No Limit Texas Hold'Em
When to bet
Going all in
Any position- Raise with AA, KK, and AKs.
1st position- Call with AK, AQ, KQ, QQ, JJ, TT and fold everything else.
Early position: Raise with AK, AQ, KQ, QQ, JJ, TT, AJ, KQs.
Middle position: Raise with AK, AQ, KQ, QQ, JJ, TT, AJ, KQs, KQo, KJs, QJs
Call A10s, A10o, KJo, QJo, K10s, 99, 88
Late position: Raise with AK, AQ, KQ, QQ, JJ, TT, AJ, KQs, KQo, KJs, QJs ATs, ATo, K10s, KJo, QJo, 99, 88
Call with A any, KT, QT, JT, 77, 66, 55, Q10s, Q10o, K10o, J10s, J10o, J9s, 44, 33, 22
"You think long, you think wrong"
Hold'em is basically HIGH card game. The players holding two good high cards have the best chance at the best hand or a draw to the best hand after the flop.
Only play strong hands, that will stand a raise or multiple raises, from early betting positions.
Play medium strength and other playable hands from the later positions if you have a good chance of seeing the flop at a reasonable price.
Play strong high hands MOST of the time, and play them very aggressively. Take all the raises you can get. If you don't thin out the competition, you reduce your chances of winning. Plus, your aggressive play before the flop can add credibility to any strong play you might want to use on the next round if a garbage flop falls and you want to try a steal. Be ready to fold your high pair if you get a lot of action with a threatening flop.
Never sit down to play poker without enough cash, as a general rule you should have at least 50 times the table limit. Do not try to bluff, if you have nothing in your hand, FOLD.
If you are playing poker because you want to make money, you’ll want to have the capacity to finance about 200 big bets at the limit you play.
Fast play high pairs and very strong hands before the flop. This puts more money in the early pot and encourages weak and garbage hands to fold that could get a lucky flop and beat you.
Don't draw to the low end or both ends of a straight. If a 9 8 7 flops, you want to be playing the J 10 and not the 6 5 or the 10 6. (The low part is commonly called the "ignorant" end of the straight.)
Unconnected Medium and Low Cards are Usually Unplayable. This includes suited cards that can't flop a straight. Both ends of a straight such as 9 5 fall into this very weak category.
Play starting low pairs cautiously. 66 down to 22. Usually not from an early seat and from the late positions, only when the price is right. If you don't flop a set or quads you should usually fold.
Play aggressively when you have a two way draw after the flop. If you can make a straight AND a flush or trips etc., usually bet/raise your hand.
Bet an Ace or two high over cards after a garbage flop (a three suit "rainbow" with unconnected medium and low cards). Usually fold if someone raises.
Watch out for uniform flops, like 8 7 6, they can easily turn into straights that can overtake your high pair or other good hand.
Check the raisers chips. Players that are close to all-in often rush the betting just to get all their chips in a sink-or-swim last hand.
Beware of Suited Flops that can make a completed flush. In this case, you should usually hold the nut in that suit, or have trips or two pair that can fill up..
Get caught bluffing once in a while. It is a way to vary your play and not be too predictable. You win pots that you don't deserve when your bluff works. You lose a few chips when it doesn't work but it will get you calls from weaker hands down the line when you have a strong hand and need the action.
Study your opponents, especially when you are not playing hands and can pay careful attention. Do they find more hands to play than they fold? Do they bluff? Can they be bluffed? Do they have any "tells" (give away mannerisms) that disclose information about their hands etc.
The very best players engage in few hands, but when they get involved they're usually aggressive - they maximize the amount they win when the odds favor them.
Remember: When it comes to poker, only losing players hang in there hoping. Hope springs eternal, and the hope of poor players is the meat and potatoes of every poker pro's livelihood. While it's wonderful for many of life's endeavors, hope is the kiss of death in poker. Play a solid game and hope for hopeful opponents.
Aggression and selectivity generally don't walk hand in hand, so you'll need to learn when to come in with guns blazing and when to hunker down. If you're too aggressive, particularly when your cards don't warrant it, your opponents will eventually recognize your tendencies. They'll then wait until they have better hands than yours, allow you to do their betting for them, and raise on late betting rounds to collect double bets when they have the best of it. On the other hand, if you're too passive, you won't win enough money with your good hands to overcome the hands you lose, the blinds, and the rake.
If there is not a pair showing on the table: there cannot be a hand existing of a full house, nor four of a kind.
If there is not at least 3 same suit cards showing on the table; there cannot be a hand existing of a flush, straight flush, nor Royal Flush.
At a table of ten players, the total amount of cards in play at the end of the game will have been 25, almost exactly 50% of the deck.
There are exactly 169 possible pairs of hands you could be dealt before the flop
According to Hoyle, 65% of the winning hands are made on the river (last card dealt face up on the table).
You hear a lot about "thinking like a poker player." Now, we’re not big fans of clichés, but this one really does hit the mark: poker requires a certain system of thinking which too many beginners simply don't comprehend.
It's easy to get off track during a game of poker. This section is designed to help you eliminate those distractions and concentrate solely on the things you SHOULD be contemplating-like the four key poker skills.
4 ESSENTIAL SKILLS
Professional poker players are often characterized as "tight" or "aggressive." In other words, poker sharks don't normally play many hands, but when they play at all, they play with a killer-instinct.
While "tight" and "aggressive" are good designations of poker pros, they’re not very useful to a novice. How does a beginner become "tight" and "aggressive"?
In more basic terms, we believe that most important thing a poker player can do is to learn, practice and ultimately continue developing four critical skill areas: MATH SKILLS, DISCIPLINE, PSYCHOLOGY, and RISK vs. REWARD MANAGEMENT. Below is an outline of these crucial poker concepts.
Any good poker player will know general percentages. But, what are they? Well, they’re any odds you can memorize about the game of poker that will save you time when all eyes are on you. For example, you have about a 1 in 8 chance of hitting a set when you hold a pocket pair. You also have about a 33% chance of completing a flush draw at the flop. The number of general percentages that can help you out in a game of poker are practically endless, so it's a good idea to focus on the most crucial numbers. The more you practice, the more you'll be able to remember.
Successful poker players always know their outs, too. Outs, if you don’t already know, are the un-dealt cards that will improve your hand. You should always know how many cards could potentially help you, and it's not a bad idea to consider outs in terms of a percentage, either. To roughly calculate your odds, count your outs, multiply them by two, add two, and the answer will show you your chances in percentage terms (# of outs) x (2) + (2) = APPROXIMATE PERCENTAGE OF HITTING. Try to commit this to memory.
Pot odds are also incredibly important and go hand-in-hand with outs. Outs don’t mean a thing unless they're converted into smart betting (i.e. the kind that considers the financial return of the decisions you make).
Solid poker players demand an advantage. What distinguishes a winning player from a fish is that a fish doesn't expect to win, while a skillful player does. A fish is happy playing other casino games as well; he or she just hopes to get lucky. A poker player doesn't ‘hope’ to get lucky - on the contrary, he ‘hopes’ that others DON'T get lucky.
Good poker players realize that each game requires different levels of discipline. A disciplined no-limit player can be a foolish limit player, or the other way around. Usually, a disciplined limit player is very tight at the pre-flop stage. He will not play too many hands, just those with high winning potential.
However, a disciplined no-limit player is not like this. This player is less concerned with playing too many blinds; instead, he doesn't want to get trapped. The main difference between a disciplined limit and no-limit player is that the limit player avoids letting his stack take a hit bit by bit, while a disciplined no-limit player avoids losing his whole stack in one fell swoop. Therefore, a disciplined no-limit player can play a lot of hands. Pre-flop, he can be as loose as anyone. But, he also knows when to toss hands that will get him in trouble.
Probably the most important fact to remember is that a disciplined player knows when to "hold’em and when to fold’em". He or she recognizes when they’re on tilt and aware when the game is too lucrative to stop. This kind of knowledge will arrive eventually so until then, just follow your instincts. If it feels like you're playing more with your emotion than with your head, it's a good idea take a break and re-organize.
Disciplined poker players realize they're not perfect. When they make a mistake, they learns. They don’t blame others. They don’t cry. They learn from the mistake and move on. There’s not much better advice than that.
There's a lot of info regarding poker psychology and we're not going to go too "in depth" here. We would like, however, to share some sound advice. The main thing to remember is that the OTHER PLAYERS in poker are just as important as you are. In other words, poker catches many people off-guard because they're thinking about themselves too often; evaluating decisions, approach, etc. While those things are important (see the DISCIPLINE section above), you still have to devote an equal amount of time and thought to what’s going on elsewhere at the table.
A good poker player is not a self-centered player. He may be the biggest S.O.B. you've ever come across and he may only care about himself when he's not playing poker. But when he IS playing poker, his philosophy should change. He'll start to empathize with his opponents. He'll try to put himself in their shoes and try to understand the decisions they're contemplating.
A good poker player must always try to answer three important questions:
#1. What’s my opponent have?
#2. What’s my opponent think I have?
#3. What’s my opponent think that I think he has?
You want to first know the answers to these questions and then know how to manipulate the answers to your advantage (more important). If you have a pair of kings and your opponent has a pair of aces, and you both know what the other has and you both know that each of you knows what the other has, why play a game of poker? A poker pro will manipulate the situation with several different techniques in order to throw off his opponent. You'd better get used to the idea of mixing things up; sometimes it's the only, and best, way to go.
One key note: good psychology is much more important in a no-limit game than in a limit game and it's vital that you realize that. While limit games can frequently turn into math battles, no-limit games carry a strong psychological element, and beginner players should know what they're getting into when they play no-limit.
#4. RISK vs. REWARD MANAGEMENT
While risk and reward management might seem like an obvious skill for you to have - both in daily life as well as poker - gambling likes to bring out sides of ourselves that we usually don’t witness; as we sometimes play with more passion that reason. You should always try and strike a compromise between the two, and never allow things to get out of control. Good poker players should be willing to take a big risk if the reward is high enough, but ONLY if the expected return is higher than the risk. Playing poker is a kind of balancing act, and awesome poker players are the ones who can balance things with the most skill.
More importantly, you should understand that the risk-versus-reward nature of poker does extend outside of the actual poker room. Always keep track of how much money you need for poker and how much money you need to cover other expenses in life - we shouldn’t have to tell you which one is more important.
Fundamentally, good poker players are slightly averse to risks, even if that may come as a surprise to many. In investment terms, a person is identified as risk-neutral, risk-averse or risk-accepting all depending on what that person does with available funds. Over time, you'll find that the most successful poker players are not the ones who bet their whole wad on a long-shot (risk-accepting), or even the ones who bet their whole roll once in a blue moon (risk-neutral). Successful poker players, instead, are the ones who take calculated risks only, and who always keep in mind the "big picture."
Sticking to this kind of example is much better for you than going for the whole pot all the time. Even if you're initially successful at taking big risks, your recklessness will catch up with you eventually.
Who Are Your Opponents?
Who are your opponents is the number one concept that should dictate your play. But wait, shouldn't I be telling you which starting hands to play in which position? What about all those hand grouping tables? Forget all that nonsense! Most poker books fail to mention that you should adjust your game based on the people you are playing with. Instead they talk more about hand selection, position, odds, etc. Those concepts are all important but in my opinion, changing your style of play based on your competition is the most important lesson in no limit hold'em. Unlike limit hold'em which is very mechanical, no limit hold'em affords a good player many more options. If you are playing well, you make your moves depending on whom you are against. I'm mentioning this concept first because it is thread that runs through all the other tips including everything from hand selection, to how much to bet, to when to bluff. So don't forget this one!
No Limit Texas Hold'em Strategy
How do you make money in no limit hold'em?- That question seems like the first thing someone writing a book on poker would try to answer but I don't think I've ever seen anyone actually write anything about it. Instead everything is implied. That's fine and dandy but I think knowing how the game should go will settle your nerves and make you more confident. After looking at a hand grouping table in a book and seeing that AA, KK and AK are the best hands one would assume that you make the money with these hands, right? But that isn't the case in my game or in any one else's I normally play with. Those hands are only a small part of the entire process. So let me list the ways you win in no limit (in no particular order):
Trapping Hands - This is the number one way you make money in no limit. The definition of a trapping hand is when you have a really strong hand and another person has a lesser hand that they can't get away from. An example of a trapping hand would be if you flop a set/trips and another person has pocket Aces or Kings. You got him by the balls and he is going to lose big time. There are a variety of trapping hands out there like if you flop a straight and another person has a set. Or if you have a full house and another person has a smaller one or just trips. Trapping hands can come in all kinds of forms. One hand I just had yesterday was really funny. I had 92 in the big blind. No one raised so I got to see the flop for free and to my surprise it was 992. Some poor bastard had A9 and promptly lost all his money to me. That was a trapping hand. He couldn't lay it down. Another example of a trapping hand that I got butchered on a few days ago was as follows. I had A2 of diamonds and the flop was AA9 with one diamond. It got checked around and the turn was another diamond. The flush draw didn't get there and I lost a sizeable amount to someone with a better Ace (I think he had AQ actually but didn't raise pre-flop).
Big pair over big pair (AK included) - I mentioned above about how most of the time you won't make that much with your big pairs. The usual routine is your raise pre-flop, get a caller or two and then bet the flop and everyone folds. Sometimes you'll get an idiot who doesn't believe you and calls you down but that's usually not the case. I would say about 80% of the time I don't win that much money with my AA, KK or AK. The other 20% of the time that you win, you are up against someone who has a smaller pair. AA versus KK is always a sure way for the guy to lose his stack but many people at this level also lose their whole stack playing QQ against AA, KK or AK. If I'm dealt AA or KK on the dealer button, I have a better chance of making more money with it since people assume that I'm playing my position instead of my cards. This is why if you are on the button with a big hand and everyone folds to you, don't slow play it and limp in, raise it since people won't believe you. Sometimes I'll even make a raise much larger then I normally do on the button if everyone folds to me. For example, if I normally raised to $15-20 pre-flop, I'll raise it to $30 or $40. Then people really think I'm trying to steal the blinds. Every now and then I'll have a guy who tries to raise over the top of me thinking I'm bluffing and will fold. That's the best.
Small pots - Most of the pots in no limit, and the ones you'll win, are going to be small. Everyone will be winning little pots for a while and then bam, someone will get nailed and lose their stack. That's how it goes. The small pots can add up after a while though.
Betting in the back - You won't make a bunch of money betting in late position when everyone checks to you but its worth mentioning. I'm not a religious bettor in late position. Instead I like to mold my table image -- how the other players see me -- by sometimes betting in the back and sometimes just checking.
Drawing Hands - Drawing hands are tricky in no limit. When you flop four of one suite in limit hold'em, it is an easy decision to keep calling till the river. In no limit that isn't always going to be the case since if you miss your draw on the turn card, often the next size bet will be too large to make it profitable to keep calling. I've found that if I'm in early position with a flush draw or straight draw it is often better to come out betting some instead of checking and calling. First of all, if you check and call you give away your hand and also you leave yourself open to being bet out of the pot. Secondly, you may even win the pot by just betting. The risk of betting is that you are going to get raised an amount you can't call. My advice for drawing hands is to learn the numbers and then compare them to the size of the pot. There is an article here about pot odds and how to figure them. I want to also add that if you do flop a really large draw, you don't have to hit it to win. Bet big and win that way and if get called hope to catch it. An example would be if you have 67s and the flop is 4s5sAh. I would bet that really hard and get all the money in on the flop.
Bluffing - I don't think bluffing is of much importance in limit poker. It's almost impossible to bet someone out of a pot in limit poker since it just costs them one more big bet. In no limit it is more much of a potent tool, especially coupled with a good read of a hand and position. Learning when to bluff is an advanced skill that you will pick up as you learn the ins and outs of the game more but I'll give a few tips. Number one tip is you aren't going to bluff someone out of the pot if they have AA, KK, or AK and flop top pair. If you find a really good player you might, but at the $200 NL and below games it would be very hard to get someone to fold their Aces. Number two tip is that it is much easier to bluff someone out of a pot if they aren't committed. Being committed to a pot means if you have so much money in it already that even if you are beat, you still have to call. Number three tip is that it is much easier to bluff someone out of a pot if it is going to cost them a lot of money to call. Your bluff isn't very powerful if they just have to call 1/10th of the pot. If you can make them pay dearly to see your hand, then the chance of it working is higher. Number four tip is that it is easier to win with a bluff if you know what your opponent has and you know what he thinks you have. If he thinks you caught your flush and checks to you, then that's a decent time to make a play at the pot. Lastly, the only player immune to a bluff is a bad player.
Losing Your Stack With One Pair- This tip will save you some money. It is pretty rare that someone will make a substantial raise against you on the turn or river and not have one pair beat. You'll find some crazy players that do that but they will be easy to spot. Everyone else will have one pair beat.
A Big Bet Normally Means A Big Hand- This one seems obvious, right? Well sometimes we forget this in poker. Don't out think yourself. Most of the time if on the river after betting the entire hand someone goes all-in for a lot of chips, they have you beat. It's so easy to kid yourself and think they are trying to power through you but that's very rarely the case. You are most likely beat. Once again if you see someone doing this a lot then it doesn't mean they have a great hand but anytime a lot of chips are at risk it deserves your thought.
Beware The Raise- A raise in no limit is something to respect because what you have just done is to give the bettor another option to raise. That can lead to complications like him re-raising you out of the pot. Don't fear raising though, especially if some guy is trying to bet a little so you won't bet a lot. I see this all the time. A person in early position has a really marginal hand or a draw so they bet the minimum into the other player hoping he will just call -- which often happens. I don't play that nonsense. If I have a good hand and they try that with me, I'll raise to the size of the pot. If they re-raise me then I can lay down my hand but I'm not going to let them make a tiny bet and see more cards for cheap.
Beware The Call- Calls are weird things in no limit hold'em and deserve some attention. One call to watch out for is when you bet and get called by a good player who has players left to act behind him. That usually is the sign that he has a strong hand but doesn't want to cut off the other players behind him. An example of this would be if you raise pre-flop with a big pair and get a good player and two bad players to call. The flop comes back 994. You bet and he calls as well as one of the other players. The bad player calling doesn't mean much but the good player calling here is odd. He knows what you have. There is a chance he has a smaller pocket pair or maybe AK or something but it is more likely he has a 9. There are no draws with this hand. When a player just calls with more players behind him it is called a "smooth call". It is usually the sign of a strong hand. Another call to look out for is your own. Generally, calling in no limit is not good. There are exceptions of course but the majority of the time if you can just call then you are not going to win. If you are slow playing someone then that is different. If you have a marginal hand though and are just able to call someone's sizeable bet then chances are you're sunk. A call is a very weak move and it means one of two things -- either you have a really strong hand or you don't have much of a hand. Since most of the time you won't have much of a hand, people aren't going to be intimidated by you calling. They won't check to you on the next card. Instead they will keep betting. Also keep in mind that a call really does nothing on the flop to help you win the pot. By the time the turn card bet and river bet are out you'll be in deep. If you have a marginal hand, like top pair with a weak kicker, instead of calling someone's bet all the way to showdown, it would cost you less money to raise on the flop and hopefully win.
When The Flop Is Scary- A lot of the time you'll have a good pre-flop hand, raise and then flop something scary. For example, you have KK, raise, get called by two people, and then flop AA4. In this situation the worst thing you can do is check. If you check you leave yourself open to a bluff. You are basically announcing to everyone that you don't have the Ace and please come and take the pot from me. Instead what you should do is bet, but not a huge amount. Let's say the pot is $40. You don't need to risk all $40 of it to win. Betting $10 here is just as good. Number one, if you are in fact against an Ace, the person is going to call any amount. If you aren't against the Ace, there is no reason for anyone to call. A $10 bet to a person without an Ace looks like you are just trying to sucker them in. I use this same logic for all flops that look scary including when the flop is all one suite or if there is a chance of a straight on the board. You can also use this strategy when you flop an over-card. Let's say you have JJ and the flop is K92. You could bet the pot here but betting a smaller amount works just as well. If the person doesn't have a King they won't call, if they do have the King I consider the hand lost so why risk more then I have to?
Pay Attention To The Amount Of People In The Hand- The strength of any hand is directly related to the amount of people in the hand (inverse correlation). If you are in early position and have a crappy hand like KJ and flop something like KT5 and six people are behind you left to act, chances are you aren't going to win this one. Understanding this can save you from getting committed to pots that you shouldn't. If you play a lot of hands in no limit, which I suggest you do because it is fun and rewarding, you need to be more apt to fold them unless you catch something big. Getting stuck with a marginal hand like KJ and KQ and betting it down is bad no limit poker. You'll lose a lot this way.
Confusing People Is Profitable- Whenever you can make someone think you have a hand that you don't, you end up making money. In limit poker you don't have the arsenal of tricks you do in no limit. I'll list a few tips here that I've used to milk people for more then my fair share. The first tip is the all mighty over-bet. Over betting is when you bet too much -- you bet an unreasonable amount of money in relation to the pot. It's hilarious how confusing it is to people when you do this. Their first assumption is that you are trying to bully them because why on earth would you be betting that much if you really did have a good hand? Wouldn't you rather bet less and get called? You can do this pre-flop or on the flop and after. Sometimes I'll just throw in a massive raise pre-flop with Aces or Kings just for the hell of it. I would say probably a quarter of the time I get a caller. Also sometimes if I have a set or two pair I'll bet a large amount on the flop, then slow down on the turn, and then big huge on the river. That also confuses people. Once again they assume I'm trying to bully them. Another trick I use now and again when I'm in early position and flop a big hand is to bet a decent amount on the flop (and get raised by someone). Then I just call. Then on the turn card instead of checking I bet another amount but smaller then before. It looks like a weak move so the other guy raises me more this time which is exactly what I wanted. Sometimes I'll do this when I flop trips and someone has an over-pair (like Aces or Kings). Let's say I have 89s and the flop is 994. By betting a little on the flop I look like I'm trying to bluff him out but don't have the balls to make a big bet. So he raises me and then when I just call it confirms to him that I don't really have a 9. Then the bet on the turn again seals the deal. Changes in initiative are always really confusing to people. Initiative is the term for describing who is doing the betting, who is in the
drivers seat in the hand.
When The Flush Gets There On You- Let's say you raise pre-flop, get called. The flop comes back and the flush draw is there. You bet and get called. The turn card brings the flush. What do you do? You have a lot of options but I only use one. If you check and the person bets, what does that mean? You have no idea and if you just call then you leave yourself wide open to be bet out of the pot on the river. Instead of checking, I bet. I bet a decent amount but not a huge amount. For example, if my previous bet was $15 or $20, I'll do the same thing again. Note how in no limit hold'em, you have to double the size of the first bet if you want to raise. So if I bet $20, he has to raise to $40. Did I remove the chance of me being bluffed out of the pot? No I didn't, but I've made it more expensive for the player behind me to try that move. Also if he does raise me, I could very well also have the flush and re-raise him. I use this tactic for a lot of situations where the community cards are crazy and I'm not sure "where I'm at". It may cost a bet if the person actually does have the hand but it keeps me in the pot if they don't. This is another example of why position is very powerful in no limit. If you are behind someone and some scare cards come out, you can easily take the pot from them.
Who I Love Playing Against- There are a few different players I like to play against. My most favorite opponent is the big bettor. They will raise pre-flop, then religiously bet the size of the pot in each betting round. It will only be a matter of time before I get their chips because it will only take one good hand before they will commit all their money to the pot. What I do against these types of players is just let them do all the betting. I limp in, call their raise, call their flop bet and then they usually go all-in on the turn card. Aggression is good in no limit hold'em but also remember that every chip in action is a chip you have to win back. For some reason these types of players don't understand that you do actually have to have a hand once in a while to win. The next opponent I like playing against is the really loose player who calls any size of bet pre-flop. Next, I love playing with wild players who like to raise every other hand. They are great for the game. They often get everyone off balance and people begin to play poorly. When you are playing with a maniac in no limit hold'em, be careful. They can get good hands too so don't put all your money in the pot with garbage. At the same time though, you need to challenge them and let them bluff their money off to you. Lastly, I love playing with super tight players who only play AA, KK, AK, QQ, etc. These types of players have read a book or two and feel like they are entitled to win as long as they don't play bad hands. Players like this wait all day for AA, then get it and raise. I love calling them with little hands just to see if I hit knowing that if I do, they will give me their whole stack. They are just waiting for someone to challenge their AA on the flop and they are married to the hand. What they don't realize is that AA is a good starting hand, but it is just one pair. Also what makes playing against tight players so easy is that you always know what they have. Losing money to
them is pretty hard.
Buying Poker Books- I purchase all the available material published on Texas hold'em (even the low limit books). Anything that has a potential to improve my game or to make me think about the game in a new light I am interested in. My only advice is that you take everything you read with a grain of salt. A book isn't going to tell you how to win, it will only cover some concepts you should be familiar with. You always need to adjust your play based on who you are playing against. Reading and talking about poker is a form of training. I'm not going to endorse any poker writers here but I suggest you look around a buy a few books.
Slow Playing- Slow playing is basically if you have a good hand then instead of raising at that betting round, you wait until a later one to raise. In limit hold'em I'm a big fan of slow playing. In no limit hold'em, I slow play less for a few reasons. The first reason is many of the hands I am involved in aren't that strong and the more cards that come out, the less strength my hand has. The second reason I don't slow play as much is I don't want to end up putting a big bet in at the wrong time and lose more then necessary with a marginal hand. Another reason I don't slow play as much in no limit is because the people I play with expect me to bet when I have something or not so checking and then putting in a big raise later doesn't get much action. Instead of slow playing I prefer to try to build a pot and get someone committed. One situation I will slow play or just call bets is when I have a set or trips. If you have a nut hand (one that can't be beat) then sometimes you will make more money by springing a trap later after someone has a lot of money invested in the hand. Don't mess around with one pair like that though or you'll be nailed. For example, if you have AK and flop an Ace you don't want to let the opposition see a lot of cards. To finish up, I'm much more likely to slow play in no limit if I'm up against one person. The more people in the pot, the less you should slow play.
Big Stack Gets More Action- I've heard that if you have a large stack of chips at a table then you will get less action. I have found the opposite to be true. When I have a large stack (4x more then the buy-in), people call much larger bets from me. I've thought about this for a while and I think the reason is that people don't like to feel like they are being bullied. Everyone at the table wants to get a piece of you. That's the best money making situation since you can put in much larger bets when you have a good hand. The opposite may be true as well, if I see someone with a large stack raise three times more pre-flop then everyone else usually does, I am suspicious. That can get you in trouble though since the guy may just be having a killer day.
Adjusting For Home Games- Home games are usually different then what you'll find online or in regular card rooms. When I play home games with my friends its more of a relaxing fun time then all out war. Playing your best game for a regular game might be completely different then for a home game. If your friends are in every single hand, then you can definitely loosen up and have some fun too. Don't be a slave to the rules. This is poker, it's meant to be fun!
Short Stack Re-raise Trick- One trick that particularly warms my heart is when I get dealt a big hand like AA or KK and I see a fairly loose or wild player with just a little money left. For example, let's say it is a NL $200 game and the player just has $40 left. What often works well is just to raise enough that the short stack has enough to re=raise all-in, which gives you another chance to re-raise the other players in the hand. People have gotten pissed at me doing that but I still love to. The end result is really great, instead of only getting $20 in pre-flop from each player, now I can get $60+ or shut them out completely.
