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Saving the Last Bet

Those of you who want to become excellent poker players must understand that part of winning comes from losing less than others would with the same hand. Usually a good player saves money by simply getting rid of would-be losers early. 

However, it can sometimes happen that he might have played and even bet his hand all the way to the end yet still finds that he should throw his hand away for one last bet.

Saving a single bet on the end when you have a good hand is something that amateurs rarely even consider. If, for instance, they have been betting all the way and are now raised on the end, with a good hand if someone bets into them. 

The fact of the matter is they are usually right in doing so.  When the pot gets large you should call that last bet (in a limit game) even if you know that you are probably beaten. Even if your chances of having the best hand are 10 or 15 percent, you still show a profit by calling.

Game theory of playing poker games does suggest that you should almost always call if the pot is large. However, it sometimes happens that your chances of having the best hand (even when you have a good hand)  are far less than 10 or 15 percent. 

They can be almost nonexistent or at least extremely small.  It is at these times that calling on the end is just like throwing money in the garbage can. 

Experts have learned to recognize these kind of poker situations and save a bet. These bets eventually add up to quite a lot of money and add that much more to their winning.

There are many situations in which it is silly to pay off that last bet. I will describe the two most common ones. There is one thing that makes most of these situations similar. That is that the bettor is positive that he will get called. Thus, if he still bets he must have a good hand.

One example of this situation occurs when you appear to have a good hand and have been betting all the way. If your opponent raises you on the end you should usually throw your fairly good hand away. 

For instance, as a simple example of reading hand, if you stand pat in draw poker with a small straight, come out betting, and are raised by a one-card draw, you should fold the straight. 

Only a maniac or very sophisticated player (who knows that you are capable of folding a pat hand) would raise without having you beat. Save a bet!

A second example of when a bettor is sure he will be called is when he is up against a “live one” who simply never throws his hand away.

If you find yourself in a multiway poker pot with this live one as well as another player or players, you should throw a mediocre hand away if one of these players bets while the live one is still in the pot. 

Since the bettor expects to get called you can eliminate the possibility that he is bluffing and therefore don’t have to keep him honest.

Good players increase their eventual winnings by sometimes saving a bet on the end where a lesser player will automatically “pay off.” (However, you had better be awfully sure that you are beat to make the fold with all those bets out there in the pot already. 

Otherwise you lose money in the long run.) I mentioned a few situations in which good players have a bet on the end. Here is one more. It is a situation that all great players know about, but not too many other players are aware of.

The basic idea behind this situation is this: If a player hopes he has the best hand (on the end) but he is unsure, he will not put any more money in the pot than he has to. 

He only puts more money in the pot than he has to if he is quite sure his hand is the best poker hand or quite sure his hand is the worst.

What this means in practice is that if you bet a good hand into what you know is also a pretty good hand on the end you should fold if you are raised!

He has an even better hand than you expected and you shouldn’t pay him off unless your hand is even better than he thinks. The key to your folding is that your opponent suspected he could win by simply calling, yet he raised.

Why should he risk this extra bet if he only has a calling hand? In other words, if a player raised (or check-raised) with a hand that you know was definitely worth at least a call, you can usually be sure you are beaten.

As an example, suppose you are playing seven-card stud and a player showing an open pair (who you know has at least two pair) checks to your three-card flush showing when all the cards are out.

If he check-raises you, throw away your flush. He could have just called, but he didn’t. A less dramatic example can be seen in lowball draw. You draw one card and make an eight-five low and proceed to bet into a pat hand. 

If he raises, fold. He doesn’t know what you made. You could have made a monster hand. By the same token you might be bluffing. With a decent hand, he can call and might win.  Why should he risk a raise?

The principle we have been discussing also applies to players who bet when they suspect they could simply check at the showdown, and win with a mediocre hand. 

If they bet in this spot, their hand is not so mediocre, especially if you checked first and more especially if you checked first and more especially if you checked “in the dark.”

For instance, let’s say you open in a jacks-or-better draw poker game with two kings and get called by a tight player.  You both draw three cards, thus you know he has two aces.

If your opponent bets you can throw away kings up.  He would check if he didn’t improve, hoping to win in a showdown.

Space does not allow me to go into all the tricky subtleties of the foregoing ideas, but I must offer a few words of caution. First, remember that you can only make these tough folds when you know your opponent has a decent hand. 

If he may have nothing at all, his bet may be a bluff. Also, if he comes out poker betting in first position it isn’t the same as if he bets after you check.

He may be betting a mediocre hand in first position (that he would have checked if he was last) simply because he “has to call anyway.” A raise, however, with an apparent calling hand is a sure sign of strength in any position.

Secondly, you can’t make these folds all the time agaist very bad or extremely good opponents. The reasons are obvious.  However, when you are against world-class players you can turn the table on them. 

Raise with a calling hand.  bet with a checking hand. You may have the best hand anyway, but your play could very well win you the pot even if you don’t.

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