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November 30, 2010

More on Coin Flip Hands in No Limit Holdem

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Written by: Chris Wilcox
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It seems like I am always playing poker against players who are surprised when they lose coin flips. Of course, many times, they are probably too stupid to realize that they are involved in a coin-flip type hand, but for the most part, if you are going to engage in coin flip hands, you have to be prepared to lose about half of them over time. That is not to say you couldn’t win 10 in a row or lose 20 in a row. Those are short terms and can happen in any variation, but over time you will lose about 50%. That’s why they call it a coin flip!

So then, what is the answer? The answer is simple, but the application can be hard. Simply stay out of coin flip hands unless you have a compelling reason to be in one. There are really only 2 compelling reasons to be in one: you are short stacked or you are big stacked. That’s it. Otherwise, if you are a decent Hold’em player, you will find better places to get your money in than one where you are a 54% favorite.

Why do you see so many all-in coin-flip confrontations online? First of all, as I said earlier, I doubt many players realize where they are truly at in the hand. They may see A-K as the best hand in the world, not having any clue that A-K against 4-4 is a slight underdog at 46% to 54% (roughly) The other thing is, put yourself in their shoes for a minute. If you are a bad poker player with no ability to do anything but push your chips in and call, isn’t a 46% shot to double up pretty good odds? Again, not that they know it, but if they did, they would probably take those odds anyway. What are their options? They can’t out-play you after the flop!

I lost out of 2 tournaments last night with A-k suited to Q-7 suited and 6-8 suited. In those hands I was a 65% and 62% favorite respectively. If those players could have a 35%-40% shot to beat me, without having to worry about making difficult decisions after the flop, don’t you think they should take it? They can’t beat me any other way and 40% of the time, they will luck out and draw a Q or an 8 and win the hand. (which both did by the way!)

Which brings up the point: should I have even been in the hand? Well, there is of course, more to it than that. It was late in a tournament and I had fold equity in both hands, so I could have taken the blinds and antes without seeing a flop. Which probably makes their decisions to call me all-in even more ludicrous with the cards they were holding, but if you break it down, it might not have been a bad play for them, relative to the rest of the game.

As poker players, we spend a lot of time worrying about the odds. We like to win hands where we are favorites. But, it is important to remember that the odds don’t always go our way, and for some players, a 30%-40% chance of winning a hand is better than nothing and maybe as good as they are going to get.


  1. Interesting breakdown of the odds and great perspective to look at 50/50 hands.

    Thanks Chris.

  2. PokerGob

    I agree, a bad player may take whatever they think is an edge against any player, subsequently a good player shouldn’t take any edge against any player. You’re better off taking small edges against stronger opponents than taking what you feel is a small edge against a bad opponent. Good opponents generally don’t allow you to take bigger edges so even the smallest opportunity is worth taking against them. However it is unwise to take a small edge against a weak opponent because they will give you larger edges more often. Hope that makes sense.

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