Position, Position, Position- If you are limit hold'em player migrated to no limit, you may not fully appreciate the power of position. I can't emphasize it enough. Being the last person to act, especially in heads up situations, affords you a lot power. It has been my experience that if you are in later position and someone checks, it is much more likely that they don't have much or are weak, then that they are going for a check raise. For example, let's say that a person raises pre-flop and you call with a middle pair. The flop comes back Ace high. If the person checks to you, it probably means they don't have an Ace, not that they have a set of Aces. So my advice is don't fear the check raise. If they check raise you once in a while, great, good for them. Most of the time it won't happen though. Another situation often happens in my games and that is when I am in with a flush draw on a raggedy flop. Let's say the flop is for example 752 with two hearts. The first person bets and I call. They bet again and I call. The flush or my over cards don't get there for me and the board pairs on the river and they check -- board is 7-5-2-6-7. Now that's a little weird, what did they have all this time that they would now check? A good size bet now would probably win the pot. It is very likely they also missed a draw of some kind or were just betting over-cards since the flop looked like it didn't hit you as well. Position is powerful only if you use it. Always keep it in the back of your mind that you don't need the winning hand to take the pot, you just need to make everyone else fold. If you can make some ballsy bets now and then at the right times, you'll make it very hard on your opponents. These are spots where I like to make my plays. Remember above how I mentioned I don't always bet in the back when everyone checks to me on the flop? I wrote that I like to play "honestly" there most of the time. The biggest reason for that, is so I can steal more later when
it really matters.
The Strongest Starting Hands:
PAIR of HIGH CARDS - AA, KK, QQ, JJ, 1010
ACE and HIGH CARD SUITED - AKs, AQs, AJs, A10s
FACES SUITED - KQs, KJs, QJs
ACE KING - AK
Medium Strength Starting Hands:
FACE TEN SUITED - K10s, Q10s, J10s
MEDIUM PAIRS - 99, 88, 77
TWO HIGH CARDS - AQ, AJ, A10 (ace king ranks higher, above), KQ down to J10
ACE and MEDIUM SUITED - A9s, A8s, A7s
MEDIUM SUITED CONNECTORS (No Gap/One Gap) - J9s, 109s, 108s, 98s, 97s down to 75s
Other Conditional Starting Hands:LOW PAIRS - 66, 55, 44, 33, 22
ACE and LOW SUITED - A6s, A5s, A4s, A3s, A2s
LOW SUITED CONNECTORS (No Gap/One Gap) - 65s, 64s, 54s, 53s (lowest)
Starting Hand Selection
If you spend your time memorizing tables on playing certain hands in certain positions, you'll never get very far in poker. The goal is to win and I think the strongest type of poker player is the guy who can switch gears and vary his play based on the table, hand and opponent.
Position - One thing you'll find in no limit hold'em is that position is much more of a factor. Position in limit hold'em is important but not even close to no limit. With that said, I am not a slave to position. I'm just as likely to play a hand like 9Ts under-the-gun (first position/worst position) as I am on the dealer button (last position/best position). The reason is because I don't get trapped and call unless I want. If someone raises me pre-flop a large amount, I can very easily fold. If lots of other people are in, I can call. I think position in limit hold'em and no limit are exactly reversed. In limit hold'em position is very important pre-flop, but after the flop it is of less importance. In no limit hold'em position is less important pre-flop and very important post flop. What's the worst thing that can happen if I limp in with 56s in early position in no limit? A person could raise, and then I just fold and lose my few bucks. A few bucks is nothing in no limit. In limit poker though, if I limp in with that hand in early position I am guaranteed to lose money in the long run. I can only win so much with the hand so I need to make sure there is enough money in pre-flop before I commit my bet (for limit hold'em). In no limit you can win a huge pot with any hand so calling a few dollars and then folding if it gets too expensive isn't as much of a concern. Moderation is the key, don't take this too far. You will lose if you play any two cards in any position and call any bet.
Big Loss Or Small Win - there is a concept in no limit poker regarding hands that either will win a small pot or lose a big one. These cards are usually hands like AJ, KJ, KT, KQ, etc. Those are good hands in limit poker but in no limit if you flop something with those and get action, you will most likely lose a big pot or just win a little one after everyone folds. That doesn't mean that I won't play those hands, it just means you have to watch out because they are the cards that will get you in trouble. I treat hands like this with great care. I honestly would prefer a hand like 45s over AJ. The 45s won't get me into any binds while the AJ will do nothing but that.
Trash Hands - I love garbage hands, especially if I can sneak in from the small blind by just calling half a bet. What are some garbage hands? T2s, 95, T6, 23, A2, etc. I love to just limp in with them from the small or big blind and then try to sting someone after flopping a big hand. The ones that do particularly well are the T and J rag hands: J2, J3, J4, etc and T4, T5, T2. The reason these do well is because if there was no raise pre-flop then the opposition most likely has hands like QJ, KJ, JT, etc. When you flop two pair you can really make them pay. What you want to avoid though is catching one pair and thinking it is good. If you have a crappy hand like J4 and the flop is J92, I probably wouldn't even bet from early position. It's going to be a small pot anyway since no one raised pre-flop so if you check and give it away even if you had the best hand so be it. Remember you are here to win some big pots, not a lot of little ones.
AA, KK And AK - These hands pretty much play themselves. You can have fun with them though. I'll mix up my play based on who I'm against (especially with Aces). When I get dealt Aces or Kings though, I'm always thinking in the back of my mind that I don't want to lose my whole stack with these. This is a huge weakness for new players. They get dealt AA or KK and then think they are guaranteed to win. That's not so. The best case scenario if you are dealt Aces is someone else has a hand they are raising with pre-flop. If that isn't the case I don't mess around with these hands. I'll play them straight forward and take my little pot. I'll raise pre-flop, then put a decent bet in on the flop and bigger on the turn. My goal if no one else has a big starting hand is just to win some, not a lot. Remember one pair isn't that great and if you get tons of action after the flop then you are in trouble. I don't make the majority of my money with big hands like this. Don't be discouraged if you finally get Aces and then win only a little with them. One tactic that sometimes will win a big pot is to feign weakness on the flop with your Aces. For example, if the flop comes back Jack high and you have Aces, waiting for a while and then only betting half the pot sometimes gets people to check raise or raise a large amount because they put you on AK. Then you just call and then put them all-in on the turn card. That happened to me last night and I got a good player to lose his whole stack to me.
Middle Pairs (QQ, JJ, TT) - I sometimes limp in with TT pre-flop but with Queens and Jacks you have to raise. I think out of all the hands in no limit, these are the toughest to play well. The best advice I can give is don't lose all your chips calling all-in with Queens or Jacks pre-flop. You'd be surprised how often you'll have AK, KK or AA against QQ or JJ. Being able to not lose a bunch in that situation is a sign you're doing something right. The tell tale sign of AA or KK is if you raise a good amount and then get re-raised or re-raised all-in by an unimaginative player. If I just get re-raised I'll most likely call. If the person has a bunch of chips and goes all-in then I'm going to have to look hard at the situation. Do I really want to put a lot of my money at risk when I only may be a small favorite (they have AK), or a big underdog (they have AA or KK)? How much it is going to cost me is another thing I look at in this situation. If I'm playing at a $200 game and it will just cost me $100 total then so be it. Or if the person is a wild player that raises a lot of hands and you don't know if they have anything, let alone a good hand then go ahead and do the dirty dance. Also understand that calling the re-raise and seeing the flop is only the start. Most likely all the money will go in by showdown. My goal in trouble spots like this is to just break even. If I can make a few reads here and there and win a few pots and then make a few mistakes and lose a few I'm ok with it.
Face Cards (AJ, KQ, KJ, QJ, QT etc) - I mentioned these hands above in the "lose a big pot or a win a small one" paragraph. My advice with these cards is to play them but be careful. I play these cards pretty weakly. If I flop something big like top two pair then of course I'll play more aggressively and try to win more but with just top pair I'm careful. I will bet but I'm not going to get married to the pot. What you want to avoid like the plague is calling big pre-flop raises with these, flopping top pair and paying off the raiser. That's how you lose fast in no limit poker. I will limp in with these hands from early position but if someone raises a good amount, I'm out unless lots of other people are in. I'll need a really strong flop to continue. There is no way I'll limp in with KJs, call a pre-flop raise, and then call all the way down with top pair hoping I'm good. If you don't have the initiative in the hand (doing the betting), there is a reason.
Small Pocket Pairs - Of all the hands in no limit hold'em, these are my favorites. They play themselves and when they hit, you are "set". My ideal situation is when I limp in with a small pocket pair in early position, get raised a decent amount from someone with a big pair or AK and then I call and flop trips. You'll hit your set/trips about 1 in 8 times. I'll call pre-flop with these hands as long as the raise isn't too much and the person has enough chips in front of them (or alternatively other people are in the hand too). Having pocket deuces is no different then having pocket fives or sevens. You won't continue on the flop unless you hit (or you see a bluffing opportunity in which case the denomination of your cards doesn't matter either). Pocket eights and up can win without improving but it's rare you'll get much action in those situations.
Suited Cards - In no limit hold'em I don't make a big distinction between a suited connector (67s) and two suited cards (T6s). In either case you are going to need a big flop to make much with the hand. In limit poker having the suited cards connected really helps out a lot but in no limit it doesn't matter as much. With these cards I'll limp in late position, sometimes in the front if they are decent cards. I particularly like the smaller suited cards like 35s or 46s. The reason is because if no one raised pre-flop it usually means someone is out there with a "weak ace" (A5, A6, A2, A3, etc). Sometimes you'll flop the straight and they will have two pair, in which case you can sting them nicely.
Staying Out Of Trouble - In limit hold'em much of the play is in the middle. What I mean by that is you win the majority of your money by just having decent hands -- top pair and betting it down. For example, you have KQ, raise, flop top pair, and bet it down and win. To play no limit well you need to adjust your thinking. In no limit you want either a great hand or a trash hand. You don't want a lot of stuff in the middle since a mistake can cost you your whole stack. This is why you would prefer to have 33 against a raiser instead of AJ or KQ. Remember we aren't playing tournaments here, we are playing ring games for money. That's a big distinction.
It is obvious that AA is a better starting hand then A2 but why are some hands strong in certain situations and why are some hands not? Extremes are always easy but most the game is spent in the muggy middle. Let's try to clear it up some.
For example, would you be surprised if your pocket aces lost when 9 other people were against you? What you prefer another hand, like a suited connector
in that situation like 89s? Why is it that K7s is not a very good hand but something like 87s is?
If you have already played hold'em for sometime then these answers may pop right out; it isn't obvious though to a beginner and it is funny that many people who have been playing for decades still can't seem to get it straight. Certain hands perform better in certain situations then they would in others.
Why do hands like K7s, J4s, J7s, Q7s, T6s suck?
The reason a hand like K7s sucks is because it has very little chance to win (obviously! you are probably thinking, but the question is why). The ways it can win are either very unlikely to happen, or you won't be able to play with much strength when they do. What exactly are you trying to catch when you play a hand like K7s? If you catch your King, then most likely your 7 kicker will be beaten. If you catch your 7 as top pair, you will most likely lose to over-cards hitting on the turn or river. Remember the odds of catching a flush draw on the flop aren't high either (check the probabilities table here). This hand also can't make a straight unless it is only one card. To catch two pair with it or to make trips in a weird way is also very unlikely. So the bottom line is, these hands don't make money unless you get lucky and luck doesn't pan out often (or it wouldn't be called luck). So with these kinds of crappy cards you really want to watch out. Either avoid them completely or only play them out of your blinds when it is very cheap.
Why do I not play anything below AT off suit? Why do I prefer playing A5s and below or ATs and above over something in the middle like A8s?
Any Ace unsuited hand below AT is in my book a trouble hand. Some people might even consider AT and AJ trouble hands too but for the games you are going to be playing in they are adequate starting hands. The reason A8, A7, A5 all suck is because you really can't hit much to win. Take A8 for example. Your kicker isn't that great, the 8, and you have no chance of hitting any straights or flushes. The only way you can win really is to hope that they have a weaker Ace then you do and you catch one. Like I mentioned in another article on here, playing poker well is like investing. You want to put your money in good opportunities that have a chance for a nice return and A8 off isn't that. Now to answer the question of ATs and above and A5s and below versus A9s A8s A7s A6s, I like the first ones because you can also make a straight with them. I would take A5s over A8s because the A and the 5 can work together to make a straight, unlike the A8s. When you play weak Aces though like A5s, you have to be extra cautious if you catch an Ace on the flop. You won't be sure if your kicker is good or not so you'll have to use some more thinking. Playing these only in later positions can help you make better decisions because people will check most likely if they don't have the A or that hand beat.
Why do hands like AA, KK, QQ, AK, AQ like fewer opponents?
Remember the scenario above when you were in the big blind, everyone is in the hand so far, and you look down and see two beautiful black Aces looking up at you? My heart usually starts going a mile a minute and then I look up to see that everyone has already called and my chances to win are slim. Big hands like this rarely win when there are that many people calling pre-flop. The reason is that it is very hard for AA to improve to anything more then just one pair. And in those big multi-way pots usually two pair or greater drags the chips. In that situation I may actually try to check raise on the flop instead of betting right now. The idea would be to try to cut off some people in the middle and make them fold. Limiting the field increases my chances to win with that hand.
Why do hands like JTs, 89s, QJs, KTs, 79s, 46s prefer lots of opponents?
I love little suited connectors in low limit hold'em. The reason is that I rarely get into trouble with them. When I hit something, it is usually really strong and when I miss it is an easy fold. This untrue for hands like AA and KK. With those you are pretty much married to the pot unless someone really makes it apparent that you are the loser. A hand like JTs and 89s are ideal for playing against big multi-action. The best situation would be if you are on the button or even in the big blind and every person calls before you. I would even raise there a lot of the time to just get more money in the pot. The reason these play well and favor large pots is because they are drawing to flushes and straights. They need lots of people in the hand to justify the cost of playing them. And they do well in that situation because when they make their hand they are hard to beat.
PLAY ONLY THE BEST STARTING HANDS
Types of Starting Hands by Rich McComas (updated Feb 6, 2004)
Below, I have categorized thirteen types of starting hands, in order of their value. The statistics are borrowed from www.pokalyzer.com which has ran 700 billion simulated hands to produce their results.
1. High Pairs (80%ers)
A high pair is a pair of Aces, Kings, or Queens. Some people count Jacks as high pairs, but I do not as they are not statistically matched to the value of other high pairs. My advice is Raise Pre-Flop and drive the garbage out. If you are in a late position, then you do not need to raise if someone else has driven out the garbage for you. However, if you are in the blind and someone else has raised, you might want to re-raise in order to increase the size of the pot from one more round of betting, and to drive out someone like a small blind who may have limped in with a mediocre hand. Whatever you do, DO NOT limp in with a high pair. If you fail to raise above the big blind and get beat by someone with a suited non-connector, it will be your own fault. If no one else has raised, it is your job to do so in every case.
These are legitimately the best hands in poker, so rather than jam the pot and re-raise pre-flop you should probably just call the raise, or slow-bet. If someone else has raised ahead of you, the garbage will be cleared and you can wait till the flop to reveal a betting strategy. If you flop a King and Ace, and you are holding two King, you will be in the driver's seat and no one will know what hit them.
ODDS: You are going to land any given pair every 220 hands you play, so a pocket pair of aces is extremely rare. Assuming you play 100 hands a night, it will only happen every other night. The chance of landing one of the high pairs, however, is once in every 73 hands, so it should happen to you once every evening. Don't lose out on that opportunity.
|Pair of Aces
|Pair of Kings
|Pair of Queens
2. Medium Pairs (70%ers)
A medium pair includes Jacks, Tens, Nines, Eights and Sevens. These are medium pairs because odds are that an over card will flop more than half of the time. Even though the odds of winning with a pair of Jacks is 77.2%, the chances of having the high pair after the flop are only 43%. You are hoping for trips so, but if you don't land them, only continue if you have the high pair possible, and then bet high to throw out the single face cards in the hole. Do not be suckered by landing another board pair, giving you two pair. Either someone else has trips or someone with a face card will get the high pair on the turn or river.
ODDS: The chance of landing any pocket pair of sevens or higher is the same as landing two cards ten or higher. These events happen every 5.4 hands you play (or 16% of the time).
|Pair of Jacks
|Pair of Tens
|Pair of Nines
|Pair of Eights
|Pair of Sevens
3. Ace-Face Suited (65%ers)
An ace with another face card of the same suit is Ace-High suited, which is a winning hand most of the time. Two suited hole cards only draw to a flush 3% of the time, but if they are both high, you have a great shot at winning high pair as well. Because you hold the ace, any draw to a straight is a close-end straight, so your odds are lower than an open-end straight.
ODDS: You will receive two suited cards every 3.3 hands, and it is likely that at least two players at the table have suited cards, so don't get over-excited about just any suited combination.
4. Ace-Face Off suit (63%ers)
An Ace plus a face card of another suit are the most frequently played hands in Hold 'em. Most people stay in and raise with this hand. If you pair the face card, you will have the high kicker, and if you pair the ace, you will probably have a higher kicker than anyone else. If you draw to a straight, you will beat other straights and at least split the pot.
|AK Off suit
|AQ Off suit
|AJ Off suit
5. Ace-Low Suited (60%ers)
An ace with anything 10 or lower in the same suit. This is not a hand to go heads up against someone with. This is best played in late position with a lot of callers already in the pot, giving you higher pot odds for a flush draw. This is also a good hand for stealing the blinds if you are on the button, because at least you have one ace in the hole. Mostly, though, I like to play this hand only in No Limit Hold'em because I may need to stay in to the river to get my cards, and I want to be able to go all-in and make a big score if I have the high flush. Earning a minor pot on such low odds just doesn't make as much sense.
POT ODDS: While the chances of winning against random hands are respectable, the chances of winning in heads-up play are not. Two suited pocket cards will flop a flush less than 1% of the time, and complete a flush by the river 6.52% of the time, and two separated cards (such as A5) will hit a draw will hit a draw only about 0.06% of the time. The probability of making a flush, therefore, is 15 to 1 against, meaning that you should really only enter the pot if there are 15 other players in, which never happens, so playing these cards with any regularity is a losing proposition.
If you are on the button, and the flop is cheap, and you do go with Ace-Low suited, then you should fold unless you immediately receive either two cards that match your hole cards or a four flush. The probability of flopping a four-flush is 8.1/1 or 10.9%, and the possibility of completing the flush by the river is 1.9/1 or 35%. When betting on the turn hoping for flush, you really want at least three people in the pot, or enough money for three in the pot.
6. Face-Face Off suit (58%)
Two face cards are best used when drawing to a straight, so you want to get into the flop as cheaply as possible. If your high card is a King, you will flop an Ace 23% of the time, and if your highest is a queen, a higher card will flop 41% of the time.
|KQ Off suit
|KJ Off suit
|QJ Off suit
7. Low Pairs (55%ers)
Low pairs are sixes or lower. All low pairs are questionable investments at best. If you all you have are have sixes, the chances are that someone will flop a higher pair 95% of the time. If you have a low pair and you flop a open-end straight draw, stay in, because you own TWO of the hole cards needed for the straight, lowering the odds that you will have to split the pot.
ODDS: You are going to land a pocket pair about once every 16 hands so don't get too excited about the lower pairs. Half the time, your pocket pairs will be high or medium pairs. Stick to those.
POT ODDS: Some people play low pairs in late position hoping to see trips, which is also the hope for higher pairs. If you take a pocket pair to the river, you have a 4.2/1 (19%) chance of making a set or better, so NEVER put money in the pot with this hand unless there are at least five other players. However, I don't bet on low pairs EVER, because it is more likely that someone else will take a straight or a flush or higher trips or a full house to the river and beat my low trips. With low pairs, I would never want to stay in unless I saw trips on the flop, and the chances of that are 7.5/1 (or 11.8%) so I would need 9 other people in the pot to make money, which is a very rare occurrence.
|Pair of Sixes
|Pair of Fives
|Pair of Fours
|Pair of Threes
|Pair of Deuces
8. King Flush Draw (55%ers)
A king plus another card in the same suit is a dangerous hand, unless the Ace is on the board, which will happen one-third of the time that you draw to a flush. These cards should be considered the same value as low pairs, except with a low pair, at least you know if you have trips on the flop. With a King Flush draw, you could have the ace on the flop, and still not get the flush on fifth street, so this is a potentially costly hand. See the section on "Sucker Hands" for more info.
9. Ace-Low Off suit (55%ers)
An Ace plus a non-suited card lower than a face card is one of the biggest losers in Hold'em. Most players stay in with any ace, especially if you are playing with less than 10 at a table. However, I routinely fold this hand because 75% of the time, with 20 cards dealt into the pocket, someone else is ALSO holding an Ace in the pocket, and more often than not, their kicker will be higher than yours.
10. Suited Connectors (45%ers)
Two suited cards next to each other are only slightly better than non-suited connectors because they help with the straight flush. If you draw to a flush or a straight ONLY, however, you are in serious risk of losing to larger straights or flushes. Don't get too excited about these cards because they share the same suit. The flush draw potential only increases your chances of winning by 3%. I generally fold all suited connectors, occasionally keeping a QJ or JT if I am in late position and several players are in and none have raised. If, after the flop, your hole card is at the low end of the straight, this is a classic "Sucker Hand." I know of some good players who love suited connectors, however, because they know on the flop if they have a killer hand, and a further investment will not be required. My attitude is that if you love suited connectors pre-flop, you might as well get equally excited about any low straight draw.
ODDS: You will receive a suited connector once every 46 hands (or 2.1% of the time), and this is so rare, that people tend to jump for joy whenever it happens, not thinking that the changes of getting a 2-4 are even worse.
11. Low Straight Draw (42%ers)
Two cards of different suits next to each other in value are going for a straight draw, and they are 3% less likely to win than the comparable suited connectors. Like suited connectors, only stay in if the pot is big because there are lots of other players calling pre-flop. Two low cards not in order is a Trash hand, and is not a Low Straight draw even if they are separated by only one card. Also, 3-2 in the pocket is the worst possible hand in poker even it if is a straight draw. An excellent analysis of unsuited connectors can be found at: http://www.pokerstove.com/unsuited.txt.
|JT Off suit
|98 Off suit
|76 Off suit
|54 Off suit
|32 Off suit
12. Two Suited Cards (40%ers)
Two other suited cards, with at least one NOT being a face card, results in a four-flush flop only 10% of the time, and only a third of those finish as a flush. This is a loser hand.
13. Trash Hands
Everything not mentioned above is a trash hand (as are some of the hands above, in my opinion), and there is no coincidence that these are in unlucky category 13. The only reason anyone stays in with these hands is that the flop was so cheap that the couldn't say no, such as being in the big blind with no raises. If you get a trash hand, and you are in the small blind, only consider calling if everyone else has and if you are sure that the person in the big blind won't raise you.
Tight play- starting hands
Any position- Raise with AA, KK, and AKs.
1st position: Call with AK, AQ, KQ, QQ, JJ, TT and fold everything else.
Early position: Raise with AK, AQ, KQ, QQ, JJ, TT, AJ, KQs.
Middle position: Raise with AK, AQ, KQ, QQ, JJ, TT, AJ, KQs, KQo, KJs, QJs
Call A10s, A10o, KJo, QJo, K10s, 99, 88
Late position: Raise with AK, AQ, KQ, QQ, JJ, TT, AJ, KQs, KQo, KJs, QJs ATs, ATo, K10s, KJo, QJo, 99, 88
Call with A any, KT, QT, JT, 77, 66, 55, Q10s, Q10o, K10o, J10s, J10o, J9s, 44, 33, 22
Only play strong hands that will stand a raise or multiple raises from early betting positions.
Play medium strength and other playable hands from the later positions if you have a good chance of seeing the flop at a reasonable price.
Bet an Ace or two high over cards after a garbage flop (a three suit "rainbow" with unconnected medium and low cards). Usually fold if someone raises.
If there is not a pair showing on the table: there cannot be a hand existing of a full house, nor four of a kind.
If there is not at least 3 same suit cards showing on the table; there cannot be a hand existing of a flush, straight flush, nor Royal Flush.
You have about a 1 in 8 chance of hitting a set when you hold a pocket pair. You also have about a 33% chance of completing a flush draw at the flop.
After you fold, don't watch the flop, watch the other players.
He who acts first usually acts last
The aggressor usually wins in no limit
In Hold'em, two unpaired hole cards will fail to make a pair on the flop about 66 percent of the time
If you're not in the hand then keep your mouth shut
Odds are an important part of Texas Hold'em. If you don't know how to calculate poker odds and pot odds you will have a hard time making correct decisions in difficult situations.
What are the chances of hitting a flush draw? What are the chances of your pocket pair improving to a set on the flop. You will find the answers to these questions, and many more, on this page. It's difficult to memorize all this information, but you should at least have a basic understanding of this if you want to become a winning Texas Hold'em player.
For example, players with no insight into the issue of pot odds versus winning chances can often be seen folding on the river against bets that are just a tiny fraction of the pot size, ignoring the fact that calling would be motivated by virtue of even the lowest bluff frequency on the part of the opponent.
||Probability / Odds Against
||1 in 17 - 16:1
|Suited cards pre-flop
||1 in 4.2 - 3.2:1
|Suited Connectors (2/3, KQ, ...)
||1 in 25 - 24:1
|AA or KK pre-flop
||1 in 111 - 110:1
||1 in 83 - 82:1
||1 in 332 - 331:1
|A in hand pre-flop
||1 in 6.25 - 5.25:1
|AA, KK, QQ, JJ
||1 in 56 - 55:1
|Flop being all one kind (JJJ or QQQ)
||1 in 425 - 424:1
|AA versus KK pre-flop (heads up)
||1 in 22560 - 22559:1
|AK dealt pre-flop and hitting an A or K by the river
||1 in 2 - even
|QQ versus AK heads up till river
||1 in 1.78 - 14:11 favorite
|Two cards pre-flop that are Js or higher
||1 in 11 - 10:1
|Beer Hand (72off) pre-flop (or any other non-suited two card combo)
||1 in 110 - 109:1
||Probability / Odds Against
|Four flush completing (JsTs Flop Qs4sAd 6h Ks)
||1 in 2.6 - 3:2
|Open Ended Straight-Flush completing to flush or straight by river
||1 in 1.85
|Open Ended Straight completing (JT Flop Q94 86)
||1 in 2.9 - ~2:1
|Two Pair on flop Improving to Full House
||1 in 5.8 - ~5:1
|Three of a kind (set) on flop improving to Full House or Quads
||1 in 2.7- ~3:2
||Probability / Odds Against
|Pocket pair improving to three of a kind on flop
||1 in 8 - 7:1
|No pair hand pre-flop improving to a pair on the flop (either card)
||1 in 3.125 - ~2:1
|If you have suited cards, two will flop
||1 in 9 - 8:1
|One pair on flop improving to two pair or three of a kind by river
||1 in 4.7 - ~4:1
|Pocket pair improving to three of a kind after flop
||1 in 11 - 10:1
|Two over cards improving to a pair by river
||1 in 3.9 - ~3:1
|Two over cards and a gutshot improving to pair or straight
||1 in 2.3 - 4:3
|Gutshot straight draw hitting by river
||1 in 6 - 5:1
|Gutshot and pair improving to two pair or better
||1 in 2.6 - 3:2
|Backdoor Flush hitting (5s6s Flop 7sAh9c KsJs)
||1 in 24 - 23:1
|Runner Runner Straight (56 Flop 3TQ 47)
||1 in 68 - 67:1
|Backdoor Flush and One Over Card improving to that pair or flush
||1 in 6 - 5:1
|Catching Ace on turn or river (A4 Flop Q63 KA)
||1 in 8 - 7:1
|Backdoor Flush and Gutshot improving to one by river (Ac4c Flop 3s5cKs)
||1 in 4.8 - 3.8:1
|Backdoor Flush And Two Over Cards improving to pair or flush
||1 in 3.3 - 2.3:1
|5 players on flop, that someone has an A when one is on board
||1 in 1.7
|4 players on flop, that someone has an A when one is on board
||1 in 2.1
|3 players on flop, that someone has an A when one is on board
||1 in 2.9
|2 players on flop, that someone has an A when one is on board
||1 in 4.3
|3 of one suit on board and another coming (QsTs2s) if you have one
||1 in 2.6 - 3:2
|5 players in with board paired, chance of one of them having it
||1 in 2.4
|4 players in with board paired, chance of one of them having it
||1 in 3
|3 players in with board paired, chance of one of them having it
||1 in 4
|2 players in with board paired, chance of one of them having it
||1 in 5.8
Position is simply where you are sitting in relation to the dealer's button. In hold'em and many other poker games, your position at the table is a big factor. The strength of your position comes from the fact that the betting goes in a clockwise fashion. In a favorable position you get to see how many other players react to their hands and whether they fold, bet, or call before you do. The poker phrase, "Position is power" comes from this simple idea.
