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Learn To Play Poker

So you're new to Texas Hold'Em poker? Not a problem. Texas Hold 'Em poker is by far the best game for a beginner to learn. Instead of other poker games like Omaha High or 7 card stud which entail a great many more possibilities for calculating odds and perhaps even trying to count cards, Hold'Em can be learned in a few minutes by anyone, and you can be playing fairly well with a few hours practice. In order to learn the game, however, you must play and you must play fairly often.
 
1 - Playing on the flop
2 - Starting hands
3 - Position
4 - Hand rankings
5 - Odds
6 - More odds
7 - More about position
8 - Bluffing
9 - Pre flop strategy
10 - Who to play
11 - Successful betting
 
Playing on the Flop

The flop is the most important part of the hand. This is where you'll find out whether your hand has a shot at winning or not. Many poker novices lose money by playing after the flop with hands that have little or no chance of winning. Regardless of what your starting hand is, the flop will either give you the best hand (or close to it), a good chance at a winning hand, or nothing at all. Even with a strong starting hand, if the flop doesn't hit you at least once and the board offers the possibility of a better hand for someone else, you should consider folding. Even with tight starting hand selection, more often than not, the flop will be unfavorable to you.

The chart below illustrates the possibilities where you can continue playing on the flop. The information on this chart was derived from Lee Jones' Winning Low Limit Hold'em. If you're new to Hold'em, this book is strongly recommended. Jones gives you a complete strategy for low-limit hold'em, and explains the finer points of playing these hands, as well as more advanced strategies such as the free card play and the check-raise. You can use the chart below as a cheat sheet or a supplement to the book when you're playing online. Note that these are guidelines for playing these hands. The circumstances at your particular table and one's personal experience may require a different strategy. Many of the circumstances listed below assume that you have the correct pot odds to call.

If you've flopped. Possible actions

Overcards

Check and fold . Call if you have a backdoor draw and high pot odds.

Top Pair with High Kicker

Bet and raise . If re-raised, raise again if you think you have the best hand, otherwise call.

Top Pair with Poor Kicker

Fold if there's much action. If you're first or last to act, bet or raise if you think everyone else will fold.

Middle or Bottom Pair

Check and fold . Call if you have an overcard and/or a backdoor draw with high pot odds.

Two Pair

Bet and raise . If re-raised, raise again if you have top two pair. Otherwise, call.

Pair on the Board

Fold if your pair is lower, or there's much action. In late position, bet when it's checked to you if you think everyone will fold.

Three of a Kind (Set)

Raise and re-raise , unless you are certain (or uncertain) that you have the best hand.

Three of a Kind (Pair on Board)

Bet and raise . Call if someone else re-raises, unless you have a high kicker.

Inside Straight Draw

Bet or call if you have favorable pot odds, or two overcards and/or multiple draws. Fold if the board is paired, or if there are three suited cards on the board.

Open-ended Straight Draw

Bet or raise if you have the nut draw. Call if the board is paired, or if there are two suited cards on the board. Fold if there are three suited cards on the board.

Flush Draw

Bet or raise if you have an ace high draw, otherwise call.

Straight

Raise and re-raise . Slow play if an ace high straight.

Flush

Raise and re-raise. Slow play if an ace high flush.

Full House

Slow play if your set is the higher rank. Bet and raise if your set is the lower rank, or you don't have the pocket pair.

Four of a Kind or Straight Flush

Slow play if you have the nuts, otherwise bet and raise.

If you play your hand appropriately on the flop, you still have to watch the turn and river cards to see if one of your opponents have possibly improved. If you believe you still have the best hand, or your hand has improved, continue to bet and raise with it. Otherwise, just check or call. If you're playing a pair or two pair, and an overcard to your pair comes on the turn and there is a raise, it's possible you may be beaten. If you're playing a straight draw, and the third card to a flush falls on the turn, folding is a wise idea. If the board pairs on the turn or river, proceed with caution. One of your opponents may have landed trips or a full house.

 

Starting Hand Strategy - The Importance of Position

One's position at the table in relation to the "dealer" is an important strategical factor in Texas Hold'em. The players sitting to the left of the dealer, including the blinds, are in early position. Early position puts the player at a disadvantage, because the player cannot observe how his opponents will act before playing his hand. An early position player who calls or bets on a weak hand may find themselves faced with a raise by another player, making it more expensive to play on with that hand. If the raiser does indeed have a strong hand, the early position player is likely beat and has wasted their bet. An early position player with a strong hand will find it harder to increase the pot by raising, unless other players raise after him.

The players sitting to the right of the dealer, including the dealer himself, are in late position. Late position gives the player a strategic advantage, since the player can observe how his opponents act before playing his hand. The dealer is in the strongest position ("on the button") because they have the advantage of acting last. A late position player can decide to play a weak hand if there have been no bets or raises before him. A late position player with a strong hand has more opportunity to increase the size of the pot by betting or raising. Late position gives the player an information advantage. By observing how the other players bet their hand, the late position player can make an informed decision on how to play their hand. Consideration on whether to play a certain starting hand (see below) is based mostly on one's position at the table. A strong hand can be played in any position, while a weaker or marginal hand should only be played in later position, when the player can decide if their hand has a chance of winning against the other players.

