Killer instincts

Maths is important in poker, but just going by the numbers can only get you so far

When doing the “poker maths” you have to factor in the likelihood your opponent could have the hand you’re worried about

In the summer of 2005, The Wynn in Las Vegas held a special $20,000 invitational event. At the final table, the following hand occurred, involving Ted Forrest and myself. It was folded to John D’Agostino, who raised all-in for $12,900. Forrest, holding A-A, called. The button folded and I called from the small blind with A-Q offsuit.

I was caught between whether to re-raise and isolate D’Agostino or just call and check it down. I knew that Forrest was more than capable of setting a trap, so I opted to call. The big blind folded; the pot was now $41,500 and the flop came 4-6-6. I checked in the dark to signal to Forrest that I had no interest in bluffing into an empty side pot. Forrest also checked and the turn was the A. I bet out $3,000, which acted like a check, but also gave Forrest the chance to fold a hand like 7-7 and me the opportunity to take the $40k in the main pot. Forrest called. The river was the 6, which I wasn’t too happy about and I checked. I figured I was probably in the lead or would at least rake in half the pot. When Forrest checked and turned over pocket Aces, I was amazed at his play. If he had moved in for all his chips after I checked, I would have been forced to call.

The Professor speaks

Howard Lederer went on to defend Ted’s play, saying that there was a 50/50 chance he was walking into four 6s. He added that if I didn’t have the Ace or the 6, I couldn’t call anyway. If I had the 6 and then decided to bet, he would have eliminated himself from the tournament. But, when you’re doing the ‘poker maths’ you have to factor in the likelihood that your opponent could even have the hand you’re worried about; in that sense it affects the odds of me having an Ace versus a 6. It was not even close to 50/50; in fact, there was precisely a 0% chance that I had a 6 in my hand.

You could possibly make a case for me calling Ted’s large raise with 6-6, or possibly even A-6. However, since there was already three 6s on board, I couldn’t possibly have started with a pair of 6s. I would never call such a large all-in bet with either A-6 or 6-7 suited after Ted had called. You can’t bluff an all-in player; nor can you outplay an all-in player. There is no value in playing a suited connector when a player is already all-in, as Ted would know that with no side pot, there is no chance I’d be bluffing. Therefore, even if I hit a straight or a flush, there is no payday.

What this hand demonstrates above all is that while doing the maths is important in poker, you have to remember that at its very heart, poker is a game of people. If you only focus on the numbers without factoring in your opponent’s mood and playing style, you’ll come up with the wrong answer far too often.

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