There are many names associated with position to identify where players are sitting in relation to the dealer's button. Each particular position has its own strengths or weaknesses.
The small blind has the worst position after the flop and must invest half a bet.
The big blind invests an entire bet and similarly has a poor position.
The player under the gun has the worst position pre-flop and a junk position afterwards.
The button has the best position during any betting round.
The importance of your position depends on many factors. For example, in no limit hold'em, position is much more important than in limit hold'em. It is always better to be in an late position though, so it is important to identify what hands are generally playable in all positions.
For example, lets say you're under the gun. You have Queen-Ten, unsuited and decide to limp into the pot. The player to bet after you raises, and everyone but you folds.. Now you're in a jam. Chances are good that this player has a better hand than you. If they have any ace, king, or pocket pair, they are statistically better than you. You'd suspect that someone who raised has at least a hand like that. Now you can either call again and go into the flop as an underdog or you can fold and just give up a bet. What's worse is that if you call, you will be acting before this player for the rest of the hand. On the other hand, let's say you're on the button. You have Queen-Ten, unsuited and everybody folds to you. One option would be to fold and let the blinds fight it out. Another would be the just call and see what happens on the flop. Many players here would raise because you could steal the blinds and even if you didn't, you'd act after them for the remainder of the hand. Raising is only a viable option because of your favorable position.
Another notable factor is that position goes hand in hand with knowing the players directly around you. For example, an aggressive, blind-stealing player to the immediate right of a tight player usually results in the tight player's blinds getting stolen.
Being in late position with a good hand has major strengths over being early with a good hand. Early position raisers are assumed to have a good hand and it tends to scare players away. Early pre-flop raises can force the other players to call two bets at once (or more in the case of pot limit or no limit hold'em) when there is nearly nothing in the pot worth fighting for. In late position, there may be players who have already called one bet. Those players only have to call one bet (in limit) with a little something already in the pot. So players in late position with a good hand have the ability to manipulate the pot size, which will make future bets easier to call in the upcoming betting rounds.
In poker, position means power. Acting after opponents is valuable because you garner clues about their hands while giving out minimal information regarding your own. Also, against one or two opponents, you can often take the pot with a mere bet if they've checked to you. In most things in life, you hate being last. In poker, you'll learn to love it.
EARLY DECISIONS MATTER MOST:
Early choices usually mean more than later ones because of their impact on subsequent decisions. Whenever you make an incorrect move up front, you run the risk of rendering each subsequent decision incorrect as well. That's why your choice of starting hands is usually much more critical than how you play on future betting rounds.
When you're losing, consider gearing down . . . way down, by playing fewer hands. Losing means it's time for lots of traction and not much speed. It's a time for playing only the best starting hands. Not marginal hands, not good or even very good starting hands, but only the best hands. That means you'll throw away hand after hand. It takes discipline to do this, particularly when some of the hands would have won.
But here's the recipe for gearing down: Stay away from troublesome, marginal hands. Go with the gold. Make opponents pay to draw out on you. Most of the time they won't get lucky, and that extra money in the pot will wind up in your stack of chips. Never play weak starting hands from early position.
Your position is of vital importance in deciding whether to open the pot.
As detailed earlier, you should strive to play most of your hands from late position, since this allows you to ascertain more accurately the strength of your opponents. At no point in the hand is this more evident than in deciding whether to open a pot for a raise.
Very few hands should be played from early position, which can be classified as the first three seats in a 10-handed game. You won't go wrong sticking to only premium hands, such as J-J, A-K, or A-Q suited. In good games (those with several weak players), money can be made by playing T-T, 9-9, A-J, and K-Q suited as well. This is because the poorer players will be calling your raises with worse hands than these, which would not necessarily be the case in tighter games.
If the other players have folded to you and you are sitting in any middle position, you can add a few more hands to your opening range. Now, pairs such as 9-9 are definitely worth a raise, as are big suited cards such as A-J or K-Q. A-Q off suit is also worth raising now. The hands 8-8, A-T suited, and A-J off suit are marginal here, becoming more playable in later middle position.
On the button, you can dramatically expand your playbook when it's folded to you. The primary reason for this is that you have only the blinds to contend with, meaning that even if they should decide to defend (call from a blind position in a raised pot), you will hold position on them for the remainder of the hand. Pairs such as 5-5 should be played in virtually every situation, and you can raise with the baby pairs too, if the blinds are either very tight or poor players. You want to capitalize on players who play too tight in the blinds by raising them at every opportunity. When a poor player is in the blind and you hold the button, you shouldn't mind playing quite a variety of hands either, as you hold position on this inferior player for the rest of the hand. This is a good way to attract chips your way.
In addition to any pair, you can open on the button with hands as weak as K-T or Q-T off suit, or with suited hands such as K-8. The button is the one time you may wish to open with a drawing hand. Again, position is a major reason, along with the fact that if both blinds fold, you win the pot right away. Even if you do get called, your position and aggression will often allow you to pick up the pot with a bet on the flop.
Suppose playing Texas Hold'em you are under the gun with a marginal hand like KJo. What should you do? Some learning players would immediately consult their starting hand charts, either literally or in their memory, and then decide what action to take. Unfortunately, rigid adherence to artificial charts is the root of ruin of many people who might otherwise become quite good poker players. A lot of these players may in fact become winning players, especially in rake games where the house takes its cut from the pot rather than equally from each player, but I suggest most players relying on starting hand charts are either doomed to never be much good at poker, or will end up as merely mediocre.
Strong, solid winning poker is all about situational analyses. Every situation is somewhere between slightly different and very different from other situations -- even if you hold the very same cards! KJo is just not KJo, even if the situations appear the same on the surface.
Suppose you have two very weak/loose players in the blinds, with you holding KJo first to act. Ideally, you would want to play with these two loose players with this hand. At the same time, suppose you have weak/tight players behind you, who will fold hands as good as AQo if it is raised. The correct play here will often be to raise with the KJo, and much of the time get to play against the two weak players in the blinds. Now change this, and you have two loose/aggressive players in the blinds and solid/strong players behind you who will re-raise you with AQo. Well, now your KJo is a pile of muckable junk.
At the very least, it should be easy to see that these two situations are extremely different from each other. Whatever value KJ has in the first scenario with weak players behind you and in the blinds, it has less value with aggressive players in those positions. It’s not the same. A solid, sensible player should consult his or her brain when facing these very different circumstances -- not some silly chart divorced from reality.
What you do in a poker game depends on the game conditions, the players in the blind, who has acted so far, who won or lost the previous pots, and so on. A dozen or more factors should go into your thought process of why a hand should be played, and how it should be played. Another example is: Suppose two super-tight players are in the blinds and you are one behind the button. The universe of hands you should play for a raise here is simple: every single two-card combination from AA to 72o. No starting hand chart can tell you that. Observing the people does.
When I was a kid, the Moms in the neighborhood had discussions about the best way to teach a five year-old how to ride a bicycle. Some supported using training wheels. Others thought "ride and fall" was the best way. While the training wheel kids started off great, zipping around on their big bikes while the other kids were crashing into hedges, soon the freewheeling kids passed the training wheels kids, by far too.
Starting hand charts are training wheels, crutches. They keep you from actually doing the stuff of playing of poker: critical, situational, analytical thinking.
A rank amateur can look at a starting hand chart once and get some ideas about hands, but a chart itself is meaningless for one look. All that needs to be done is novices need to be told tendencies, like you should tend to play stronger hands out of position than you need to play in position. Starting hand charts lead to people thinking totally wrong in terms of how to play poker. They send you down the wrong road. They give you a bad crutch. They are simply just about the worst possible tool for a learning player to use.
Simplistic, robotic strategies can lead to a player doing decently (since most players play poorly) but robots miss out on profit the thoughtful players get, and robots present no threat to a genuinely strong player.
Poker is mostly not about cards, it’s about people. Memorization of starting hand charts is a recipe for permanent mediocrity.
Texas Hold’em is a game of strategy. Position, patience, and power are the keys to winning. Making good hand selections is the most critical part of the game and determines whether or not you are successful in winning hands.
Most players lose because they play too many hands. There are 169 possible starting card combinations that can be dealt of which only about 50% are playable. The best two card starting hand is A-A. The worst starting hand is 7-2 unsuited.
Being aware of your position at the table in relation to the dealer is also a factor. You need a stronger hand to act from an "early position" because you have more players acting after you who may raise or re-raise the pot. It is important that you wait for a strong starting hand to play if you are in an early position.
The player to the left of the big blind, the third player to the left of the dealer, acts first after the pocket cards are dealt and before the flop. He or she is considered to be in early position. Depending on how many players are at the table, the next player could also be considered to be in early position.
The next player or players are in "middle position". They are the players after the early position and are usually considered to be the fifth, sixth, and seventh positions to the left of the dealer.
The two players to the right of the dealer are considered to be in "late position" and bet last.
Here are some recommended guidelines for starting hands:
In early position:
Raise with A-A, K-K, and A-K from any position.
Call with A-K, A-Q, K-Q, Q-Q, J-J, T-T, and fold everything else.
In middle position:
Call with 9-9, 8-8, A-J, A-T, Q-J, A-Q, and K-Q.
In late position:
Call with A-any card, K-T, Q-T, J-T and small pairs.
It takes a stronger hand to call a raise than it does to make one. If there is a raise before it is your turn to act, you should fold. Most players will not raise pre-flop unless they have a good starting hand.
Most players will play any two suited cards from any position, and they will play ace with any small second "kicker" card. These hands are losers in the long run and should be evaluated carefully.
Many players feel they must call all raises if they have put in the small or big blind bets even if they only have a marginal hand. Don’t waste additional money on marginal hands. Don’t automatically call the small blind if you have nothing.
Before you start betting like a madman when you get two eights in the pocket, you need to carefully consider all factors involved in solid pre-flop strategy.
The factors to consider are the number of players, how aggressive/passive the players at the table are, your bankroll, your position, and how much risk you are willing to entail.
Number of players: With 10 people in the game, it's much more likely that someone else has a strong hand in the pocket than in a short-handed game. Also, you'll need to be more cautious in larger games, as the chances of someone's pre-flop hand fitting the flop will be much better. More competition means stiffer competition.
How aggressive the players are: Assuming you've been playing with a few people for several hands, and you noticed some jackass is raising every hand pre-flop, you'll want to play tighter. Let the guy win the blinds (big deal) and nail him to the wall when you have a solid hand in the pocket pre-flop.
Your bankroll: If you have $2 left, you'll want to play extremely carefully and select one hand to bet on, hoping to get as many players involved as possible for a larger pot. You'll want to be all-in before the flop is dealt. On the flip-side, if you have $1000 at a $1/$2 table, you can take the high-risk, high-payout bets.
Your position: People in late position have the ability to influence the size of the pot much more than those in early position. This is especially true pre-flop. (see our page on position for more info)
Your tolerance for risk: Depending on your playing style, you may want to play more or less aggressively pre-flop. Players who shoot for larger pots, but don't mind a greater chance for losing a few hands will want to raise pre-flop, especially if they are in late position. Some players prefer to be as selective as possible pre-flop, grinding out a winning hand here or there. It really depends on your own style of play, and how you perceive the players around you.
You might also want to consider what cards you have in your hand. Naturally, AA is the best to start with. It helps if your hand is suited or if the cards are sequential in rank like a Seven and an Eight ("connected"). It's important to understand how your two cards hold up against other combinations of cards though. I good discussion of pre-flop hands can be found on our pre-flop hand comparison page. For specific statistics on how your two specific cards interact with the flop, try our pre-flop calculator.
There are many mistakes being made pre-flop. To fix the leaks in your game I suggest you follow the following pre-flop strategy until you get a feel of the game and the players that you are playing with.
First position / under the gun: Raise with AA, KK, AKs, QQ, AK, JJ, AQs, AQo, or AJs.
Early position: Raise with same hands plus 1010, AJ, KQs.
Middle position: Raise with same hands plus KQo, KJs, QJs
Call A10s, A10o, KJo, QJo, K10s, 99, 88
Late position: Raise with same hands plus A10s, K10s, KJo, QJo, 99, 88
Call with 77, 66, 55, Q10s, Q10o, K10o, J10s, J10o, J9s
Remember that this is also subjective. Sometime you don't raise exactly as this chart says. You are only raising as this chart says when you have no raises before you and few players calling before you. This chart represents the raises you should make if you have 1-3 players calling before you.
A bet is a declaration that either:
a) "I have the best hand and I'll wager money on it" or
b) "You have a poor hand, and you will fold if you are forced to wager on it".
Typically, players are supposed to bet when they have a good hand. Players who don't have good hands are supposed to fold. Of course, if it was this simple, there would be no need for this page. You might as well wager on Tic-Tac-Toe. Most players play contrary to this idea, attempting to be a cunning or deceptive player. Don't fall into this trap when you are just learning to play.
Your betting strategy should be built upon this simple idea, but you must know when to stray and bet in situations when you otherwise wouldn't. Here are some situations you should start looking at to improve your game:
Example one: Blind-stealing
When you are in the dealer's position, and only you and the blinds are remaining in the game, a raise is often called "blind-stealing". This is because the blinds may fold, whereas if you didn't raise but simply called, the blinds would simply check. Its a good way to make a buck or two, but will never make you rich. Its more of a way to end the game fast and have a new hand dealt with more players (and more money).
Example two: The steal-raise
If you are last to act and all players have checked to you, betting to simply limit the number of players or take the pot is called a steal-raise. Don't use this exclusively, as better players will be onto you quickly and begin check-raising against your (most likely) poor hand. It is good to use a steal raise when you have an excellent drawing hand such as a nut flush draw. Players will tend to "check to the raiser". If you draw to your hand, you now have a larger pot to win. If you don't, you can always check, and hope the fifth card makes your hand.
Example three: The check-raise
Check raising is checking to your opponent, with the intention of luring them to bet, so that you can raise them back. Your intention is to lure them into a false sense of security so that you can raise them and increase the pot (remember, after one bet is committed, its more likely they'll commit to two).
Example four: The opener
This reckless move is often done by people who bluff. It is when the person first to act raises, making all other players call two bets at once. Its intention is to limit the number of players. Basically, this move amounts to a backwards steal-raise. The effect will almost certainly cause many players to fold, but the ones remaining will either be equally aggressive or truly have a great hand. This is also known as betting for information. This tactic is best used with few players in on the hand.
Example five: Squeezing
Squeezing is a tactic only used in a short-handed game. It's betting when you have a good hand currently, and you suspect another player or players may be on a draw. For example, you have top pair with the best kicker. Chances are they won't make their draw (be it a straight or a flush draw, etc). Your goal is to limit their pot odds.
How Much To Bet
If you already know how to play limit hold'em, one issue you'll be faced with when playing no limit is the question of how much to bet. Let me start off by saying what is typical. Let's say you are playing in a $100 no limit buy-in game where the blinds are 1/2. It would be normal for people to raise anywhere from $6-10 pre-flop. You'll see people raising different amounts, sometimes much more then that or just doubling the big blind, but by and large it is usually about 3 or 4 times the big blind. So is that how much you should raise? Maybe, maybe not. How much you should raise pre-flop depends on who you are playing with and what you want to accomplish. I've heard many players talk about how raising the same amount pre-flop and betting the same amount post flop (the size of the pot for example) is good because you don't give away any information about the strength of your hand. In other words people can't look at how much you are betting and getting a better read on what you have. I don't buy into that. I think that varying your amounts is much more advantageous to winning money. You need to be flexible and see opportunities to where you can maximize your return. If a guy is willing to call with all of his money, why would you want to only bet the size of the pot?
Let me give you some different scenarios. Let's say you are on the dealer button with KK and seven people before you called $4. Your goal with the raise is to cut down the competition and get one or two callers. A raise to $6 or $8 won't do. In this case you can raise much more then you normally would for a few reasons: one, there are already a lot of people in and the likelihood of getting called by a couple of them is high; two, there is already a lot of money in the pot; three, you want to get out of a bunch of the hands since your hand doesn't play well against a lot of people. A raise here for $12 or even $15 would be fine.
Another scenario might be if you have a really bad player at the table who doesn't seem to ever fold pre-flop if he has already called the big blind. If you find a person like that, then by all means raise as much as you can without making him fold. It's very common to find players like this and when you do, make sure you get as much of their money as you can before someone else does. This is where paying attention comes in handy. If you notice someone else just raised $15 pre-flop and he called, then I would do the same if I was dealt a good hand. Post flop play again depends on two things, what you want to accomplish and who your opponents are.
Let me give another few scenarios. Let's say that you have flopped a set of 7s and you are fairly sure that the person you are against has a big hand since he raised pre-flop. This is a prime money making opportunity. Your goal here is not to shut him out on the flop. You want to do whatever you can to make him put all his money in the middle. This might be calling the flop and then check raising the turn card. Or you may want to bet some into him and pretend like you have a marginal hand, then call his raise and check raise the turn, etc. See it all depends on what you think the best way to get all his money might be.
Another extreme is when you don't want anyone to call. Let's say for example you have T9 and the flop is T98. You really don't want anyone to call here so you better come out swinging. What you are trying to do is make it unprofitable for someone to call with a draw. Lastly, let's say you flop top pair with a decent hand. Betting the size of the pot is fine here.
The Script-Phil Gordon April 4, 2005
In an effort to simplify my decisions, every single time it's my turn to act, I try to run through the same script in my head:
Are my opponents playing conservatively? Aggressively? Tentatively?
What are some of the hands my opponents are likely to hold?
What do my opponents think I have?
Once I have the answer to the first question, and feel confident about my range of answers for the second and third questions, I move on to the most important question:
Should I bet or raise?
If I think I have the best hand, I nearly always answer "Yes" and I bet or raise.
If I think I can force weak opponents out of the pot with this bet or with future bets, I nearly always answer "Yes" and I bet or raise.
If I don't think betting or raising is the right decision, I move on to the last question:
Should I check (or fold)?
If I think I have the worst hand, I nearly always answer "Yes" and I check or fold.
If I think my opponents are strong, I nearly always answer "Yes" and check or fold.
After a careful analysis, if I'm not sure if I should raise and I'm not sure I should fold, I feel confident that calling a bet (or checking) is correct.
I find that even in straight-forward and obvious situations, by running through the script I often find opportunities that other players might miss.
And by asking the "raise" question before the "fold" and "call" question, I ensure that I am playing aggressive, winning poker.
Try using this script next time you sit down at the table, and see if simplifying your inner dialog forces your opponents into making more complicated decisions.
Calling a hand means putting money in the pot to match a bet that has been made before your turn to act. In order to play your starting hand, your two pocket cards, you must call the big blind bet and any other raises that are made before the action gets to you. If a player after you re-raises the bet, you will have to match that amount as well to stay in the hand.
The number one reason that players lose money is that they play too many hands. This means they call too much. The most important decision a player can make is deciding which starting hands to play. You want to play a starting hand if you have a pocket pair or if you have a high probability of drawing a hand in the flop.
Whether or not you enter a hand will depend on several important considerations:
The strength of your hand
Your position in the betting round
How many players have entered the pot
If the pot was raised in front of you
Texas Hold’em is a position game. You need a stronger hand to call from an earlier betting position, such as being the first or second person to act, than you do in a later position, being one of the last two players to act.
The term "limping in" is used when you enter a pot by just calling the big blind bet. If you limp in from an early position, you take the risk that a player betting after you may raise the pot. If this happens, you either have to call, or match, the raise, fold, or re-raise. When deciding whether or not to play a hand, you should ask yourself if you are willing to call the pot if it is raised. If you have a marginal hand, you may want to dump it by folding it instead of calling.
In later positions, you will have more information about your opponents and the possible strengths of their hands.
Calling on the Flop
The flop or first three community cards define your hand. After the flop, your hand is 71% complete as you have seen five of the possible seven cards in the hand.
When deciding whether to continue after a flop, you should use the "fit or fold" strategy. If the flop gives you a hand or makes your hand stronger, you should go ahead and continue by calling.
If it improves your hand by giving you a pair, two pair, or better
If it gives you a good draw by giving you four cards of a flush
If it gives you a good draw by giving you four cards of a straight
If you started with a big pocket pair
If there is not a fit, you should fold rather than call the bet.
Calling on the Turn
If you get to the turn, the fourth community card, and you don’t have a hand, you should fold.
Too much money is lost by players who hope to catch a miracle card on the river, the last community card.
If you don’t have a hand before the river, the best you can hope to draw is a pair which will probably lose.
If another player raises on the turn and you only hold a pair, you are likely to lose and should fold. Players don’t usually raise on the turn without having a strong hand.
Calling on the River
One is to call a losing bet which will cost you the price of a bet
The other is to fold which will cost you all the money in the pot
When you get to the river, there are two mistakes you can make:
If there is a slight chance you may have the winning hand, you should risk one more bet and call.
Again, many pros try to disguise their entire face by wearing a cap and looking downward. This is to avoid the classic stare down that poker pros are famous for. They may try to study your face for nervousness (detecting a weak hand), or even look for repetitive characteristics like a body "tic". You may have obvious unhappiness in your face when your hand is weak, and conversely, you may show a contrasting show of confidence when your hand is strong.
Anxiety typically occurs in people when they are confronted, or anticipating confrontation. Psychologists call this the "Fight or Flight" stimulus response, which links back to the days when we were cavemen/cave women. Physical changes happen including flexing of muscles, eye pupil dilation, palpitating heart rate, dry throat. In poker, when someone has a big hand they are typically ready for confrontation and can exhibit some of these characteristics. You may see the chest expanding abnormally, or you may notice the players voice become slightly higher as he makes a comment. Some of the top players in the game will stare at the vein on the top-side of your face for blood pressure changes. During a bluff, the player may demonstrate anxiety, but if he knows he will fold the hand if re-raised (non-confrontational end) may look quite comfortable.
Glance at Chips
Again, relating to the eyes. It is common for players to quickly glance at their chips if they connect with the board after a Flop for example. This may be a subconscious reaction, but the player is already planning his attack.
Repetitive Betting Patterns
Usually the most revealing tells are based on the way a player habitually bets during particular situations. For example, maybe the player always checks when he has made the nuts, or a player may regularly fold after being re-raised.
When you first sit down at a table, study the way the players stack their chips. Although it is a generalization, loose aggressive players typically maintain unorganized/sloppy stacks, while tight conservative players keep well organized/neat stacks.
Spotting Online Poker Tells
What are poker tells? Tells are often described as a twitch of the nose,
a crease on the forehead or a physical clue of some kind that alerts you to
what your opponent is holding. You'll often hear poker greats talking about
reading their opponent's hand based solely on a tell that they picked up on.
That's great and all when you're playing in a real poker room, but when you're
playing poker online, it becomes a whole different story trying to spot online tells.
Debunking the Myth of Physical Tells
The first thing that I'm going to do however, is take a little bit of the mysticism out
of tells. In reality, even though players will have physical cues or ticks when
they play poker, it's often not as straight-forward as the professionals would have
For example, if a player is blinking rapidly, you might be certain
that it's a tell - but does it mean they have a strong hand or a weak hand? On
the other hand, maybe it means their contacts are drying out as well or they're
sensitive to smoke. Physical tells are often unreliable because of this. That
said, there are certain 'general' physical tells that apply to a decent amount people,
which will be covered later in this article.
Online Tells, the Art of Observing Unseen Opponents
If physical tells are hard enough, then you must be asking how on Earth are you
supposed to spot online tells? The answer is actually a little surprising. Since
you can't actually see your opponent when playing internet poker, the only information
that you have to go on is: the speed of their action (check, bet or raise), the
significance of their action (big bet vs. small bet) and how it compares to their
For this article, we're going to focus on direct online tells that you can observe,
which is primarily the speed of your opponents' action and their bet size.
Pattern recognition, the biggest tell of all, is complicated enough that it will have to be addressed in it's
own article (coming soon). For now though, there's still a lot of information you
can gleam from observing your opponent through your computer screen.
General Online Tells to Look For
Here is a listing of general online poker tells that you will often see. The
concept that you should keep in mind when deciphering tells is to
remember the following:
The golden rule of tells is that a strong opponent will
try to act weak, while a weak opponent will try to act strong.
Long pause, followed by a raise (very strong):
This has to be the cornerstone tell of most players. The irony is that by using this strategy,
they are actually giving off their own tell. The whole logic behind this
play screams strength, because people usually only do it when there is a big possible hand
on the table, like a flush or straight. You bet, your opponent pauses for about 10-15 seconds and
then raises you. In English, he might as well be saying: "Hmm... there's a flush possibility on the
table and you've bet into it. Man, I really have to think about this because you might have a really
strong hand! Oh well, I think I'm beat, but I *guess* I'll raise...". Don't fall for this. Sometimes,
a player legitimately thinks you're bluffing the river or whatever so he's raising you back, but most
of the time he's got a big hand.
Instant automatic raise (usually very strong):
By automatic raise, I mean a raise that is so fast that it can only happen when a user has checked
the 'bet/raise all' button. While occasionally this is used by maniacs and bluffers, most of the time
it's used by a player who is so sure of his hand that he is willing to bet or raise regardless of the action.
This usually means that you want to tread carefully and consider folding or check-calling this down. It should
always raise a big warning sign at the very least.
Instant automatic check (weak or folding hand):
This is a pretty straight-forward tell, as almost every player uses the auto-check
button only when they are willing to fold their hand. Sometimes players will be willing
to call after auto-checking, but it's incredibly rare to see someone check-raise with
the auto-check button. So, when you're in a small field and it's auto-checked to you,
you can often take down the pot right then and there.
Odd number bet, such as betting $9.95 instead of $10 (neutral hand)
This comes up quite often on the internet no limit games, where players are
able to bet with fractions of a dollar. When a player does this, you shouldn't
look into it either way. Some players do this routinely to throw off their opponents,
others do this to make their bet size look bigger and scarier (induce folds), while
others try to get you to call when doing this.
Opponent quickly calls your bet (moderate to semi-weak hand)
Usually when someone is chasing you or has a marginal hand, they'll make a fast call to
look as if they're not scared of your bet. With reverse psychology, you can figure out that
this is an intimidation ploy, because if they did have a strong hand, they'd be raising your
bet instead of flat calling. In this situation, you can often continue to bet as
normal. That said, some players on tilt or experienced players will often make quick
calls, as they really do intend on calling to the river.
Size of the Bet Often Equates Strength
One of the reasons that no limit hold'em is considered the marquee game of poker, is
because there's a lot more information and risk to deal with. One critical piece of
information, is how much your opponent bets. As such, in no limit games, you'll often
want to pay attention to not only how fast your opponent is betting, but how much
they are betting. The following are again, general tells that you might find useful.
Very small bets (weak hand, sometimes monster):
An example of this tell would be a pot that is currently worth $10. There are 4
players on the flop and it's checked to the button, who bets out a measly $2.
More often than not, this should indicate a weak hand, as the size of this bet
doesn't protect the bettor's hand from being outdrawn.
