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George Epstein

Playing a Big Pair in the Hole; and an Overcard Flops

George “The Engineer” Epstein

You see the flop with a big pair in the hole. You are (almost) certain that you have the best hand. Now the flop... Oops! An overcard falls. How good is your hand now? If an opponent has connected with a bigger pair, you have only two outs to improve your hand. So what is the best way to play a big pair in the hole before the flop?

A Typical Example. In a medium-limit hold’em game at a full table of nine players, you are in a middle position, and have been dealt J-J; that’s a premium drawing hand. If no overcards fall on the board, your pocket Jacks could hold up to the showdown; but, quite often, it must improve to take the pot (more so, of course, with smaller pocket pairs).

Could an opponent have been dealt a higher pair? With J-J in the hole, the odds are about 8-to-1 in your favor that none of your eight opponents has a higher pair. Most likely you hold the best hand preflop. This often is confirmed when no opponent raises preflop. (Discount a raise by a “maniac” who could raise with almost anything in the hole—even without looking at his holecards!) You figure that your pocket Jacks is the best hand so far... Preflop, you properly decide to raise, hoping to force out any players behind you who happen to hold A-rag, K-rag, or Q-rag, thereby protecting your J-J, and gaining a better chance to win the pot if an Ace, King, or Queen should be dealt out on the board. Note: If you were one of the blinds, raising likely would not force out an opponent who already had made one bet to see the flop; so, in that case, just call and avoid giving information about the strength of your hand.

Your rating: None Average: 5 (1 vote)

I Disagree with Phil Hellmuth

by George Epstein

 Phil Hellmuth is admired by many poker players throughout the world for his accomplishments. In addition to his record 13 World Series of Poker bracelets, he won the Main Event of the 1989 World Series of Poker (WSOP) and the Main Event of the 2012 World Series of Poker Europe. He is a member of the WSOP’s Poker Hall of Fame, and is ranked among the top all-time money winners. (He has also earned a reputation for insulting other players).

 Recently, a friend gave me a copy of Hellmuth’s book, Play Poker Like the Pros. I found several items that conflict with my teachings to my Seniors Poker Groups. For example, Hellmuth relates a hand he played at Foxwood’s Casino in Connecticut. It was a $2,500 buy-in limit Hold’em game during the “World Poker Finals.” Stakes were $300-$600. He was in the Big Blind holding 8-8. Three players called the blind ($300) preflop. He wrote, “because I had 8-8, I raised.” Note: In his book, Hellmuth lists 8-8 as one of his “Top Ten” Hands. He also recommends: “Always raise with these hands, no matter what it costs you to get involved.” With this, too, I disagree.

Your rating: None Average: 3.8 (9 votes)

Dealer Error

by George “The Engineer” Epstein

Who doesn’t make a mistake now and then? Even the best major league baseball players make errors. We poker players are no different. But rarely do we hear about mistakes made by poker dealers. How about that?

 Recently, I saw the mother of all poker dealer errors in a limit hold’em game at a local casino. Should it have happened? Let’s call the dealer “Rushmore.” Without doubt, Rushmore’s knowledge of the game and dealing skills are outstanding. He keeps the game moving along. In fact, I never mind when he deftly picks up chips from my stacks and posts the blind for me. While I wonder if it is proper for a dealer to do that, but I generally regard this as a friendly action—no harm done.

 Here’s what happened... On the turn with three players in the hand, first to declare was the player in Seat No. 2. He checked. Then, Seat No. 4 clearly stated, “I bet.” While gathering his chips to make the bet, the man in Seat No. 5, acting out of turn, tossed in his last remaining chip.

Your rating: None Average: 4.7 (3 votes)

Positive Expectation on Starting-Hand Selection

by George “The Engineer” Epstein

Here’s an interesting query I received from reader Jack Durr who picks up his copy of PPN at the Turning Stone Casino in Verona, NY where he enjoys playing 1-2 NLHE $50Min-$200Max:

 “Could you tell me how many players would have to limp in before the blinds for it to be a +EV to complete the small blind with any two cards?

