Should you push or fold in this poker hand?

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A common refrain I hear at poker tables today is, “Well, I have to push or fold.” When it’s said, it’s said as a matter-of-fact statement of accepted poker wisdom and is inevitably met with knowing nods all around the table. Of course, there are few absolutes in poker. This one in particular bears further scrutiny as I think many players could benefit from a third option.

Calling is often looked upon with disdain in poker especially in the later stages of a tournament. I’m a firm believer in using your poker chips for maximum leverage. Your chips are power at the table. There are times when calling will increase the power of those chips. Let me offer an example. During the middle stages of a recent tournament I was down to about 10,000 chips. Blinds were 500-1,000 and I posted the big blind leaving me with about 9,000 behind. Everyone folded to the button, who had about 15,000 chips and raised to 4K. The small blind folded and I looked down at {a-Spades}{9-Spades}.

Now, as a way of background, the button was a fairly tight player. Still, his range of hands was fairly wide here. It certainly felt like a position raise and there’s a fairly good chance I was ahead. Yet, my hand was vulnerable. I didn’t think folding was an option. And if I push I’m almost certainly going to be called. So what is the best move to leverage my chips?

If I call, I’m committed to playing the hand for my stack. Pushing when I know I’ll be called and hoping my hand wins out doesn’t seem like the best play. With no action behind me, I make up my mind to call knowing I’m first to act postflop. No matter the flop, I was going to push. Now, I think that there is a realistic chance that my opponent may fold if he completely whiffs. My chips have leverage in this situation.

The flop came {k-Diamonds}{q-Diamonds}{2-Diamonds}. I pushed and my opponent was visibly upset, saying that was the absolute worst flop for him. He then proceeded to fold two black jacks face up in the muck. He couldn’t let it go at that as he admonished me for not checking, saying I would’ve been able to double-up if I had done so as he would have made his continuation bet. I just shrugged, agreed that I cost myself some chips and complimented him on his fold. Of course, I got the desired result I wanted as I was a huge dog after the flop. So next time you face a push-or-fold situation, take a moment to consider if you have any other options.

— David Apostolico is the author of Tournament Poker and The Art of War. You can contact him at thepokerwriter@aol.com.