Quite often though, you'll see these small bets pick up the pot, as the person who bets is usually in good
position to make this bet. If you are looking to improve your game, you should sometimes
consider a check-raise in this situation. If you timed your play correctly, your opponent
will have nothing and will be forced to fold, awarding you the pot.
Warning: Many players will often do this on purpose to try and 'sucker'
other players into the pot. I've actually use this strategy with good success
against other solid players, who notice such 'tricks'. So if you decide to pull this off,
be sure that you've targeted the right opponent so that you are not walking into a trap.
Massive all-in bets vs. size of pot (monster or bluff)
This play is usually reserved for weak players or very aggressive players. For many
weak players, they will wait until they have a monster hand, then push all-in, hoping
someone will call them. It may not matter that the pot is $5 and they're betting $100 -
they just know they have a good hand and are hoping someone is stupid enough to call.
On the other hand, the all-in is also a signal of a bluff if the bet is too large for the pot.
The reason for this logic, is that when a player has a monster hand, they are usually
more interested in stringing a player along to extract the most value, rather than
shoving their chips in and hoping someone calls.
This is a hard tell to decipher, because the results are on the two exact opposite
ends of the spectrum- you're either up against a monster or an outright bluff. The
only way to figure out where you're at, is to have paid attention to your opponent
up to the point where they made this bet. Are they trying to make you fold with this
bet, or are they looking to take all your chips? Are they the type to expect you to
call your chips here, or are they the type to think you'll fold to this bet? It's
a difficult question to answer, but answering it right is what makes you a strong
Recognizing Betting Patterns in Opponent Behavior
Pattern recognition is one of the key strengths that you'll need in poker, although
it is rarely discussed in books. It requires a good memory and the ability to walk
forward and backward through current and present hands that have played out. The
reason it's so crucial, is that once you can identify your opponent's poker patterns,
you will be able to recognize when they are doing something out of the norm. This
means you have a much better chance of avoiding their monsters or catching them
on a bluff.
This topic will require a whole new article, but for the time being, here's a
quick point to take notes on. When a person does anything that is unnatural to them,
it causes stress. Stress is the coping mechanism for dealing with a situation
that the person is not used to. In order to deal with stress, the person usually
needs to be in a more confident position than normal, in order to handle the stress.
In English, what this means in poker is that when your opponent does something
that is unnatural to their regular patterns, more often than not, it means they
have a strong hand. Weak hands take much more guts and effort to bluff and see
through, which is why most players aren't good at bluffing or rarely do it. This
leads to our second conclusion that most of the time you are raised, you're probably
against a better hand. Not a golden rule, but just food for thought.
Example of Tell Patterns in Player Chat
There will always be people chatting it up in a poker game, even via internet poker.
From my personal observation, most solid players don't do a lot of talking when online, as they
are too busy multi-tabling. That said, you can often hear many of the top players doing a lot of talking
in real life, but that is because they are in their own league and are trying to wrestle
information from you by overwhelming you with their own chatter. Daniel Negreanu and Mike Matusow are
two examples of these types of players.
Going on our previous topic of patterns, a major tell that is often correct, is when
you notice an otherwise quiet player suddenly start talking. They don't have to say much
more than "I'm bluffing" or "I guess I'll bet" to be considered. First, this is a change
in pattern, which as you know now, usually means strength. Moreso from a psychological viewpoint
a player who is bluffing is scared and under stress. In this situation, a person will find
it harder to hold a conversation and talk if they were actually bluffing.
So, when a shy, quiet guy is able to talk, the psychological viewpoint is that they
have suddenly become relaxed enough to talk to the table. They would be relaxed unless
they were confident and not worried. That should spell out one thing to you, which is a big hand.
Not always, but careful observation should really help pick this one out.
How to Prevent Giving Away Tells
Lastly, poker would be easy if it were merely about spotting what other people are doing wrong, but you could
be giving off all sorts of signs to your opponents at the table without knowing it. A good idea is
to always give yourself the same amount of time before making an action. When the action is to you,
make two mental counts and then select your action. If you're going to fold, then it's probably ok
to simply auto-fold if it's pre-flop. What you want to do is simply not let anyone onto your game at
The other way to not give out tells is to simply be unpredictable. Never do the same thing
twice and vary up your game. This is commonly known as 'changing gears', which is a tactic
that all solid poker players use, especially in tournaments. Working on changing your strategy
between being aggressive and conservative during a game will be the best way to throw your opponents
off from picking up any tells on you.
Conclusion of Online Tells
As you can see, you don't actually have to visually see another player in order to
guess what is going on their head. While their character on your screen might not twitch
or eat Oreo cookies when they have a big hand (that's a reference to the movie Rounders),
they'll often do other things that'll be big enough tells for you to pick up on.
It takes time to develop your own tells intuition to how players behave on the internet,
so don't worry if you make a lot of mistakes early on. Once you get a good library of
experience behind you, you'll be able to figure out better than 50% when people are
lying and when they are not. That, will make you a winner at poker.
Question: Overcoming Tells.
Hi, thanks for the great site. I had a question regarding my tells. I was playing 1/2 hold'em last night, and ended up on the downside because I can easily be read. If I flop a straight, I turn serious and people instantly know I am holding the nuts.
For example, I held JQ suited, the flop came 8 9 10.
I bet, and the person who told me I had obvious tells, folded his K 10 on the flop. Normally, he would have raised someone with that hand. This is clearly disastrous towards my game, but when I try to get rid of this tell, my 'acting' is so awkward that again, people can easily tell.
Do you have any suggestions on maintaining a solid composure to not give away my hand every time?
Answer: First of all, in poker sometimes your stuck with hands that are so obvious you can't really do much else but win a small pot. An example of that is if you have AA and the flop is AKK and no one has a King. Or if you have a trips on a flop like AA4 or 773. Your example isn't that obvious though and I'm surprised that someone would fold their KT there.
There are two things at work here. The first may be your awkwardness and the second is the texture of the hand in relation with your table image. If you are awkward, you need to pinpoint exactly what you are doing that makes it seem as though you are holding a monster. Is it that you are acting too smoothly and quietly? Is it that you are too anxious? Try mixing up your betting styles on other hands so that it disguises your good hands a bit more. I intentionally do that in my games so people don't get a read on how I'm acting. My buddy will even actually say things sometimes when he does have good hands to throw people off. For example, he says, "I have the nuts man! Why are you calling me? I have all of this flop! Fold man! You're beat!" The funny thing is that he actually does have the nuts and it makes them want to call even more. I don't suggest doing that (unless the guy deserves it) but the point is that you need to be consistently inconsistent with the way you bet (not the amount but actually how you put the chips in, your pause, if you say anything and where your eyes are focused). The better the opponent, the more subtle I am with my misinformation and most of the time it works. The nice aspect of being subtle is that people don't think you are actually trying to confuse them; instead, they think they are discovering something and it makes them more confident. Let me give you an example of a move you can do sometimes if you actually want a call. If someone bets into you, pause for a bit without touching your chips. Then reach down for them and kind of stumble and hesitate. Then go back for your chips and push some in and say "raise" a little more forcefully then normal and stare at them for a couple seconds and then look away from the table completely until they act.
In addition to the awkwardness, there is the table image you have. Obviously, if you haven't been in a hand for 3 hours and you raise, people are going to notice. Look at it this way, if you know someone else never bluffs and they raise you, it must mean something, right? You don't want to give other players that much power over you or they can easily dodge all your hands. This is why deception is essential to playing winning poker. You need to bluff sometimes, or push hands, in the right spots. A little goes along way and it can be the difference between winning and losing overall. You don't want people always knowing what you have and only calling you when they think they have you beat or will draw and out beat you. I would suggest that one or two times the next session you play to look for another spot like 89T and then bet. If they call you down the whole way, you get exactly what you want: all the action on future hands. If they raise you, you can always pull another dirty trick and "accidentally" expose your cards when you are throwing them in the muck pile. The key to good poker is thinking one level above everyone else. Even if people think you are an idiot, you can use that to your advantage. What was that show on TV a while ago with the bumbling detective? Colombo, I think. He would be a good poker player because no one would give him any respect.
Calculating Pot Odds
The ability to calculate pot odds is a necessary part of any poker players game. Our goal is to play the law of averages as opposed to blind luck, in determining whether or not calling a bet is a profitable decision.
Pot odds decisions are one of poker's most elementary, yet it is one of the most common mistakes made by amateur players at all levels. No matter if you are playing a nickel/dime no limit game at Absolute Poker or the $100/$200 table at Party Poker, you will always find a player who is making bad pot odd decisions or ignoring them entirely, meanwhile paying off the rest of the table!
The most straightforward explanation of how to calculate pot odds is to compare the total number of unknown cards to how many outs you have, and then do some simple division.
For example, if you are four to a nut flush on the turn of a Texas Hold'em game, there are 46 unknown cards, (52 minus your 2 pocket cards and 4 on the board). Of those 46 cards, 9 are the same suit as your flush draw. So 37 cards will not help you, while 9 will give you the nut flush hand.
Your odds are : 37/9, or more simply, 4.1 to 1 odds against making your draw.
A good poker player will only call a bet in this case, if there is already 4x that amount already in the pot. So if you were playing a game of $5/$10 limit, then there would need to be at least $40 already in the pot to justify your calling that $10 bet to see the river.
How about those inside straight draws that are so tempting to hang onto? You have 4 outs, with 46 unknown cards on the turn. 42 cards are no help, 4 make you the winner. 42/4 = 10.5! You would need over 10 times the amount of your call to be in the pot already, to justify this decision. Only in a wild game of poker will this kind of call pay off in the long run.
Believe it or not, those wild games do exist online, where inside straight draws have good odds. Take a moment to check our Poker Room Reviews, for "fish factor" ratings of the various online poker rooms.
Is there an easier way to calculate pot odds?
Thankfully, there are several short cuts that have been devised to make a quick judgment for pot odds.
(Total Outs x 2) + 2
One of the easiest methods I have found is to take your total outs, multiply times 2, and then add 2. This is roughly a percentage chance of making your hand.
Using one of our examples above, your inside straight draw has 4 outs. 4x2 = 8. Add 2, for a total of 10. You have roughly a 10% chance to make your hand. Your call should be no more than 10% of what is already in the pot. This method is quick and decently effective, though certain calculations will be a bit off. This method does not take into consideration the fact that you may have more than one card remaining to come, it simply estimates your chance of hitting your "out" on your next card.
Do you know of other pot odds shortcuts? Please take a moment to share them in our forums. We are always looking to learn new and creative methods that do not include using a calculator at the poker table!
Pot Odds Cheat Sheet
Finally, a favorite method is to use a good cheat sheet. Obviously, carrying a cheat sheet to a brick and mortar casino will practically scream "Shark bait!" However, if you are playing online, it is a great option. The cheat sheet below shows odds against making your hand with both 2 cards to come as well as 1 card.
||2 Cards to come
||1 Card to come
While pot odds at times can seem a pain to calculate, especially in games like 7 Card Stud where one has to keep up with so many "known" cards, rest assured, its well worth the trouble.
Hanging onto unprofitable draw hands is one of the major leaks in many a player's game. Following strict pot odds to make your draw decisions will help plug this leak!
Finally, the most painless way I have found to memorize the common pot odds numbers is to print out or write down your cheat sheet and refer to it as you play poker online. You will find yourself having to refer to it less and less, and eventually, not at all.
Combine good poker math, solid strategy and a lucrative poker bonus code here and there and you will see some major improvement in your poker bankroll!
In calculating pot odds, you compare your outs to the chances of winning the pot. If your outs are better than the ratio of the pot size to the current call bet, then you have good pot odds and should make the bet. If your outs are lower than the pot odds, then you should fold.
Example: Starting with a pocket pair of Jacks, a $100 pot, and a call bet of $10
Your outs are two remaining Jacks divided by fifty unseen cards pre-flop or 2-in-50 or 1-in-25.
Your pot odds are $10-to-$100 or 1-in-10.
Your out odds (1-in-25) are less than your pot odds (1-in-10) so you should fold.
Example: Starting with two suited pocked cards, a $200 pot, and a call bet of $10
Your outs to make a flush are thirteen cards in a suit minus your two pocket suited cards so eleven remaining suited cards. Eleven divided by fifty unseen cards pre-flop equals 11-in-50 or 1-in-4.54.
Your pot odds are $10-to-$200 or 1-in-20.
You out odds (1-in-4.54) are greater than your pot odds (1-in-20) so you should go ahead and call the bet.
Example: Starting with consecutive pocket cards plus two more consecutive cards in the flop, a $150 pot, and a call bet of $15
Your outs to make a straight are two cards times four suits or eight remaining cards. Eight divided by forty-seven unseen cards pre-turn equals 8-in-47 or 1-in-6.25.
Your pot odds are $15-to-$150 or 1-in-10.
You out odds (1-in-6.25) are greater than your pot odds (1-in-10) so you should go ahead and make the bet.
The 2/4 Rule For Calculating Odds
One of the hard things to do in hold'em is to calculate odds on the fly. Regular flush draws and straight draws are easy to figure, since you run across them so often. What is difficult is calculating weird drawing hands.
Remember, how we determine if a drawing hand is worth calling is comparing how much we might win with what our chances are of hitting. If we put in money into long shot draws and don't get enough chips back, we lose in the long run (regardless of the short term results). If you play tournament poker, often times decisions will come down to comparing how much a person bet with how much is in the pot. One question I get often is: How do I know my chances of hitting my draw without having to do complex math in my head at the table? We have a quick way of figuring the odds and it is the 2/4 rule. The 2/4 rule gives you an answer that is within a percent or two of the actual figure. How the 2/4 rule for odds is as follows. First, you need to count your outs. Outs in hold'em are cards that can come to complete your hand. Let's say you have four to the flush on the flop. There are 9 cards left in the deck that can come to complete your flush (there are 13 of each suite in a deck). Now, next you multiply your outs by either 2 or 4 depending on if you are going to see one or two cards (either the turn or river, or turn and river). That number is then the amount of time your draw will hit. So for my flush draw to hit on either the turn or river I multiply my 9 outs by 4. That gives me 36. That means there is a 36% chance of my flush getting there if I call both the turn AND river. If I were to only see the turn OR river card, I would only multiply my outs by 2 -- which equals 18%. This comes in very handy. You'll be faced with decisions based on odds all the time. In big multi-way limit hold'em pots you'll sometimes have a weak holding but there might be enough money in the pot to peel off a card and in no limit hold'em, how much your opponent bets will always be a consideration whether or not you call.
I'm going to one more example:
I have A5s in the big blind in limit hold'em.
Three people limp and a person in the back raises. I call. Everyone calls. I make a quick mental note before the flop that there are 10 small bets in the pot.
The flop comes back J-8-5.
One person checks, another person bets and the pre-flop raiser just calls. Should I call, knowing that the first person most likely already has a Jack to beat me? In this case, I would call to see the turn card only. My chance to hit one of my two more 5's or three more Aces is around 10% on the turn card. I multiply my 5 outs by 2. I only multiply by 2 instead of 4 because I'm not going to see the river card too, just the turn card unless I hit. I'm getting that amount on the flop right now alone, and I can figure I'll make even more money from the people after the flop too. If this were a no limit hold'em game, I would be making a similar calculation on the flop to see whether it was worth investing more in.
4/2 Rule for calculating odds...
Question: Just got turned onto your site and let me just say, it's great! I heard about a "shortcut" to figuring out poker odds that I really like; the 4 - 2 rule. It says to take the number of outs you have before the turn and simply multiply it by 4 to determine your success rate. Do the same thing before the river but multiply it by 2. Are there any "shortcuts" that use this same methodology to figuring out whether I should stay in the hand? If so, what are they? If not, should I conform and just use the normal way of calculating odds? Please help. Thanks. Brandon W. Howe
Answer: Thanks for the question Brandon. I too have heard of the 4/2 rule. Let's put it to the test on a hand and see if it is fairly accurate. Let's use the common flush draw. You have 9hTh and the flop is Ah - 4h - 6s You have 9 hearts to complete the hand which means to catch it by the river you do this (9/47 and 9/46) which is about 35%. If you miss it on the turn card and have to catch it only on the river then the chance is 9/46 which is about 20%. Using the 4/2 rule we get 4x9outs = 36% and 2x9 outs for 18%. So for all intents and purposes, the 4/2 rule works very well. That is a good tip!
The Rule of 4 and 2
After the flop, count your outs. For example, if you are four to the flush, you have nine outs. If you have an open-ended straight draw, you have eight outs. There may be several ways to improve your hand, so figure out the total number of outs. Now, multiply your outs by four, and that will be your approximate percentage chance of improving/making your hand. If you want to get more specific, subtract one percent for every out you have in excess of eight outs. So, if you have nine outs, the math goes like this: 9 x 4 = 36 - 1 = 35%. That formula works after the flop.
After the turn, the math is different. Multiply your outs by two and then add two to that number. So, if you miss your flush card on the turn, with one card left to come on the river, and still nine outs, your odds of making the flush are about 20% : 9 x 2 = 18 + 2 = 20%.
This trick won’t give you the exact percentage, but it gets you close enough to consider your bet as a percentage of the total size of the pot. If you have a 20% chance to make your hand, and you are required to call a bet less than 20% of the total pot, the math says you should call. If the required bet as a percent of the total pot exceeds your chances of making your hand, the math says you should fold.
Pot Odds Tips
Question: I have enjoyed many of your articles and have learned many useful tips to improve my game. I am mostly a beginner who play for small amounts with other couples. I have played on the computer for the last six months and lost on a regular basis until I started reading your sites. Now I will usually break even in the sit and goes.
My question is this: When figuring pot odds, how do you quickly figure how much is in the pot. Do you keep track of it as you go or do you estimate when it is your turn. I don't like taking too much time to figure this out when it is a friendly game.
My second question is to clarify the 2/4 rule. If I have Ace 8 h and the flop is queen h 5h 3d. My outs are 9 h's and 3 aces for a total of 12 outs. To hit 4th St. I have about a 24% chance and to the river I have about a 48%. Lets say the pot size is $100 and it will cost me $25 or less to stay, do I stay, what if it will cost me $75 to stay to see 4th st. I want to make sure I am calculating this properly.
Thanks Always a rookie.
Answer: Thanks for the question. First of all, let's go over math for specific odds. Using the 2/4 rule, we can see that indeed you have around a 48% chance of hitting your draw by the river. To make this example simple, let's say the person you are against is going all-in. The reason we are setting the example up in this way is because then we can avoid talking about things like how much money you might make in addition to what is in the pot, if you could bust him out, etc. With 14 or 15 outs, if you call till the river you are even money. Should you call if the player bets $25 all-in? Should you call if he bets $50 all-in? How much would you be willing to call with considering your draw?
To figure these questions out, we just compare our return to our risk. If our risk is even to our return, then we break even, if our return is more than our risk, we make money. If the person bets $25 into a $100 pot, you are getting 25/125 return on your chance of hitting. Your $25 investment divided by the pot ($100) plus his bet of $25. Since you have around a 50% chance to win and 25/125 equals 20%, you are getting a great return on the investment. You call. We compared 25/125 to 48/100 (return to your risk)
If the guy bets $50, do you call? Now you have your 50% chance of winning compared to 50/150 (your investment divided by his bet plus the pot size). 50% is greater than 33% so again you have a good spot to call in. 50/150 compared to 48/100
How much can he bet to make it even money against you? In other words you only break even in the long run. To calculate that, you can use this equation:
x = his bet
x/(pot + x) = your % of winning
x/(100 + x) = your % of winning
x/(100 + x) = .48
x = 48 + .48x
.52x = 48
x = 92
He would have to bet ~$92 into a $100 with your draw to make it break even -- anymore he bet would skew the odds against you so it wouldn't be worth calling ( if our only consideration is the odds). And to make sure our math is right, we just compare the two fractions like we did above: 92/192 should be about equal to our 48/100
Now nobody is going to go through all these equations in their head when playing and try to figure out down to the cent if it is worth while to call. I just did this so you could get an idea for the math behind your decisions -- the relationship between risk and reward. For all intents and purposes, you can just round off the numbers to make quicker decisions. Round 48% to 50. 50/100 is a 1/2 which is a 1:1. A 1:1 means that he can bet as much as in the pot and I'll get the right return. If he bets $100 into a $100 pot, if I call $100, I'll get even money. If he bets less, I make money, and if he bets more, I lose money in the long run.
In limit hold'em, calculating odds usually isn't quite of a difficulty because most of the time the pot is laying you very good odds for draws. If you have an open-ended draw or a flush draw, most of the time it is a no brainer to call. In no limit hold'em though, it becomes harder because you have additional factors to include. The first major issue for draws in no limit -- if you decide to merely call -- is what are you going to do on the turn card if you miss? Will you call now with only around half the chance that you had before, putting more money into the pot? See in no limit hold'em, you need to not only pay attention to what the current bet will cost you, but also what the total cost for the hand might be. Most of the time if the person bets on the turn card, it will be in relation to the pot size which means it will be much larger than the initial flop bet. The next factor playing in to whether you should play your draw or not is what is the upside? Implied odds matter in limit hold'em too but in no limit the amount you can win with one hand is much greater. Does the person have a lot of chips? Are you likely to be able to trap them for more money if you hit? Is your draw obvious so even if you hit, you aren't likely to get more money if you bet? Sometimes, factors such as these, make the odds a gray area. As you progress, you'll have an easier time judging how much you might be able to win with a hand based on the texture of the flop, the opponents, etc. Next, how you play draws in NL hold'em tournaments changes too. Often times good players will have the odds to draw for a hand, but they won't because it will risk too many chips at that point in the game. They would much prefer to wait for an opportunity when they have something and are forcing someone else to still catch. A made hand is always better than a drawing hand, even if the drawing hand in the long run will have the edge because in tournaments, you don't have a chance to
To finish up, let me give an example of a hand in a no limit cash game that ties into what I mentioned above. I have 46 in the BB. One person limps in, another person raises only doubling the big blind. I call. The other person calls. The flop comes back A - 3 - 7. The pot is currently $300. I check, the other guy checks and the raiser now bets. What am I thinking about? Is my only thought, "I have a gutshot draw and what is the bet in relation to how much is in the pot?" No, I'm also thinking about how many chips the guy has and if this is an opportunity if the right card hits I might bust him for everything he has. The more chips he has, the better. My chance of hitting the gutshot on the turn is around 8% (using our 2/4 rule -- 4 outs X 2). If the guy had $1000+ stack and I figured he caught an Ace, or had another good hand, I might call him for even a $100 bet. I would especially make this play if the guy was new and I saw that he was waiting all day for hands. I figure that either he has AK, AQ or an under-pair. If I call the flop and hit on the turn, I might bust him completely. Also, my call on the flop might scare him enough to make him give me a free card on the turn, which might give me a chance to hit on the river and win with a small pair or the straight. See the odds were not the only consideration in my thought process for calling or not. I had to take into account the player, his/her stack, the chance of it trapping (a flush draw obviously doesn't trap as well as a small straight), the other players in the hand, etc.
A Way To Approximate The Odds
Clonie Gowen March 21, 2005
It is very difficult to calculate the exact odds of hitting a drawing hand when you're sitting at the poker table. Unless you're a genius with a gift for mathematics like Chris Ferguson, you will not be able to do it. That leaves two options for the rest of us: The first option is to sit at home with a calculator, figure out the odds for every possible combination of draws, and then memorize them. That way, no matter what situation comes up, you always know the odds. But for those of us without a perfect memory, there's an easier way. Here is a simple trick for estimating those odds.
The first thing you need to do is to figure out how many "outs" you have. An "out" is any card that gives you a made hand. To do this, simply count the number of cards available that give the hand you are drawing to. For example: suppose you hold Ac 8c and the flop comes Qh 9c 4c. You have a flush draw. There are thirteen clubs in the deck and you are looking at four of them -- the two in your hand, and the two on the board. That leaves nine clubs left in the deck, and two chances to hit one.
The trick to figuring out the approximate percentage chance of hitting the flush is to multiply your outs times the number of chances to hit it. In this case that would be nine outs multiplied by two chances, or eighteen. Then take that number, multiply times two, and add a percentage sign. The approximate percentage of the time you will make the flush is 36%. (The exact percentage is 34.97%.) Now let's say that on that same flop you hold the Jd Th. In this case you would have an open ended straight draw with eight outs to hit the straight (four kings and four eights). Eight outs with two cards to come gives you sixteen outs. Multiply times two and you will hit the straight approximately 32% (31.46% exactly) of the time.
One important thing to keep in mind is that the percentage stated is merely the percentage of the time that you will hit the hand you are drawing to, NOT the percentage of time that you will win the pot. You may hit your hand and still lose. In the first example, the Qc will pair the board and may give somearticle a full house. In the second example both the Kc and the 8c will put a possible flush on the board, giving you the straight, but not necessarily the winning hand. Still, knowing the approximate likelihood of making your hand is a good beginning step on the road to better poker.
Poker Odds - What Are They?
There is a series of articles on CardsChat explaining fundamental poker concepts - Expected Value, Pot- and Implied Odds, Position, etc. I've been asked to make an easier-to-understand version of the article explaining odds. I'm not intending to replace the current article; this is an "instead-of" for those who prefer to take a more practical stance towards odds. So whereas the old article takes off from the idea of Expected Value, this text will simply look at what odds are, what they mean and what they affect. Let's start with some basic definitions:
"Seven to One"
When a bet is made, and you're offered "seven to one" (usually written "7:1"), this means that the other person will pay you 7 if you win, and you will pay him 1 if you lose. 7 what or 1 what? Could be dollars, could be euros, could be cookies. Could be anything! The point is that he will pay you seven times as much if you win as you have to pay him if you lose.
So if someone offers you 7:1 on a race horse, and you take the deal and bet $20, he will pay you $140 if you win and you will pay him $20 if you lose. As a side note, if it's a bookmaker you're dealing with you will usually give him your $20 before the race, and he will then pay you $140 plus your $20 back after the race, i.e. $160. So if you think your horse is more likely to win than the odds you get, you should take the bet.
And if someone offers you 6:1 after the river card in hold'em, and you think you have better odds than that to win the pot, you should call. Of course, it's difficult to know if your hand is the better than your opponent's, but you should at least have some idea of how likely it your hand is to be best, but it's still a matter of judgment. To avoid having to discuss judgment calls, let's look at a situation where you can be certain:
You're on the turn in hold'em, and you're holding Q♥ 9♥ in last position.
The board is A♥ K♥ 4♠
The player before you bets. He's a tight player, and you know he's unlikely to bet without at least a pair of kings, and likely a pair of aces, here. Your only chance of winning this pot is if the last card is a third heart, giving you a flush. There are nine cards that you have not seen out of 46 in the deck that will give you this flush, so you have about a 9/46 chance to hit on the river. Another way of putting this is that there are 9 cards that will make you win, and 46-9 = 37 cards that will make you lose. The odds are therefore 37 to 9, or just about 4:1. If there is more than four times as much in the pot as it costs you to call, you should continue, since you have a profitable situation!
To give another example: You have K♠ Q♠ and the board on the turn is Q♥ J♦ J♠ T♣. You believe that your opponent is holding K-K. To determine your odds, we have to first figure out how many cards will make you a winner:
An ace will give you an ace-high straight, so the four remaining aces are good for you (4). Furthermore, any of the four remaining nines will give you both a king-high straight, so they are good for a split as well (4). A king would give you two pair, but would give your opponent a full house, so they won't help you, but a queen would give you a full house. So there are two more queens in the deck that will make you win (2).
4+4+2 = 10, 10 cards will "win or split" the pot, and 44-10 = 34 will mean that we lose. Our odds to win or split are 34:10 against, in other words, or 3.4:1. If the pot is $100, and your opponent bets $40, the pot odds will be 3.5:1 which is just enough to show a profit from calling.