 The game is small stakes – $200 max NLHE; lots of limping preflop.” It’s an intriguing question—one I have never seen/heard addressed. Basically, the question deals with starting-hand selection. With Jack’s permission, here’s my answer:

Your rating: None Average: 5 (2 votes)

An Alternative to EV

by George “The Engineer” Epstein

The late poker guru Lou Krieger recently wrote an informative three-part column on Expected Value, “EV,” applied to drawing hands in Texas hold’em. This concept derives from probability mathematics to describe the long-term average outcome of a given scenario. To calculate Expected Value, take every possible outcome, multiply each by the probability of that outcome happening, and then add those numbers together. As an example, Lou calculated the EV where you hold four-to-the-nut flush on the turn. This involves the odds against catching the flush on the river (4-to-1 against); how much you lose if you call and miss (as will happen about 80% of the time), and how much you could win (about 20% of the time). The result determines whether the situation provides a positive or a negative Expected Value. Then call with +EV; fold with -EV.

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by George “The Engineer” Epstein

It can cost you a big pot. It’s not illegal – though it may be immoral in some cases. It happened to me, and it could happen to you, too. In fact, it may already have happened without your realizing what was going down. What’s more, the dealer played a role. (He might have been complicit in the scheme; but that’s just speculation.) Let me explain by describing a hand I played in a low-limit hold’em game at a local casino.

 I was in a middle position with Q-J offsuit. Along with four opponents, I stayed to see if the flop would help my hand. Yes, it did!

Your rating: None Average: 2.8 (4 votes)


by George “The Engineer” Epstein

Reading the current (Dec. 3, 2012 [read the PDF]) issue of  Poker Player Newspaper (PPN), I thought, “there is  so much great info for poker players packed into 20 big pages.”  Wendeen Eolis provides a timely review of the conflict between  the Dept. of Justice (DOJ) and the U.S. online poker world. The Poker  Players Alliance (PPA) has been unable to get the DOJ to return the  players’ funds held by Full Tilt Poker. Suggestion: With millions of voters playing poker, perhaps the PPA could take advantage of this asset— use its “edge.”

 Mike Caro’s advice for winning at poker is always top notch. In this  issue, he focuses on “Choice.” Choose your opponents so that you are  more skillful than they are. The greater the skill gap, the better. Avoid  tables with stronger players. Sound advice, except I don’t agree that  I should “try to master several forms of poker.” As I teach my poker  classes, it is best to specialize in one variety of poker so you can  become the most skilled at that game—rather than a “Jack of all trades,  master of none.”

Your rating: None Average: 1.8 (4 votes)

Sir Francis Bacon and Poker

Money is like MUCK, not good except it be spread.” —Francis Bacon during the Age of Reason (“Of Seditions and Troubles,” Essays, 15; published in 1597)

 Sir Francis Bacon (Jan. 1561 – April 1626) was an English philosopher, statesman, spy, freemason and essayist. He was knighted in 1603. He began his career as a lawyer, but is best known as a philosophical advocate of the scientific revolution. He developed an inductive methodology for scientific inquiry—the Baconian method. His literary works include his Essays, as well as the Colours of Good and Evil, and the Meditationes Sacrae, all published in 1597. Bacon’s life goals were discovery of truth, service to his country, and service to the church. He also is famed for his widely quoted aphorism, “knowledge is power.”

Your rating: None Average: 4.5 (2 votes)

Information: Insufficient Premises...

by George “The Engineer” Epstein

“Life is the art of drawing conclusions from insufficient premises.” —Samuel Butler, British satirist (1835 - 1902)

 Butler is best known for his utopian satire, Erewhon, and The Way of All Flesh, a semi-autobiographical novel, published posthumously. What does this saying mean? How does it relate to the game of poker? “Insufficient”—lacking to some extent; too scanty; we would like more information to be really convinced.

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A Steam Raise

by George “The Engineer” Epstein

I had not been familiar with the term, “Steam Raise,” until I received a comment on my column, “Information: Fact and Conjecture,” in the September 10 issue of PPN. Just to remind you, that column began with a quote from famed British satirist, Samuel Butler (1835-1902): “Life is the art of drawing conclusions from insufficient premises.” That’s often the situation when we play poker. Following along in that vein, the column was concerned with gathering important information at the poker table to help you make the best decisions. Information can either be (1) factual (like the value of your holecards) or (2) conjectural (tells, for example) where some guesswork is necessary. We described many examples of factual information, but were able to identify only seven conjectures pertinent to the game of poker. So we invited readers to suggest others. Dan Behringer of Las Vegas submitted a bit of a mind-boggler—a “Steam Raise.” Have you ever heard that term before?

Your rating: None Average: 3.5 (2 votes)


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