Poker Monsters Under The Bed

Texas Holdem Hands and 'Down in Value'

Poker Monsters"There’s no monsters under my bed
I found a Frisbee, a CD, and my Slinky instead."
-- Rock Kandy and the Roller Coasters

They should hold telethons for weak-tight disease. Those poor souls infected with this killer need to get cash wherever they can find it because they sure won’t find much at a poker table. One aspect of weak-tight play is tendency to have irrational fears -- a fear of monsters under the bed, or in their opponents' hands.

Poker hands are played against other poker hands. The other hands you face (and the ability of the opponents holding those hands) determine the strength or value of any specific hand you hold. In other words, poker hand values are relative. KK is more valuable against KQ than against AQ.

Many players look at this relativity of hand values and focus on how the KK has gone “down in value” against the AQ. It does not matter if a hand is worth $18 in one situation and $15 in another. You just play it -- or you should anyway.

“Down in value” is a totally useless way to think about hand strength. What matters is if a hand has a positive or a negative value relative to the hands it faces. A hand's relative value to itself in another situation should be completely unimportant to your decision-making.

Sadly, many players miss this boat completely. For no logical reason I can think of, they think about and base decisions on this "down in value" nonsense. On an Internet discussion group one player adamantly asserted that unsuited hands "lose value" in a loose game. This is nonsensical in several ways, but the key thing is: what possible difference does this make!? All I care about is if a hand is profitable or not. But many weak-tightees play based on this "down in value" claptrap. "Down" does not mean "negative" but a lot of players seem to think so. They muck their hands and seemingly pout in a corner (getting $0 in value in the process) because they don’t like that their hand is worth $15 in this situation and not $18.

I know what a lot of you are thinking. This makes no sense -- people won’t throw away $15 just because they can’t have $18. All I can say to that is, read Internet discussion groups (or listen in on conversations at the table) and you will be amazed at what nonsense is commonly (and stubbornly) held by a lot of players.

A limit Omaha8 example... Suppose you hold AdQd8d8c on the button and six people limp in front of you. Many people viewed this hand as garbage and would never play it. But they never address the real question: what do those other folks have? What cards can you stick in the hands of those six limpers (not to mention the blinds) to give them hands better than yours? There are not enough good cards to go around for all of them! Your hand may be crappy, but it is almost certainly better than half of the other hands in play. That in itself doesn’t make this hand profitable, but again that isn’t the point. In deciding whether or not to play this hand, what matters is its relative value to the opposition. That is what you need to focus on. What do these limpers have? The answer again is -- they don’t have monsters, they have crap. Some of them have to. There aren’t enough good cards for that many hands. With position and a suited-ace nut holding (in a nut game) you should see the flop.

Some people have a morbid fear of losing a hand. Get over it. You have to break a few eggs to make an omelet. You have to lose pots to win pots. The idea is to make money with the hands you can make money with. The idea is not to only play each card combination in its own most profitable situation.

Much of the difference between excellent poker players and mediocre ones is in the handling of marginal situations. If you don’t think about what matters (the relative value of your hand in conflict with your current opponents’ likely hands) and you do think about what is useless (comparing your current hand/situation to how it fares against ideal opposition), you will constantly leave extra value on the table for better players to pick up.

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