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Best of Fred Renzey

Gaming Guru

 

Does It Pay to Push Your "Hot Streak" in Poker?

3 February 2007

The slick dude with the baseball cap and sunglasses sat behind a mountain of chips down at the end of the poker table. He had won four of the last six pots and was pushing everybody around for the past hour. The other players were scared to go up against him. If he was in the pot, they were folding hands they'd have played under ordinary circumstances. But right here, right now, nobody wanted to buck "the hot man".

What about this phenomenon? Is there some truth to the theory that when you're hot, you're likely to stay hot? Should you throttle it out when you're running good to maximize your win? This is an important gambling question, so let's draw upon all the facts available to us in an effort to answer it.

Mathematicians have analyzed the occurrences of streaks exhaustively. Through both probability analysis and statistical experiments, they have learned that of all the times somebody flipped say, 5 heads in a row, the sixth flip would produce another head 50% of those times. Well, that's just what the odds were before the streak began.

The same has been found to be true using other measuring sticks such as "red" at roulette. There, an ongoing streak continued only around 47% of the time – which closely matches its random probability in the first place. So on a purely mathematical and statistical basis, you're absolutely no more likely to be dealt a good poker hand right after making three full houses in a row than at any other time.

In that regard, playing a streak is like driving a car with your eyes fixed in the rear view mirror. It shows you in detail exactly where you've been, but gives no clue as to where the heck you're going.

However, when it comes to poker, things just might work out a little differently. How and why in the world would that be? It's because of poker's psychological element.

You see, if you were running hot at blackjack, for example, the dealer couldn't care less how you play. She's going to hit 16 and stand on 17 like a robot no matter what you do. So if the cards don't care and your opponent doesn't care, turning aggressive when you've been making good hands can't help a thing.

But in poker, your opponents are not robots. They're flawed human gamblers who feel the pain of losing their money to you. So what happens when you've been running hot? They fear you. They tend to feel you're temporarily blessed and prefer to stay out of your way. When you raise, they might fold more often than they should because you're "on a rush". Rather than bet into you they often check, out of sheer intimidation. If you bluff, it's more likely to work now, than at some other time. Thus, your streak becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.

It's similar to worried investors expecting the bottom to fall out of the stock market, so they sell off in fear. And what happens? The bottom falls out due to a major sell off. Likewise, because of poker's psychological interactive element, a poker streak can be perpetuated simply through collective belief. Yet, without the submissive cooperation of the other players, it would've ended sooner.

So then how should poker streaks be handled? First, if you observe a player trying to push a streak, he'll likely be forcing the action with cards that don't warrant it. Lay in the weeds and wait for a solid hand, then step softly into his path and let him try to run over you. Since you probably picked a better hand to play than he did, you'll most likely end up with his chips in your stack.

Second, if you've made a few good hands in a row yourself, try to sense whether the table seems intimidated by your "hot run". If you sense meekness, you may be able to push them around. But if they don't seem likely to become your unwitting accomplices, just behave yourself and play your regular solid game.

The lower the stakes and the "greener" the players, the more likely you'll be able to intimidate them when you've made a few nice hands. If you play with the big boys however, they don't give a diddley what happened on the last hand, so you'd better play it honest.

Fred Renzey
Fred Renzey is a high-stakes, expert poker player. On a daily basis he faces--and beats--some of the best players in the country in fierce poker room competition. Now for the first time, Renzey offers his perceptive insights on how to play winning poker. For Fred's 13-page blackjack booklet "Ace/10 Front Count", send $9 to Fred Renzey, P.O. Box 598, Elk Grove Village, IL, 60009

Books by Fred Renzey:

> More Books By Fred Renzey

Fred Renzey
Fred Renzey is a high-stakes, expert poker player. On a daily basis he faces--and beats--some of the best players in the country in fierce poker room competition. Now for the first time, Renzey offers his perceptive insights on how to play winning poker. For Fred's 13-page blackjack booklet "Ace/10 Front Count", send $9 to Fred Renzey, P.O. Box 598, Elk Grove Village, IL, 60009

Books by Fred Renzey:

> More Books By Fred Renzey