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Counterfeit Cards in Poker
by Sam Braids
A counterfeit bill is one that appears real but is actually a worthless fake. In poker a counterfeit card is one you hold that appears to have great value, but in reality the rules of the game do not allow the card to even play. Often counterfeit cards are less than worthless because their glitzy appearance will cause the unwary to invest good money in dead hands. Games with community cards, such a Hold’em, Omaha, and Omaha High/Low, provide frequent opportunities for a player to be fooled by counterfeits. Here are some examples.
The counterfeit pair is a common occurrence in Hold’em. For example, consider holding 8, 9 with a board of 8, 9, Jack, Jack, Ace. Even though you have paired both of your hole cards the pair of Jacks on the board counterfeits your 8. Your hand in this circumstance is two pairs—Jacks and 9s with an Ace kicker. The pair of 8s do not play. An opponent holding Ace, 2 has two pairs—Aces and Jacks with a 9 kicker and would win a showdown. The 2 is not a part of your opponent’s hand any more than the 8 is a part of your hand. The fact that your 8 paired and your opponent’s 2 did not is irrelevant.
In Hold’em the pairing of the board on later streets can counterfeit strong hands. Consider holding Jack, 10 against an opponent who holds Ace, King. The flop is Ace, Jack, 10 and you receive a lot of action for your two pair. But, if the turn and river cards produce a random pair, 2, 2 or 7, 7, the fact that you paired both of your hole cards no longer matters. The Aces over takes the pot.
When drawing to strong hands, it is possible that not all of the apparent outs are real. Suppose you hold Jack, 9 and the community cards are Queen, Jack, 10. You hold both a pair of Jacks—that could improve to three Jacks if another Jack appeared —and an open ended straight draw that could become a King-high straight if a King appeared or a Queen-high straight if an 8 appeared. A naïve count of outs would give 10—two remaining Jacks, four remaining Kings, and four remaining 8s. But with this board the four remaining Kings are counterfeit outs because if a King appeared your King-high straight would lose to anyone holding a single Ace because that person would have an Ace-high straight. In reality you have at most 6 outs in this situation. The count of 6 assumes an opponent doesn’t have an Ace-King in the hole. If that is the case, your hand is practically dead. Always be aware of counterfeit outs. Cards that improve your hand might improve someone else’s even more.
This situation occurs frequently in Omaha High/Low. You hold Ace, 2, J, 10, and flop the nut low when 5, 7, 8 appears on the board. But before you become too excited remember that your “nut” low could easily be counterfeited on a later street by the appearance of an Ace or a 2 on the board. In this situation, your low cannot improve but some else’s could. If a 2 appeared your low remains 8, 7, 4, 2, Ace, because in all Omaha games you must use two pocket cards to complete a hand. But an opponent with Ace-3 now has the nut low—7, 4, 3, 2, Ace. Likewise, if an Ace appears on the board your low is also counterfeited because it remains the same. Any opponent with a 2, 3, or 3, 4, or any other two-card combination between an Ace and a 5 has a better low. That is why in Omaha High/Low it is advantageous to hold 3 or 4 low cards. A hand with Ace, 2, 3, 5, is less likely to be counterfeited for low on a later street. If one of these cards pair, another can become live and still take low.
In games with community cards, it is not always immediately obvious which cards play and which cards simply look good but have no relevance. Be on the lookout for counterfeits before you commit your chips to the pot.
Sam Braids, physicist and author of The Intelligent Guide to Texas Hold'em Poker, has for decades studied, researched, and played poker and chess. His poker experience is widespread, including time in West Coast cardrooms, Mississippi riverboats, and Atlantic City casinos. He holds a doctorate in physics and teaches advanced physics and mathematics. His technical proficiency includes a great deal of expertise with computers and the Internet.
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