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Poker: Experienced players carefully consider the options

I’ve reported on poker tournaments around the world, and one thing that separates the amateurs from the professionals is that professionals almost always have a reason for doing what they do.

Every time a poker pro checks, bets or raises, there’s a rationale for it. The professionals have a plan, one they’re constantly re-examining by asking themselves questions such as, “What do I hope to accomplish here?”

That’s one of the reasons you see experienced players taking longer to act than amateurs: They’re going through all the possibilities in their head. Do you do the same? Chances are you’re like most poker players in that you go with the flow. You enter a pot when the good hands come to you, and then act accordingly depending on whether or not you hit the flop.

There’s nothing wrong with that – it’s certainly easier and more fun than carefully scrutinizing every decision – but to perform at the highest levels, you need to be thinking constantly. Let’s look at one example where failing to do so cost one player a ton of chips.

It happened in the European Poker Tour’s Malta Main Event, a tournament that attracted 651 entrants and had a prize pool of more than 3.1 million euros. On Day 5, just 14 players remained. Blinds were 10,000-20,000 with an ante of 3,000 when Nabil Cardoso opened for 45,000 from the hijack seat, and Jaroslaw Sikora reraised to 95,000 from the button. The blinds both folded, Cardoso called, and the flop was a scary As Ad Kd.

Both players checked, and then Cardoso checked for a second time on the 3h turn. Sikora took the opportunity to bet 55,000, and Cardoso sprung to life with a check-raise to 125,000.

Sikora made the call and watched Cardoso fire out 200,000 on the 2c river. Sikora thought for a bit before moving all in, and Cardoso quickly called for 681,000 total.

Sikora tabled the Kh Jc, which was bested by Cardoso’s Ah Js. Frankly, I thought Sikora’s shove was one of the worst I’ve ever seen, primarily because there wasn’t any logical explanation for it.

Cardoso’s preflop raise indicated he had a strong hand, and he’d certainly check the flop with an ace. Cardoso’s small check-raise on the turn was another sign of strength, as was his value bet on the river. Alarm bells should have been going off in Sikora’s head.

The fact of the matter is that Sikora had a hand with showdown value. Calling Cardoso’s river bet wouldn’t have been terrible, but raising it, especially when Cardoso had so little behind, just didn’t make sense. Sikora wasn’t going to scare off an ace, and he wasn’t going to get called by worse. There just wasn’t a good reason to do it.

In my opinion Sikora didn’t think things through, and it cost him nearly half his chips.

Chad Holloway is a 2013 World Series of Poker bracelet winner and managing editor for Follow him on Twitter: @ChadAHolloway.