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Second Rule of Poker

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The Second Golden Rule of Poker
When deciding whether or not to call, factor the amount of money being asked of you in relation to the amount of money in the pot.


In pot-matching games like Murder when the amount of money in the pot needs to be counted and announced, it's interesting to note how few players have any idea what's in the pot. This is tantamount to decision-making in the betting rounds.

The decision to see a fifty-cent bet varies inevitably between the chance to win a two-dollar pot and a ten-dollar pot. If you are holding a fourflush in Five-card Draw, then of the 47 cards in the deck that you have not yet seen, there are nine that will make your hand. Nine divided by 47 gives a one in five chance of success roughly. Paying fifty cents in the hopes of winning a two-dollar pot is a payoff of four to one. Paying fifty cents in the hopes of winning a ten-dollar pot is a payoff of twenty to one. Based on your chances of making the flush, what bet makes more sense?

Unfortunately, a call this simple to make is rare. Nobody brings a calculator to the table, in which case approximation is required. In the interests of taking the right chances, it should be less appealing to go after payouts that do not match or exceed the odds of successfully winning the pot. Better still, the important theme to consider is that the size of the pot should have bearing on your decision to stay in. The opportunity to win a bigger pot should influence your staying in the game over the same odds of winning a smaller pot.

If your hand is made, then a different kind of math is required. What are the chances that this made hand will be the best hand at the table? If chances are good, then throwing your 50 cents into a two-dollar pot would be the right move. Throwing your 50 cents into a ten-dollar pot would be the only right move. What are the chances that somebody else has or will make a hand that can beat yours? Let's look at an example.

You are playing Five-card Draw, and are dealt 7-7-A-5-6. If you get that far, you intend to hold the pair and the Ace as a kicker. Drawing two, your chances of getting another Ace are three in 47 for the first card and three in 46 for the second card...roughly 1 in 8 to get your hand. A fifty-cent bet for what is now a two-dollar pot is chancy...the bettor is not betting too smartly, but is he playing dumb, holding gold, or bluffing? Do you challenge his poker-playing or his bluff by staying in? Odds would dictate that you fold, since a 4-to-1 payout does not justify a 1-in-8 probability. If your fair hand is suspect enough, how about the other players who will fold and contribute nothing more on the next betting round?

Other factors obviously weigh in the decision then. What's more is that nobody wants to spend the night calculating poker hand probabilities. For this reason, the Second Golden Rule of Poker is not a standalone rule, especially not for many home games played more in the interest of fun than maximizing your loot.

The point however is to pay rough attention to the investment you are considering, as it relates to the payback that you are after. Is it worth it? As mentioned, all poker strategy will be rooted in the First Golden Rule of Poker, and this one is no exception. It is in calculating considered calls versus pot sizes that you are maximizing wins and minimizing losses: what are the chances of me winning this hand versus the size of the bet versus the size of the pot. Take less chances on small pots and more chances on big pots.

First Rule of Poker - Second Rule of Poker - Third Rule of Poker - Fourth Rule of Poker - Fifth Rule of Poker - Sixth Rule of Poker - Seventh Rule of Poker

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