Starting Hands

An important part of mastering Texas Hold'em is learning which starting hands are most playable, and in what position. Every book on Texas Hold'em goes in-depth on starting hands and their rankings.

There are 169 possible starting hands in Texas Hold'em, and at least half are considered to be unplayable. The following list is an easy to read guide as to which hands have the potential to be played. Unlike other starting hand lists, this list does not rank each individual hand by strength, although the list is organized roughly from the strongest hands to the weakest. This list merely serves as a guide as to which hands have the potential to be played, and in what position. Players are strongly encouraged to consult other sources to learn more about starting hand rankings and strategy.

This list is appropriate for situations that require tight play. At most low limit tables, you can shade these hand requirements down a bit and play a bit looser, but you shouldn't call with hands that are not on this list. Approximately half of the 169 starting hands are on this list, and all of them statistically have at least a 10% chance of winning at a ten-handed table. The hands listed in bold comprise the top 10 hands, and can be raised and re-raised in any position. The hands listed in blue can be called in early position, and raised in middle and late position. The hands listed in red can be called in middle or late position. The hands listed in black should be called in late position only.

Playable Starting Hands

A = Ace, K = King, Q = Queen, J = Jack, T = Ten, 2-9 = Card value, x = Unknown card, s = Same suit

Any Pair - These have high pair, trips (set), full house, or four of a kind possibilities. Raise and reraise with high pairs.

  • AA, KK, QQ, JJ , TT, 99, 88 , 77, 66, 55, 44, 33, 22
A x , K x , Q x, J x, and T x Suited - These have high pair, trips, flush, straight and straight flush possibilities. Any Ace, King or Queen suited can be played for flush possibilities, depending on position.
  • AKs, AQs, AJs , ATs, A9s, A8s, A7s, A6s, A5s, A4s, A3s, A2s
  • KQs, KJs , KTs , K9s, K8s, K7s , K6s, K5s, K4s, K3s, K2s
  • QJs, QTs , Q9s, Q8s , Q7s, Q6s, Q5s, Q4s, Q3s, Q2s
  • JTs , J9s, J8s . J7s, J6s, J5s
  • T9s, T8s , T7s, T6s

A x , K x , Q x , J x , T x Unsuited - These have high pair or straight possibilities. Only play unsuited cards with a combined value of 21 or higher.

  • AK , AQ , AJ, AT , A9
  • KQ , KJ, KT , K9
  • QJ, QT , Q9
  • JT , J9
  • T9
9 x and Lower Suited - Two suited cards that are consecutive (suited connectors) or one-gapped can potentially be played. These have mostly flush or straight possibilities.
  • 98s , 97s, 96s
  • 87s , 86s, 85s
  • 76s, 75s
  • 65s, 64s
  • 54s, 53s
  • 43s
Bold = Raise and reraise. Yellow = Call early, raise middle and late. Orange = Call middle and late. White = Call late only.

Any starting hand that is not listed above should be folded. You should expect to fold before the flop at least half of the time. Playing strong hands, depending on position and situation, will increase your winnings and curtail your losses in the long run. Patience is key when it comes to winning in Texas Hold'em. But keep in mind that any starting hand can be beaten. A strong starting hand increases your chances of drawing to a winning hand, but be prepared to fold if your hand does not improve and another player is representing a better hand.

 

Hold'em Strategy - Position

Your position at the table is simply your position in relation to the dealer. The dealer is at the most advantageous position, as he/she gets to see how all the players at the table react before making their own decision.

The person to the left of the dealer is not only the small blind, but must act first after the flop.

The person to the left of the small blind is the big blind. This person is already obligated to the game and is in another early position.

The person to the left of the big blind acts first before board cards are dealt. This is often referred to as "being under the gun". The clockwise motion of play allows those who act later (in late position) to be at an advantage. As a result, those in late position can play weaker hands or "gambling hands" with less fear of financial obligation or loss.

The blind positions and the player under the gun (early positions) must be more selective with their hands, as they don't have the privilege of watching other players betting/raising before they must decide if they want to stay in themselves.

For example, lets say you're under the gun (first to act). You have Jack-Ten, unsuited. 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, with at least an ace or a pocket pair. Unfortunately, you've already bet, because you had no idea or no way to tell what other players at the table had in the pocket.

In addition, you will always, throughout the game, be acting before this player. This positional advantage will continue throughout this hand.

On the other hand, being in the dealers position not only gives you the benefits of observing how the other players are betting, but it also gives you the ability to adjust the size of the pot. After all other players have bet, a raise by the player in the dealers position could potentially double the size of the pot (assuming no one folds). Since the players have already committed to one bet, its easier to commit to a second (or a third or fourth!).

