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Best of Fred Renzey

Gaming Guru

 

You Gotta Know When to Hold'em and When to Fold'em

28 December 2003

About 20 years ago, Kenny Rogers' hit song "The Gambler" rang out these timeless words: "Every gambler knows -- that the secret to survivin' -- is knowin' what to throw away -- an' knowin' what to keep".

Now that Texas Hold'em poker is a big hit on nationwide TV (World Poker Tour and Celebrity Poker Showdown), it seems everybody is talking about it and wants to play it. Lots of strategy has been written on which two-card starting hands to hold and which ones to fold. But once the flop comes down, everything changes.

If you have A/K and an ace or king flops, you have a big hand and are off to the races. But what if you have, say, 9/10 when the flop comes A/9/4 with several players in? Can you call with your "middle pair"? This is what Kenny Rogers' song was talking about.

Managing your hand when you have a "secondary" piece of the flop is delicate business. Some of what to do depends upon being able to read your opponents, but I'm going to give you a basic, fundamental guideline rooted purely in the odds.

When you've flopped the second best pair but there are high cards out there, you can usually assume somebody's got the top pair. So should you hold'em or fold'em? All call/fold decisions should begin with this question: "How many outs do I have?" Every single card in the deck that will make you the winning hand is considered an "out". Here are two basic rules of thumb that will apply to most "average" situations.

  1. If on the flop, you have at least "4 outs" to a probable winner -- call one bet, but not a bet and a raise.
  2. If on the turn (fourth board card), you have at least "6 outs" to a probable winner -- call one bet, but not a bet and a raise.

Now, here are a couple of good examples. Suppose you have 10/J and the flop is:

7 - 9 - A

If there's a bet, you're most likely against a pair of aces, but an inside 8 will make you a straight. Therefore, you have four outs (the four 8s).

In limit Hold'em, the bet on the flop is still at the lower limit. At $10/$20 stakes, for instance, the flop bet is only $10. So if there's no raise, call that ten bucks. If you had say, 9/10 instead of 10/J, you'd have five outs (two 9s and three 10s) to make trips or two pair. That too is usually worth calling $10 with.

On fourth street, however, the stakes double. So what if you've come this far and you still don't have the winning hand? Since the price is now higher, you need six outs minimum to make that $20 call. Hence, the hands from the above examples should be folded.

Then what hands are worth calling with on the turn (fourth street)? Well, a 4-flush is an easy call (nine outs) and an open-end straight draw usually is too (six to eight outs). Those are easy, but you'll run into many stickier situations, so here's one. Suppose you have 7/8 and the board is:

6h - 8c - Qd - 10s

Now you have third pair plus an inside straight draw. Is your hand worth a $20 call with one card to come? In all there are nine cards that will improve your hand (four 9s, two 8s and three 7s), but the real question is, how many of them will win for you? That is, how many actual "winning outs" do you really have?

If one of the two remaining 8s comes at the river, your trips will most likely take the pot. Count those as two winning outs.

Next, if a 7 comes giving you two pair, anybody holding a 9 has a straight. Still, you'll often win with a 7 in this spot, but not always so let's count two of the three 7s as winning outs. Now you're up to about four outs.

Finally, what if a 9 comes to make your straight? This one might be big trouble since anybody with a jack will have a higher straight. And some very reasonable opposing hands with this board might be J/Q, J/10, J/9 or even J/J. I'd be very hesitant to count any 9's among my winning outs. Hence you've probably got only a "4 or 5-outer" and should fold.

When totaling up your outs, be sure to notice which of them might just cost you more money. Outs to improve your hand and outs to win the pot are often two different things.

You Gotta Know When to Hold'em and When to Fold'em is republished from Online.CasinoCity.com.
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

> 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