When I first started playing poker seriously in 2002, aspiring players asked one question more than any other: “How do you win when no one will fold?”
Back in those days, limit hold ’em was the popular game. It wasn’t uncommon to play a $100 pot against six opponents, yet the rules of the game only allowed you to bet $8 on the turn. You’d bet $8, five players would call, and one would almost inevitably catch the perfect card on the river.
Much of the frustration stemmed from a common misunderstanding of hand values. While top pair is often a strong hand against one opponent, against five it can become marginal.
When your opponents refuse to fold, the average winning hand at showdown increases in strength. Amateur players were expecting to win pots with top pairs like kings or queens, but in reality, when no one folds, hands this low on the totem pole have to get a little lucky to win.
Today, no-limit hold ‘em is more popular than limit. And folding is more popular than it was years ago. But, occasionally, you can still find games where no one wants to fold. A student recently came to me with a hand he played in a $1-$3 game.
Four players called, and he made it $15 to go with Kh Qd. The big blind called, and all four of the other opponents called. There was $91 in the pot, and most players had at least $100 remaining.
The flop came Ks 7c 6c. Everyone checked to my student, who bet $50. Three players called.
The turn was the Qc, giving my student two pair but putting a flush on board. The first player went all in for $170. The next player folded, and another player called for his remaining $55.
My student didn’t know what to do. There was now $516 in the pot, and it was only $170 to call. But he had two opponents, and if one of them held a flush, my student would have only four cards to draw out.
Here’s the thing: The player who bet $170 surely wasn’t bluffing. Furthermore, with three players yet to act and an obvious flush hitting the board, the player who bet $170 almost certainly wasn’t betting a hand like A-K or Q-7 either. Not with a big, bold, all-in move like this. It’s a flush. Not 100 percent of the time, but the vast majority of the time. Often enough that there’s no value in calling to find out.
My student should have folded. He didn’t. He called and was shown Jc 9c. My student blanked on the river and lost the hand.
“How do you win when no one will fold?” The first part of the answer to this question is: You refuse to pay them off when they hit. There’s no need to keep people honest in games like these, as everyone else knows just as well as you do that no one folds. So when someone bets like they have a flush, believe them and fold.
The second part of the answer is just as simple: When you’re the one with the flush, get your money in. If they won’t fold, that means you’re going to get paid.
Ed Miller is the author of nine poker strategy books with more than a quarter-million copies sold. Check out his latest book, “The Course: Serious Hold ‘Em Strategy for Smart Players,” at Amazon or at his website, edmillerpoker.com.