 

An Explanation of Hold 'Em Odds - Part 1 of 4

Probability is a huge factor in texas hold 'em. Players use odds to determine their actions. The chances of finishing a flush or a straight, the probablity of getting an overcard, the percentage of times you're going to flop a set to match your pocket pair are all important factors in poker. Knowledge of these statistics is key to winning. In online games especially with very few (if any) tells, statistical knowledge becomes the main factor when choosing whether to bet, call, or fold.

Here are some terms that you'll hear on this site and whenever you're talking about poker odds...
Outs The number of cards left in the deck that will improve your hand.
"I had four hearts on the turn, so I had only 9 outs left to finish that flush."
Pot Odds The odds you get when analyzing the current size of the pot vs. your next call.
"There's $200 already in the pot, and only another $10 bet coming at me, so my pot odds are good if I hit that flush."
Bet Odds The odds you get as a result of evaluating the number of callers to a raise. "With a 1 in 5 chance of hitting it, and knowing all six of these guys are gonna call my bet, my bet odds are good too."
Implied Odds The odds you are getting after the assumed result of betting for the remainder of the hand. "Since I think these guys are going to call on the turn and river, my implied odds are excellent."

In Texas Hold 'Em, you commonly use outs and pot odds the most. This is also the starting point for those who want to learn about poker odds. To those out there who "ain't good at countin' much", you better get good because that is how it's done. At this point it's only simple division The numerator will be the number of outs you have. The denominator is the number of cards left that we haven't seen. The result will be the percentage chance of making one of those outs. Therefore, the most math you'll be doing will be dividing small numbers by 50 (pre-flop), 47 (after the flop), or 46 (after the turn). Click here for a series of examples on this.

Before we move on, I must clarify one thing. A lot of you might wonder why we never factor the opponents' cards or the burn cards when figuring out how many cards are left. The reason is that we only consider "unseen cards". If you saw what the burn cards were, or an opponent showed you his hand, you would know that those cards are not going to be drawn and could use that. We typically do not know what they have, so we don't even think about it when talking about odds. For instance, take a standard deck of 52 cards, remove 2 Aces and burn 25 of them. If you drew the next card, what are the chances of it being an Ace? It would be 2/50 (2 Aces left out of 50 unseen cards). It would NOT be 2/25 just because you burned half the deck. Okay, do the same thing again, but this time you get to look at the burn cards. Let's say that of all the cards you burned, none were an ace. Now your odds are 2/25 because there are still 2 Aces and now only 25 "unseen cards".

By that same reasoning, let's play a game of draw poker where you get 5 cards as usual, but your opponent gets 40. Say you got Ace, King, Queen, Jack all of Spades!, and a Four of Clubs. You get to ditch the Four and draw one from the remaining pile of 7 cards. What are your chances of getting that Ten of Spades? Assuming you don't get to see your opponents hand, your chances of drawing that card would be 1 in 47 (1 Ten of Spades in the deck, 47 "unseen cards"). It would NOT be 1 in 7. Let's say your opponent goes to the bathroom, and you cheat and look at his hand while he's on the crapper. If he doesn't have that Ten of Spades, that would be 1 in 7. If he did, well...it'd be 0 in 7.

Pot odds are as easy as computing outs. You compare your outs or your chance of winning to the size of the pot. If your chance of winning is significantly better than the ratio of the pot size to a bet, then you have good pot odds. If it's lower, then you have bad pot odds. For example, say you are in a $5/$10 holdem game with Jack-Ten facing one opponent on the turn. You have an outside straight draw with a board of 2-5-9-Q, and only the river card left to make it. Any 8 or any King will finish this straight for you, so you have 8 outs (four 8's and 4 K's left in the deck) and 46 unseen cards left. 8/46 is almost the same as a 1 in 6 chance of making it. Your sole opponent bets $10. You if you take a $10 bet you could win $200. $200/$10 is 20, so you stand to make 20x more if you call. 1/6 higher than 1/20, so pot odds say that calling wouldn't be a bad idea.

Another clarification...a lot of players want to somehow factor in money they wagered on previous rounds. With the last example, you probably had already invested a significant portion of that $200 pot. Let's say $50. Does that mean you should play or fold because of that money you already have in there? $50/$200? That's a big no. That's not your money anymore! It's in a pool of money to be given to the winner. You have no "stake" in that pot. The only stake you might have is totally mental and has no bearing on hard statistics.

The next step is to use bet odds and implied odds. That's tougher, because it involves predicting reactions of other players. With bet odds, you try to factor in how many people are going to call a raise. With implied odds, you're thinking about reactions for the rest of the game. One last example on implied odds...

Say it's another $5/$10 holdem game and you have a four flush on the flop. Your neighbor bets, and everyone else folds. The pot is $50 at this point. First you figure out your chance of hitting your flush on the turn, and it comes out to about 19.1% (about 1 in 5). You have to call this $5 bet vs a $50 pot, so that's a 10x payout. 1/5 is higher than 1/10, so bet odds are okay, but you must consider that this guy's going to bet into you on the turn and river also. That's the $5 plus two more $10 bets. So now your facing $25 more till the end of the hand. So you have to consider your chances of hitting that flush on the turn or river, which makes it about 35% (better than 1 in 3 now), but you have to invest $25 for a finishing pot of $100. $100/$25 is 1 in 4. That's pretty close. But there's more!... if you don't make it on the turn, it'll change your outs and odds! You'll have a 19.6% chance of hitting the flush (little worse than 1 in 5), but a $20 investment for a finishing pot of $100! $100/$20 is 1 in 5. So the chances would take a nasty turn if you didn't hit it! What's makes it more complicated is that if you did hit it on the turn, you could raise him back, and get an extra $20 or maybe even $40 in the pot.

