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Playing Winning Poker Requires Using Your Head

6 January 2005

By Fred Renzey

I was at a local sporting goods franchise store today looking for some workout equipment. What do I bump into but a display of Texas Hold'em kits, complete with chips, cards and a green felt cloth. Apparently, lots of fitness jocks are also turning into poker jocks.

Chances are, a fair share of you have been playing a little "know-when-to-hold'em/when-to-fold'em" lately yourselves. To win at any kind of poker, though, you need to use your head. You need to know exactly why you're doing what you're doing.

Poker isn't like blackjack. In blackjack, you get dealt a hand and you basically just recall the proper play for that hand from memory. But in poker, the proper play depends upon who your opponents are and what they've done in the hand thus far. Because of that, you're constantly creating your own strategy, and it better be based on some sound logic if you hope to come out a winner.

It might well be that in Hold'em, for example, you should raise before the flop with a pair of pocket 10s – and it may be that you should fold them. Here's an example of each case.

Suppose you're in about the middle of the table and there's just been one call coming to you. The call was made by an "action" player who will pay to see a lot of flops. Well, your hand is probably better than his and the two or three players behind you, so your correct move is to raise.

Now suppose that from that same seat it's been raised and then re-raised coming to you. Furthermore, the two raisers are tight players who you judge would throw away hands like 7/7 or Q/J from any early seat. Well, there just isn't much left that your pocket 10s can beat -- and if one or two high cards flop you can't even call a bet. So just muck your 10s and don't put yourself in a trick bag.

The same goes for any kind of poker. You always need to reason what you realistically hope to accomplish, then take that course of action. Let's say you're playing straight old 7 Card Stud.

You came into the hand raising with that same pair of 10s. Now on fifth street (the 5th card), you have 7-10 / 10-3-8 while your opponent shows ?-? / 5-9-5 and bets. Even though you can beat what you can see, you have to fold! There's just too great a chance that he called your initial raise with a pair of 5s and now has trips. If he doesn't have trip 5s, he may have started with, say, pocket 4s still giving him two pair. After all, he had to have something to call your raise with.

It's important to understand that if his board was 9-5-5 instead, you could call because the best he should have at this point is 9s and 5s – and that you have a decent chance to beat. Always have an understanding of why you're doing what you're doing.

Let's say you're playing Omaha Hi/Lo. Suppose you've got A-2-8-9 and the flop comes 7-10-K with two spades. You don't have any spades, but you do have an open-end straight draw and a back door shot at the nut low.

The turn card (4th board card) is the Jack of spades, making your straight – but the first player bets right out. You must fold! When three of a suit hit the board in Omaha, somebody usually has the flush. Even if not, your straight can be beaten by a 9/Q or an A/Q in somebody else's hand. And since the turn card was a "brick" (9 or higher), you can no longer make a qualifying low (8 or better).

You cannot call a bet here, but you can probably go ahead and make a bet if you're first to act. That's because your bet will look just as scary to your opponents if they don't have a flush as it would look to you. They just might fold a 9/Q or an A/Q. It's probably worth one bet since it might win you a whole pot.

Poker is a game of odds and logic. At the beginning of the hand you use the odds to pick a good starting hand. As the play progresses, you use logic to determine what is, what can be and where your hand fits into that. You need to ask yourself questions throughout the hand, and the accuracy of your answers will ultimately determine your fortune.

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:

Blackjack Bluebook II

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