Well, I promised you two powerful poker truths, and I’m hopefully going to deliver. I’m not going to beat around the bush, let’s get straight into it.
It doesn’t matter what your hand started as. All that matters is what it is now and what it might end up being.
I see it every night. There’s four to a straight or a flush on the board and someone calls the river and loses only to flip over a pair of aces that had no chance of winning. Why? Well, let’s leave aside possible psychological justifications like wanting to get pity from the other players or self-fulfiling prophecies like “aces always lose a lot of money for me”. The fundamental reason these players make such moronic calls on the river is because they hang on to an outdated impression of their hand’s value.
They see Aces preflop and know it’s the best hand. They then don’t revise their expectations based on what happens, they just know they were dealt aces and feel entitled to win. You don’t get prizes for playing good starting hands (although it is still a good idea to only play good ones because they have more chance to end up as good hands), the only awards in poker (pots) are for having better finishing hands.
Ask yourself “what is my hand worth now?” and do not let yourself get distracted by what it was worth before the last card was dealt.
It’s not only great starting hands that you need to be aware of this on. Perfect flops can cause problems too:
I have JT spades on the button with four players in the pot front of me. I raise to make a nice big pot and take control of the betting. Everyone calls.
The flop is Ad Ks Qh. I have flopped nut straight (and a backdoor flush draw). Everyone checks to me, I bet, two players call, the next one raises, the player between us folds, I raise and one of the early position players calls, as does the raiser.
This is a pretty big pot now. My opponents aren’t complete morons, so I know roughly what their hands are likely to be – a set, two pair, just possibly AJ or AT (for top pair and a straight draw).
The turn is Kh. This is not a good card for me. Early position checks, the raiser bets, I call because the pot is too damn big to give up on (yes, this is an OK excuse to call one bet here – the rare times you catch a moron with King Ten make it worth all the times you lose) and early position calls.
The river is the As. My involvement in this hand is over. I click check fold and switch to my other table. It doesn’t matter that I have had a straight since the flop. Anyone with an ace or a king, or a pair of queens, now has a full house. For the record, it was bet, raised, re-raised and capped. AT beat KQ (who should have realised that his hand was not going to be good, however pretty it looked).
Poker doesn’t care what hand you had in the past, all that matters is what hand you showdown.
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It doesn’t matter where your hand ranks on the scale. All that matters is if your hand is going to be better than your opponents at the showdown.
This follows on from Truth #1. I’ve won fairly large pots when my AK beat AQ on a 26J48 board and I’ve lost even larger ones when my 63 (from the big blind) lost to 76 on a 4528 board. If your opponent has a Royal flush then you lose (unless you also have a Royal flush) no matter if you have a king high straight flush or 23457 (the worst possible hand in high-only poker). Poker doesn’t care what the losers had, just that they lost. No amount of whining will change that.
I won a SNG tournament last night when my 83 beat my opponents 65 on a board of AA42J (he was automatically allin on his small blind). All that matters is if your hand is a little bit better than your opponents at the showdown
Like it or not, these statements are the truth. Start believing these truths and it will be easier to lay down the hands you need to give up and keep playing the hands you need to play.
For those of you who want it in one sentence – Poker hand values are fluid and relative.