Pot Odds: You Don't Have to Win Often
Many players mistakenly believe, even some experienced players, that you're wrong to continue in situations where you're not favorite to win. This is usually good advice, but it's advice that doesn't take into account any of the circumstances other than the (current) strength of your hand and what you believe your opponent to hold. In the example above, with the flush draw, you should definitely not fold if the pot is laying you better odds than 4:1. You're a huge dog (meaning that the odds are strongly to your disadvantage) but you will win the big pot often enough to make it worth continuing. When the pot offers you high odds, you don't need to win often, is the lesson here.
Let's turn to an example outside poker, again: If you and I were betting on the roll of a die, and you bet $1 that it would come up a 6, how much would you need me to pay you if you wanted to make a profit from the bet? Well, my odds of winning are 5:1; there are 5 ways that I can win, and only 1 way that you can win. You need, therefore, odds that are better for you than 5:1. If I pay you $6 when you win, and you pay me $1 when I win, you will show a long-term profit, because if we roll the die 600 times, for example, you will win on average 100 times (100 * $6 = $600) and lose 500 times (500 * $1 = $500). The money that you stand to win, as compared to the amount of money that you need to invest to be able to win them, is what constitutes your pot odds. In the above example with the flush draw, your pot odds needed to be better than 4:1 to continue - the pot needed to be at least four times as big as what you had to pay to call. It's a way of qualifying your investment, you could say.
Implied Odds: Gimme All Your Money!
If you understand what is meant by pot odds, you should now be ready to absorb the idea of implied odds. It's easy, really - it's based on the idea that if you're drawing to a hand (let's stick with the flush example above) you are likely to, on average, win more than what's in the pot right now if you do make it. If you do hit your flush on the turn or the river, isn't it likely that you can trick your opponent into giving you a little more of his money? If he has a pair of aces and you have a flush, you should be able to get at least one or two more bets from him. If he has two pair or a set, you should be able to win lots!
That's the simple idea behind implied odds - you can sometimes make a call where the pot odds aren't really sufficient (a "loose" call) but you do it because you figure that in the rare cases where you hit your hand, you will win more than what's in the pot right now. If you think that your opponent has AQ, in the hand above, you will often win at least three more bets from him on the turn and river if you hit your flush on the turn: he bets the turn (1), you raise, he calls (2), he checks the river, you bet, and he calls (3). With an extra three bets waiting for you if you make it on the turn, this future profit will make somewhat loose calls on the flop often correct.
Implied odds is the name of the game when it comes to no-limit. Unlike limit poker, a powerful hand that hits in no-limit can win your opponent's entire stack. An example of this that is often used to demonstrate the power of implied odds, is when you're in the big blind, playing deepstack no-limit hold'em, and the button raises three times the big blind. He accidentally flashes his cards, and you can see that he holds A-A. You look down and see that you have pocket sevens. Should you call? Yes! You know that you're terribly behind to his aces, but - and this is the key - those rare times that you do hit your set on the flop, you are likely to win his entire stack. That will usually more than make up for all the times you lose your initial investment of three big blinds.
However, and this is very important, don't put too much stock in implied odds. You can't know for sure that your opponent will pay you off when you hit (how often will he actually flash his pocket aces at you?), so be careful.
How do I Know What My Odds Are?
Well, figuring out your immediate pot odds should be easy. You know the size of the pot (if you're playing online it should say somewhere, and if you're playing in a casino, you can either manually count the chips or ask the dealer), and you know how much your opponent bet. Your pot odds are size-of-the-pot to amount-you-have-to-pay-to-call. If the pot is $50, and your opponent bets $50 ("bets the pot") the pot will grow to $100. You will have to pay another $50 to call, meaning that your odds are 100:50. Since it's only the ratio we are interested in, we can simplify 100:50 to 2:1. So if your opponent bets the pot, your odds are 2:1 on a call (this is always true of course, regardless of how big the pot is).
Figuring out what your odds of winning are is more difficult. There are only two extreme cases where you can be certain of your odds; When you're drawing to the nuts, and when you've seen your opponent's hole cards. All other cases include some degree of hand-reading and/or guessing. For example, in the first example with the flush draw, we were drawing to the nuts. If another heart (that isn't the 4♥, making a full house possible) comes, we can be entirely certain that we have the best hand on the table.
This article isn't intended to help you figure out what your odds of winning are, however. There are books that will help you make estimations (Harrington on Hold'em vol I and II does a good job of this in no-limit scenarios) and experience will take you a long way here. I include a list at the bottom of this article to give you some idea, however, but it requires that you have some idea of what your opponent holds.
Being Realistic About My Odds
Before I unleash the list below, I wanted to add a word or two about being unrealistic about your odds: When you're drawing to anything but the nuts, there is always a small risk that you will not improve to the best hand, but merely a better hand than what you have before. This is fairly disastrous when it happens, since you're now not "only losing" the cost of calling, but likely losing a whole lot more because you're raising with what you incorrectly believe is the best hand. When the risk of this happening is small, for instance when you're drawing to a second-nut flush with suited hole cards, you can mostly discard the risk. But when you're drawing to over-cards, for instance, you should be very suspicious. But, as I said, I don't intend to try to teach you how to exactly count your outs based on hand reading, number of people in the pot, re-draws, etc., that may be a topic for another article. For today, let's stick with understanding the basics.
Some Common Odds
Figuring out your odds of winning is a matter of "counting your outs". When, in the first example with the flush, I said you had 9 cards that would make your hand the best, that's the same as saying that "you have nine outs." Any card that will give you the best hand is an out. Sometimes it's easy to count your outs, especially when you're drawing to the nuts, and sometimes it's virtually impossible. Anyway, the numbers below are based on some assumptions, which in turn are listed next to odds. I've also not included any odds to tell you what your chances are of hitting a hand with two cards to come. I know that a lot of people like to know these numbers, but I'm not sure why because they don't help, except in the fairly uncommon scenario where either you or your opponent are all-in already on the flop. So, without further ado:
Open-Ended Straight Draw: 4.8 : 1
For example, 8-7 on a A-9-6-2 board. You are drawing to 8 outs - the four fives, and the four tens, these will give you the nuts. These odds of winning presume that there is no possible flush on the board, and that you're drawing to the pure nuts. If you have 7-6 on a A-9-8-K board, the tens may not be outs for you, as they could possibly make someone else a bigger straight (someone who has QJ).
Four to a Flush: 4.1 : 1
Like the first example above. The assumption is that you're drawing to the nut flush, e.g. no one can make a higher flush than you. This is especially important if you only have one card to make the flush, i.e. your two hole cards are not suited. If your hole cards are suited, and there are two more of your suit on the board, you can most often treat any flush as the nuts since it's very rare that you will be up against another person with two cards in the hole of your suit. If you are drawing to a four flush on the board, however, you should be extremely careful if you do not have the ace. People like drawing to flushes, and people like playing aces - these two facts combined make your odds of winning a lot lower if you chase to anything but the nut flush in these cases.
Inside Straight (Belly Buster): 10.5 : 1
Again, I'm assuming that you're drawing to the nuts, e.g. with 8-7 on a board of A-9-5-K. Any of the four sixes will give you the nuts. Unless you use both your hole cards to make the straight, however, you will not be drawing to the nuts. If the board is A-9-6-5 and you have 7-2, any 8 will give you a straight, but it's not the nut straight; someone with T-7 will have the nuts.
One pair, drawing to two pair or trips: 8.2 : 1
If you have J-T on a board of A-J-8-3, and you strongly suspect that you're up against a someone with a pair of aces, you have five outs to beat him: Three tens (giving you two pair), and two jacks (giving you trips). Your odds here are based on the assumption that your opponent does not have AJ or AT! This is a dangerous assumption to make, and you should realistically have more than enough odds than 8:1 to profitably make this call to make up for the times when you are drawing to only half as many outs as you think you are.
Over-cards on a ragged flop: 6.7 : 1
Now we've really entered a dangerous assumption. If you have KQ on a board of 8-5-2, and you think your opponent has a pair of eights, but not a queen or a king kicker, you have six outs (any queen or king will make you a better pair). The odds of 6.7 - 1 only hold true if your assumption is correct. It will often be the case that you're wrong, however, so in reality you need to discount your outs severely.
Drawing to a set: 22 : 1
For example, if you're holding 7-7 on a A-K-9-2 board, and your only saving grace is a third 7. This is a really farfetched draw, and my only reason for even including it is to show just how farfetched it is. I have (almost) never seen a pot big enough to warrant drawing to a set. Fold in all but the most extreme pot sizes.
Drawing to X outs: (46-X) / X : 1.
This is the generic formula. If you're another draw than the ones I've listed above, and want to figure out your odds for it, you do this: Figure out your number of outs (you're on your own there), then take 46 minus this number. Divide the result by the number of outs, and voila - you have your odds. For example, if I'm drawing both to a set and to a flush, e.g. I have reason to believe my opponent has two pair, and I have AA, with four to a flush, my outs are any ace (giving me a set) plus 9 flush cards (giving me a flush), totaling 11 outs. This gives:
46 - 11 = 35.
35 / 11 = 3.2
My odds of drawing a winner are 3.2 : 1
For more on odds and implied odds in general, see Theory of Poker by David Sklansky. For a good discussion on how to figure out your odds in no-limit hold'em situations, I refer to Harrington on Hold 'em, volumes I and II, by Dan Harrington and Bill Robertie. For more discussion on counting your outs and specifically how to discount them, see Small Stakes Hold'em by Ed Miller, David Sklansky and Mason Malmuth.
The Fundamental Concepts of Poker article series starts with Concept: Expected Value.
One element of poker is deception. Bluffing is the quintessential trick in poker. Of course, the reasoning for a bluff is to deceive the other players into thinking you have a better hand when you actually do not. For a bluff to work, you need the other players to think you actually have that better hand. Many beginning poker players love this idea of bluffing and often misuse it. The value of the bluff increases under certain general circumstances that often have a lot to do with information you assume about the other players. This vagueness makes it difficult to give definitive reasons or places to bluff. Some less generalized times to bluff and some advice are given below. The bottom of the page gives some more ideas and perspectives on deception in poker.
Some typical reasons to bluff...
A. When there aren't many other players in a pot.
Simply put, it's easier to trick a couple people than a crowd. With fewer hands out there, chances are better that no one has made a reasonable hand. This is fairly common though, so many players won't believe you. Some will stay in the hand just to "keep you honest", so sometimes this needs to be a persistent bluff over a period of two or three betting rounds. That can be costly if they don't fall for it. You need to know the players before you use this type of bluff.
B. When you're up against fairly tight players.
Those that tend to fold easily are the biggest targets of a bluff. Bets will be put out just as a form of information gathering on this player's hand. If you bluff early (pre-flop, flop) against a very tight player and they don't buckle, you should think twice about trying it again on a future round. They have something. Your job is to determine whether they have a made or drawing hand. Once again, you need to know the players.
C. On the river.
Especially if apparent drawing hands missed. That's when players react to rule #1 "the moment you know you can't win, throw in your cards". It is often a good idea to bluff with a weak hand, like ace-high or lowest pair with these kinds of bluffs, because some players will stay in just because of pot odds. If you do that, it is actually semi-bluffing (see the bottom of the page).
D. You're in late position and everyone else checked.
This one you'll have to gauge for yourself. It will most likely force some players out, but not all. This is a pretty common bluff once again, and many players will stay in just because of bet odds, and/or to once again "keep you honest". This is another example of a bluff that needs to be more persistent over a couple betting rounds.
E. You bet pre-flop and missed.
That's because they don't know you missed! This can be dangerous, and you really have to evaluate to board before you get into this one. Sometimes it's good to bluff when AK misses, sometimes when 99 misses. You have to really feel this one out.
F. You have given other players "the fear".
It's about how other players perceive you. If you just won a hand through good play, the players who say "nice hand" are the ones who now respect you. They will more likely fold to your bluff if you play it right. The trick is to play the hand exactly the same way you played the other winning hand. Give it the "here we go again" act.
G. When the flop isn't so great.
Some players will fold automatically if all they have is an over card. With a rainbow flop of 2, 6, 9, not many players will have much. This is another example of a bluff that can go horribly awry. I wouldn't be too persistent in this case, unless only more low cards popup. Once again, know your players.
H. Pre-flop on the button, and everyone else has folded.
This is usually best used with tight players to your left. Its good because it can change from a bluff to a deceptively good hand with luck and the right flop.
I. When there is a pair on the board.
This is especially useful when the pair is 88 or lower. Chances are that these cards might have been folded or are still in the deck. This is one situation where you want to evaluate the hand very carefully if they do call though. This is a great situation to read the tells of the players who are NOT involved in the game. It's much easier to give away the fact that you HAD a card than if you HAVE it.
Keep in mind that these are pretty common reasons to bluff. Many players know these reasons. Most of the time it just won't work. The main thing is always to know your players and to not do it so often that it never works.
There's some great books about bluffing out there. We suggest reading as much as you can about it, as it's one of the most misunderstood aspects of poker.
One of the things that makes poker unique is the art of bluffing. A bluff is a bet or raise made with a hand that has little or no chance of winning. The purpose of the bluff is to mislead or intimidate the other players into folding their hands and allowing the bluffing player to win. Bluffing is a valuable weapon to have in your poker arsenal, but you should make sure that you use it correctly.
Bluffing is a way to change the game that you are playing from luck to skill. It is a game within itself. It allows you to win when you are not dealt a strong hand. It allows you to win bigger pots and to disrupt other players who are trying to follow standard strategies.
You can use bluffing to grow the pot in the current hand in the hopes of making the other players fold. If the other players don’t think you bluff, then they might fold on your worst hands out of respect. Bluff too much on purpose and other players might feed the pot not knowing you have four-of-a-kind, for example, in your hand.
You can’t bluff the same way every time and expect to have it work. You need to change your technique depending on who you are with and what they know about your bluffing patterns. Try to be unpredictable in your strategy.
If you never bluff, it will be hard to win big pots. The other players will know you only raise when you’ve got a good hand, and they will fold before the pot builds.
Guidelines for bluffing:
Be willing to fold your hand after a bluff
Remember you can’t win every hand when bluffing
Don’t quit every time a player calls your bluff
Don’t try to bluff when everyone is still in the hand
One of the advantages of playing online poker is that people can’t see your face. Your bluffing behavior is based solely on your bets, folds, and raises throughout the hands and may be harder to pick up on.
When to Bluff
For a bluff to work, you need the other players to think you have the better hand.
The value of the bluff increases when you have gathered information about the other players:
Their playing style
Their betting style
If they exhibit a tell
The betting history of the hand
A loose player will bet on anything regardless if they have a hand or not. A tight player will only bet when they have a hand or when they have a high probability of drawing a hand in the flop. A loose player will always call or always raise a bet. Tight players will only call when they a hand and will only raise when they have a strong hand.
A tell is a clue or hint that a player unknowingly gives about the strength of his or her hand, his or her next action, etc. Professional players are trained to observe changes in behavior, facial expressions, eye movement, tone of voice, etc. to pick up on tells.
Following the betting history of a hand can give you clues as to your opponent’s hand. If they bet or raise pre-flop but then check on the turn, they are probably bluffing. If they bet or raise pre-flop and continue to bet during the subsequent rounds, they probably have a strong hand.
Bluff when there aren’t many players in the hand
Bluff when you are up against a tight player
Bluff on the river (the fifth and last community card)
Bluff when you are in late position and everyone else has checked
Bluff when you are a tight player and other players fear you
Bluff when the flop isn’t great
It is easier to trick a couple of people versus the entire table. With fewer hands out there, chances are better that no one has made a strong hand.
Tight players will fold if they don’t have a hand. Those that tend to fold when confronted with a bet are the biggest target for a bluff.
If it looks like someone missed drawing their hand in the flop, it is a good time to bluff. A drawing hand is a presently worthless hand that has the potential to become a strong hand such as potential straights and flushes. If you can force them to fold, you keep them from seeing more cards and potentially making a big hand.
Bluffing when you are in late position will get rid of some, if not all, of the players in the hand, and you can win an easy pot.
Some players will fold automatically if all they have for pocket cards is a court card and they don’t draw it on the flop. If you check instead of bluffing, the player will stay in the hand and possibly draw a matching court card in the turn or river.
When Not to Bluff
Don’t bluff when other players expect you to
Don’t bluff in an obvious situation
Don’t bluff if your style is to bluff all the time
Don’t bluff when you have been caught bluffing recently
Don’t bluff against a dangerous flop
Don’t bluff against a lot of players
Don’t bluff against bad players
If you have been caught bluffing recently, you already have the reputation of being a bad bluffer, and players will call your hands until you stop.
If the flop has an Ace, chances are that someone has a pair of Aces. Aces are the highest pair you can have in a hand. This is also true with flops containing a 9 or higher as players tend to continue to play these cards if they exist in their pocket cards.
If you bluff against a lot of players, the odds are that someone has a hand and will beat you.
Bad players love to bluff themselves so they are unlikely to fold their hand. They will just keep betting and raising you in an effort to out duel you. Bad players are also unpredictable and may not follow any observable betting pattern.
Semi-Bluffing is similar to regular bluffing except that the player has some chance of winning the hand. In other words, you may have a hand but not a strong hand such as a low numbered pair. You might also have a hand that is nothing at the outset but has a reasonable chance of drawing into a better hand.
Semi-Bluffing is best used in normal bluffing situations. Players who recognize the bluff won’t necessarily recognize when you make your draw.
Use semi-bluffing in late position after everyone else has folded, called, or checked
Use semi-bluffing on the flop or the turn
Use semi-bluffing if you have a chance of drawing a straight or flush
When you are semi-bluffing in late position and no one has raised the bet, chances are good that no one has a hand. If someone bets, they probably do have a hand, or they are bluffing.
On the flop or turn, you should have a feel if another player has an actual hand or if they are still trying to draw a hand. If they are still trying to draw a hand, you should try to force them out with a semi-bluff. Don’t check or they will continue to see free cards, which increases their chances of winning.
If you have a chance of drawing a straight or flush, you will probably have to bet, bluff or semi-bluff through the turn and/or river in order to see enough cards to make your hand.
When Are They Bluffing?
Other players will bluff in situations that are plausible and in the same situations that you would.
They may bluff when the pot odds are in their favor
They may bluff if there is a big pot
They may bluff if they bet pre-flop to be consistent
They may bluff if there are only two players in the hand
They may be bluffing if they bet on the flop but only check on the turn
If everyone folds on the flop or turn like when an obvious draw was missed, expect someone to bluff.
It’s almost certain that someone will bluff if there is a big pot. The promise of a big pot will be worth the risk of a bluff bet.
If someone consistently bets even when the flop is poor, they are probably trying to keep momentum going and lure you into the sense that they have a hand from their pocket cards. Raising them may get them to back down.
In any two player hand, one player is usually bluffing. Follow the betting history of the hand to try and determine if your opponent is playing straight or if they are bluffing.
If a player bets pre-flop but checks on the turn, they are trying to stay in the hand by seeing free cards. Betting back against them will probably make them go away.
Odds are given below for hitting a draw by the river with a given number of outs
after the flop and turn, and examples of draws with specified numbers of outs are
Example: if you hold  and the flop does not contain a , the odds of hitting a  on the turn is 22:1 (4%). If the turn is also not a , the odds of hitting it on the river are again 22:1 (4%). However, the combined odds of hitting a  on the turn or river is 12:1 (8%)For mathematical reasons, only use combined odds (two card odds) when you are in a possible all-in situation
||Backdoor Straight or Flush (Requires two cards)
||Pocket Pair to Set
||Inside Straight / Two Pair to Full House
||One Pair to Two Pair or Set
||No Pair to Pair / Two Over-cards
||Set to Full House or Quads
||Inside Straight & Two Over-cards
||Open Straight & One Over-card
||Flush & Inside Straight / Flush & One Over-card
||Flush & Open Straight / Flush & Two Over-cards
|Pocket Pair to Set
||[6♣ 7♦ T♠]
||[6♥ 2♦ J♣]
||A♦, A♥, A♣
||[5♠ 9♥ A♦]
||8♣, 8♦, 8♥, 8♠
|Two Pair to Full House
||[5♠ A♠ J♦]
||A♥, A♣, J♠, J♣
|One Pair to Two Pair or Set
||[J♦ 3♣ 4♠]
||J♥, J♠, Q♠, Q♥, Q♣
|No Pair to Pair
||[8♥ J♦ A♣]
||3♣, 3♠, 3♥, 6♥, 6♠, 6♦
|Two Over-cards to Over Pair
||[3♦ 2♥ 8♥]
||A♥, A♠, A♦, K♥, K♣, K♠
|Set to Full House or Quads
||[5♣ Q♥ 2♠]
||5♠ Q♠, Q♦, Q♣, 2♥, 2♦, 2♣
||[3♣ 8♦ J♥]
||Any 7, Any Q
||[3♥ 5♠ 7♥]
||Any heart (2♥ to Q♥)
|Inside Straight & Two Over-cards
||[Q♠ J♣ 6♦]
||Any Ten, A♠, A♦ A♣, K♠, K♥, K♦
|Flush & Inside Straight
||[A♣ 2♣ T♥]
||Any Q, Any heart
|Flush and Open Straight
||[9♣ Q♥ 3♥]
||Any heart;, 8♦, 8♠, 8♣, K♦, K♠, K♣
Outs are calculated by using simple division. You take the number of cards left that can improve your hand such as completing a pair, finishing a straight, or making a flush and divide it by the number of cards left that haven’t been seen.
The number of unseen cards is:
50 pre-flop (52 cards in a deck minus your two pocket cards)
47 after the flop (52 cards in a deck minus your two pocket cards minus the first three community cards)
46 after the turn (52 cards in a deck minus your two pocket cards minus the first four community cards)
Example: Starting with a pocket pair of Jacks
What are your chances of getting another Jack in the flop?
There are four Jacks left in the deck, and you have two of them so there are two left. Two remaining Jacks divided by fifty remaining cards pre-flop equals 2-in-50 or 1-in-25 or 4%.
You still have a pair of Jacks and drew nothing on the flop, what are your chances of getting another Jack in the turn?
Two remaining Jacks divided by forty-seven remaining cards pre-turn equals 2-in-47 or 1-in-23.5 or 4.25%. The percentage goes up because you have the same number of chances but they are coming out of a smaller pool of cards.
You still haven’t drawn a third Jack through the turn, what are your chances of drawing one on the river?
Two remaining Jacks divided by forty-six remaining cards pre-river equals 2-in-46 or 1-in-23 or 4.35%.
In no limit tournament poker, going all-in is common. In regular no limit ring games it isn't unless you have just a short stack left. I recommend buying in for the full amount and keeping it at that level or above the entire time. You don't want to play a $50 NL game and then bleed out $25 and just have $25 left on the table. If you get a great hand, you want to be able to double through for the full amount. There are two scenarios for all-in. The first scenario is when you are doing the all-in bet. That's a good thing. That means you want all your money in the middle. The second scenario is when you aren't the one putting all the money in the middle. To decide whether or not you are going to call their bet, you need to ask yourself a few questions. How much is it going to cost me? How much is already in the pot? Is this guy for real? Let's say you have AK and flopped top pair and bet it down the whole way and on the river the guy check raises you all-in. Let's say the pot is $100 now and it will cost you another $25 to call. That's easy, you call. Let's say it costs you $50 more. Now I'm thinking. If it is any more then that then I probably would have a hard time just calling with one pair unless I thought this guy either was a wild player, didn't know what I held, or if I had seen him do something similar before with a marginal hand. So my all-in rule is just to asses how much of a hit I'll take to see the showdown and compare that to the size of the pot. Obviously the stronger your hand is the easier it is to call. It is impossible to make yourself immune to paying off hands in no limit hold'em. Sometimes the pot just is too big to fold and you have to put the rest of your chips in. That's poker.
Poker traps are a topic that I don't think is addressed nearly enough in many
articles and publications. While every professional poker player is usually highlighted by
their ability to set, spot and avoid traps, most amateur poker players rarely know when
they are about to get pounced on until it's too late.
I will be dividing this sections into three different parts in the order of what I regard
as importance in learning about poker traps: trapping yourself in poker, spotting poker
traps, and setting poker traps.
Trapping yourself in poker
Ask any skilled poker player on Party Poker what they think of the players on the site and
they'll all respond with the same answer: "terrible!". This is mainly because the players at
Party Poker are all new to the game and most are just starting out. But what makes new players
so much worse than the 'good' players if poker really is just a mental game as so many claim?
In short, the biggest answer is starting hand selection.
People tend to love poker because anyone
can win at the game. What this really means however, is that anyone can be dealt a winning hand. Since
it takes no skill to win when you've got a winning hand, even the village idiot can win when the
cards are coming. But what happens when the cards aren't coming? The ability to play (or better, not play)
bad cards is what separates the men from the boys in poker. It's a lot like the saying goes, that a
person's true character is only revealed in hard times, since anyone can act grand during the good
Ok, I'll play good cards - but how does this avoid traps?
Ah, good question. If you look at the image at the top of this page, you can see the top right image is
a screen shot taken from the poker hands page. What this is meant
to convey is that many hands that look like they may be profitable, are in fact, not profitable at all.
The reason I illustrated hands like Kx suited, is because this is a very good example of a poker hand
that traps itself. For example, suppose this hand plays out:
||Kd 9s 10s
Now the question is: how are you going to play this flop? If you're too smart for your own good on Party
Poker, you'll try to play this hand very aggressively. This hand has two things going for it: it's on the
second best nut flush draw and it's also got top pair. This hand also has two things not going for it: it's
on the second best nut flush draw and it's got top pair with a weak kicker. There's also the
added bonus that if a Queen or Jack drops, it will quite possibly complete someone else's straight.
What happens with a hand like this is that many new players will be dragged into over calling this
hand when action starts to develop on the table. They'll take one look at the two spades on the flop and
decide that they want a piece of this. Now, before any skilled players get into a huffy, I'm not saying that
this hand is not unplayable - but it is certainly a check and call hand in any full game. In a short game or
heads up, this may well be a hand to go raising with. In a full game, this hand is already half a rope to
hang yourself with. Here's an idea of why to get out of this hand if action starts up:
We see that these are all legitimate hands to be duking it out with on the flop. Player 1 has the nut
flush draw and a nut inside straight draw. Player 2 has the made nut straight and has the draw to the best
straight. Player 3 has two pair and has the draw to a full house.
The point that I am trying to make here is not to keep thinking that your opponents have monsters, but
to show that many times, your hand is already deader than dead and really has no outs. This is known as
a 'dominated' hand. By holding K5s here, you might be tempted to call because you made top pair, but you'll
often find yourself out kicked and pay for it all the way to the river. In other cases, having your flush
draw beaten by a higher flush draw is a rare occurrence, but when it does happen, you will definitely pay
Avoid playing big cards with small kickers (A5, K9, Q8, etc)
"Texas hold'em is a game of top pair, top kicker." I think these are the words of T.J. Cloutier, one of the best and
most winning poker players of all time. Most of what Texas hold'em comes down to is holding big pair and being
able to stand up against the other kickers on the table. Of course, you want to be in the position of taking the
pot in at showdown, so don't be straggling in pots that you have no business being in.
In the big blind and small blind, learn to fold after the flop
If you look at the poker hands page, with the EV stats of each hand, you'll notice that players in the big blind
and small blind don't fare very well. Players in this position suffer from the same syndrome of being dragged into
a pot that they had no business being in. If you had A5 for example and you hit top pair on the flop with 4 more
players to act and the person after you bets, it's practically a no-brainer to fold this hand. Most tight players
play AT or better, so if any tight player is in the game with that Ace showing on board and there is no straight
or flush possibilities out, you should automatically know you are beat.
