The Poker Lab Rat

July 18, 2008

Texas Hold’em Play: OMG you have A-A!

Filed under: Doyle Brunson,Mike Caro,Poker News & Views,pro tips — Mike @ 12:16 am

In poker, two decision making concepts come into play:
1. You should usually make the decision that has the best chance of success, even if in retrospect other decisions might have been better
2. When you hold a superior hand, you want your opponents to bond to the pot

Here’s an example of common bad decision making that violates these precepts:

You’re playing Hold’em. The game is nine-handed and you’re two seats to the right of the button before the flop. Everyone else has folded. You peek at your cards and, OMG, you have A-A! In an instant flash of brilliance you decide, cleverly, just to call. You reason that this will invite opponents into the pot and set a trap.

And that might work perfectly. On rare occasions I will choose this tactic, just to confuse astute opponents and set the stage for making more money on future hands when I’ll be able to play lesser cards more safely because others will remember that I could hold a monster. But that tactic isn’t the most profitable way to play this specific hand right now.

If you have Aces in early position, you might just call, hoping others will raise and you’ll build a bigger pot with a significant advantage. But here, in your fairly late position, analysis shows that you’ll make more profit on your Aces by raising. I suggest a minimum raise or a little more. If the big blind is $100, try wagering $200 to $250. As a standard tactic, just calling is poor, because many opponents become suspicious of a big hand. They’ve been there and done that themselves. They might surmise that your call means you have either a fairly weak hand or a speculative one, such as 8c-7c. But they’ll also be alert to the possibility that you’re trapping. If you raise though, that act seems natural to your opponents who expect you to leverage your late position. Oddly the possibility that you hold a big pair will often seem less likely to them than if you just call. And you’ll be able to bet after seeing the flop with much more likelihood of being called – especially if non-threatening cards flop.

In their Heads

Opponents put you on hands. If you raise on your first two cards, they’re thinking you’re trying to buy the pot on the flop and they’re likely to call if they connect in any manner whatsoever, including just holding high overcards. But there’s an even bigger reason why making a small raise is the best tactic. You’re getting players to bond. They now feel that they have an “investment” in the pot. That’s bonding.

So, clearly in common poker situations, almost any decision might turn out to be ideal. And you should sometimes choose an unusual tactic to keep sophisticated foes off guard. But the choices that have the best chance of winning the most money most of the time are the ones you should routinely choose. Also, when you have a quality hand, you should try to bond opponents to the pot, which you crave.

In poker and in life, always consider whether making someone else bond will benefit you. Then make the decision that has the biggest shot at long-range profit, keeping in mind that it might not work as well right now as a seemingly inferior choice might. In poker and beyond, the trick is to steadfastly do what’s most likely to succeed.

Mike Caro
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