I'll let it go at that, as once you've mastered simple outs and pot odds, bet and implied odds are just a longer extension of these equations. If you sit and think about these things while you play, it'll come to you eventually without any tutoring. Good luck!

Odds - Part 2 of 4

The Easy Example: A pocket pair
You start with a pair of Jacks in the pocket. Not too shabby. The flop however, doesn't contain another Jack.

Lesson 1 : What's my chance of getting a Jack on the turn?
You need to just figure out the number of outs and divide it by the number of cards in the deck. There's 2 more Jacks. There's 47 more cards since you've seen five already. The answer is 2/47, or .0426, close to 4.3%.

Lesson 2 : No luck on the turn, how 'bout the river?
Still 2 Jacks left, but one less card in the deck bringing the grand total to 46. What's 2/46? That's .0434, which is also close to 4.3% Your chances didn't change much.

Lesson 3 : Screw getting just one Jack! I want them both! What are my chances?!
Since we're trying to figure out the chances of getting one on the turn AND the river, and not getting one on EITHER the turn or river, we don't have to reverse our thinking. Just multiply the probability of each event happening. Chances of getting that first Jack on the turn was .0426, remember? The chance of getting a second Jack on the river would be 1/46, because there'll only be one Jack left in the deck. That's about .0217, or 2.2%. To get the answer, multiply 'em. .0426 X .0217 is about .0009! That's around one-tenth of a percent. I wouldn't bank on that one.

Lesson 4 : Hey, what were my chances of getting a pair of Jacks anyway?
To figure that out, think of it as getting dealt one card, then another. What are your chances of the second card matching the first one? There will be 3 cards left like the one you have. There's 51 cards left in the deck. 3/51 is .059 or 5.9%. What the chance that it'll be Jacks? Well, there's 13 different cards. So, .059/13 is about .0045, a little less than half a percent.

Lesson 5 : What were my chances of getting a Jack on the flop?
Now you do have to "think in reverse" as in the previous example. Figure out the chances of NOT getting a Jack on each successive card flip. First card you have a 48/50 chance (48 non-Jack cards left, 50 cards left in the deck), second card is 47/49, third card is 46/48. Those come out to .96, .959, and .958. Multiply them and get .882, or an 88.2% chance of NOT getting any Jacks on the flop. Invert it to figure out what your chances really are and you get .118 or 11.8%. This will be your chance to get one or two Jacks.

 

Odds - Part 3 of 4

Example #2 "The straight draw"
You start with a Jack of Spades and a Ten of Spades. You get a rainbow flop with a Queen of Spades, a Three of Diamonds, and a Nine of Clubs. You've got a straight draw.

Lesson 1 : What are my chances of hitting it on the next card?
Same as before, but with different outs. A King or an Eight will complete your hand. There are presumably four of each left in the deck. You've got 8 outs. The chance of getting one of them on the turn is 8 over 47, because there's 47 cards left in the deck. That comes out to about .170, or around 17%.

Lesson 2 : I didn't get it on the turn! What are my chances now!?
There's still 8 cards left in the deck that'll help you, but 46 cards left in the deck. That's 8 over 46. It changes to .174. It's improved to a whopping 17.4%!

Lesson 3 : I should of thought about my total chances first, I'm such an idiot. What are my chances of getting that card on the turn OR the river?
Once again we'll have to calculate the chances of a King or Eight NOT appearing, so we can do it like the last problem (in this case, {39/47} X {38/46}). Or, since we've already figured out our chances in the previous two lessons, we can just invert the probabilities and multiply 'em. You had a .170 chance on the turn, and a .174 on the river. By inverting, I mean subtracting them from one. Now we've got .830 and .826! Multiply and get .686! That's our chance of NOT hitting our card at all. So invert it again and get .314, or 31.4%.

Odds - Part 4 of 4

Example #3 "Top two pair"
You get dealt a King of Diamonds and a Nine of Hearts. The flop is lookin' pretty good for you with a King of Spades, a Nine of Clubs, and a Four of Clubs. Top two pair!

Lesson 1 : What are my chances of getting a full house on the turn?
To get a full house, you need another King or Nine to pop up. There are presumably two of each left in the deck. So you've got 4 outs. After the flop there's always 47 cards unaccounted for. 4/47 is around .085 or an 8.5% chance of you getting that boat.

Lesson 2: What are my chances of getting a full house on the river?
If it didn't happen on the turn, your chances usually don't change all too much, but let's check. You've still got 4 outs and now 46 unseen cards left. 4/46 is about .087 or around an 8.7% chance of hitting it on the river. A .2% difference. Sorry.

