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# Poker strategy is packed with psychological dilemmas

6 January 2007

Poker is the only casino game that you play against the other players. What makes it even more unique however, is the fact that's also the only game which involves psychology in its strategy – and lots of it. All other casino games are made up entirely of mathematical odds. Poker involves odds too, and using them wisely is essential for survival. But the psychology part of poker is what earns you extra bets with your winners and saves you bets with your losers. In the end, that's what separates the "haves" from the "have-nots". Here's a useful example.

You're playing \$10/\$20 limit Hold'em in the middle of the table. An early position seat has called and then you call with a Q/J unsuited. In all, four of you stay in to see the flop. Here it comes:

You've flopped "second pair" (paired the second highest card on board) to make a "so-so" hand. The first two players check, indicating weakness, so you hold your breath and venture a \$10 bet. The last player and the big blind both fold, but the original early position player calls. Your tension eases a bit.

Psychologically, you decide he doesn't have an Ace, or he would've bet the flop himself. You're probably in the lead thus far. Now, the turn card is:

Qd

You've just made two concealed pair, a pretty big hand. Your opponent checks again. More eager now, you shove a \$20 bet out there hoping for a call. But alas, your foe check-raises it to \$40. What the heck just happened?

Now most of the time, any two pair will be enough to win a Hold'em pot, so you think back. If he had something like A/K or K/K (which you can beat), he probably would've raised before the flop – but he didn't, so you can most likely scratch those two hands.

Could he have a smaller two pair, like J/7? Not likely. Very few Hold'em players will come into a pot with such a weak hand in early position.

So then – do you have the best hand, or don't you? This time around, I'm afraid it's very unlikely. Having check-raised at such a late juncture, your opponent has apparently made a big hand. But what could it be?

Notice that the turn card was a third diamond (the Queen of diamonds). One of your opponent's most likely hands would be a diamond flush. Another hand he could have would be an Ace-high straight if he started with K/10. Still other hands that would make sense would be A/J or 7/7 -- and they've all got you beat. So once again using psychology, you deduce that your opponent most likely has the best of you at the moment.

But hey, you've got two pair and if the river card is a Queen or a Jack... Stop! Don't even go there. You've got at the most, four "outs" that will fill you up (two Queens and two Jacks) out of 46 unseen cards. That's an 11-to-1 shot.

If you review the betting, you'll see that the pot contains around \$120 at this point. Even if you hit your card and are able to win a bet and a raise at the river, you'll still net only \$160 -- or 8-to-1 odds on your 11-to-1 longshot.

Taking 8-to-1 on an 11-to-1 shot might be par for the suckers, but not for a winning player like you. Your psychology has told you that your two big pair are no good, and your pot odds have told you it's not worth calling to try for a full house. So save the last two \$20 bets and muck your hand. At the end of the year, \$40 saved is the same as \$40 won.

This was just one way you use psychology to play winning poker, but the game is filled with psychological nuances. That's what makes it the fascinating game it is.

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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

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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