Premium hands - one of the hardest poker traps to avoid
Another aspect of a great poker player is their ability to lay down a strong hand when faced
with a decision. Most poor players and even many average players will refuse to lay down a strong hand
even when all the signals are going off. If you're playing a no limit game especially and someone comes
in for an enormous raise when you've made top pair, top kicker, many times it's worth dropping. Don't
let a good hand blind you from the possibilities of two pair or a set. When a flush or straight possibility is
on the table, never completely discount someone for not having it either.
KJ, KT, QT, JT - Getting out of harms way in EP (early position)
This may be one of the biggest traps for players who don't understand position in Texas hold'em. Most
players assume that any two face cards are worthwhile to play, which is generally true. However, as the games
become higher limit or as you play with more skilled opponents, the games will tighten up considerably as
players only play premium hands. In this scenario, you're in a difficult spot if catch the flop with your
hand. Here is an example:
||Js 4c 9h
|Tight Player 1:
||Tight Player 2:
||Tight Player 3:
This example is another perfect illustration of getting out-kicked and being trapped in a hopeless draw.
In this situation, you can see that not only are we out kicked with the Ten kicker here by Player 2's Ace, but
that we have no draws for an out. If a Ten falls and gives us two-pair, it completes the straight for Player 1 if
they decide to stay in on an over cards draw.
The best way to play situations like these are to usually be a bit tricky and do some check-raising, fast play
or fold. It's almost always incorrect to simply limp with a hand like this, because you don't stand much chance of
winning this hand after the flop if people are calling you down.
Ace Queen - A quick way out the door
Dropping a hand like AJ is easy enough when faced with action, but dropping AQ will break many a precious
heart. However, doing so can save your bank roll in many a situation. This advice is geared more toward the higher limits or rational
games (not low-limit Party Poker games) where raises from players are usually a strong indicator of strength.
Many uptight players will only raise with three hands: AA and KK (to increase pot value) and AK (to narrow
the field). These are first-tier pre-flop raising hands. I would say second-tier pre-flop raising hands would
be: QQ, JJ, TT and AQs. The majority of uncreative tight players lie in the first-tier. Tight players who are
more experienced usually often raise tier-two hands as well. Many top players will raise with all sorts of hands,
but usually as a ruse to be tricky or due to the high-limit nature of the games they play.
Given these first and second tier hands, let's stack up how well AQ matches up against them:
- AA vs AQ: 92% to 8%
- KK vs AQ: 72% to 29%
- AK vs AQ: 72% to 24%
- QQ vs AQ: 70% to 30%
- JJ vs AQ: 58% to 43%
- TT vs AQ: 58% to 43%
- AQs vs AQ: 57% to 43%
- AQ vs AQ: 50% to 50%
All low pockets
- 22 - 99 vs AQ: 53% vs 45% (approx)
As you can see, at best AQ is a 50/50 favorite when it's up against itself! This means that should
you decide to defend AQ and you're up against a tight player, you're chances of survival are at best a coin toss and
at worst a massive beating. So, be ready to fold AQ when you need to. This also applies to hands like AJ, AT and
the rest of course as stated previously. Against a pre-flop raise by a loose or aggressive player, it's ok
to usually call provided there's not too many behind you to act - which is a whole other trap itself.
JJ and TT - Get ready for a rough ride
I don't have enough bad things to say about people who play pocket pairs as if they were guaranteed
winners. While pocket Jacks and pocket Tens are both decent hands as far as pocket pairs go, they are
still a pair of Jacks or pair of Tens however you look at it. Mid and low pocket pairs only work well
when they are heads up or if the flop comes nothing bug rags. When you are heads up, you can play the
game knowing that you've already paired up, even if over cards fall on the table. With some trickery, you
can even get a player who has a high pair to fold at times too. In a full game, never count on this
My personal preference is almost never to raise JJ or TT unless there are few limpers and I'm in late or
early position where I can focus on keeping people out. If you're going to get 4 callers in a pot with you,
JJ and TT quickly become worthless if an over card falls. If you get action back when an over card falls,
you should routinely fold these pockets. Some tricky players will check-raise you if you show aggression
from pre-flop to the flop, but if you're up against unsophisticated players, you're surely beat.
The board both giveth and taketh
These tips will be easily recognized by any seasoned player and you really won't commit it to
memory until you've been seriously burned by it, but I'll try to convince you to keep it in mind
anyways if you haven't been already.
When the board pairs, a full-house (or quads) is the best hand, not the Ace flush
A classic beginner's mistake is having the Ace high flush and going toe to toe with some
'fool' betting what could only be the King high flush on a paired board. Of course when he flips
over a full house, our beginner is absolutely devastated. So, while this doesn't mean you need
to slam on the brakes every time the board pairs and you have the Ace high flush, you do need
to realize that if it's getting real heated, the full-house should be a possibility in your mind.
When the board pairs, your two-pair may now be worthless
Another classic mistake is not realizing when the board has rendered your two pair useless. Here is
||Qs 3c 2h
In this situation, you're in the big blind with 32 and flopped two pair. You bet the flop and both
players call, with decent reason. You bet the turn and both players call again. You bet the river
and find that you're suddenly met with a raise from Player 2. What gives?
What gives is that when the board paired here, it also gave everyone else a two pair. Player 1
now has Tens and Eights and Player 2 now has Queens and Eights. You, unfortunately are stuck with
Eights and Threes - from the best hand to the worst hand in the span of the river card. So, whenever
you see this scenario come up, get ready to jump out of the way if you suddenly find your hand no
good. That's poker.
Drawing hands - Sometimes a trap waiting to happen
Many new players who are attempting to study the game have a general understanding of pot odds and
what type of hands to draw on. However, many times, I'll see players go on horrendous draws when
they think they are getting correct pot odds when they really aren't. This makes their draws substantially
worse and a loser in the long run. So pay attention here folks.
Flush / straight draws - Drawing on the flop vs the turn
In a no limit or pot limit game, you can make a serious mistake by drawing to
a flush or open ended straight (for breadth, anytime I refer to flush draw, I am referring to the
open-ended straight as well). If the pot is at $200 and the BB comes out swinging with a pot sized bet of $200, at this
particular moment, you are getting 2:1 pot odds if you call this pot. Many players will assume they
are on a 2:1 draw here to hit their flush by the river, so they'll call. This is an incorrect
assumption to make.
In reality, you are on a 2:1 draw to make it by the river, but if you don't hit your flush on the
turn, you are a 4:1 underdog to hit your flush on the river. This means in the example, if there is now
$600 in the pot on the turn and the BB comes swinging with another pot sized $600 bet, you're still
getting 2:1 pot odds, but your drawing odds are 4:1. This means you should definitely fold here and
should have folded on the flop as well!
|Odds of drawing to a flush
|Flop to River (2 to 1)
|Flop to Turn (4 to 1)
||Turn to River (4 to 1)
|4h Ac 9h
The key point to remember is that your 2:1 flush draw is your odds of hitting your flush on the river.
Thus, if you aren't going to see the river card, then this draw is no longer worth a 2:1 draw - it's now
a 4:1 draw if you are only going to see a turn card. The reason you would only see a turn card, is because
if you know your opponent is going to make a pot-sized bet on the turn, there's no way you want to be calling
with 2:1 pot odds on a 4:1 drawing hand.
In summary, go on flush draws in no-limit or pot-limit only if you know your opponents will not be
making substantial bets on the turn that make your pot odds incorrect to draw on. Most players have no
clue how to properly play no limit and pot limit, so they tend not to do this, but you've been warned.
Drawing two over cards with an Ace
Another trap waiting to happen in many cases is drawing over-cards with an Ace. I will state flat out that
I am never a big fan of drawing solely to hit over-cards. A two over-card draw is when you have two cards
greater than the board and are looking to pair either one, but otherwise have no other outs. This gives
you 6 total outs, for a 3.2:1 draw. A common two over-card you'll routinely see are players calling AK
to the river after the flop has completely missed. stick in for this over-card draw as they hate to see their AK go to waste.
The reason I'm not a big fan of these cards is that often, I don't regard those 6 outs as a nut draw
at all. The thing to realize is that many people like to play Ace / anything, which can get you into serious
trouble if you have Ace / High card, if that person has already paired. This means you are practically
drawing dead, as you have 3 outs to hit your 'lesser' over-card. Hitting your Ace is futile, since it gives
your opponent two pair and is bound to make you call and lose even more money. This is illustrated below:
||10s 2d 8c
The purpose of the example above is for you to start recognizing what possible traps lay for
you in drawing with two over-cards. By hitting your Ace on the turn, you will square off against the BB who
will have managed to make two pair at the same time. If you manage to hit your Jack however, you'll find
that you'll be up against the tight player with JT, who will also have made his two pair. And in an
even worse turn of events, a loose player with 97o will have made their straight when a Jack falls on the
table. In the scenario, you really are drawing dead.
When drawing with over-cards, keep in mind that your "6 over-card outs" are a best-case scenario.
This means don't always go happily drawing just because you have a 3.2:1 pot odds in the pot. Because of the
Ace factor, sometimes it's even better to draw with over-cards like KQ. You've got the same odds of hitting
your over-cards and in my personal opinion, less chance of duking it out with another person hitting two pair.
The thing you end up having to worry about with KQ of course is someone holding AK or AQ, but usually you
can get a hint of these holdings if your opponents do some pre-flop raising.
The other thing to watch for are other flop situations like straight and flush draws on the board. These
both hurt your chances of over-cards, since they can complete someone else's hand, so if you must draw, draw
in optimal condition with rags, rainbow and non-connected cards as possible.
Getting your money in over your head
Have you been holding a mediocre or strong hand (but not a monster) and been betting into a pot or
just made a large bet into a pot, only to have your opponent come raising back? We all have. This is one
of those moments that make your stomach churn and your head begin to hurt. However, learning whether or not
to drop those cards is one of the most difficult, but beneficial things to learn. Fooling yourself into
the 'pot committed' notion is one of the biggest poker mind traps in my opinion
There is no such thing as pot committed if you know you're going to lose
The idea of calling down a pot when you know you're beat is amazing to me. If you stand the chance of
getting knocked out a tournament and are still in a good enough position to not get blinded out in the new
few hands, you need to fold hands when you think you are beat, regardless of how many chips you've already
put in the pot. The only thing that pot committed means is the pot odds of your draw vs. the amount in the pot.
||As 4c 9h
||AK paired vs. AQ unpaired
(Flop to River)
||AK paired vs. AQ unpaired
(Turn to River)
||Percent Odds: 87% vs. 12%
Drawing Odds: 7:1
||Percent Odds: 93% vs. 7%
Drawing Odds: 14:1
As you can see in this example, AQ does not have good drawing outs at all. In order to be 'pot
committed', you would need to be getting pot odds of at least 7:1 on the flop in order to even simply
break even in the long haul. However, you have to remember that you're going to lose this break-even
draw 7 out of every 8 times - so you really have to ask yourself if it's worth this horrid call when
you know you're beat. When you're know you're beat, it's time to suck it up and fold.
Before I end this point on pot commitment however, I must add that if you do have doubts and
you are getting true pot odds, it's reasonable to call. That said, don't ever be that guy who says
"i was committed" when you really weren't. It's just an excuse for making bad calls.
Over-betting your hands
One way to keep out of those pot committed situations is to not pot commit yourself in the
first place. Of course, sometimes you just can't avoid situations, but other times you'll probably
be given some warning signs that can help you out from stepping into a trap.
Over-aggressive pre-flop betting in a NL or PL game
The standard self trap is over-betting in a NL or PL game. The blinds are 15/30 and you've gone
gung-ho with those notoriously difficult pocket Jacks and have bet 400 into the pot when there's only
50 in the pot to start out with. A tight player has moved all-in and you got 300 more chips to call.
If you call, you're almost certainly dead, but if you fold, your stack will be severely cut.
A much more reasonable bet is to bet the current pot amount or if there are few players, 3x the BB
amount. Example: If you're UTG and the blinds are 15/30, bet 90 up front. If you're late in the game
and the blinds are very big, you can even bet 2x - 2.5x the blind and have the same effect.
Betting on the river
Bets on the river are unique in that they're generally value bets instead of field narrowing
bets (aka "bluffing" by the time you're on the river). What this means then, is you should only bet the
river when you feel like you have the best hand in the game. How you know if you have the best hand?
That's a damn good question - and if anyone can tell me how to consistently know, give me a holler :)
Of course, I'm half joking here. Most of the time, based on the type of player calling you down, you
should have a general idea of what you're up against. A tight player calling you down is a sign of worry
if there are no apparent draws on the table, because it means they most likely hold top pair also.
When a loose player has called you down, chances are he has a weak hand, but don't simply assume that's
When in doubt, a check on the river is always a safe play if you are last to act. Many times, your
opponents will be holding busted draws on the river, so you won't be able to extract value from
opponents who were going to fold anyways. Against tough opponents, as mentioned above, you're likely
going to face off against a strong hand (which will likely have been contested on the flop) so a check
can be a safe play.
I should add that against tricky opponents, sometimes a check can actually backfire against you when
your check induces another player to try to bluff you. If you are willing to call someone's bet on the
river, you may as well bet the amount you would be willing to call and put them to the decision instead
against certain opponents.
Bluffing the perpetual calling station
Ah, the cardinal sin. "How the hell did he call my steal with 72 off suit?!?" is the reaction when
you face up against the calling station from hell. I'm guilty of this mistake numerous times myself
unfortunately. Profiling players is one of the main themes of this site and knowing when to bluff
is a direct off-shoot of identifying your opponents. Too often I'll see an otherwise good player try
to make an all-in move against a calling station, only to see the calling station stay in with the lowest
pair on the board and end up winning.
Now, the common player who thinks they know a lot about poker will react with disgust and wonder
how the hell their opponent could even call them on a raise like this. What they won't realize is that
they were the ones making the mistake by trying to bluff someone who they knew was a habitual caller.
Some people just don't fold even when the train is coming, so against these people, make sure you
really do have a train, ok?
Mental Poker Traps
Poker is mental game at the heart of it all, so it's no wonder that your mental game is also
going to be thrown through a few hoops during your sessions.
Not respecting your opponent - a bad mistake to make
First let me get things clear - it's one thing to consider another person a weak or bad player, but
it's another thing to not respect their play. If you bet top pair and have a weak player call you with
two spades on the table, you'll react differently depending on your mindset. If you respect your
opponent, your reaction may be something like:
"I know he's weak, so he could have any pair, any kicker with a good chance of a flush."
Or your reaction if you don't respect him could be:
"Man, this guy is a total fish, I've bet big with top pair, just fold already.."
The key difference between these two mentalities is that in the first one, you're thinking logically
about what kind of hand your weak opponent may be holding and why is he calling. In the second, you're
just ticked that he's on yet another hopeless draw and want to bet him out of the pot. This isn't
tilt in the context of raging and throwing your chair across the room, but you're thinking with your
ego instead of your brain and it'll cost you when you fail to pick up on that completed backdoor
straight or other dubious draws.
Trying to save a pot with over aggression
Sometimes I wonder if Rounders has anything to do with this, when Matt Damon made the remark
about outplaying Johnny Chan "just this one hand". That or maybe Mike Sexton who always comments
on the World Poker Tour that "the only way to win this pot now is to bluff at it!".
You know what I'm talking about... You have AK and raised the pot $500 pre-flop. You've got two callers
and you're UTG. The flop misses you completely but you know you're carrying that tight table image
with you. You want to make sure you scare them out by representing AA so you bet a hefty $1,000 more
into the pot. First player drops immediately but the second person calls. "Oh shit!" you scream
mentally, as you wonder what kind of hand this fool is holding. The turn comes yet another rag and
you've already got $1,500 or half your stack in the pot. Thinking frantically, you realize you've invested
too much money to let this pot go down. You must outplay your opponent now and the only way to do it is
with a huge $2,000 bluff. You move all your chips in with your unpaired AK and hold your breath. After a tense
second, you groan as your opponent flips over QQ and knocks you out.
That, was an example of over aggression. Sometimes you need to know when you're beat - not at showdown,
but on the turn or river. It really sucks, but when you know you can no longer salvage the pot, you might
as well check and fold it down. Yes, it will feel like a huge blow to the ego when you've dumped a ton of money
into the pot, led the way pre-flop, then the flop.. and meekly fold when you check the turn and have your
opponent gleefully come at you. As much as it's a blow to the ego, any money you save is money that
can go toward your continuation in the tournament or for your bankroll.
Again, yet another disclaimer that this isn't about not bluffing your opponent. Bluffing is good and
a required part of the game. Trying to take down a pot by force when your opponent has a hand is suicide
Signs Of Being Trapped
Question: How can I tell if someone is trapping me with a smooth call?
NL $1/$2. Lets say I hold AK, raise 3 x the big blind and get called by 2 players. The flop comes KT6 with 2 suited cards. I make a pot sized bet and get called by one player. He could have AK, KQ, KJ, KT, QJ, Axs, Kxs or 66. Say the turn brings a "safe" card, how should I play it? If I make a big bet and he holds 66 or KT, I'm in big trouble. If I check or bet small, I make it cheap for him to draw. Any advice on how to play this? If the flop had been K72 rainbow, I would be more likely to assume I was being trapped.
Dave from Scotland
Answer: People are predictable. The best way to know if you are presently being trapped is to watch how the players previously played similar hands. What you need to look for is how they play top pair and draws. Most players will raise their top pair hands on the flop to test the pre-flop raiser. If you have a hand like KJ or KQ with a King high flop, it is pretty rare to raise the turn in a full table cash no limit game against a pre-flop raiser. On the other hand, players frequently wait till the turn or river to raise their strong hands like two pair or trips. Also, watch out for the few players who are capable of making big raises with hands you could beat. Frequently you'll find a player in no limit hold'em that likes to bluff too much, so obviously against this type of guy you can't lay down top pair best kicker. Cash games are slightly different than tournaments. In a tourney, you probably are stuck with top pair best kicker unless some really ugly cards come off and it is a multi-way pot. In a cash no limit hold'em game, you shouldn't lose much with one pair. Next, I'm more likely to pay off a slow player if I have a hand that is better disguised. For example, if I have QQ and the flop is J-9-7, I'm more likely to call big raises than if I have AK and the flop is A-J-7. The reason is that when I bet into an Ace high flop both on the flop and turn, I've given everyone at the table a fairly good idea of what I have. On the other hand with the Jack high flop, I may get lots of action from someone with AJ; my hand isn't so obvious. Lastly, some players are incapable of large bluffs. It is a big mistake to miss that sign and pay their good hands off. If someone only is in with strong hands and you've defined what you have and yet he still raises, you should muck.
I feel like I haven't given you much help here. The best advice I can give is what I mentioned first: watch how the opponents are playing and get a feel for what is typical. Paying attention pays big dividends later when you are against them and are in a tough spot.
What is trapping
Question: Could you explain what exactly trapping is when betting and what one is trying to accomplish from it.
Answer: Yes, trapping is basically making some moves that confuse another person into putting too much money into the pot when they shouldn't have. Normally this applies more to No Limit Hold'em than Limit Hold'em. Here is a classic example:
* I raise pre-flop with 99.
* One other person calls me.
* The flop is 9-7-4.
* I am first to act and bet more than I normally do on the flop (maybe $95 instead of $70 for example). Suspicious bet number 1.
* The other guy calls and the turn card is an Ace.
* I hesitate and under-bet the pot (maybe now only $70 instead of $150). I do this because I want the other person, whom I hope has caught their Ace, will raise me. Suspicious bet number 2.
* He does raise me. At this point I can either call him and check raise the river or I can check raise him right now.
He fell into the trap I set because I knew what he had and I made him think he knew what I had. By betting weird amounts I confused him. This example should answer the second part of your question. When you are trapping someone you are trying to get more money from them. You set them up so you can milk them for more money then you normally could by just betting the hand regularly.
Most new players consider slow playing a hand to be the crown jewel of trapping. Not so! What I consider the pinnacle of trapping is confusing a player enough on previous hands that he/she completely butchers the current hand by putting in all their chips in a bad spot. It is like a delayed trap that takes a few more hands to come to fruition. With a slow play trap, you are hoping that another person will bet and have enough of a hand to call you when you raise. In the trap I mentioned, you'll get all the person's chips and leave them wondering why they just lost everything calling with middle pair. Remember that a hand isn't in a vacuum -- it has value for future hands by shaping the opponent's perspective of your play.
Knowing how to trap takes experience. You need to be at one level above the other players. What I mean by that is that you need to know how they are viewing your play so that you can be consistent with what they expect to see from you while you are leading them astray. Sometimes you will be subtle, other times you'll be overt and yet other times you'll act exactly how the hand normally would be played (which can be very confusing against the right player). This all comes down to knowing your table image and knowing how the other players think.
A Tale of Two Setsies by Andrew Glazer, published on Tuesday, September 18 2001
Pocket pairs are often very desirable starting hands in hold’em, although just how desirable depends a great deal on position, which pocket pair you hold, how many other players are in the hand, and the kind of game (loose or tight) in which you’re playing.
Most beginning and intermediate players usually find themselves in games that are reasonably loose, with 4-6 players seeing many flops. When that’s the case, unless your pocket pair is AA, KK, or QQ, you are very often losing—perhaps badly—if you don’t flop a set (three of a kind). That’s why playing small pocket pairs in early position isn’t often desirable in these games. You limp in, hoping to flop a set, but get raised or re-raised and suddenly have to play your 5-5 for three bets instead of one. You also don’t know, in early position, how many opponents you’re likely to have, and a hand like 5-5 plays best either against one opponent (where it has a chance to hold up by itself) or against many (where you get paid off well if you get lucky and flop the set, an 8-1 shot).
As we’ll see in a moment, sometimes flopping a set leads to the best of times, and occasionally it leads to the worst of times. Today I was playing in a different kind of game. It was reasonably tight, because it was the opening event of the Reno Hilton’s World Poker Challenge, and players had started with $1,000 in tournament chips. We had reached the third level of play ($50-100 blinds, playing $100-200), but very few players had been eliminated yet, which meant that almost every stack was quite short, relative to the size of the bets. Six-way hands were quite rare. On many hands, an opening raise took the pot, and if it didn’t, it was quite likely that the field would be narrowed to two or three players. I saw one player flop sets twice at this level, and he went out of the tournament relatively soon thereafter, because he played them exactly backwards. In the first hand, the player (let’s call him Backwards) held A-A, and after an under-the-gun player had limped in, Backwards raised to $200. The two blinds folded, and the limper called. The flop came As-8d-3d, the limper checked, Backwards bet, and the limper folded. A rather disgusted Backwards showed his set of aces, and (I can only assume) vowed to himself that if he flopped another set, he was going to slow-play it. A bit later that round, Backwards raised in an early position, got three-bet by the player to his left, and the big blind called, as did Backwards. The flop came Ad-Jd-4c. Everyone checked. The Turn brought the Kd, a scary card that made both straights and flushes possible. The big blind checked, Backwards bet, and the initial three-bettor called. The river was some sort of blank, Backwards bet again and was called. Backwards flipped over his pocket fours, a set he’d flopped and slow-played, and the caller showed pocket kings, a set to which he’d been given a free chance to draw to by Backward’s check on the flop. Now, it’s at least possible that had Backward’s bet out on the
flop, his caller, seeing two opponents and an ace on the board, might have let his hand go. If that’s the case, Backward’s slow-play cost him the pot. It’s also possible that he might have called, especially given the amount of money already in the pot, but remember, this was a pretty tight game, and it’s hard to imagine what card KK could catch that would let him call another bet, other than a king. More to the point, even though it’s very likely (though not a lock, as the three-bettor could have had AA or JJ) that Backward was leading on the flop, this was a scary board, with not only flush and straight draws, but also a very reasonable chance that someone had at least a pair of aces or jacks, and with two opponents, Backward’s flopped set was very vulnerable. Contrast this to his set of aces. There, he faced only one opponent, and the only thing he needed to fear was a diamond draw; if someone with an eight caught another one, instead of the disaster it would have been if someone with K-J caught another jack on the set of fours, it would have been Backward’s dream card, because he’d now have aces full and his opponent trips that he would probably have a hard time getting away from.
If you’re worried about someone who had 8-8 catching the fourth eight, you’re too nervous to play this game. All sets, it’s pretty clear, are not created equal. Some are much more vulnerable than others, be it because of the number of opponents, or the number of reasonable draws that could beat the set. That’s a pretty important lesson all by itself. In second place, not too far behind, is the lesson I’m guessing at, that the lack of action on the first set caused Backwards to resolve to slow-play next time around. The trick is that in poker, the situation is rarely never the same the next time around. Don’t compound one mistake with another.
Sucked Out on Sucker Hands by Rich McComas (updated Oct 6, 2004)
What every poker players hates more than anything else is betting heavily into a pot and losing on a show-down. When you lose to a long shot, to someone with such lousy cards that they had no business betting in the first place, this is called a "bad beat." When you lose to a hand that was slow-bet or the other player stayed in because of pot odds, it is called being "sucked out." Bad players are the source of all bad beats, but good players can cause a suck-out.
Often, bad beat stories and suck out stories are simply sour grapes stories that no one wants to hear, akin to the fish stories about "the one that got away." Sometimes, however, having too many of these stories to tell is a clue that you are playing marginal hands and making yourself more vulnerable to both better players and worse players.
A sucker hand is a hand that you think is good and you play to a show-down without fully considering what the other player might have. Below is a list of hands that many people play to show-downs and lose. These hands are enticing, but they are a voodoo curse, a source of more suck-out stories for you to tell that no one wants to hear.
Low Straight Draw v. High Straight
If the flop is a 4-5-6 and you have a 3 in your hand, fold. Drawing to the low end of the straight is a losing proposition most of the time. More often than not, you won't complete the straight, and you will be beat by a 7 in the pocket.
Nut Flush v. Straight Flush
Another great way to lose a lot of money is to hold the Ace of any suit in your hand, and draw to a flush, while not watching out for a straight flush. You have an Ace/Jack suited, and the table shows 8-6-5 of the same suit. You can be beat by someone with a seven of your suit, plus either a 9 or 4.
King Flush Draw v Ace Flush
If you have a suited K-Q in your hand and a flush on the board, and someone is re-raising you, it is probably because they have the ace. It would be poor play of them to re-raise on a flush if their highest card is a Jack and they don't see the A-K-Q on the board, so they almost certainly have an Ace.
Jack-Ten in the Hole
Back in the 70's, someone started telling folks that a Jack-Ten wins more hands than a pair of Aces. Before computers and poker books, there was no one to argue, so many low-limit poker players love this hand. It is the highest of the possible Trash Hands, and is the most likely to win a big pot in a straight draw as other face cards hit the board. However, now that we have computers, we know that this hand is marginal at best. Play it carefully only in late position, and bail immediately if you fail to get a four-straight on the flop.
Nuttin' but Trips on the Flop
When a board pair matches a card in your hand, most players will bet into the pot in order to drive the draws out. However, if more than one player raises after this flop, you may be in store for a real shocker. Let's say you have an A-K, and the flop is A-A-8. You are holding the highest possible trips and the highest possible kicker, so you are probably already licking your chops. However, if two people raise with you after this flop, then one likely has the other Ace, and the other may have pocket Eights. In either case, the race is to see which of the three draws to a full house first. If the others continue to raise and you fail to draw a King, you will either have to fold, or get suckered out.
Common Mistakes Phil Gordon June 6, 2005
Everyone makes mistakes. The thing is, a good player will learn from them while a bad player will make the same mistake over and over again. And poker players that can exploit these mistakes will win.
Here are some of the most common mistakes that bad players make and my usual methods for exploiting them:
A player doesn't bluff enough. When these players bet or raise, I usually give them credit for a good hand. When they check, I will usually bet to try and take the pot.
A player overvalues top pair. The "average" winning hand in Hold'em is two pair. Yet many players are willing to take tremendous risks with top pair. When I have a hand that can beat a player who overvalues his top pair, I will over-bet the pot and put them into a position to make a big mistake. I go out of my way to play small pocket pairs against these players because I know that if I flop a set, I'm likely to get paid off in a huge way.
