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09/12/2005 No.26
he Guardian Poker Column
Victoria Coren
Friday December 9, 2005
How to play poker
(How to play has been running from issue 16)

Last week, we paused briefly to note the onset of Christmas and acknowledge the spirit of giving. Let's forget that nonsense now, and get straight back to the important business of taking other people's money.

Before we were so festively interrupted, we discussed how to play a pair of kings, and what to do when an ace appears on the flop. An ace, in this situation, would be called "an overcard": a card that is higher than the pair in your hand. The same complication arises when you have any pair and an "overcard" appears on the flop. If another player has one similar card in his hand, he has overtaken you. (And when a player has "hit the flop" to improve his holding, he is usually reluctant to fold.) So the first simple motto is: when you have a pair, beware overcards. Don't be so dazzled by your own hand that you forget to consider what other people might have.
The lower your pair, of course, the greater the risk of overcards appearing. With a pair of queens, there are eight bigger cards you do not want to see on the flop. With a pair of jacks there are 12, and so on. The second simple lesson is: from jacks downwards, it is more likely that there will be an overcard on the flop than that there will not be one. Your opponents may not actually have hit the overcard, but your hand becomes more difficult to play.

So here is a basic guide to pairs that are not aces or kings. With QQ, JJ or TT, you are hoping for a flop with no overcards. With all other pairs, especially against more than one opponent, you really want (or need) to hit three of a kind. If you raise with a pair and see overcards on the flop, you can still bet out - but to all intents and purposes, even though your hand is reasonable, you are now bluffing. You are pretending you like the flop, or that you began with a stronger hand than you've actually got. There is nothing wrong with bluffing, of course - as long as you know you're doing it.