On Poker -- Losing small is a key element of playing optimally.
Byline: Chuck Blount
It's hard to put a finger on a precise way to play optimal poker. Your game has to have the flexibility to be altered according to your opponents and the table conditions.
When you are playing your best, though, two things tend to happen: The pots that you win will have a few extra chips in them, and the pots that you lose will be small ones compared with the size of your stack.
A dangerous game like no-limit Texas Hold 'em usually forces players to make good decisions in succession. One or two won't cut it when a slip-up during a betting stage can have disastrous consequences.
Put yourself on the button in a simple $1/$2 cash game with two players limping into the pot. You look down and you have a pair of red pocket aces. Even though aces are the best starting hand in the game, allowing multiple players to see a flop usually is a bad idea. So you attempt buy out the blinds and put some fear into the limpers by raising to $10.
You would prefer to have one opponent call or, better yet, play back at you, but taking the pot down outright with the bet isn't a terrible end result. But you are countered with the worst possible outcome, as both limpers call and the flop comes down 10c-9c-8c.
The first limper then bets $20 and the other limper calls. It's a true nightmare scenario.
You absolutely may still hold the best hand, but it would be very difficult to know with such a degree of certainty that you should be willing to proceed with playing a really big pot.
There is huge range of hands that can hit on a flop like this. Obviously, if either player is holding clubs, your aces are almost drawing dead. Even if you had an opponent holding an inferior hand, like pocket queens, if one of them is a club, he or she is a slight favorite with two cards to come.
If one has pocket jacks and one is a club, the odds swell to almost 60 percent in favor of your opponent with the addition of the open-ended straight draw with the flush outs. It also would be reasonable for someone holding popular connecting cards like Q-J or 6-7 to flop the straight.
It's not the $20 open that makes the flop so bad, it's the other player calling the bet that should be your reason to think that your aces are no longer good. That player either has the draw to the best hand, or already has it and is trying to build the largest pot possible.
Folding is the optimal play for you here, and the minimal loss can have a huge effect on the bottom line of your session.
And as a general rule, anytime a flop produces three cards of the same suit, if you don't have one too that's a king or an ace, your hand isn't worth much.
Got a poker question or have a comment? Email Chuck at email@example.com. (San Antonio Express-News.Distributed by King Features Syndicate)