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Trouble Bound

Playing Trouble Hands

Poker Trouble Hands"He's the best General the British have. But he's more interested in not losing than he is in winning." -- General George S. Patton Jr. on British Field Marshall Montgomery

A faint heart never filled a flush. Previously Iíve written about how the ability to lose is a crucial part of winning poker. While that should be plainly obvious, most poker players play as if they have no understanding of the idea at all.

One thing a lot of mediocre poker players do is fixate on avoiding trouble. Itís true that if you have a choice between "trouble" and "no trouble", and they have the same financial impact, choosing "no trouble" makes sense. But, the critical thing is: "same financial impact". An example would be repeatedly flipping a (fair) coin with someone. Itís silly, unless you get a thrill out of having pointless bankroll swings. This rarely occurs in poker.

In poker, the "trouble" situations to avoid are those where you are in trouble but your opponents are not. These are rare. Most of the time you are in trouble, your opponents are in "trouble" too! It takes two (or more) to tango. To make money at poker you must court trouble situations. You canít win just playing no-brainer hands. The point is to make your opponent's trouble more troublesome and more costly than your trouble.

If I had a nickel for every time I've heard someone complain about the trouble of having AQo or QQ in loose Holdem games, Iíd have lots of nickels. You often lose, but your hand has a positive expectation. Mucking it because you often "don't know where you are" is simply terrible poker. Fixating on the weaknesses of your own hand is missing the point that 75o, 24s and the other hands have a helluva lot more weaknesses, more trouble, than QQ.

The simple fact of being in a troublesome situation is not a bad thing in itself. In fact, "knowing where you are" can often cost you money, like when you flop quads. You almost always make more money flopping trips when a straight is possible, getting a flush card on the turn, then rivering quads. Trouble makes you money. If your opponents are in worse shape than you, this is good, not a problem.

A key part of the challenge of developing as a poker player is mastering the art of troublesome situations. Excellent players squeeze money out of mediocre players because their decision-making is superior and because the mediocre ones want to avoid trouble altogether. In Texas Holdem in particular, a lot of the pot equity is seized during times of trouble for everybody. The most obvious example is when a flop misses everybody. The person with the best no pair is in trouble. The person last to act is in trouble. Any player who was in the blind is in trouble -- trouble, trouble everywhere. But each of these players has advantages too. Regularly seizing more than their fair share of the equity that is essentially "up for grabs" is one thing that separates the best players from the rest.

Some of the most profitable hands in loose games are ones that court trouble. In Omaha8, KKQQ with two suits is the sort of hand that loves as many opponents as possible. When it wins it will scoop a very high percentage of the time. Itís a great hand, but... lots of trouble. It would be completely foolish to fold it when facing eight loose opponents, but when you continue past the flop, much of the time you are going to be involved in big, action pots. Every card that doesnít make your hand might kill it -- but "might" only means might. You will often win with non-nut hands (including top full house). The hand can be easy sometimes, but it often will make you more money in the more difficult situations.

Just like when Coach John Wooden said "adversity is your friend," Iím not suggesting that people should throw rocks at pit bulls just to get in trouble, but I am suggesting that "trouble" is a winning playerís friend. You want your opponents in big trouble when you are in moderate trouble. You want the money associated with trouble. You want to sensibly get into trouble situations where you win some and you lose some -- and make a profit.

Trouble is what you make of it.

More on Starting Hands including Playing AQ Before the Flop and Pocket Pairs