It was back in 1709, when British poet Alexander Pope wrote his famed “Essay on Criticism,” introducing the well-known saying, “To err is human, to forgive divine.”
We are only human, so we are bound to make mistakes now and then – perhaps more often than we would like. Because there are so many key decisions to be made, poker is a game where there are lots of opportunities to make the wrong decision. Most often, that mistake will be costly. And speaking of mistakes…
Let me share with you a hand I played the other evening at Larry Flynt’s Hustler Casino in Gardena (near Los Angeles), California. It was a $4-$8 limit game of Texas hold’em with ½ Kill. In the Under-the-Gun (UTG) position (just after the two Blinds), I was quite pleased to see A-A in the hole. That’s a made hand, and the best one possible that you can start with before the flop. The odds are 221-to-1 against being dealt this hand – about once in 7 hours, on average, at a live poker table. When playing poker online, for example at a Finnish poker online site like nettipokeri, the odds are the same, but you’ll see the hand much more often since you get dealt far more hands per hour.
Anyhow, holding pocket Aces, my usual goal is to play it against three but not more than four opponents. That gives my A-A a good chance to keep the lead; meanwhile, I can still build a decent-sized pot. (According to probability law, pocket Aces becomes an underdog if more than four players stay to see the flop with you.)
On that basis, I was prepared to raise pre-flop; but then I paused to question that decision: It was a rather tight table; from early position, a raise was likely to force out most – if not all of my opponents. (You can’t make any money if everyone folds.) So, I decided to slow-play this initial round (pre-flop) of betting, just calling to see the flop. Four opponents and I saw the flop.
— Marvin Karlins, Ph.D. (@TheDuckman22) June 12, 2019
The flop came down: 7-9-J rainbow. I presumed that one or two opponents may have paired up. That was fine with me, as I confirmed my A-A in the hole. So, I opened the betting from my UTG position, and had three callers. There were no raises, so I felt comfortable that my pocket Aces was still well in the lead.
The turn put a King on the board. Considering my opponents’ hand ranges, most likely my A-A was still the best hand – at least, so I presumed.
The river paired the Jack on the board, giving me top two-pair, Aces and Jacks. I felt quite confident with my hand. I decided to open the betting from my UTG position. The next two opponents quickly folded; but then the player in the cutoff position raised it up! At that point, I paused to think it out. What might he be holding? Yes, he could have a Jack in the hole; that would give him trip Jacks on the river, which would be unfortunate for me. He might also be holding a straight. With only two suited cards on the board, a flush was not possible. Most likely, I rationalized, he held two-pair; but I had the top two-pair. So, I decided to just call his raise.
He turned up 8-10 suited. He had flopped a straight, and slow-played me until the river! I had lost a good-size pot. . .
So, let me ask you: Did I goof when I decided not to raise pre-flop from my UTG position with my pocket Aces?