Lesson 3 : How about the chances of getting the boat on the turn OR the river?
Like the previous examples, to figure your chance of something happening on multiple events, you need to calculate the chance of it NOT happening first. On the turn it won't happen 43/47 times. On the river it won't happen 42/46 times. 43/47 is .915, and 42/46 is .913. Multiply them and get .835, or 83.5% chance of it not happening. Invert that and you get a 16.5% of getting at least a full house by the showdown.

Lesson 4 : What do you mean by "at least"?
Since we figured the chances to NOT get dealt a full house, the chances are built in if the turn and river are two Kings, two Nines, or a King and a Nine. If you are dealt two cards both of either King or Nine, it'll be four-of-a-kind and not a King and Nine 33% of the time. Think of it as being dealt one card then the other. What are the chances of the first card matching the second? Whether it's a King or Nine, there will be only one unaccounted for, but two of the other. That's 1/3, or 33%.

Lesson 5 : Then what are my chances of getting four-of-a-kind?
This is a little more abstract. I hope I warmed you up for this with the previous lesson.
It doesn't matter which card we're banking on. We need to first get a full house on the turn. According to lesson #1, the chance of that happening is .085. The chance of getting the same card we got on the turn is 1/46. There's only one out, and the usual 46 unseen cards. 1/46 is around .022, or 2.2%. Multiply the two probabilities (.022 X .085) and get .002 or one-fifth of a percent. It will be Kings half of the time and Nines the other half

A lot of info to soak up, right? Yeah, I know. If you really want to be a master of odds, you need to see all this in action, over and over. Like anything else, practice makes perfect.

Poker Odds

Hand
Number of Ways to Make Hand
Odds Against Being Dealt
Hand in 5 Cards
Royal Flush
4
649,739/1
Straight Flush
36
72,192/1
Four of a Kind
624
4,164/1
Full House
3,744
693/1
Flush
5,108
508/1
Straight
10,200
254/1
Three of a Kind
54,912
46/1
Two Pair
123,552
20/1
One Pair
1,098,240
2.4/1
Highest Card
1,302,540
1/1
Total
2,598,960





Chances of Holding a Particular Hand or Better in First Five Cards Dealt
Any Pair or Better
1/2
Pair of Jacks or Better
1/5
Pair of Queens or Better
1/6
Pair of Kings or Better
1/7
Pair of Aces or Better
1/9
Two Pairs or Better
1/13
Three of a Kind or Better
1/35
Straight or Better
1/132
Flush or Better
1/273
Full House or Better
1/590
Four of a Kind or Better
1/3,914
Straight Flush or Better
1/64,974
Royal Flush
1/649,740

Hold'em Preflop Strategy - Position

Before dealing with the cards dealt a good understanding of what position you hold at the table is required, your position is of vital importance as to how you will play your hand. The later your position the better off  you generally are. 

The worst position is the blinds, they have committed money to the pot without even seeing their cards. They are not completely powerless however as they can raise when the betting gets around to them.

If there are some callers and no raisers it is not automatic for the Small Blind to bet the extra to see the flop. If he has terrible cards he is only throwing good money after bad and he is not the last player to act , the Big Blind can still raise.

The Big Blind, if there were no raises and the bet gets back to him has nothing to lose by staying in the hand even if he is playing poor cards, he gets a free look at the flop.

The other positions at the table are described by where they sit in relation to the big blind. Assuming a full 10 handed game the first three positions to the Big Blinds left can be called early position. In early position you need stronger cards than you do in the later or middle positions. In the middle position, which is the next 3 players after the three early position players, you can play somewhat weaker cards. The last two players are in the ideal position, the late position with the button the very best and they need the weakest of all cards and can make the most moves at the table.

Your Position is vital in determining your play at the table. 

Pre-Flop Strategy - General Ranking of Pocket Card Strength

Premium Cards - these are the very best 2 pocket cards you can be dealt and can be played from any position in order

  • Ace-Ace 
  • King-King
  • Ace-King suited
  • Queen-Queen
  • Jack-Jack

You should be prepared to raise with these cards in any position, with the first 3 you can reraise a raiser. With Queens or Jacks they can be raised in middle or late positions, if there have been no raises before you bet. 

Other Strong Playable Hands - good hands but not quite as good as premium cards

  • Ace-Queen, Ace-Jack, Ace-10 all suited
  • Ace-King
  • King-Queen suited
  • 10-10
  • Ace-10, King-Jack, Queen-Jack, Jack-10 all suited
  • Ace-Queen, Ace-Jack
  • 9-9
  • King-Queen
  • King-10, Queen-10 suited

Playable Hands - somewhat strong but not as good as the hands above

  • 8-8
  • Jack-9 10-9 both suited
  • 7-7
  • 9-8,8-7 both suited
  • Ace with any other suited card
  • King-Jack, Queen-Jack, Jack-10

Playable Hands - Not so great

  • Any low pair (e.g. pairs below 7)
  • Connected suited card, such as 8-7,5-4,4-3
  • Ace-10, King-10, Queen-10
  • King-9, Jack-8 both suited

All other hands not described above are weak hands and should be played with caution.

