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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?

 Steaming. Until I fully read and digested Behringer’s e-mail message, I could only speculate. A player on tilt is sometimes said to be “steaming.” So I checked The Official Dictionary of Poker by Michael Wiesenberg. “Steam” is a verb meaning to “be on tilt.” A “steam bet” is “a bet made by someone playing on tilt.”

 Dan Described a Hand. Behringer, who lives in Las Vegas, enjoys playing low and middle limit hold’em at the local cardrooms and on the strip. He was in a $10-$20 limit hold’em game when he looked down at A-5 suited in the hole. There was an early-position raise before him. Dan explained that he was playing his usual tight solid “A” game. “I don’t normally call a raised bet cold with A-5 suited,” he wrote, “so this was an exception.” He explained why: The raiser was a loose-aggressive player PLUS he had just taken a bad beat. That “set off alarm bells in my mind,” he wrote. “Something smelled fishy to me.”

 At that point, Dan was addressing a form of conjectural information, a topic of my September 10 column. He reasoned that the raise was made in frustration rather than holding a solid hand – a steam raise! That’s what players on tilt often do. Call it an emotional release if you will. So, based on conjecture, Dan elected to call with his A-5 suited. One other opponents called behind him. “The flop brought an Ace and another Broadway card,” he wrote. “The raiser bet the flop but checked the turn. I won the pot with a turn bet.” Dan had used conjectural information to make his decision; and, it paid off for him, as both the raiser and the other opponent folded their hands.

 Epilogue. Kudos to Dan for identifying another form of conjectural information, but what about how he played this hand? You might say that Dan was lucky to catch another Ace on the flop (it was a longshot), and that none of his opponents stayed to see the flop with a bigger Ace. The poker gods had smiled on him.

 As a matter of interest, after the fact, Dan thought that, instead of just calling the steam raise, “the superior play was to three bet and isolate” the steam raiser. Indeed, I must agree with the idea of isolating the steamer in this case with just the steamer and him staying to see the flop. However, as Dan knows, holding A-5 suited, usually the preferred alternative would be to follow the Hold’em Caveat to see the flop as cheaply as possible (no raises) in a multi-way pot (three or more opponents staying to see the flop), hoping to make the nut flush. Otherwise, the A-rag suited should have been folded.


 Recently elected to the Seniors’ Poker Hall of Fame, George “The Engineer” Epstein is the author of The Greatest Book of Poker for Winners! and Hold’em or Fold’em?—An Algorithm for Making the Key Decision and teaches poker at the Claude Pepper Sr. Citizen Center in Los Angeles. Recently, he started teaching poker to aged war veterans with special healthcare needs at a new CalVet facility at the VA in West L.A. Contact George at

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