hands to enter the pot. If you raise, it may only get one player to enter and they’ll almost certainly have a bigger hand than yours.
Button Hands or Cutoff Hands: Late-position hands or “moves” require other players in the hand to believe you have a big hand for them not to enter the pot after the raise. The button raise seems more to indicate a positional raise rather than a big hand. Players with “good holdings” may be willing to see a flop with these types of hands and may also reraise a late-position raise. The way you enter a pot will determine the number of players in the hand. If you don’t think in this manner, you’ll find yourself playing against more players preflop and postflop. “How many players were in the hand?”
— Antonio Pinzari has been playing professionally since the ’70s. He’s the creator of 23 Poker and Wild Tallahassee Poker, which you can learn more about at WildTallahasseePoker.com.