Poker: Psychology or Percentages

Poker: Psychology or Percentages Part Two

One of the clearest examples in which you need to know both your math and your player occurs in draw poker, jacks or better.

What do you do with two small pairs if the man to your right, in fourth position, opens the pot? You cannot answer this question accurately unless you know the minimum hand that he would open with in this position. You must know your player.

It does you no good to know his minimum opening hand if you cannot derive the mathematically correct play. Both psychology and mathematics alone are impotent in this situation. Only in combination are they most effective. Here is a more complicated example from limit hold 'em poker. No one raised before the flop. The flop is ace, jack, 5 with two hearts. You have ace, 10, with no hearts. You bet. The last man raises and everyone else folds. What to do from this point on is a delicate, finely tuned question of logic, mathematics and psychology. What you must do is decide the possible hands that this particular player would raise with; and determine how he would play each of these possible hands on subsequent betting rounds.

This involves knowing your player. Then, you must use both logic and percentages to ascertain your best course of action. For example, let's say you think that there is a good chance that he is raising on a four flush. This would be a reasonable assumption against many players because you can almost rule out a hand like ace, king since he would have raised before the flop. Likewise you can probably rule out a hand like three fives since he would probably just call on the flop to such other players in. Therefore, the only other reasonable hand, besides a four flush, would be something like Ace, 8.

Putting him on a four flush does not by itself automatically indicate the best line of play. Knowing how he intends to play this four flush on later rounds is very important, if you want to maximize your profits and minimize your losses.

For instance, if you think he will keep betting as long as you show no strength, the correct play is to check and call on every round. That is, as long as no more hearts fall. If, however, you expect him to check on the next round if he misses, you should reraise on the flop and bet out on the next round if no heart falls.

You would check on the end, of course, to try to snap off a bluff. If you think he will bet on fourth street, but give it up on the end if he misses, the proper play would be to call on the flop and check raise on fourth street if no heart comes. Once again, you would check on the end.

In this same situation, suppose the raiser was quite likely to have you beaten on the flop but also could possibly have a four flush. Your options would range from folding to calling on the flop and then betting out on fourth street. (You would fold because of the combined chances that you are beaten plus the chances that he has a four flush and goes on to make it.) And there are many other possibilities in between. As you can see, logic, math and psychology are all inextricably intertwined when making your decision.

I hope these examples have shed some light on the math vs psychology question. The great poker players not only are very adept at figuring out their opponents' hands but they also know what to do with this information. Neither talent by itself will get you to the top.

Poker: Psychology or Percentages Part One