General Strategy

You should raise with Premium Cards no matter what position your in, with exception of Queens and Jacks which should be raised only if no one has raised before you.

With the other strong Playable Cards you are looking to raise in the middle to late position if no one betting before you has raised.

With Playable hands you can raise in mid to late position if everyone betting before you has folded. 

You do not want mediocre hands to stay in the game hoping for a miracle board that will save their hand, and you do not want to be tagged as a rock who only plays the best hands. The only way to really gain a feel for poker strategy is by playing, but these basic strategies are meant to give some general ideas about the strength of your pocket cards and how to play them.

If you are new to Texas Hold'em Poker , online poker sites offer great opportunities to play the game for play money or at very low stakes.

Bluffing

"You can fool some of the people all the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all the time." - Abraham Lincoln

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 overcard. 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 pop up. 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.

Bluffing Odds: Using Odds During a Bluff

It's always good to look at poker from a mathematical perspective, and that even applies to bluffing. You can determine finite amounts and percentages that can tell you if it is a financially feasibly good time to bluff. This is particularly useful when there are only one or two players and the pot is rather large.

It's good to do these calculations with potential straights or flushes that appeared on the river, that you were going for but you didn't make. It's nice with a flop that starts with Heart, Heart, Spade, and ends with Spade, Spade. You had two Hearts. Or a flop like Five, Seven, Eight, and ends with Ten, Jack. You had a Six. It's also good because they might have been on the same draw, which leads them to believe (also from on odds perspective) that you were not on that draw.

Let's say that one of the above cases occurred in a $5/$10 game and on the river there is $140 in the pot. Your only opponent checks to you. If you check, you know you've lost. So you bluff. The reasoning is that if you invest another $10, you're getting 14 to 1 odds. As a percent that's around 7%. If they fold more than 7% of the time, you make money in the long poker game of life. If not, it's a losing venture.

You still have to evaluate the player, but from a purely mathematical standpoint, you get the picture. You can also evaluate it by reasoning that they missed their draw more than 7% of the time and will fold.

If two players were involved in the pot, it cuts the odds in half. With three, it becomes 1/3rd of 7%, etc. You can see why you want to bluff against fewer players.
This can be unreliable though, as some players will stay in purely based on pot odds. So when bluffing you cannot ever use just odds. Get a feel for your opponents, and act accordingly.

Semi-Bluffing

Semi-bluffing is a sort of bluff where you have a poor hand or a drawing hand that can possibly improve. Against players with nothing it functions a lot like a bluff. Against players with something it functions as a form of aggression. It is a powerful tool, as it can lead to a deceptively powerful hand if the cards come to you. It can also be a source of great loss if overused or misused.

Semi-bluffing in Texas Holdem is used best in bluffing situations. Its usefulness comes from the fact that players who recognize a bluff won't necessarily recognize when you make your draw. It is more useful (and preferable) against a lot of players, as opposed to outright bluffing, since the odds tend to be better. Other than that, you'll want to use semi-bluffing in late position, usually on the flop or turn, against mediocre flops, and against poor players.

Let's look at two examples of semi-bluffing from a perspective of odds and from a perspective of bluffing:

1. You have a Jack of Hearts, and a Ten of Hearts. The pre-flop betting round concludes with six players investing two bets each. The flop is Ace of Hearts, Queen of Spades, Seven of Hearts.

You are in a middle position, and decide to semi-bluff. Why? You've got draws, that's why! Any Heart or King will give you a hand. Whenever you have multiple draws like that, start thinking of what would be ideal. If a Heart pops up you have to worry about a higher flush draw, so you probably want the King of Hearts, as he is the most likely to be in someone's hand. A Queen of Hearts would be dangerous for you, since you'd be looking at a royal flush draw vs. a potentially made full house. Ideally you want a non-Heart King and the straight. That would be the nuts.

For simplicity's sake though, let's say that in your evaluation, either a flush or straight will give you a winning hand. You have twelve outs (don't count the King of Hearts twice). That's a little better than a 25% chance of hitting a winning card on the turn. Even re-raising or check-raising would be a good idea in this position based purely on odds. Even if you miss on the turn, it would be in your interests (based on players reactions) to continue to bet it right out.

2. You have a pair of sixes in the pocket.
Pre-flop eliminates all but you and another player who was in early position before you. You get a rainbow flop of Four, Five, Ten.
Semi-bluff! In this case you have to think of it more as a bluff. If this only player played a hand in early position, they probably have some overcards in this case. You want the pot right then and there. Most players will bluff back at you in this case with just an Ace in the pocket. Stick to your resolve. Bluff.

Your chances of getting that six are pretty slim, and not worth the odds. You only have to worry about your opponent having overpairs and matching the Ten. So you really have to evaluate the player, as opposed to the math in this case. I'd always try to be on the aggressive. You need information about his hand. Betting is a real good way to get information. Also, a casual semi-bluffing check-raise can be all you need to scare another player if you think they'll bluff at the pot.

