A few weeks back, I was in Aruba in a $5,000 buy-in no-limit Hold 'em side game with $20-$40 blinds. As I was leaving the game I witnessed the following hand.
This hand involved poker pro Eugene Todd, "Masters of Poker" DVD producer and UBT ("Ultimate Blackjack Tour") producer Houston Curtis, and 1992 World Champion of Poker Russ Hamilton. I happened to be standing behind Todd (who was in the nine seat) and Hamilton (in the one seat) and saw both of their hands. With a flop of 5s-6s-8s, Curtis checked, Todd bet out $400, Hamilton made it $1,000 to go, and Curtis then made it $4,000 to go, after having checked to both players.
Now Todd gave his hole cards a long, careful look, showed them to me (he had As-Kc), and then folded. He had the nut flush draw, and simply folded his hand without incident. This is a rare case indeed, where someone actually folds the nut flush draw, especially on the flop! Hamilton then called the raise, the Qc hit the board, and Curtis bet $8,000.
Hamilton now closely examined his hole cards, showed them to me (he held 8h-8c), and then folded his hand. This lay down, too, was rare, because Hamilton had top set, although I can see him folding here in this situation.
By the way, Hamilton had ten wins (three fives, three sixes, three queens, and one eight) vs. 34 losing cards (assuming that we have not seen Todd's hand), making Hamilton a 3.4-to-1 underdog to win the pot with one card to come.
I can tell you one thing for sure: if this hand had come up at the Commerce Club in Los Angeles, or almost any other casino worldwide, then it would have been all-in, all-in and all-in on the flop! This is what would have happened after Curtis made it $4,000 to go: first, the player that had Todd's hand would have moved all-in, representing a flush (but actually having the nut flush draw); second, Hamilton would have had to go all-in with his hand, especially suspecting that he was going to get played with by both of his opponents (getting laid two-to-one if he played); third, Curtis would have gone all-in with his made flush (we all know he had it!).
Each of these players had at least $20,000 in front of him, and Curtis would have won a $60,000-plus pot, because the last card was the 7d. It was also possible that Curtis might have felt forced to fold his made flush (he might have wondered what the heck his two opponents moved all-in with at that point, and folded his hand), and that would have won the pot for Hamilton. So what the heck IS going on here?
I'll tell you what's going on: the game was just too tough! Game selection, although often overlooked, is an important part of your poker education. When you're looking to play no-limit Hold 'em, look for a game where no one at the table is a World Champion of poker. You might also want to avoid a game where the lineup includes a bunch of pros. But keep in mind that you can't get better without playing against tougher competition.
So figure out what your goal ought to be: is your goal to make money, or is it to improve your game? Sometimes you can do both. I used to fly to Vegas to play in poker tournaments, knowing that I would face the toughest possible competition. Inevitably, I would sharpen my game in the process, and then come home and crush my home games. Winning big when I came back home was a nice by-product, coming along (as it did) by playing against the best. Of course, if I managed to win money while I was playing in Vegas, then I would be having my cake and eating it too.
Another good rule is this: if a game is really tough, then you should never risk over five percent of your bankroll in it, ever. Why not just save that money for a game that is relatively easy to beat? Do not let your ego convince you to go broke making a stupid move. Too many pros have lost all their money in one night, or over the course of one week. Be wary of how tough the game you're in is, and try to avoid the toughest game in the house!
Playing in a relatively tough game can:
A) Sharpen your skills
C) Be a bad move if your trying to win money
B) Be a good move if you're trying to improve your game
D) All of the above