This is one of the bits of poker advice given in the classic song The Gambler by the late, great Kenny Rogers. Indeed it’s well worth mentioning a few other lines:

“Every gambler knows
That the secret to surviving
Is knowing what to throw away
Knowing what to keep
‘Cause every hand’s a winner
And every hand’s a loser…”

Precisely! The secret to success for any serious online poker player is indeed knowing what to throw away, and being aware that every hand is a potential loser. Yet so many players find laying down a strong hand almost an impossibility! This seems to be one of many disciplines – which are, essentially, imperatives – that nevertheless fall into the convenient, excuse-laden category of Easier Said Than Done.

But is it? Is it really that difficult when in possession of a big hand in a big pot to step back a little, consider the relevant factors involved, deliberate dispassionately, and come to a prudent decision based on the old adage that discretion is the better part of valour?

Perhaps greed comes more into proceedings where poker is concerned. We are, after all, sitting down to play with the aim of ending a session, whether it’s a Cash game or a Tournament, with a bigger bankroll than we started with. And in such a frame of mind, it’s only natural, when that all too rare opportunity to win a big pot arises, to become too attached to our very strong hand.

But this is an important subject that can’t be underestimated. It’s not an exaggeration to say that it’s quite possible for a big laydown to be the most crucial contributing factor to the success or failure of a session. We get so bogged down with winning big pots that we tend to forget the significance of losing them, often putting positive results down to our skill, and blaming negative results on poor fortune. Of course, both of these can be true, but it’s the players who are able to anyway nip the latter possibility in the bud by knowing when to fold who ultimately have the better prospects of achieving the desired level of success.

When we watch the top players practising their craft we occasionally see impressive laydowns in positions that we might usually have invested our entire stack. We might take note, but often it’s the more spectacular wins that have the most striking effect. Even if we do remember seeing a good laydown, when next faced with the same kind of situation we’re unlikely to listen to the voice of reason beseeching us to let the hand/pot go in the face of the red flags – usually in the form of the opposition’s willingness to wholly commit despite our indications of strength.

The Notorious Aces

Some hands are notoriously difficult to let go, most notably – especially with inexperienced players – Aces. There’s already something about the simplicity of design of the cards themselves (whether actual or virtual) that makes looking at a pair of aces almost mystical. Not that most players need much convincing to hang on to them for dear life. We’re talking, remember, of a mere pair.

If we’re dealt a pair of Aces and see our not inconsiderable raise called by two players (both having more chips than we do), for example, then already we should hear at least the faint ring of alarm bells even before the Flop appears. Note that if this is not the case for you, if instead, you’re already wondering on what to spend the tasty chunk of cash your Aces are about to earn, then you need to rethink your approach on this subject (and, indeed, you might want to reconsider your thought processes in other important aspects of the game…).

Back to our example – we have our lovely pocket pair of aces and, when the Flop appears, it misses us completely. We forge ahead with a pretty big bet and are called yet again by one of our opponents, while the other raises all-in, and with a mighty looking stack. We still have quite a lot of chips with which to fight another day and, like it or not, after much deliberation and after taking into account previous history with (and observations about) both players, we swallow our pride and our desire to win, and duly fold.

This could be the wrong decision, but the actions thus far, the facts in front of us and our own gut feeling make this prudent decision quite justifiable. We might have let go of an investment that saw us lose a sizeable amount of chips (or money) but, in the long-run, the cumulative saving by being able to recognise when to fold is going to make that difference between being a break-even or modestly winning player and a considerable winner with the potential (and means) to enjoy a high level of success that those players with less discipline can’t (yet) achieve.

Have fun!

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About the Author

AngusD

AngusD switched from pro chess to poker two decades ago and has been professionally involved in the game on numerous levels since the very beginning of online poker, including playing as a poker ambassador both online and at major festivals around the globe. He has written much about the game over the years, and brings to YPD a wealth of experience in all aspects of the poker industry. Meanwhile, his many years on the pro chess circuit (he’s an International Master and prolific author) afford him an interesting perspective on the psychology of poker.

Latest changes

The last changes of the page “You’ve Got To Know When To Fold ‘em” was made by AngusD on January 09, 2021