A good lesson in risk tolerance in poker



What makes you feel worse: losing with pocket sevens against A-6 all-in or losing with pocket kings against A-10 all-in? I’m willing to venture most players would undoubtedly feel the kings suffered the far greater indignity. Kings come with much more expectations and certain sense of entitlement. Sevens are quirky. With the potential allure of a set or the hope of a made hand withstanding a challenge, sevens don’t come with nearly the expectations or entitlement that accompany kings.

So what is the point of this article? Knowledgeable players know those sevens have about the same chance of winning as the kings in the aforementioned scenarios. Each is about a 70 percent favorite. Big favorite, yes, but nowhere near invincible. Now obviously kings have much greater value than sevens. Those sevens against that A-10 drop to a 55 percent favorite.

Now, let’s get to the punch line. In a recent tournament, I saw this hand: Player A open-raised from middle position with A-10 offsuit for 2.5 times the big blind. Player A had about 10 big blinds behind. Player B called from the big blind with pocket kings hoping to trap Player A. They saw a flop of A-7-2. Player B made close to a pot-sized bet hoping Player A didn’t have an ace. Player A went all-in and Player B made a crying call. The turn and river brought blanks.

Player B made a number of mistakes here, but I want to focus on a fundamental philosophical one. Player B got excited and emotionally attached to those kings. He felt a sense of entitlement and was focused on hiding his secret to seduce his opponent into a false sense of security. Now, I will never know for sure what was going through Player B’s head, but he faced a challenge we all encounter periodically. That is, how aggressive to play strong hands.

It really comes down to risk tolerance. You can’t always chase everyone away with your strong hands if you’re going to maximize value and build a chip stack. Yet, you have to balance that with protecting your vulnerable hands. Kings are always vulnerable to an ace-high flop. While the middle-position open-raiser could have a lot of different hands, certainly one with an ace has a high probability.

In this particular case, I feel the better play for Player B is to raise preflop. The odds are overwhelming he’s ahead and you have to make opponents pay to see three cards. Think about it: You’re hoping to trap your opponent into making an extra bet on the flop that hopefully comes without an ace? Why not get that extra money in before the flop when you are inducing a mistake on your opponent’s part? If he folds, so what? You’ve won and can move on to the next hand.

— David Apostolico is the author of You are the Variable: Play Your Best Poker, ($5.99 for Kindle). Email him at thepokerwriter@aol.com.

Ante Up Magazine

Ante Up Magazine