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The End of Playing


Most of the concepts we have discussed up to now apply to situations in which there are more cards to come and in which there may be more than two players in the pot. However, if the war that is a poker hand continues from the struggle for the antes to the final showdown, it eventually reaches a last round of betting, most often between two players. And in this last round, after all the cards are out, you must sometimes apply concepts totally different from those that were operative in earlier betting rounds. In this page we will discuss these concepts. They apply to any one-winner limit games (thus excluding high-low split) when two players are heads-up on the end.



There are two basic conditions that determine how you act when you are heads-up on the end - whether or not you have made a legitimate hand and whether you are in first position or last position. Without a legitimate hand against an opponent with a legitimate hand, you cannot win except on a bluff- a bet or a raise that causes your opponent to fold. You cannot hope to win by checking or by calling. Determining whether or not to try a bluff on the end is based on the same logic as any other bet. You have to decide whether the attempt has positive expectation. If the pot is $100 and you bet $20 with nothing, you have to believe your opponent will fold more than once in six times in order to expect a profit. Thus, if your opponent folds once in five times, you will lose $20 four times, but you will win $100 once on average for a net profit of $20 or an average profit of $4 per hand. However, if your opponent folds once in seven times, you will lose $20 six times and win $100 once for a net loss of $20 or an average loss of $2.86 per hand. Whether a bluff works often enough to be profitable depends, like most plays on the end, upon an accurate assessment of what your opponent is likely to do.

While it's tough to get away with a bluff on the end, it's much tougher to get away with a bluff raise. Your opponent needs to fold more often for a bluff raise to show a profit because you are putting in a double bet. Suppose, as in the last case, there is $100 in the pot, and your opponent bets $20. You now call his $20 and raise another $20 on a bluff. With your opponent's $20 bet, the pot has increased to $120, but you are making a $40 investment in the hope your opponent will fold. Since you are now getting only 3-to-1 for your money, your opponent must no longer fold more than once in six times but more than once in four times for you to show a profit. Yet when calling your bluff raise, your opponent is getting 8-to-1 for his money. The $100 already in the pot, plus your opponent's original $20 bet, plus your $40 call and raise add up to a total of $160 in exchange for the opponent's $20. So as we noted in the page on raising, it takes a very tough opponent, capable of super-tough folds, to throw away a legitimate hand in this situation. Average players will almost always call. The only time a bluff raise might work against them is when you suspect correctly that they have nothing themselves. Most of the time, though, when your opponent bets and you have nothing, your best play is to fold.

Let us now consider betting strategy heads-up on the end when you have a legitimate hand. You are going to be either first or last to act, and as we have noted, strategy changes according to your position. We'll begin by looking at strategy in last position, which is not quite as tricky as in first position.


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