A player under-bets the pot. It is incredibly important, especially in No Limit Hold'em, to make bets large enough to punish opponents for their draws. When a player under-bets the pot and I have a draw, I take advantage of their mistake by just calling the small bet. When I think I have him beat, I'll make a raise.
A player calls too much. I will very rarely bluff against a "calling station." I will, however, make value bets throughout the hand.
A player tightens up under pressure. Most bad players "squeeze" too much in the middle stages of a tournament, or when they're on the bubble. They tighten up and wait for a huge hand. Against these players, I will play a lot looser, looking to steal a larger share of the blinds and antes.
A player telegraphs the strength of his hand with "tells." I am always observing these players, whether I am in the hand or not.
Playing perfect poker may be nearly impossible for most players but, by recognizing your own tendencies - and those of your opponents - you're much more likely to limit your mistakes and capitalize on the weaknesses of others at the table.
Doyle Brunson's Super System
Question: All of my friends have read the Super System book by Doyle Brunson. What is the best strategy for beating they style of hold'em play that this book teaches? thanks. Josh
Answer: It's been a while since I've look through that book so if you want to send in specific questions then I can answer them better. If my memory serves me well -- which it probably doesn't -- I think Doyle's book on no limit spoke of an aggressive tricky style where you keep your opponents off balance. I remember him writing something about having to gamble to do well at no limit hold'em. I also remember hearing Dolye say later that he has had to adjust his style somewhat now because so many people have read the book and are using the same style. In poker, often times the best defense or counter strategy is to do the exact opposite of what the other player is doing. For example, the worst player for a hyper aggressive player is a calling station player because the best tool for winning the aggressive player had was to bet; I see that happen a lot, you'll get one bad player at the table and someone keeps trying to push them around and he/she just calls down with bottom pair and wins. Then the good player complains but doesn't adjust. So if your buddies are trying to force you out of pots too much, you need to open up your game more. Remember a bet is relative. A bet from one player may mean something completely different compared to another player's. Buddy A may bet every hand if you check to him. Buddy B may only bet if he has something. Buddy A may never bluff if you bet into him, while Buddy B may try to bluff too much. Adjust your looseness to the player. When you start calling their bets more and standing your ground, you will lose some hands. Don't let the losses frustrate you though because you don't have to be right every time. Another thing to do would be to set traps for them. Call with a middle pocket pair and then check raise a large amount on the flop if you only have one over-card -- to use Doyle's words, "put them to the test" more often early on in the hand. I would also watch their play and see if you can learn anything from
them. Just because you lose one day doesn't mean everything is a loss, you could have learned some valuable lessons that will make you a stronger player. Lastly, there is a fork in how I would play against them and it comes down to how they play post flop. If the people are aggressive post flop and call you if you make a stand, then I would just wait them out for a big hand like AK or AA and make them pay. If on the other hand they fold if you check raise them trying to set a trap, then make that move more and also tighten up some. See the difference is how you are going to make the most money without risking too much.
Doyle Brunson No Limit Hold'em Tips: Trouble Hands
Question: I regularly play in 5/10 and 10/20 NL hold'em online and I was making good money until i started reading more literature... I know that most of the literature teaches an ultra tight approach that ultimately creates a "rock" image that makes no money whatsoever. But then there is super-system which many regard as the book that supposedly breaks you out of this Rock mode and makes you into a looser, more aggressive, unpredictable, and most importantly, winning player. Doyle talks about how calling raises with hands like AJ, AQ, KJ, KQ, etc. are troublesome because of the win a small pot or lose a big one.
So he recommends calling (or occasionally raising and calling a re-raise) with speculative hands like 65s or 79s.
So here is the problem I've faced... I've called with hands like AJ and learned my lesson, so I tried calling with hands that Doyle suggests calling with because they are more "elusive." The problem is (or at least i think this is the problem) is that (Doyle was playing at tables where people were playing with stacks 200+ times the size of the big blind. However online at a 10/20 NL table, the max buy in is 75 big blinds, but the average stack is probably about 50 big blinds. So calling a 5x raise with 65s when all you can win is 45 more big blinds if everything goes really well just cannot make a profit in the long run. You call that raise 10 times and you are nearly broke if you still haven't caught a good hand (which is most of the time), and even if you do catch a hand you aren't guaranteed to make much money.
So my question is if calling a raise with AQ, AJ, KQ, KJ, etc. is bad and calling with 65s with ultimately leave you with felt because you aren't getting anywhere near the correct odds to call due to the low max buy ins online, then what are you supposed to call raises with?
Answer: This is a really good question, thanks.
His idea is basically that to beat no limit hold'em, you need to give yourself some more opportunities to break a player. It is difficult to bust someone for a huge pot in a cash game if you have AA, unless they also have a huge hand like KK. Most of the time you won't make much with those hands. It is important to remember that everything is relative. Doyle Brunson isn't going to fold AJs in his big blind when someone raises from the button. Likewise, Doyle wouldn't call a tight player's opening raise from early position if he held something like 97s in a tournament. If you follow stringent rules for poker, you won't be dynamic and adaptive enough to make much of a go at it. When looking at any poker strategy question, I try to get people to think about the "whys" and not so much rules: Why would you want to avoid AJ or KJ and why would you want to play those suited connectors? The danger with the AJ is that you'll run into a dominating hand a lose a lot. But is that enough to keep you from ever playing these hands? It shouldn't be. AJ is certainly better than A7, KQ or KJ. The key to play these well is to be able to get a sense for what the opponents are raising with. It may be incorrect to call someone's pre-flop raise with AT if that was a really tight player, but AT may be a huge favorite over a maniac raising every other hand. Try to put other player's play into context. A raise doesn't always mean the same thing. You might want to play at only one table online so you can see more. You need to watch for how often they are raising pre-flop and from what positions. Also watch carefully how they play post flop. Does the guy relentlessly bet post-flop even if his AK missed? If so, you'll need to bare down more against him with your hands since his bet doesn't mean he has anything. Other guys may only bet once on the flop and then
check the turn if they don't have anything. With that type of player, call their pre-flop bet, then see what they do on the turn. Not every pot has to be played to the river.
Next, no limit hold'em is a game where it is very difficult to do well if you are the caller. Initiative, being the aggressor/pre-flop raiser, lends tremendous value since it forces the other guy to make a hand. I would do my best to avoid calling other player's raises if you can (generally speaking -- again, no set rules). I would go out on a limb and say that 90% of your confrontations should be with you on the giving instead of receiving end; this includes the rest of the hand. If you were to look at your stats, I would guess that sessions you do best are those that you are the bettor on the river, and not the caller. You will lose if you call player's pre-flop too much with light hands. Do it occasionally, but not too much. I consider a small suited connector heads up against a pre-flop raiser to be a light hand. I wouldn't consider a small pocket pair against a pre-flop raiser to be a light hand. Notice that in both cases you have the same chance to "hit" the flop, yet the suited connector when it hits a flop has a draw and the pocket pair has a set, a made hand that will make you money since it is so hard to see.
If you do call with light hands sometimes, try to do it with position (or with multiple opponents). Position helps a ton against a pre-flop raiser. You can call the flop bet and then get a lot of information from him depending on what he does on the turn. Also, the more the person raises pre-flop, the more you need to tighten up. Don't try to take a really speculative hand against a pre-flop raiser if the price is too high. Play a small pot when you can. Initiative is essential to no limit hold'em and part of that means that there is a difference between a raising hand and a calling hand. For example, you may have A7 in the back and everyone folds to you. A7 should be a favorite over the blinds, so you may raise it here with success. On the other hand, if you had A7 in the same spot but someone else raised before you, I would let it go. Another example might be if you have a hand like J9s in late position. Raising occasionally with this hand is fine, but to call a raise with it in the same spot wouldn't work well. The reason the hand isn't great is because you most likely won't flop anything and you'll just have to fold. With initiative though, the opponent assumes you have a good hand and will most likely muck on the when you bet. If he calls, then you can just check behind him on the turn and get a free card -- position again shows its advantage. A hand like AJ, KQ, KJ aren't that great against another player's raise, but if no one has raised yet, this are probably the best cards out there. You would be missing out on money if you folded them in fear that someone may have a huge hand. Remember, at no point are you committed for your whole stack. Let's say you raise with the KQ and get re-raised a large amount by another player, you can let it go. Also, if you raise pre-flop with AJ, get called by a tight player and bet into a flop like A-K-K and get raised, you can play it from there. To play these hands well, again, you need to play more
attention to other player's play. Maybe a guy will re-raise with middle pocket pairs. In that case I may take a flop with a KQ even if I get re-raised some (not my whole stack). If I hit, I'll play it from there. Again, I would look at his betting relative to what he has done before. Post-flop play is really important for all these hands. Hold'em is a post-flop game, not a pre-flop game. You can play the 97s sometimes for profit, if you can play it well. You can certainly play KQ and AJ for profit if you don't get trapped when you're beat. Try to learn how to make lay downs but also call in tough spots.
Next, you mentioned that chip stack is a factor. That is true. If you have 44 and the raiser only has a little bit of chips left, you might as well put him all in (if you can get heads up). Likewise, trying to take a hand that is speculative and one that needs a big potential return to make it worthwhile isn't the right hand for someone without many chips. But does this mean that a hand's value is only on the immediate mathematical impact? Not really. Deception is very important in no limit hold'em. Part of a hand's value is the lasting impression it leaves in your opponent's minds. For example, 97s may not be statistically profitable against a pre-flop raiser, but if you beat a player with it just once, you may get much more action the rest of the game. No longer will your opponents be able to rule out what you have when you call behind them. A little of this goes a long way. You should have a good strong game, then also some mixing up hands to spice it up.
Last point, to beat bigger no limit hold'em games, you need to be good at manipulating your opponents. Try to work on ways to get more value on your good hands. See if you can trick them more and play more deceptively. Over-bet sometimes, under-bet sometimes. Limp in sometimes with suited connectors (fold if you get raised). Other times limp in with big hands. And above all, do what has been working for you. Try to keep learning, but take everything with a grain of salt. If you already have a winning strategy, slowly add to it, but not at the cost of turning it into something you aren't comfortable with or can't see the light in; stick to what works.
Beating tougher games
There are different kinds of games. Some games are easy, some are tough. The same play that beats one game won't beat the other.
As you start out, you'll find yourself in games that have a number of players in pre-flop, with really weak hands, making many big errors. The style of poker that will consistently beat this type of game is to just wait for solid hands where you know you have an edge. Just the act of folding more hands than the other players will probably guarantee you'll win in the long run. As the games become tougher though, you can't just do this anymore and expect to win. A tough game is one in which the players are skilled, there are few players in pre-flop (usually most pots are heads up or three way), there is usually a raise and re-raise pre-flop and lots of aggression. What happens in these games if you just sit there and wait for good hands is that the other players will avoid your raises and be aggressive when you don't have a good hand, forcing you out. The opponents will have a means of beating you, but you won't have a means of beating them.
I want to list a few key points for learning how to beat tougher games:
1. Blind play. Defending your blinds is necessary because you'll notice that players are raising with position more just to steal your blinds. The hands they are raising with aren't typical premium hands. Because they are raising more, you have to defend more. This is most likely the first adjustment you'll make when you sit in tougher games and try to figure out how to beat them. This alone isn't going to make you win though, I think it will actually make things more difficult if used alone. Notice what is happening at a fundamental level so you can do this yourself. The other players who are raising your blinds are forcing you to play hands that you don't really want to at a time when they have a big advantage because of position. So instead of being able to wait for quality hands, you are stuck playing marginal hands out of position. The only way to counter this is to defend your blinds some, realizing the inherent weakness of your position, and also doing the same thing back to them. You need to start raising more hands in late position to draw out the good players and force them to play marginal hands too.
2. Tough games are tough because the edge you have over another player is smaller and to win you have to exploit smaller edges. You can't just wait for times to raise when you have the nuts since those situations don't come around often enough. Instead, you have to use position and aggression more -- much more than you would in a weak game. Aggression combined with position are very hard to thwart if you are a solid player playing out of position with a hand that isn't that great. Let me give you an example. Let's say you have a hand like A8off, one position off from the button and everyone but the player to your right folds. The player raises (this is a limit hold'em game). We've concluded that this player has been raising so many hands in this spot that it is likely the A8 is at least on average as good as what he would raise with. What we do here then is to three bet him. Notice how difficult this is for him to play against. You're forcing him to flop a hand and he has absolutely no idea what you have. The A8 figures to be a favorite over any number of hands -- King hands, Queen hands, and even against a pocket pair, you'll flop an Ace a good percentage of the time. Even if you flop nothing, by betting, you turn his logical thinking mind against himself. It is uncomfortable for a good player to play well with nothing post flop against a re-raise. Notice also that if you miss the flop completely and the other player has shown an interest, you can get away without losing much since you have position.
3. You need to start placing more emphasis on position. For the first half of the table, early and middle position, you play regular solid poker. For late position you need to start valuing your hands on how they might fair against the blinds. A hand like A8 isn't that great against a large field but against two random hands, it figures to be ahead. Next, in limit hold'em, don't be afraid to three bet pre-flop more often. You don't have to know that your hand is better to three bet. Three betting isn't only done when you think you want more money in the pot pre-flop. It has other advantages. That extra bet sets you up well for the rest of the hand. It makes it hard for the blinds to call, you pin down the initial raiser and you ensure you have the button. Also, it is important to realize that if you take this type of play too fair, it will be a big hole in your game. Balance is key. A big part of this strategy hinges on you playing well in other positions too. If you play way too many hands, especially weakly, you'll get nailed. If you have a solid image, these plays, if done selectively, will make you really tough, while if you are seen as a bad player, you'll just get yourself into more trouble because the players won't respect the raises. You'll just be seen as a loose aggressive raiser and the opponents will adjust and try to trap you. Do it sparingly in the right spot. Another advantage to these raises is that when you do actually have a great hand, chances are you'll get lots of action
No Limit Texas Hold'em Strategy - Next Level
This article will expand on what I started with the basic no limit hold'em strategy article. The primary goal of this section is how to turn you from a player who is book smart, into someone who is a chip mover. We will discuss position, trapping, value betting, raises, going against the odds, and other concepts that will help you beat average opponents for a lot of chips.
Your Typical No Limit Hold'em Game
I think there is a problem with most strategy books available for no limit hold'em: They are all based on the premise that you are going to be playing against good opponents. Sure there are going to be some decent players at any level -- at least hard to get money out of -- but by and large, you'll be playing against novices. As poker has gotten more popular over the past couple years, there has been a greater flow of information for these new players, which has changed low limit NL hold'em games in two ways: First, these new players all think they have an edge because they are playing what they consider to be "tight aggressive." Secondly, the games have changed to have more tighter players than looser players. A little knowledge is dangerous though and with any strategy, there is a counter strategy. Next, let's make a distinction between who your opponents are: You aren't playing against Phil Hellmuth, you are playing against the guy who read his book. You aren't playing against Dolye Brunson, you are playing against the kid who read Super System. You may find yourself in this same category -- which is fine. You are starting out, have read some literature and are trying to apply that to the cash games you play in. Note, this article can be applied to no limit hold'em tournaments too, but it is primarily for cash games. One thing you may notice if you play what you consider a tight aggressive game in no limit hold'em is that you make a little, but not much. You wait for AA, KK or AK, only to have everyone fold or you get bad beated, while at the same time you see someone else who doesn't seem to be playing very well by your standards yet he/she has 5x their buy-in. The goal of this article is to turn you into that player, so you can consistently take down the chips in these loose passive lower limit games.
Comments About This Article
I'm not going to go out of my way with this piece to make the transitions well. I'm going to take a relaxed format since many of the things I want to discuss are just single tips. Like I said above, this is primarily for no limit hold'em cash games (like the ones you'll find online). The concepts could be applied to tournaments too, but often times you play more frugally/aggressively in a tournament since you have a limited amount of time to earn. In cash games your goal is to get the most money and you're less concerned about bleeding some chips off with calls pre-flop. I don't want to qualify these tips into a certain limit/stakes. In other words, I'm not going to say that these concepts only work in games with blinds $10/20 and below. Instead, I think you should look for the type of game it is and then formulate your strategy. You might find some low limit games that are really aggressive, so you'll have to tighten up. On the other hand you might find some middle limit games that are tight, but more passive so you can play more hands. The defining feature of a game is how often there are raises pre-flop. If no one will ever let you limp in, you'll have play better starting hands unless the people play very poorly post flop.
Limit Hold'em Versus No Limit Hold'em
NLH is different from LH in many respects, but the most important one is flexibility it gives you pre-flop in starting hand selection: In no limit hold'em, an experienced player can play far more hands profitably than in limit hold'em. How many more? Way more! The first reason is that there are more ways to win in no limit hold'em than in limit hold'em. Bluffs are more effective, hands are less likely to get showdowns, and people chase less. The second and more important reason why you can play looser in no limit hold'em is that the upside is far greater in NLH. Let's do a quick comparison. Let's say you take a hand like 77 against a pre-flop raiser in limit hold'em knowing full well that he has you beat so far -- he/she raises pre-flop and you cold call. You have already invested two small bets. Most of the time you'll miss the flop and have a hard time playing well after. The best case scenario is that you'll flop a set and get paid off -- this your upside. Your upside would probably be around three big bets and four small bets (two bets pre-flop, call the flop, raise the turn, bet the river, plus the blinds). So you have invested two bets to get back 10 bets, if you just see the flop. Notice that 2/10 is a 1/5 or a 4:1, the odds of you taking your 77 against a bigger pair. But you don't break even on this play since against the raiser because it is very hard to play 77 well since so many over-cards hit and when you get outdrawn you pay off way more. Now let's do the same thing with no limit hold'em. Let's say someone raises three times the big blind pre-flop and I call after limping in with 77. If I hit my set with a flop that my opponent also likes, my upside just isn't 10 bets. My upside is his whole chip stack. We can take this line of reasoning one step farther, since 77 isn't that loose of a call, let's say I call with 86s. If I hit, I win a huge pot, but if I miss, I just lose 3x the big blind -- which is tiny in comparison with
the average pot that gets action. See this isn't possible in limit hold'em. If you call someone's pre-flop raise with a suited connector heads up, in the long run you'll lose. It just a math game. If he starts with AA and you start with 67s, after a while, he will have all your chips since the initial investment is to great with what you could potentially get in return. Not true in NLH.
Position With Respect To The Raiser
In large multi-way pots, I like to be to the right of the raiser. Early position is actually better here since you get to see what everyone else does after he bets. You check, he bets, and then you have a good idea how the hand will shape up before you commit any chips. The worst place to be in multi-way pots is on the seat right to the next of the raiser, since his pre-flop bet will usually put you in trouble since you'll have no idea what anyone will do behind you. In heads up or three way pots, you want to be in last position whenever possible. How much I value this position is often enough to decide whether or not I call or fold a hand. For example, I may pay the pre-flop raise with a suited connector or suited gapper, like 46, if I am after my opponent, but if I limp in with the same hand and it gets raised, I might muck. Having position on your opponent gives you leverage for winning the hand if you miss, plus you can make more on the hand if you hit. If for example you hit a flush and he checks to you, it puts him at a big disadvantage because he has no idea what you have. He has no good way of countering position. One more tip in regards to no limit hold'em position play is: Always base the strength of your hand on not only its merit, but how many players are yet to act behind you. Again, this can be enough of a factor to make a calling or raising hand a folding hand. For example, let's say you have QJ in the big blind, lot's of people are in, and the small blind comes out firing into a flop like this: J - 4 - 3. This is a folder for me. I may very well have the first bettor beat, but the chance of me beating everyone else in the hand is low. Why get involved? I'll muck this small pot and wait till I have a stronger holding, like J4 here.
Building A Pot In No Limit Hold'em
In these lower limit games, you'll have a lot of people limping in (just calling pre-flop). What I will do when I am in late position, or even sometimes in early position, is to just double the size of the big blind or a little more -- just enough that everyone will still call. What this does is create larger pots so that if I do hit, each subsequent bet will be larger and I'll win more. You aren't committing yourself to the pot. I like to do this with rag hands, like 96s or 53s, small pocket pairs, etc. I build a pot knowing that many of the tighter players may have limped in with big hands in hopes to trap me. In turn I flip the bitch on them and flop something weird, punishing them for not raising pre-flop with their big pair or AK. In addition to increasing the pot size when you are in, this also paves the way for more action on your good hands. If people see you raising a lot pre-flop they will feel more comfortable when you raise a lot with a good hand. To put this into context, imagine an old guy who didn't raise all day and then made a big raise (pre-flop or post-flop), what would you assume? You give the guy his respect, right? On the other hand if you see someone raising 30 hands pre-flop, you feel much more confident with your JJ against him. One major problem I see with a lot of newer players is that they value slow playing too much. Any hand that I can easily get trapped in myself, I like to play straightforwardly. I don't mess around with KK or AA by just limping in, unless I know someone will raise in which I can re-raise and limit the competition. The worst thing you can do is try to get cute by limping in with AA only to get hammered by someone with 84s. Don't leave yourself hard decisions later in the hand by not raising enough pre-flop. If there are a number of limpers already, you can raise even more than you normally would to offset the odds they are getting. So if you typically raised 3 or 4x the big blind, you could
raise 5 or 6x.
Risking A Lot For A Little
You should pick up your share of small pots by betting with position when everyone checks, but you should never risk a bunch of chips for little return. Speculative bets should be done only when the return is very large and the investment is very low. You should be interested in taking down big pots and creating an environment where you'll get that opportunity, while at the same time limiting your own risk. There is no reason to go all-in against someone else with just 55. That is the classic example of when you are right you'll only be a slight favorite -- if he has AK or two over-cards -- but when you are wrong you are a huge underdog -- if he has a bigger pair.
Anxious Or Frustrated Players
One thing that I have found is that when people aren't running well or getting any cards, or if they have a short stack, they are more likely to bluff and put their chips in when the signs tell them otherwise. Let me give you an example of how to exploit this. Let's say you have a hand like TT, and one of the short stacks is in one of the blinds. Instead of raising a typical amount, raise a little less than half his stack. Often times that will coax the player into re-raising all-in. I think part of it is that they feel you are trying to push them out of the pot because you have more chips than them and that influences them to fight back. Secondly, I think over-betting is generally confusing and again their first impression is that you are weak (why else would you raise that much if you actually had a good hand?) and they are going to fight back. This brings me to my next tip.
Limping With AA, KK, AK In Late Position
Never will I do this in a cash game. I will re-raise or flat call another person's raise with these hands in the back in hopes to trap them later in the hand, but I do that with full knowledge that I have them beat. I wouldn't allow the blinds to play for cheap so if the initial raise wasn't enough, I would bump it again. If on the other hand no one has opened yet and I have AA, KK or AK in the back, I'm likely to actually over-bet the pot instead of just raising 3 or 4x the big blind. Again, this is confusing to people and if they have a hand like JJ, TT, 99, you are likely to get re-raised. Over-betting the pot pre-flop makes them assume weakness and their response is to try and punish you (which is exactly what you want). The last thing they think is that you would risk not getting any action with your AA. By raising more than is typical you are telling the other players you don't want them to call. They may put you on a hand like AJ or a small pair. If they re-raise you, you can just flat call with KK and AA and then see the flop. This is consistent with what they already assume: You tried a move and got caught. Then when you raise later in the hand after they are committed and the last hand they will put you on is a big pair.
The Art of Trapping
Trapping in no limit hold'em is what I consider the meat and potatoes of the game. Trapping at it's fundamental level is the process of getting an opponent to overvalue his hand, and bet it as such, and undervalue your hand. The primary component of trapping is deception. How can a good, tight aggressive player who plays only the top 10 hold'em hands, use deception? The first way these tight players can trap is to play a hand weakly. For example, someone may just limp in with AA or KK and hope they can get a lot of money out of a weaker hand since no one expects the big pair. Secondly, the tight player can use deception by betting a weak hand strongly. For example, maybe the tight player missed the flop with AK yet still bets it to the river. Notice the inherent risk in both of these strategies. In the first way, to limp with a big pair can have disastrous results if someone else hits a big flop. I see this happen all the time, a tight player gets cute pre-flop and then pays for it after the flop when they can't lay down a the hand. In the second way of a tight player using deception -- to bluff -- it also takes on unneeded risk. Bluffing is part of the game, but having to defend all your pre-flop raises into weak opponents isn't very fun or profitable. An example of this might also be a tight player raising with KK, then betting the whole way into an Ace high flop against a weak player. It is hard for a tight player like this to get away from a hand since they wait so long for them. If you play more hands, the strength of the hand is defined by its post-flop value, not pre-flop. KK doesn't look any nicer than 84, after a good flop. Getting married to a hand is a big weakness for tight players. One starts to feel entitled to win just because you have waited so long. This leads to frustration and finally a bust out. You'll hopefully be there to stack their chips. As a player who sees more flops, you'll have more opportunity to flop big hands
against these types of opponents. When you do flop something big, there are a number of ways you can get the result you want. The first way of deceiving someone is to obviously slow play and play the hand more weakly than it merits. Get them committed to the pot and then pull the trigger. The difference between when you do this and the guy above does it is that the opponents have no idea what you hold since you are in more hands and you base your hand strength on the flop value. Playing more hands has a huge deception effect. Often times player's response for just a call on the flop is to bet big on the turn to protect their hand against your loose calling. That's the perfect time to raise and suck them in. Another kind of trapping you can do is to get an emotional response from the player. An example of getting him to put in his chips with the worst hand is to check raise him twice in the same hand for a small amount of money. Or you might over-bet a pot, like going all-in on the river. Anything that seems confusing to people will make you money. This why with your lock hands, like a set, you shouldn't just try to get value on the river. I like to put in a large bet and hopefully get them to bust. I'm not in there to nickel and dime it. I would rather not get called on the river 3 times and then bust someone on the fourth, than to just value bet a little hoping to get a call each time. Note that players do want to show their hands down, they don't like feeling pressured out of a pot.
The Ideal No Limit Hold'em Game For This Strategy
The type of game that this strategy will work best with, is a game in which many people see the flop, and there are usually not that many raises pre-flop. Most online lower limit tables will be like this. Certain elements of this article will work at any game, but if the table is constantly raised when you try to limp in, you'll need to tighten up a bit and play more only from late position with your marginal hands. Don't fall into the line of thinking that one strategy beats all games, it doesn't. A good poker player adjusts his play based on his opponents. The tougher the game, the more fluid and flexible you'll need to be to beat it. No one set strategy will work, you'll have to mix it up.
The All Mighty Set, 2 - 5's
I love little pocket pairs in NLH, especially in games where the competition is tight. First of all, when the competition is tight, people are playing big hands, hands like AK, AQ, KQs, big pairs, etc. When you flop a set with a tiny pair, it is totally innocuous. Just think how bad you can punish someone when he limps in with KQ and flops K-Q-2 when you have 22. I play any pocket pair, in any position. I'll even pay the raiser pre-flop to see the flop. So if I limp in with 22 and get raised 3 or 4x the big blind and I think my opponent is likely to get trapped, I'll call.
River Bets When You Know You Are Beat
An important concept when playing NLH is how you deal with river bets when you think you are bet. Let's take an example, say you have a good and bet it to the river, only for the flush draw to complete. Now your opponent, who is in earlier position than you, bets. Do you call or fold? Many people fold to bets that they shouldn't. A bet that is small in relation to the pot needs to be called. What goes through their heads though is, "my opponent obviously has a flush and he is trying to bet an amount I'll call, so I'll fold." That's incorrect. If you have a $1000 pot and the opponent makes a tiny bet of $200 into it on the end, you have to call as if he didn't have the flush. You need to pay off some hands. You don't do this though if the bet is large. Then the only time you would call is if you think you are good still.
