Coin Flips by Ben Roberts

Whether or not you decide to get into a coin flip situation in poker really depends upon what type of game you’re playing. I’m far more likely to take on one of these challenges when I’m playing in a cash game than when I’m playing in a tournament, and I’m also more likely to do so when I’m playing in a live game as opposed to online.

If you’re playing in a cash game, getting into a 50-50 race can occasionally produce greater results beyond simply winning the hand. If you win a race, you can often expect your opponent to become a worse player almost immediately after the hand is over. This will give you the opportunity to take even more money from him over the course of the next several hours. Therefore, I’m more willing to get into a coin flip situation with players who have less control over their emotions after losing a big hand this way.

Conversely, if my opponent wins the hand, he’s not going to get rewarded as much since I’m not going to play any differently after losing a big hand in this manner. Although winning is extremely important to me, I believe people put too high a premium on winning in the short-term, for example, over the course of a session or two. When they fail to win, they become possessed with a sense of shame and depression, but I believe poker is supposed to be a journey of joy and fun.

Beyond my opponent’s demeanor, one of the biggest factors in deciding whether or not I’m willing to get into a race is the amount of money I’ve invested in the hand. If I’ve already put some money into the pot and I’m sure it’s a 50-50 situation, then no matter how much my opponent raises he won’t be able to get rid of me. If I folded, I would be literally throwing away the money I already put in there, and I’m not in the habit of doing that.

Here’s an example of a coin flip situation after the flop. Let’s say you have A-K of clubs, and the flop comes 9-8-2 with two clubs. Because you have two overcards and a flush draw, this is a nice spot to go on the offensive if somebody makes a bet. If your opponent has made top pair with a hand like 10-9, it’s about a 50-50 situation, but you have plenty of outs to justify your aggression.

However, if you raise and your opponent comes over the top of you, you have to suspect that he has a set and you can no longer depend on a king or an ace being an out. At this point, all you have is flush draw and it’s no longer a coin flip situation. Unless you’re both deep-stacked and think your opponent will pay you off if you do hit your flush, you should back off and wait for a better situation. But don’t lose your initiative and remember to keep playing aggressively.

Now let’s turn it around. The flop is the same, but now you have pocket jacks and your opponent is the one who has two overcards and a flush draw. You bet, and your opponent raises. How you proceed really depends upon what sort of player you’re up against.

Because of situations like this one, I prefer live games to online games. I tend to make more accurate decisions in live games. Most of the time I can get a read on my opponent, and I can capitalize on that. If I feel like he only has two overcards because he just called my raise before the flop, I’ll call and see what the turn brings. But if I raised before the flop and he reraised me, then I’ll throw my jacks away because he could very well have a bigger pair than mine.

My rationale completely changes in a tournament. In the latter stages of a tournament your chips are worth more than they were at the beginning so your first concern should be protecting them, which often means avoiding coin flip situations. After the money bubble bursts, you get financially rewarded whenever a player gets knocked out so quite often the smartest move is to avoid getting into coin flip situations and waiting for a better spot.

Like many aspects of poker, the decision of whether or not to get into a coin flip situation depends on a variety of factors, the most important of which are the type of game you’re playing and the demeanor of the opponent you’re playing against.

Ben Roberts