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Stop chasing to chop!

By Bernard Harris

Would you bet a pound of gold to win an ounce of silver? How about risk a mansion to win a car? These questions seem absurd because they pit objects of high value against those of lesser worth. Yet, the poker equivalent of this happens every time a player chases or calls an obvious draw with the hope of chopping (splitting) the pot. It is counterintuitive, but chasing or calling non-nut chops is a losing play and will cost you tons of money in the long run.

Take the following hand: The game is $1/2 no-limit and effective stacks are $200. Three players limp. Hero is on the button with 5h-4h and also limps. The big blind (BB) checks his option creating five-way action.

The flop comes 4c-3d-2d with $10 in the pot.

This isn’t a bad flop for Hero. BB leads out $8 and the cut-off (CO) calls (both are decent players). Hero calls and everyone else folds.

The turn is the Ac with a $34 pot.

The ace gives Hero the second nuts. Before Hero can contemplate his good fortune, the BB shoves all-in for $190 and CO snap calls. The pot is $414 when action gets to Hero. What should Hero do?

At first glance this seems like a great spot. Hero has the straight and is getting 2.2:1 odds on a call. With such great odds and a near nut hand, most players wouldn’t think twice before calling.

Unfortunately, a call here is incorrect. Given the board texture and villain descriptions, are they ever shoving $190 into a $34 pot with an inferior hand or draw? And if they flopped a set, wouldn’t they raise the flop instead of overbet shoving into a four-to-a-straight board?

If both villains have a straight then Hero is NOT getting 2.2:1 on a call. In effect, the $190 bet is expected to come back to each respective player. Thus, Hero is betting $190 for the hope of chopping the remaining $34 pot three ways! So instead of getting 2.2:1 on a call Hero is actually getting 1:17 odds, meaning he wins $1 for every $17 he risks. Then factor in the possibility that either villain might have 5-6 for the nuts or is free rolling with Ad-5d or 8c-5c and Hero’s hand becomes even more of a dog.

A chop is still a win right?

Not all wins are wins. What makes poker so complex is that it is possible to win while in the midst of negative expected value (-EV) situations. This makes it difficult to discern what the correct play is. In order to make the right play we have to look at the long term. All non-nut chop situations involve betting more to win less. At best, we get our money back plus a half or a third of a meager pot. At worst, we lose a horrific amount of money relative to what we are risking it for.

The following is a computer model that illustrates Hero’s situation. If we use PokerStove’s analysis software and give BB and CO a range of sets, and playable 5x combos we see that by the river Hero chops the pot 20 percent of the time and outright wins less than 1 percent of the time. Running this scenario one hundred times we see that Hero’s call is seriously –EV in the long term.

Never chase an obvious draw or hand for the sole purpose of chopping! The only reason to play for a chop is when you have the nuts, have outs to increase your hand strength, are the aggressor, and/or your hand may win (i.e., villain bluffs a lot). When you are in those chop situations with outs to a better hand (i.e.. nut straight with a flush draw) then bet the moon! If these descriptions don’t fit your situation, then you are chasing to chop. And chasing to chop is a losing play.

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