Charging your Opponents

by Greg Cavouras

It seems that every player has a story about what they consider a “bad beat”. Usually the gist of the story is that the player had a great hand, but slow-played it around until the showdown, when it was no longer the strongest hand and an opponent made a bet and took the player’s chips. What does this usually mean?

It likely means the player held a strong hand, maybe big pockets or AK maybe, got a friendly flop, and slow played it. His opponent limped in with a marginal hand, and didn’t fall for the check-raise bait. Eventually after seeing all the cards for free, or cheap at least, the opponent was given a gift of trips or maybe a straight, and his mediocre hand ended up winning. Is this a bad beat? No, this is poor play by the story’s narrator! When you have pocket pairs, especially pocket pairs that can run into overcards (like anything other than aces), it’s unlikely that you would have the best hand if every player stayed until the showdown. For example, if you hold J-J, that is a fairly strong hand pre-flop. Suppose the flop comes K-9-Q; you are now looking at overcards on the board, and even a straight draw for someone else. If two of these cards were suited, you could be up against a flush draw. Your hand suddenly looks a lot weaker! Now you need to reassess your play, and this isn’t the only flop that looks bad for you. Think about 6-6-3 with one 6 and the 3 being suited. You have virtually no flush draw, and if big blind limped in with a 10-6 or 4-5 or something else similarly unplayable, he now sits in a very strong position.

Consider this opponent, one with a 10-6; you could easily have avoided a showdown with him if you had charged them pre-flop by forcing the issue with a bet. On the other hand you could have run into Aces, and this is what separates great players from the rest of us; they can read the situation and know when to charge and when to slow it down. You need to look at your hand and consider your options; with a pocket or board pair less than aces, slowplaying is generally not a great tactic, because as soon as an overcard, straight or flush draw hits, you’re in trouble!

The money that you won’t make by forcing an early fold is a minor price to pay compared with the real risk of the hand costing you a fortune when somebody turns their 7-2 into a full house after a free flop and turn. Sometimes you need to charge someone if you’re going to extract any value out of a hand that is not likely to win a straight up showdown.

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