Hope that give a little insight into semi-bluffing. I suggest using it at a money-table to get a feel for it. It is more of a learned experience. Remember with any bluff, you need to know your players, and not to use any bluffing tactic habitually.

When Are They Bluffing?

This isn't about reading tells. This is about the situations where bluffing is plausible, and when other players will do it. You can generally look at the reasons YOU should bluff and apply them to other players. Of course, you also have to know the player, and evaluate it from there, but here are some ideas...

A. They are keeping the initiative despite a poor flop.
If they bet pre-flop from a poor position, and the flop is something like 4, 5, 5, they are probably just trying to keep momentum going and bluff their way out of this hand. They probably have genuinely zero drawing chances with overcards or maybe an overpair, but a re-raise could have them rethink that strategy. It might also give you a betting round or two to try and make YOUR hand.

B. Pot Odds are in their favor.
If everyone folds on the turn with a big pot, like when an obvious draw was missed, expect a bluff. It's almost certain that anyone will bluff against a big pot. With the pot odds the way they are, you probably want to stay in those hands also.

C. It's you and them.
The most common time to bluff is when you can pull it off. It's very easy to trick just one person. Use your skills at evaluating the previous rounds and the board to determine what they might have.

D. The flop doesn't have any draws.
Sometimes someone will bet in this case to eliminate the ability to acquire a draw, sometimes because they have a good hand. You really have to know the player.

E. They bet on the Flop, checked on the turn.
If there was a draw, and it didn't hit, they are probably just buying a free card. Bet back against them and take the initiative.

F. Bet on the flop, bet on the turn, checked on the river.
Same as before, but they bought another turn. Might as well bet back at them.

G. They bet and tell you to "save your money".
If they really wanted you to save your money, they wouldn't have bet. Sometimes players say that just to create the opposite image, so look out. Few are that crafty though, so tell Uncle Jessup that he's bluffing and re-raise.

Reasons NOT To Bluff

Bluffing should probably not be an automatic reaction. Many times it takes a feel for a table to make me want to bluff. When doing it keep in mind that everyone else is also looking for an opportunity to bluff. Maybe you spot them bluffing in a common situation or they spot you. It only works when you get away with it, so you must use it sparingly.
Here are some times when you outright should not bluff.

A. When players expect you to.
Don't be the fish. A huge leak can be bluffing in telltale situations against players who know them. That's a common money-maker for the other players. Always consider this rule before attempting a bluff.

B. When you've been caught bluffing recently.
You've been labeled as a poor bluffer already. Ride it out. Let them forget that hand. Start rebuilding a reputation as a straight player so you can eventually try a bluff again later (and hopefully not screw it up again).

C. Against a dangerous flop.

If the flop has an Ace, chances are that someone has a pair of aces. Aces tend to make it beyond pre-flop. Also, players tend to continue to play their Aces. Don't bluff against Aces. You also wouldn't want to bluff against a flop like K,Q,9. Chances are someone has something they'll stick with.

D. Against lots of players.

Chances are that someone has something that they'll stick with. By bluffing in this situation, you just become an agent of that player. From an odds perspective, this is never worth it.

E. Against bad players.

As much as they love to bluff, they love to catch someone in a bluff. They're much more likely to "keep you honest" because they don't realize what a money-loser that is. It's much more profitable to play straight up in these games. Bluffing is only effective from a "fear" perspective in this case.

F. You just lost a big hand or have lost a series of hands.

Not only might you be on tilt, but other players will expect you to be on tilt, and will more readily call you.

G. You limped in, or are in a blind position.

You really have to evaluate the flop, but generally other players will think you have a poor hand and expect you to bluff.

Pre-Flop Strategy

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.

Your tolerence 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.

Without taking much of this into consideration, you want hands that have high card value, or the ability to be the best hand (the nuts). You'll want to seriously consider playing high value cards (queens, kings and aces), suited (drawing for a flush) and connected (drawing for a straight) cards, and obviously, always play high pocket pairs (queens or better).

Who To Play

Here's some advice that won't improve your game as much as it'll have a positive impact on your flaccid wallet...

Find a mid-sized game. This size of game allows you more of a choice of who to sit by. Watch everyone play. Get a feel for who's playing tight, who's aggressive, and who sucks. Note who check-raised, slow played, bluffed or semi-bluffed in your head (or on paper next to your mouse, you cheater).

You should first and foremost decide whether these guys are better than you. Avoid games with lots of early pre and post flop raises, and avoid games where it looks like one or two players are about to finish cleaning up some chumps. Very aggressive players can be a source of weal or woe. I suggest steering clear of those if you consider yourself beginner or intermediate.

In one sentence, sit to the right of a tight player - to the left of a loose player.

