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The Education of a Poker Player
Installment #14:

Tainted Outs

By Greg Mallon

There comes a time when the play games just won't cut it anymore. That is to say, you cannot improve as a poker player until you begin to play with real money on the line. If you read my last article regarding my first experience with a No Limit Ring game, you'll know I did pretty well. But you will also know that I had some decent cards and the opponents, one in particular, made more mistakes than I did. Well, last night was a bit different. Even though I felt a bit uncomfortable about putting $25 out there to play no limit holdem, I knew I had to do it if I was going to grow as a player. I hate to lose. I just hate to lose, and I think that is what prevents me from playing too much (for real money) in first place. I know I have grown as a player and I think I am at the point where I need the risk, not for a "gambling thrill" (and it's really not that) but for the reality of the game. If you've played as many "play money games" as I have, you've begun to get tired of raising 5 times the big blind (BB) preflop only to see "everyone" at the table call the bet. Everyone? Please. As I have written in the past, that is "roulette", not poker. Why don't we just roll dice? Unfortunately, that is what you are frequently subjected to in play money games.

So I literally forced myself to sit down at a $25 no limit table (virtually, of course) and waited for the button to roll around to post the big blind. I put some thought into it before hand about what my personal limit would be (kind of like a "stop loss" on stocks).  Not to be negative, but I thought it would be prudent to pick a number where I would get up and leave if I had lost more than a certain amount (even though I hate to lose). I certainly wasn't going to lose $25, or at least that was the plan. I decided that the threshhold last night would be ten bucks. I figured whatever lessons I would learn playing for real would be worth ten bucks - entertainment, education - to me that was reasonable. The purpose was to gain experience, not necessarily money.

Now even though I chose that as my "stop loss" number, I brought $25 to the table with me. I suppose that put me at risk for losing more than ten, but I also know that coming to the table with less than the maximum is a bad idea, for a few reasons.

First, you want to always get "full value" for your premium hands. Say you've got the nuts and someone makes a dumb play at you. All you can bet (and therefore potentially "win") is the money you've got in front of you. You'll end up making less profit than you should. Great hands are infrequent enough to begin with, so you'd ideally like to maximize profit on them when they come along, especially if your opponents are making mistakes. Second, with less than the maximum buy in, your opponents may have the perception that you are afraid to lose more than ten bucks and that is not really the image you want to portray. You don't want them thinking "red meat". They may be more inclined to go after you, especially the more seasoned players. By bringing in the maximum, your opponents will be less inclined to "mess with you", by say raising you $5 because they know you could pop them back for $15. That's really important. Your stack size does carry weight, especially if you are the chip leader, as you have the potential to take ALL of someone's money - and players don't like that - they respect the big stack... well, the smart ones do.

I probably should have analyzed the opponents more before "sitting down" but I picked a table and waited for the big blind to come my way. I was a bit frustrated since each hand I was dealt seemed to be trash to me, and when I did get something I thought was promising, I'd flop second pair, make a stab at it and get reraised. Not too good. The worst move I made was betting a so-called "tainted out". In this case, I have King High in my hole cards and the flop comes down A,J,Q. Well I know there is a straight draw here and I checked. All checked around and the turn came a KING.  Now this is a classic rookie mistake, and I know better, but I was not thinking ahead and I said, "cool, a pair of Kings..." I bet out $2. Stupid. If you are following along, you know that anyone holding a TEN has now got me "drawing dead".

[ This is where the term "tainted out" comes into play. For those who don't know, an "out" is any card that will improve your hand. Now a card that will improve your hand, but ALSO serve to make someone else a stronger hand or draw is considered "tainted". As poker players, we routinely calculate how many cards will improve our hand (ie, if I have four to a flush after the flop, then of the 47 unseen cards remaining, 9 cards of that suit would help me while 38 will not). This is how a poker player determines that the odds of hitting the flush are approximately 4-to-1 (or 38-to-9). You can see then where you would NOT want to include so-called "tainted outs" in your calculation since they are not really helping you (based on what you now see on the board).]

Now I "knew", a nano-second after I clicked the button how stupid it was, before I was even RAISED. But I did not think. So obviously I let go of the 2 bucks. Serves me right. I think the lesson to take from this is, while I am still in the learning stages, I should take at least 3-4 seconds between all actions, regardless whether I am going to check, call or raise.  That's all I really needed there since it was really obvious.

I made some money back toward the end of the session when I was dealt an AJ suited in late position. The flop came down ACE HIGH with two rag cards and one of my opponents led out for $3. Another called.  I felt like I probably had the best hand and wanted to end things right there, so I raised to $10.  That may have seemed like alot but I felt that these guys might have called anything less and I just  wanted the pot - or hopefully really make them pay to chase. One folded immediately. The other took the full amount of his time before folding. I suspect he hit second pair and was wondering if I was bluffing. At any rate the pot was mine and after 44 hands over about 45 minutes to an hour, I pretty much broke even. But it was interesting, and I did learn a few things.

2005 by Gregory J. Mallon, PokerDecision.com, All Rights Reserved.

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