The Great Debate: The Hypothetical Poker Question

Poker Chips PictureLike a lot of men, I enjoy a game of poker from time to time.  Usually it’s a small home game among friends, but in the past I’ve also played online or in a casino (visit this site to play).

If there’s one thing that all men can agree on, it’s that poker can definitely be a frustrating game.  Sometimes you’re dealt a great hand but you lose when no cards come out on the table.  Other times you make a great hand only to lose when another player has an even better hand.  Any game of poker is sure to be filled with bad beats and lucky draws.

What makes poker so challenging is the limited information we are given.  So much of poker is a guessing game.  Even if we make all the right moves, we can still get burned.  Wouldn’t it be nice if we could have more information?  Unfortunately we cannot.

One hypothetical question that gets thrown around often during a friendly game is this:

Would you rather know what cards are going to come out or would you rather know what cards every other person is holding?  

It certainly is nice to dream.  Shit—I’d be happy to have the power to know either.  But for argument’s sake, let’s see if one is really better than the other in another edition of The Great DebateFrank Wheeler joins us after a long layoff.

The Argument for Knowing which Cards Will Come Out

By Frank Wheeler

Armed with this knowledge, a poker player could play any hand without fear.  7/2 off-suit could become a very powerful hand at any given time. Here’s an example to illustrate my point (I’ll be using No Limit Texas Hold ‘Em rules to illustrate my point).

Let’s say player A is dealt Ace/King suited, player B is dealt 6/6 and I am dealt 7/2 off-suit.  Player A makes a raise pre-flop and then player B re-raises.  Player A and I each make the call pre-flop.   Thanks to my newfound clairvoyance, I know that the five cards to come out will A, 6, 7,2, 7 (in that order).  Player A is excited because he has top two pair and player B is really excited because he has made a full house.

Meanwhile, neither player is worried about me having a 7 or the 2 because it’s highly unlikely that anyone with a 7 or a 2 would hang around after two pre-flop raises.  While Player A and B go back and forth raising each other, convinced they have the best hand, I just continue to call until the river card comes out.  Since I’m acting last, I come over the top and raise both of them.

At this point in the hand, they think I’m full a shit because there is no way the 2 or the 7 could have helped me (except it did) and they call.  My hand beats player A and B.   Now I’ve just won a huge pot with the shittiest starting hand in poker.  I would be that guy getting cursed out by Phil Helmuth after a bad beat because he thinks I don’t know how to play poker.

How many times do you fold a shitty hand pre-flop only to find out your cards weren’t so bad afterwards?   Then you get pissed at yourself for a moment, even though you made the smart move by folding.   Now you could make the “dumb” play and win big on it!

The longer the game goes on, the better your advantage gets.   After a while, other players will to start think you’re full of shit and that you have to be bluffing this time, because there is no way anyone could continue to get this lucky.  So they’d bet into you, trying to force you out, but you’re not going anywhere because you know your 5/7 off-suit is going to make a straight on the river and you’re bound for another big score.

The Argument for Knowing Everyone’s Cards

By Johnny Sacks

The flaw with knowing what cards will come out is that even if a person had this knowledge he could still a lose a hand— and a big one.  Just because you know you’ll be able to make three-of-a-kind doesn’t guarantee you will win the hand.  There are still plenty of other hands that can beat that.  You could be winning hands all day but it only takes one bad beat to knock you out of a tournament.

Yet if you know what other players are holding, then the likelihood of a bad beat decreases.  In this scenario, you can never get burned on an all-in, once the river card has been shown.  At this point, you would know if you were beat and could fold to any raise.  How often have you struggled with an all-in call after the final card has been dealt?   You would never have this problem in this dream scenario.  If you could know all the cards that were going to come out, you would still have a tough decision to make on all-in raise.

If I were fortunate enough to be blessed with this knowledge then I would never be bluffed out of a hand again.  How good does it feel when you pull the move from Rounders when Matt Damon outplays Johnny Chan? If you haven’t seen that movie, I’m referring to a scenario where a guy tries to raise you, but you come over the top despite holding rags and scare the other guy out of the hand.  I could pull that move all day with this knowledge.  After a while, I would get into people’s heads and eventually everyone would be afraid to raise me. It wouldn’t matter what is going to come out.  I could just play with people’s emotions all day.

Poker is such a game of mental toughness and if I know what other people are holding, I could exploit a person’s weakness way more than I could if just knew what cards were coming out.

If a person knew what cards were coming out, this would certainly give him a lot more hands to play.  A person could make a lot of money off some pretty crappy hands but could also still lose badly too.  If I know what everyone else has, I will probably end up playing a lot fewer hands because I know when I’m beat.  However, the hands I do play, I will almost certainly win and that’s why I think it’s a no-brainer.  I’d much rather know what cards everyone else is holding.

So there you have it.  You’ve heard both sides of the argument.  What side are you on?

2 comments for “The Great Debate: The Hypothetical Poker Question

  1. August 29, 2011 at 9:51 pm

    I completely agree with Johnny. Yet another reason he is correct is: you would be able to win a large number of pots before the flop, since you would be able to see if all the other players have poor hands, which they would fold to a preflop raise. All of these pots add up, especially in a cash game.

    Also, in the hypothetical poker hand proposed by Frank, the player with 10-10 would win, not Frank. Whoops!

  2. August 30, 2011 at 12:27 am

    Good catch Brian. Can’t believe I didn’t notice that. It’s fixed now. I’m firing the editor.

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