Here's why:
1. With the loose guy on your right, you're always evaluating the hand AFTER s/he makes their call.
2. You can steal blinds easier from the tighties on your left.
3. With very loose or wild players on your right, you can re-raise their bets to try to wipe out mediocre and drawing hands.
4. Fish-hole tight players on your left will more likely call a bet than re-raise even though they might have a decent hand. You can more easily scare them into thinking you've got the nuts and buy more free cards despite the fact that they've got a positional advantage on you.
5. The bankrolls of tight players tend to go down in small amounts incrementally, and periodically go up in mid and large amounts. Loose players have bigger swings. Money tends to move clockwise around the table because its easier to read players to the right. When that loose player is about to take a negative swing, you want to be at a positional advantage over him or her.


Even more, you want what I call Crazy Ass Players on your right, and what I call Short-Bus Players on your left. Crazies eliminate players with okay and drawing hands. 20-year-old high school students are more readable, and you profit from being able to act directly after them.

 

Successful Betting

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 inteniton 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.

                                                                                                                                                            

Pro Tips

 

Lack of patience and self-discipline are the downfall of many players who otherwise are technically sound enough to be winners...Doyle Brunson

 

The decisions you make on the Flop are by far the most important...Doyle Brunson

 

Be straightforward...not fancy...in your betting tactics. Some hands you get will virtually play themselves. Your ability to make the most, or lose the least, with one Pair will probably be the difference between winning and losing...Doyle Brunson

 

It comes to a point where you have to take a chance. If you want to be a winner...Doyle Brunson

 

You should never start out bluffing at a pot and keep bluffing at it without an out...Doyle Brunson

 

You can't play winning poker by playing safe all the time. You must take chances...gamble...Doyle Brunson

 

You should constantly be trying to get as much value for your hand as you can. And the way you do that is to bet...Doyle Brunson

 

Often you can tell just from the way a man bets, whether he has a strong hand or a weak hand , it's all in the motion...Mike Caro

 

Players often stack chips in a manner directly indicative of their play. Conservative means conservative: sloppy means sloppy...Mike Caro

 

Players staring at you are usually less of a threat than players staring away...Mike Caro

 

Play the top ten hands only for a while, get yourself comfortable, get yourself used to the game. As you advance as a player you can start playing the majority play hands...Phil Hellmuth

 

Remember to always raise. Do a lot of raising to find out where you're at. Raise to find out if your hand is the best hand or not. Raise to try to win the pot. Once you've learned the information, once you've learned where you're at through raising, make sure that you follow through. If you've learned that you're beat...fold, if you've learned that you have the best hand...continue to play and bet...Phil Hellmuth

 

It's very important that when your opponent has a drawing hand that misses to allow them to bluff to you...Howard Lederer

 

Very often you can catch a big bluff on the river, not by anything your opponent did on the river, but by how he was betting his hand earlier in the pot...Howard Lederer

 

Don't look at your cards until it's your turn to act...Howard Lederer

 

If you practice reading people, you will become a better poker psychologist...Howard Lederer

 

Find the few friends in your group that are really into the game and start sharing ideas amongst eachother, and you're gonna find your game improving very quickly...Howard Lederer

 

Mix up your play and become a dangerous unpredictable player...Howard Lederer

Poker Books/DVD's

Super System

Doyle Brunson
 

Super System II

Doyle Brunson
 

Pro Poker Tells

Mike Caro
 

Online Poker Secrets

Phil Hellmuth

Secrets Of No Limit Holdem

Howard Lederer
 

More Secrets Of No Limit Holdem

Howard Lederer
 

The Theory Of Poker

David Sklansky
 

Holdem Poker

David Sklansky
 

Tournament Poker

David Sklansky
 

Every Hand Revealed

Gus Hansen
 

Ace On The River

Barry Greenstein
 

Harrington On Holdem : Volume I

Dan Harrington
 

Harrington On Holdem : Volume II

Dan Harrington
 

Play Poker Like The Pro's

Phil Hellmuth
 

Texas Holdem

Phil Hellmuth
 

Killer Poker

John Vorhaus
 

Machiavellien Poker Strategy

David Apostolico
 

Aces And Kings

Michael Kaplan
 

The Complete Book Of Holdem Poker

Poker Strategy

A.D. Livingston
 

Poker For Dummies

Richard D. Harroch
 

Winning At Internet Poker For Dummies

The Poker MBA

Greg Dinkin
 

The Complete Guide To Winning Poker

Bobby Baldwin's Winning Poker Secrets

Winning At Poker

Dave Scharf
 

How To Play Winning Poker

Avery Cardoza
 

No Limit Texas Holdem

Tom McEvoy
 

Caro's Fundamental Secrets Of Winning Poker

The Basics Of Winning Poker

J. Edward Allen
 

Winning Poker For The Serious Player

Winning Poker For The Serious Player II

Winning Secrets Of Online Poker

The Psychology Of Poker

Alan N. Schoonmaker
 

Weighing The Odds In Holdem Poker

Mastering No Limit Holdem

Phil Gordon's Little Green Book

Power Holdem Strategy
Daniel Negreanu
 

All In

Jonathan Grotenstein
 

The Professor, The Banker, And The Suicide King

One Of A Kind: The Stu Ungar Story

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