Online NLH Minimum Bets
Often times in these little games I'll see someone just press "bet." The pot could be $600 and someone just bets $20 into it, the minimum. 99% of the time that is a weak bet, so don't be afraid to raise it. If you get re-raised, fine you can reevaluate your holding, but don't give looks at the turn and river for this cheap. Also, if you do have interest in the pot, you'll be happy you found out where you were at early in the hand when it was cheaper.
Let me talk about a hand that happened yesterday to illustrate defensive betting in NLH. I had 99 on the button. Everyone folded to the player to my right who raised just a small amount. 99 is the kind of hand that I just want one opponent with so I re-raised. The big blind re-raised me and the first player folded. I called. The flop came back and it was King high, the only over-card. The guy from the blind came out firing. Because I had position, my two best options were to either fold or to raise. The fold would be the safe play, but his bet in relation to the pot size wasn't very large. I figured that either he had a very strong hand, or was afraid of the king, so I raised. He immediately re-raised me. I mucked. I raised to find out information on how to play the rest of the hand and I raised in case he had a hand that wouldn't like a King high flop (like QQ, JJ, TT, etc). Defensive betting can be used at any point in the game. It works best with position. A defensive bet may mean beating KK into an Ace high flop against one player, betting the turn for the same amount, then checking the river. A defensive bet helps to keep you from getting bluffed. Another example might be if you are in charge the whole hand and then the flush hits on the river. By betting some, not a lot, you force your opponent to double that size for a bluff. If the person raises, you can fold, but it makes their chance of forcing you off your hand harder. Lastly, defensive betting works well heads up, but not so well in multi-way pots. You need to always play more cautiously when you are up against multiple players.
A value bet is a bet that you make when you aren't sure that you are ahead, but you are leaning that way. An example happened yesterday. I had QQ and the flop was 8-8-5-T-8. I was against a tight pre-flop raiser. I had position and just called. He had bet the whole way and on the river, bet half of his stack. I decided to put him all-in. He called with AK and lost. This may not bet the ideal example of a value bet, but it does represent the key feature: you aren't sure if you are the best, but you think so, so you put in some more chips. Value betting isn't applicable when you have a huge holding, like a set or straight. The value bet instead is when you have a flush, but not the biggest flush. I think the only real tip I have for when to bet for value is: A check usually means what it is, weakness. People rarely check raise the river. If someone checks, consider it a sign that whatever is out there scares them, so you put in a moderate bet that you expect to be called.
Going Against The Odds
How can anyone successfully go against the odds? Math is math, and there no changing that, but in poker a hands value, how it is played, isn't only relevant to the present. How you play the current hand can set someone up for a later hand. We've already talked about how in NLH, the upside is always great, so sometimes you should look for ways to play against a big hand. One spot I like to dribble some chips away in is rainbow flops with gutshots. A rainbow flop is one in which there are no immediate flush draws, each card is of different suit. Yesterday I had an opportunity to call one of these. I had 45off in the big blind. One person raised, another called, so I called. The flop was A - Q - 2. Notice that a 3 would give me the absolute nuts. The opponents were both very tight players. I wouldn't have been surprised if the raiser had a set or top two. I paid to see the turn, even though the immediate odds weren't in my favor. I missed and folded. Had I hit my 10:1, I think there is a good chance I would have busted him. I would have probably bet the turn, a medium amount. Then he would have raised me with glee, only to have me go all-in. Most likely he would put me on a smaller two pair. The spot that I put him there is almost impossible to fold in, especially if you haven't seen a good hand all day and finally hit a flop. Should you always make these plays? No. To call off your money with 45off routinely isn't ideal. Occasionally you should call though to mix up your play. There is a nice by-product of this too: When you call a lot of hands, and see a lot of flops, people assume you play anything. When the flop comes back low and they miss, often times you can get a look at the turn and river card just for calling the flop. Also, since you sometimes call the flop and then fold on the turn, it gets them into the right place for when you set them up with a big hand. Their response for a perceived loose player will be to bet more on the turn
to protect their hand, which is exactly what you want when you hit.
When you first start playing hold'em, it is scary. You always think that someone has a big hand out there trying to sucker you in. Most of the time though, they don't. Don't fear raises until they happen, then respect them. An example might be if you have A2 and the flop is A-Q-4 and everyone checks to you. Sure, you don't have a great kicker, but it is more likely that everyone doesn't have an Ace than someone is trying to slow play. If they call, bet again. At that point if they raise, you know what to do, but other wise, full steam ahead.
Even when you are playing your best, there are going to be a couple hands a day that you can't help but lose in. An example just happened to me yesterday when I had JJ against an under the gun player. I raised a lot pre-flop, and he called. The flop came back with 944. There was no way I could put him on a 4 so I paid the hand off. Do I fault myself for that play? No, if I were to always fold in spots where there is a lot wagered, I wouldn't ever make much. I was actually more concerned about him having an over-pair than a 4. Another hand happened yesterday too, I had 87 and the flop was 8-7-3. I was against a tight player. He beat me with a set of 7's. That was very unlikely and I didn't have a way to get out of the hand. Likewise though, I had KQ into a KQ2 (all diamonds flop), I made two tough calls to bust someone and I got all my money back and then some.
Let's say that you are limping in with a wide range of hands against tight passive players (wide range meaning anything from 86 to Q2). The hands that will be most dangerous for you will be ones that compete with the same cards they have. Hands like: AJ, KJ, KQ, AQ, JJ, TT, etc. Those hands easily make second best against a tight player. You want to play hands that when they hit, will be very strong. A hand like AJ when you get action from a tight player is usually a loser. But on the other hand if you have a hand like 96s against his AK when he didn't play it properly pre-flop to get you out, you can win a big pot. Something that I don't hear at all in poker literature is the concept of competing cards. If everyone is looking for good hands, like AQ or AK, what happens to all the low cards? By playing low cards sometimes you give yourself more chances to win yet you don't take on that much extra risk since most of the tight players won't be competing for the same hands. Most of the hands you play you just see the flop and fold. Since everyone is expecting you to raise your good hands, I sometimes just limp in with AK from early position. Note that if you do this, you are playing it with the chance someone may trap you, but you might also win a big pot because no one puts you on that hand. I don't do this from late position though, nor would I do it with QQ or KK.
Using these types of tactics, you should be able to extract more money from the tight passive players that the last two years of poker has created. You'll see more flops, be less married to each hand, get free cards, set more traps, be unreadable, more deceptive, and you'll be less trappable yourself.
A poker tournament, like any other tournament, ends with just one man standing, and as with other tournaments your prize depends on how well you place and the prize pool is (usually*) made up of the money that you pay to enter the tournament. For instance, if the buy-in is $50, and 20 people enter, the total prize pool would be $1,000. The pay-out structure of the tournament (how many get paid, and how much each place pays) varies both with number of entrants and from site to site.
Finishing in the money, meaning that you place high enough to get rewarded, typically wins you at least a little bit more back than you paid to enter, but not by much. The big pay-outs usually begin with the final table, or (in the case of smaller tournaments) with the top three players.
When you enter an online (well, any) poker tournament, you have to finish it - you will not get reimbursed in case you have to leave halfway. You play until you're knocked out or until you've won. When the tournament starts, everyone gets a stack of tournament chips to play for (these stacks contain the same amount of chips for everyone of course), and because they have no real value outside of the tournament, they can have a large dollar value even if the buy-in is small. For instance, a $5 tournament on PokerStars may have a $1,500 starting stack, just as a $500 tournament will. You will sometimes see tournament stacks referred to as "T5000" rather than "$5000"
Unlike cash games, there is no rake on the pots that are played. Instead, the sites make their money off of tournaments by adding a bit extra to the buy-in. This extra fee is usually around 10% of the buy-in, but can vary. When speaking of tournament buy-ins, therefore, people often specify a tournament entry cost as this: $[buy-in]+$[fee], e.g. $30+$3. It will cost you $33 to enter the tournament, of which $30 will be a part of the prize pool, and the site will keep $3.
Because online tournaments take no effort to organize, they are always available, around the clock. All it takes is waiting for, say, 10, or 30, or 45 or 180 (or however many the tournament is set to contain) people to pay the entry fee and it can start (these tournaments are called "sit & go"-tournaments, or SnGs) - no need to schedule a time and a place. This, in turn, has made tournaments a viable way of making money off of poker where before they were rather considered icing on the cake, and there are online poker professionals who exclusively live off of tournaments. There are both benefits and drawbacks to choosing this particular venue of poker; the upside is that tournaments - generally speaking - are more complex than a standard cash game. This in turn means that skilled players will have a bigger edge over the poor players, meaning that they have an easier time making money. The drawback, however, is that you only need to be unlucky once in a tournament to not make any money whatsoever. For players who spend most of their time playing large multi-table tournaments, there could be (relatively) long times between finishing in the money. Of course, winning a large tournament usually means a huge pay-out.
A special type of tournament, called a "satellite," merits its own paragraph: A satellite is a tournament where only one person wins a prize - or all the people who win, win the same prize - and this necessitates a different strategy compared to a regular tournament. The most common kind of satellite is the one where first place (or a specific number of top places) is rewarded with a buy-in for a bigger tournament. It was by winning satellites, for example, that Chris Moneymaker managed to go all the way to win the WSOP Main Event, not having to pay the $10,000 entry fee himself.
When it comes to rules of play in a tournament compared to cash games, the most notable difference is that in a tournament, the size of the blinds will increase. Sites handle this differently, but PokerStars, for instance, increase their blinds after a certain amount of time. Other sites increase the blinds after a certain number of hands. Making the blinds go up is a necessity, because the winning players will accumulate more and more chips, and having a stack of 1.2 million, with blinds at 10/20, is a bit silly. It's also a way to force action; to punish the passive. In a tournament, unless it's played with very deep stacks, you cannot sit back and wait only for premium hands - you will have to gamble with more speculative holdings from time to time. Learning when and how to do this is a major part of tournament strategy. But I digress; this is not a strategy guide.
Although no-limit tournaments are generally the most popular (and specifically no-limit hold'em), you will also find limit and pot-limit tournaments offered, for hold'em as well as Omaha or stud, or other games. Most sites have trouble filling up the SnG tournaments for anything but no-limit hold'em, however, so if you're looking to play a pot-limit Omaha8 SnG, you may have to be prepared to wait awhile before it starts.
Poker Tournaments, unless otherwise stated, are so called freeze-outs, meaning that if you lose all your chips, you're out. There are, however, also tournaments that allow for re-buys, meaning that if you get knocked out, you can pay a fee to get back in the game, with a new starting stack. The re-buys are only allowed for the first part of the tournament (stopping after a certain amount of hands, or a certain amount of time, typically), and in some tournaments you are only allowed to re-buy a certain number of times. Different sites and tournaments have different rules; make sure you know which ones apply to you before you sign up.
As re-buys have been mentioned, so should add-ons. Some tournaments allow for add-ons, which are similar to re-buys, but you don't need to get busted to get more chips. You can simply pay a fee to get extra chips added to your stack. As with re-buys, the add-ons are almost always restricted by time after tournament start and/or number of times that you can purchase them.
Also check out Cardschat's page which lists Poker Tournaments from a range of different sites.
There are exceptions, most notably "freerolls" - where it costs nothing to enter, but the site (or Cardschat.com, for example) sponsors the prize pool.
Single Table Tournaments
Perhaps the most popular kind of online tournament is the single table tournament, or STT, which is often (somewhat incorrectly) referred to as the SnGs (sit-and-go's). The reason that label is somewhat incorrect is because there are multi-table SnGs as well. Nonetheless, most of the time when someone talks about playing in an SnG, they mean the single table variety, so keep that in mind.
The most common form of STT is one with a full table (9 or 10 players), where the pay-out structure rewards the top three - usually with 50% going to first place, 30% to second and 20% to third. For a $20+$2 STT, with 10 players entering, this would result in the top three placers to win $100, $60 and $40, respectively.
A definite upside to playing in an STT is how it's a relatively brief investment of time; unlike their larger relatives, the single table tournaments usually do not take more than an hour or so from start to finish. For the grinders who hack away at the cash games, an STT can be a refreshing change of pace, and can be very lucrative as well. As was pointed out in the previous chapter, a tournament - and the single table kind is no exception - is a complex form of poker and skilled players will have a large edge against the beginners. As fate would have it, novice poker players tend to flock to the STTs, making them goldmines for experienced tournament foxes. The reason STTs are so popular among beginners, I think, is because they offer action. People see tournaments on TV and want to try it out, and the STTs offer a simple and cheap way of playing, and it's exciting at the same time.
Another upside, besides them being brief and profitable, is that if you get knocked out, you can join a new one immediately, as there are constantly new ones starting - at least on the major sites. And if you plan on making STTs your home, you will have to get used to firing up new ones often, because even with expert play, you'll often go out early. You will many times find yourself with all your chips in the middle, holding the best hand - and then getting drawn out on the river. You played it right, there's nothing to do - besides joining a new one. Being a skilled player, you will find profit in volume - many STTs put together will eliminate the influence of short term luck, and you will steadily win money.
For anyone planning to play larger tournaments, I believe STTs are a great way to practice. Not only are they easily accessible, but you get to hone your final table skills properly, which will really come in handy the time that you actually find yourself at the final table of a major tournament. In large tournaments, you expect to reach the final table maybe once out of 30 attempts (if you're good), which means that you would get to try it once a month, if you play one large tournament per night. But STTs, on the other hand, you can play many in one night - especially if you play more than one at once - which will give you a solid experience of how to handle yourself once you do reach that elusive final table in the large tournament!
You will also be able to find heads-up tournaments offered, which is exactly what they sound like: Two people playing each other until one has all the chips. In a heads-up tournament, there's of course no prize for second place. The heads-up matches however, unlike the STTs, are not usually inhabited by beginners, so tread carefully. As a side-note, if you want to practice playing heads-up, you definitely want to do it in a tournament format. Playing heads-up for real money at a cash table makes it virtually impossible to overcome the rake, and so even though one of you may be winning, you're both losing.
In closing, if you have yet to try an STT, I suggest you find a cheap buy-in one, and give it a go. I think you'll find it fun.
Multi Table Tournaments
Multi-table tournaments (or MTTs) have the same set of basic rules as their single table equivalences, but because of the larger starting fields take longer to finish. As with STTs, you typically pay a buy-in plus a fee to enter, the former adding to the prize pool and the latter to the organizer.
The prize structure varies, of course, but as a general rule of thumb, somewhere between 10 and 20 percent end up in the money in a larger tournament. Add together the facts that they're relatively time consuming, that one mistake can knock you out, and that only one out of 10 people entering will make any money off of it, and you understand how not many people play MTTs as their primary source of income. Although you do win a huge amount of money when you hit first place, these first places can be few and far between.
This should not discourage you though - tournaments can be both fun and profitable. In fact, because of the added difficulty of balancing stack sizes and picking up reads over the course of a larger tournament, the skilled players have an even greater edge than they do in ring games and even in STTs. That edge, unfortunately, does not translate into immediate profit, and so even the best players still need to be prepared to enter quite a few tournaments until they can manage to get their payday.
As the rule set for tournaments has been explained already, it just remains to talk about the two things that are somewhat unique to MTTs: breaks and table merges; and breaks are actually self explanatory - every hour (usually, this may vary between sites and tournaments) the players get 5 or so minutes to go the bathroom, fetch a drink, etc., before play resumes again.
Table merges, however, are a bit less than obvious, if you have not seen them before. Basically, table merges occur (automatically online) to keep all tables as full as possible, and to make sure that no one table has a lot fewer players than another. For instance, let's say that there are four tables left, and there are eight players on each of them, for a total of 32 players. Now two players get knocked out, leaving only 30. At this point, the site will automatically re-arrange the seating's for three tables, filling each of them with 10 players - presuming that the site has 10 players per table.
Likewise, if there are four tables left with 10 players on each, and two players get knocked out on one of them, making the distribution 10/10/10/8, the site may automatically (and, one presumes, randomly) re-assign one of the players from the other three tables to sit at the shorthanded one, making the distribution 10/10/9/9 instead.
Most players I know treat large MTTs as a complement to everyday play; it's something that's done occasionally for the fun of it, and if you're lucky you get a big payday, and if you get knocked out early, you've only lost a relatively small buy-in. Another reason is that most people I know play recreationally and do not have the time to spend 4-5 hours playing one tournament. Of course, the average time used on a tournament is much less than if you make it to the final table, but the point still stands: If you enter the tournament, you have to be prepared to sit there for the full duration. It would definitely be unfortunate if you have to go pick up the kids just after having gotten to the final table, wouldn't it?
No-limit Texas Hold’em Tournament Guide
No-limit Hold’em tournaments have become extremely popular nowadays. The tournament atmosphere gives players a chance to hit it big, and maybe even someday qualify for the World Series of Poker. A Texas hold’em player who is well versed in tournament strategy holds a big edge over the opposition. Conversely, even an experienced hold’em player who is accustomed to ring games may be at a disadvantage in a tournament setting. So, how does one become tournament-savvy? The goal of this piece is to give someone some quick but effective guidelines to Texas hold’em tournament success. Obviously, one article is not going to turn a novice into a professional. Sound tournament poker strategy requires both a solid background in fundamentals and hours and hours at the poker tables. Hopefully we will be able to provide enough knowledge for a beginning tournament player to close the gap and perhaps move a little ahead of those more experienced Texas hold’em tournament players. These fundamentals have been put to the test, and have proven to be successful, partly due to its simplicity. Survival is your first goal in a tournament, but accumulation of chips is equally important in the early going. Tight, aggressive play is what we advocate. Even though survival is goal number one, fear of being eliminated is counterproductive to achieving that goal. To be successful, you have to take advantage of opportunities. In Texas Hold’em tournaments, playing it safe is important; however it is ironic that the more courageous players are actually safer than the more timid poker players. No-limit Texas hold’em tournaments are all about playing the percentages. If you can get a lot of chips into the pot when you have a mathematical advantage, you will be a long term winner. You may suffer some bad beats, but long term the percentages will pay off for you. Okay, enough of an introduction...let's get down to the nitty gritty of no limit hold’em tournament play.
Before the flop
Rule One: It's cliché, perhaps, but you must play only solid starting hands. In early position, stick to premium hands, like Sklansky's group 1 and 2 poker hands: AA, KK, QQ, JJ, AKs, AQs, TT, AK, KQs, AJs. In middle to late position, add a few more hands, but be judicious. Hands from Sklansky's group 3 can be added: AQ, 99, ATs, KJs, QJs, JTs, and maybe KQ and AJ. Avoid playing middle and small pairs unless you can get in cheaply, and then with the aim of flopping a set and winning a big pot. Don't play too many hands, but when you do play them, bet and raise with them. Tight poker players are not the same as passive poker players. Folding before the flop is not passive, it's judicious. Avoid playing hands which over the course of time will be money losers. Your tightness will benefit you in two different ways. For one, you'll be folding at the same time as other people are being eliminated, bringing you closer to being "in the money". Perhaps more importantly, by playing really solid starting hands you will relieve yourself of some really tough decisions. The nature of no-limit Texas hold’em, and tournament play, is that you can lose your stack and be eliminated by one mistake. As a newcomer to hold’em tournament play, playing strong hands will allow you to know where you stand after the flop most of the time. If you've hit your hand, you will be in good shape.
Rule Two: You should almost always raise if you are the first one in the pot. You play only premium hands, so the chances are good that you have the best hand pre-flop. So make people pay to play against you. Your raises should be a standard size. Raise the same amount with pocket Aces as you do with AQs. This way, your opponents will not be able to "put you on a hand". When the blinds are small early on, you can raise quite a bit more than the big blind, let's say somewhere between five and ten percent of your total stack. For example, if players begin with one thousand chips and the blinds start at five and ten, think about raising fifty or more. Later on, when the blinds are bigger in comparison to peoples' stacks, a decent rule of thumb is to raise the amount of the pot after your call. So, if the blinds are one hundred and two hundred and you're first to act, raising an extra five hundred (making it seven hundred), is a sound poker play.
Rule Three: If there are others entering the pot before you, raise with big pocket pairs, otherwise just call. With people calling before you, the pot will probably be big enough that you will be satisfied in taking it without a fight. Raise at least the size of the pot (or even more) with AA, KK and QQ. You will either win the pot right away or have people putting a lot of money into the pot with a lesser hand. With a non-premium holding, your edge won't be so large, so you can see the flop before deciding how to proceed. The difference between this advice and rule one is that the early callers already in the pot will be more likely to call your raise, so it would be much more difficult to win the pot without a fight. However, if you have a poker hand like AK, and there's only one caller ahead of you, raising may isolate you with that one caller. You should be more inclined not to raise if your hand is suited or there is more than one caller ahead of you. You should be more inclined to raise with good pairs or unsuited hands with an Ace, especially if the caller is a loose player (who probably doesn't have a strong hand). If there are several callers, you can call a small bet (say up to 5 percent of your stack) with a small pocket pair, hoping to flop a set. As you gain no-limit hold’em tournament experience, you may also decide to call in this situation with suited connectors like 76s or suited aces. These hands, however, require more skillful play and are probably best left to more experienced Texas hold’em tournament players.
Rule Four: Be very cautious responding to raises. If there is a raise before you act, play only if you think you have the best hand. If you are raised after you've entered the pot you have more leeway, but must still be very careful. Many normally solid starting hands are highly vulnerable in these situations. Don't hesitate to fold hands like KQs or 99 if you respect the raiser; you are likely either a small favorite or a big underdog, so in the long run it's a losing play. Hands like KQ are dangerous in that you can hit your hand but still lose to bigger pairs or better kickers. That can be the end of the poker tournament for you, so avoid these large confrontations and be patient. If you have Aces, Kings or Queens, or another hand you think is better than the raiser's, then re-raise the size of the pot or go all in. These are top hands and come around infrequently, so make the most of them before the flop. With hands that are not as strong but could be the best, like Ace-King or pocket Jacks, you can call if it doesn't cost you that much, maybe 10 or 15 percent of your stack. If you get a good flop, proceed aggressively, and get out if the board looks too threatening. If the initial raise is so big that you can't get this information reasonably, then get out. Your actions depend also on the previous actions of your opponent. Against a hold’em player who raises a lot, you might re-raise all-in with pocket Jacks, or play AJs the same way you might normally play AK. Again, this is a grey area often best left to more experienced Texas hold’em tournament players, so be judicious.
Rule Five: When you've hit the flop, bet and raise big. The flop will let you know where you stand. With an over-pair, top pair with good kicker or a set, you're looking to take advantage of the situation. These opportunities come along infrequently, so carpe diem! A pot-sized bet is standard, but for our purposes a bet of twice the pot might be preferred. You don't really want to get callers unless they are made to pay for it. You do not want to let weaker hands draw too cheaply, and you don't want to be put into an awkward situation if it is possibly avoidable. These large bets will force your opponent to make difficult decisions which could cost him his stack. If they fold, you win without a fight, otherwise they're probably risking a lot of chips at a big disadvantage. Your bet size also depends on how many chips you have. Either bet up to about one third of your stack (this way you have enough for another good sized bet on the turn), or else go all-in. If you're up against a single opponent, base these proportions on the smaller stack, since they have the maximum number of chips that can be wagered. For example, suppose both you and your opponent have a thousand chips and the pot is at one fifty. Betting three hundred is strong; it leaves enough for a big all-in bet on the turn if your opponent calls you. If either you or your opponent had just five hundred, then betting three hundred isn't as good. You should either bet one fifty now or move all-in right away. If get a favorable flop and are bet into, either raise big or move all-in right there, unless for some reason you feel you're beat...then fold! Your opponent's bet probably means he's got something good, but you have a good chance to win a big pot if your hand is just a little better, which is likely given your strong starting hands. Again, you have to play aggressively even though it may spell your defeat. If you get called and the turn card is not too scary, make another big bet or go all-in.
You get your chips in with an edge...that's your goal. Of course, Texas hold’em isn't always cut and dried, so there will be many grey areas. To be a successful no-limit Texas hold’em player, you have to take some chances and make your opposition prove their hand is better. Sometimes you must be disciplined enough to muck a good hand when things look too scary. For the most part, raise or fold, and if you lose, learn from it for the next time.
Rule Six: We advocate tightness, but a good draw presents bluffing opportunities. Call only if your odds are there to take off a card. Bluffing is a very important part of no-limit Texas hold’em, and no poker strategy is sound some bluffing, otherwise you're too easy to read. Draws are great semi-bluffing opportunities, giving you chances to win even if you're called. A good draw with over-card(s) gives you very good chances of making your hand by the river. Take note of your opponents. If there are a lot of them or are facing a calling station, forget about trying to bluff. Most of the time you will face one or two typical hold’em players, and a bluffing is sound poker strategy. Bet just like you would with a strong hand. You're a tight player and play solid cards. Good hold’em tournament players will notice this and act accordingly, respecting your bets and bluffs. If your bluff gets called and you don't hit your draw, you should usually check the turn. If you have position, you will probably get a free river card. If your opponent bets, anything other than a small bet will not provide you with the odds to call. So fold. If you're in last position, bet or raise right away. Don't slowplay the hand unless you're absolutely positive it will bring you more money. In general, your opponent has more reason to call the turn, so he can see another card, so a really big hand should not wait 'til the river to try to extract money from the other poker players. If you hit your overcard and not your draw draw, bet like you would with top pair. No limit Texas hold’em players often misplay their draws. In fixed limit Texas Hold’em, the odds are almost always there for your draws. The big bet ability in no limit hold’em means you can only calculate your odds on the current card. Your implied odds are higher, of course, as hitting your draw offers the chance to take a monster pot. Beware of paying too much for a draw though...it's one of the biggest errors made in
no-limit Texas hold’em.
Rule Seven: As the tournament moves to its late stages, stealing blinds is a must. They have grown significantly, so risks can and must be taken. Of course, this makes for trickier decision-making. At the late stages of the tournament, it is often the case that you must fold or go all in. The large blinds will rob you of time, so you must pick off other players' blinds fairly frequently. With a small stack, you will probably have to go all in when you have less than a significant amount more than the big blind. You may have to risk it all on hands you would've folded earlier. Hands with aces and mediocre kickers or middle pocket pairs are good enough to push in your chips if you are first in. You may get called and lose, but it will take a lucky flop to beat you usually. Again, get your chips in with an advantage. High card strength is more important than suitedness at this point. Use judgment...if you don't think you can win the blinds with a raise, then don't try it. Remember, your tight reputation will help you here. Similarly, in the late stages of the tournament you also must defend your blinds strongly with decent holdings. Use your judgment based on the aggressiveness of the stealer. You may have to call with Ace high if he's aggressive.
Rule Eight: Your last chips are very precious; treat them this way. If you barely have more than the big blind, remember that you need a stronger hand to call than to raise. Be patient...wait for a hand that offers you a chance to go all-in, as discussed previously. If you're already in the money, remember that survival is your objective. You may even fold a really strong hand if there are already two players duking it out, as one may be eliminated. A recap: Play strong starting hands only, and play them strongly. When you hit your flop or have an over-pair, be ready to go all the way with it. Raising or folding are usually your best options. Bluffs are effective in strong drawing situations. As the blinds grow, try to take them by force. Survival is the goal, but this is not accomplished with tentativeness. When you're down to just a few chips, be patient and wait for a big hand to commit them, even if it means waiting until the blinds force you all-in. Remember, no limit Texas hold’em tournament play improves greatly with experience, so use this as a guide to better poker, but hop on the tables and go for it!
Rule Nine: If you're new to no limit Texas hold’em tournament play, start slowly. You need poker experience, so tread lightly before playing hold’em with the big boys. Sign up at Party Poker or Empire Poker and play some low stakes hold’em tournaments before moving up to the higher poker tables. Good luck with your Texas hold’em tournament career!