Know when to enter into a coin-flip in poker

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To go deep in tournaments, you’re going to have to win some coin-flips. That doesn’t mean you always should be willing to enter into a coin-flip. Certainly, there are times when you will welcome one. There are other times when you may push the action knowing if you get called, you may be in one. However, when should you call knowing you’re most likely in a coin-flip?

I want to explore a recent hand I played in a heads-up match at Planet Hollywood’s PHamous Poker Series in Las Vegas. Not many casinos offer heads-up tournaments so there’s a good chance players will be unfamiliar with the format.

In my first matchup, my opponent appeared to fit that description. He seemed reasonably proficient but not used to the format. He took an early lead as we grinded away at the low blind levels. I was getting involved in quite a few hands where I’d hit a straight to his flush or my two pair to his larger two pair.

That pattern continued until I was outchipped about 2-1. I didn’t at all feel concerned, however, as I knew I’d have an advantage once the blinds escalated. Sure enough, as the cost of poker increased, I became more aggressive and had my opponent completely outmatched. Without the benefit of cards, I turned things upside down and soon had the 2-1 chip lead when this hand took place. My opponent was first to act preflop and moved all-in. I had pocket eights.

This wasn’t an automatic call. I went into the tank for quite a while. The odds were that I was up against two overcards, making this a coin-flip. Being a slight favorite with money in the pot, it’s a positive-EV call.

I had to consider if it was really a positive-EV call for the matchup. If I folded, I’d still have a commanding lead in a match I was dominating. If we were more closely matched in skill, I’d call. I ultimately decided to call knowing I’d still have enough chips left to compete if I did lose the hand. My opponent turned over A-Q. I ended up losing the flip and was outchipped 2-1.

I battled back to even, which proved my point that I had him outmatched. I moved all-in with A-K to be called by a pocket pair. I lost the hand and the match. I really don’t think I should’ve called with the eights regardless of the result.

If I folded, I would’ve retained the lead and been a fairly good favorite to win the match. If I called and lost, I’d become an underdog. It was a good example of having positive EV in a hand while having negative EV in the match.

— David Apostolico is the author of Tournament Poker and The Art of War. His latest book is You are the Variable: Play Your Best Poker. You can contact him at thepokerwriter@aol.com.