Number of cashes
I'm a player who likes to see a lot of flops, for a couple of reasons. One is that I find that aspect of Hold 'Em more interesting than the "put it all in the middle pre-flop and let the poker gods sort it out" approach that is pervasive amongst the current style of play. The other is that the decisions and reads to be made on the flop best determine who is going to win the bigger pots, since there's already been some action in the hand. The problem is that on the flop, you've only seen five cards, so the information provided to you is misleadingly incomplete. One of the intrigues of the game lies in the fact that the best hand on the flop isn't necessarily the best hand when it comes time to decide who gets all the chips. I think a lot of Middle-level players, such as myself, often times forget this, and even great players can be misled by their initial read. Every poker book lays out a scenario where you have A A on the button, you raise two players pre-flop and both call. The flop comes out J 10 9, the first player bets, and the second player raises. Now it's your turn to act. Even if you have the best hand at this point, the odds of a turn coming that leaves you drawing dead are substantial. If the first player has pocket 8s, and the raiser has Q Qx (both a possibility considering the flow of play to this point), you're done in by any spade, or non-spade K, Q, 8 or 7. That's 42%, basically a coin flip to being deader than Uncle Kelsey's nuts, and calling the raise makes you pretty much committed to play it out. If you decide to call and turn is a blank, even an all-in play from you may not protect your hand from their draws on the river. It is usually the best play to toss your aces into the muck. It's a hard lesson to learn, but one that most good players, and every great player, has had to come to grips with. Let's look at two real-life scenarios where great players may have trusted their initial reads on the flop a little too much, and thought too little about what could be left to occur in the hand. In the middle stages of the 2004 WSOP, Mike Matusow and Greg Raymer had been butting heads for some time as two of the bigger stacks in the tournament when the following hand came up. Matusow limped with 9 7, Raymer raised from the small blind with A J, and Matusow called. The flop came 10 9 3. Raymer, first to act, immediately went all-in. Matusow went into the tank and started talking (surprise!) about trusting his reads. Matusow called, and revealed that he indeed had the best hand after the first five cards. But with two cards left to go, Raymer's overcards and flush draw were a slight favorite to win the hand (15 outs twice). I don't doubt that Raymer's hand was one of the possibilities that Matusow came up with when deciding to call...Mike's way too good of a player for that never to have been part of the equation. But what's interesting to me is that, assuming he made the right read, Matusow chose to gamble anyway, putting 2/3 of his chips at risk on a coin flip. Raymer caught his flush on the turn and rode the momentum of this hand to the bracelet. Matusow was crippled and vulnerable to a bad beat that knocked him out of the tournament later that day. At the final table of the 2004 WPT Grand Prix de Paris, Tony G. and Peter Roche had a similar situation. Peter was (surprise!) put off by Tony's constant talk, and started bullying him back with his chip leader's stack. They eventually faced off in a hand where Tony raised pre-flop with 5 5, and Peter called from the button with Q 10. The flop came 9 8 7. Tony G. bet, Peter raised him all-in immediately, and Tony G. called just as quick. Before the turn and river cards were flipped over, Tony G. started talking (surprise!) about calling very quickly when he knew he had the best hand, and at that point in the hand, that was a true statement. But Hold 'Em is a 7-card game, and with two cards left to come, Peter's hand was a slight favorite (14 outs twice for Peter plus the backdoor flush draw), a probability that a player of Tony's caliber should have thought about. Unlike Raymer, Peter's hand did not improve, which dramatically changed the dynamic at the final table. The chip leader went out 4th, and the volume level kicked up another notch as Tony G. came back to finish 2nd to Surinder Sunar. There are other factors that come into play, obviously. In the former example, Matusow had jousted with Raymer enough to know that the over-the-top move could have been made with just about anything, and that what Raymer actually held was likely about as good as his hand would be. In the latter example, Tony G. was one of the smaller stacks at the table, and there was enough chips in the middle to dictate that a 50/50 situation required him to call. That said, their table talk makes it seem to me like both men were forgetting a key aspect of the game: there were two cards left to determine who won the pot. In talking about that hand later to Card Player magazine, Matusow said something that I found incredibly interesting, something that inspired me to write this. Mike said that in a coin flip situation, he'd rather be racing with a made hand than needing to make a hand. I could never hope to have Matusow's poker knowledge and feel for the game, but I can't follow that line of thinking at all. 50/50 to win are equal odds for both sides, regardless of which one you're on. Many of us make that decision very well pre-flop when deciding whether to race with A K when you read your opponent to have a middle pair at a key time in a tournament. That same decision comes up with great regularity on the flop as well. It's crucial for all of us to remember that, and treat those game situations with the same gravity as the pre-flop coin flip. The hand's not done until after the river, and who has the best hand after the flop sometimes has nothing to do with that. It's a lesson that I feel is important to learn when trying to improve my game. I hope all of you learn it as well (just not at my tables).