Blinded by the Light

Texas Hold’em is a game that the world plays every day and in 2009 you can flip through the 1000 channels of your television and find the game at any hour of the day or night. Poker seems to be all the rage. The current economic downturn has slowed the game ever so slightly. More than half of Americans understand the game and most of those have at least tried to play the game.

I learned to play the game of Texas Hold’em in 1993, while the game became legal in 1988 it was not universally spread throughout the card rooms of California until a few years later. I had a very rudimentary understanding of the game when I began to sit in the games. The reason I was not destroyed is because the other players in the game were very weak. I had some poker savvy and the best math skills. I had much to learn about this simple game.

I had about 40 hours of table time under my belt when I got my first real lesson at the felt. There is a reason that they say to keep California green. Players want other players to have to pay for the lessons. I was able to pay for my first expensive lesson in a $3-$6 limit game. The smaller the game the cheaper the lesson, the key is to learn the lesson even if you do not pay very much.

I am sitting in the nine seat of a ten handed game when the following hand comes down. I am dealt KT a couple seats in front of the button. I call and join three other players with relative certainty that the blinds are coming along and the button will most likely be there too. We see a flop six handed.

The flop is perfect for my hand K K T and I am probably squirming in my seat. That looks like a good flop for my hand. I flopped a full house. My mind is swimming in an endorphin caused euphoria. The hand checks around to me and I make the $3 bet. My face feels warm and my heart is pounding. My cheeks are flushing red. My hand is shaking uncontrollably. I try to take a big drink of Pepsi to disguise my obvious tells. I pick the cup up and take a huge swig and most of it goes down the wrong pipe. Now I not only have a big hand, I am drowning in Pepsi and choking and spitting up at the table. It is very hard to be subtle with Pepsi spouting from ones nose. Please nobody notice little old me over here.

The four that hits on the turn is for all the world a blank to me. I am doing my best on damage control and kind of mopping up my Pepsi reversal. I am not paying any attention to the game and I check when it is my turn. The button puts in a $6 bet. A few callers still hanging on and I give it a not so subtle raise. Everyone is pretty sure I have a hand now. The button makes the instant call and the rest of my customers have decided to find another way to waste money.

The river brings a Queen and I do not even really notice the card. I am first and I put out $6 as the card hits the board. I am raised almost immediately. I re-raise with my full house. I have kings full of tens and that is a huge hand. I get raised back and I make another raise. The button goes into the tank for about 30 seconds and makes yet another raise which I promptly counter with one of my own. She says something along the lines that this is silly and makes another raise. I raise back and show my hand to pawn shop Dave. Dave immediately says, “you lose”. The button finally calls after I put in the eleventh bet. I managed to lose $66 dollars on the river. I did make a player with the nuts just call.

I was so blinded by the strength of my hand that I never stopped to think about what hand my opponent may have. Worse yet I had not fully grasped the concept of the nuts. In hold’em with only two hole cards it becomes obvious what the best possible hand could be. I needed to evaluate the board and realize that KQ is the nuts and a player with that hand will keep raising forever on the river. I had a big hand. I had the number two possible hand. The problem was that my opponent had the absolute nuts and she knew it.

No matter how big your hand is you could be up against the nuts and when you are you will not be able to win the hand. If there is too much betting and you have a strong hand be sure to read the board and know what the nut hand is. Pay particular attention for the possibility of a straight flush or even a straight flush wheel. These hands can be easily overlooked and will cost you quite a bit of money.

I have also made the opposite mistake and flat called with the nuts. This is unforgivable and should ever happen. You make the stone cold nuts so infrequently that it is imperative that you know you have the nuts and get some raises in.

Take some time and read the board. Ask yourself what hand is the nuts? I take time to go down the list and soon it becomes very easy to know how many hands can beat yours. I had to learn the hard way. I hope you will take my wisdom for free and learn the lesson for free.

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