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Best of Fred Renzey

Gaming Guru

 

You Need a Better Poker Hand to Call Than to Bet

11 November 2006

If, like a lot of other people, you're getting into the strategic aspects of playing winning poker, there's a basic truth you need to learn right up front. That truth is that it takes a better hand to call somebody's bet than it would've taken to make the bet yourself.

This may sound like doubletalk at first, but it makes logical poker-sense once you think about it – and you need to think about it before you sit down to play. Let's illustrate this vital point with a common poker scenario that I'm sure is familiar to most people, young and old.

You're playing 5 Card Draw Jacks or Better to open, in a seven-handed game. Sitting in the last seat, you're dealt a pair of Queens. One by one, the players check, so you anticipate opening when it gets around to you. But lo and behold, the player in the sixth seat just in front of you opens, meaning that he definitely has a pair of Jacks -- or better. What's your correct move?

You might be surprised, but the right play is to fold. Now why is that, when you had a good enough hand to open yourself? Well, it's really quite simple.

While player after player was checking, that probably meant nobody had a good enough hand to open. If the pot was still unopened by the time the action got all the way around to you, your Queens would've had a real good chance to be the best hand – pure and simple. So go ahead and open it.

But when it got opened just in front of you, that player positively had to have a hand somewhere between a pair of Jacks and a royal flush. Even neglecting those super-rare straight-flushes and 4-of-a-kinds, there are 190 hands between a pair of Jacks and a full house. How many of those can you beat? One – a measly pair of Jacks.

So where it would've been right to bet your Queens before, suddenly they're a big underdog and are not even worth a call. Remember, the best poker hand going in is likely to be the best coming out.

Draw poker probably offers the simplest way to illustrate this point, but it holds true in every kind of poker. You're constantly processing new information during a hand and you want to act upon the latest information you have, then bet, raise or fold accordingly. Here's a similar example from Texas Hold'em.

The initial hole cards are dealt and one player calls the blinds before it gets to you. Your hand is a pocket pair of 10s, so you raise, driving out everybody except the original caller. The flop comes down:

Kd-Js-5c

If your opponent checks, there's a pretty good chance he missed the flop making your hand best at the moment – so you should probably bet it. He may very well fold and give you the pot. But had your opponent bet, he quite likely would have Kings, or at least Jacks, since those are just the kinds of cards he might've come in with from an early seat. Now, you probably shouldn't even call. There again is a practical example of how it's right to bet your hand if nobody else has yet bet – but you don't have enough to call if somebody has already bet.

Here's one last for-instance from 7 Card Stud. On the initial deal, your first three cards are:

6-9 / 9

A deuce is forced in low, and the next three players fold. You're thinking of raising when it gets to you. But then, a player with a Jack up raises and the next player calls with a 10 showing. Well, what did the Jack raise with and why did the 10 call the raise? This new information tells you that your hand is most likely second or third best, so you must give it up. Where you could've raised your 9s into the deuce if nobody else raised, you can't even call once the bigger cards have beat you to it. If you violate this principle in any kind of poker for money, you'll end up wishing you had taken up checkers.

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:

Blackjack Bluebook II

> More Books By Fred Renzey