Now that this column has given you a basic grounding in card room poker, it’s time to take a look at the different variations of poker you’re likely to encounter in a card room environment. Over the next few columns, we’ll look at such games as seven-card stud, Omaha eight-or-better high-low split and several others. But for now let’s start with the single most popular poker variant on the scene today: Texas hold ’em.
In hold ’em, as you know, all players try to make their best five-card hand from the two cards they’re dealt, and the five community cards on the board. For success in hold ’em, here are some key things to keep in mind.
WHEN YOU GET THE GOODS, BET THE GOODS. Strong hands are to be prized in hold ’em. There’s very little point in slow-playing your strong hands. If you find yourself in the position of having the best hand, go ahead and bet. Controlled aggressiveness is what gets the job done in hold ’em, and that means betting with the best of it.
HIGH CARDS ARE KING IN HOLD ‘EM. Your best starting hand in hold ’em is, of course, A-A. After that, you like to see hands such as K-K, Q-Q, J-J, T-T, A-K, A-Q, A-J, K-Q, and K-J. When you start getting excited about hands like K-T or medium-to-small pairs, that’s when hold ’em starts to bite your butt. As a quick-and-dirty guide, play only high pairs and high unpaired cards and you’ll mostly steer clear of real trouble.
DRAWS NEED MANY OPPONENTS. If you are drawing to a straight or a flush, your chances of getting this result are sufficiently remote that you need a large field of opponents to justify your draw. For example, if you flop an open-ended straight draw, your odds of making your straight (with two cards to come) are roughly 5-1 against. If you’re only getting paid off by one other player, and thus getting only a 1-1 return on your investment, you’re losing money even when you hit your hand. Try to play straight and flush draws against the largest possible fields.
BLUFF SPARINGLY. Despite the movie-mystique of bluffing in big poker games, the reality is that bluffs work a lot less often than you think they do. This is especially true in the lower-limit hold ’em games where you’ll most likely cut your teeth. Most low-limit players either don’t know enough or don’t care enough to respect your bluff attempts. They will call you even when they think they’re beaten, “just to keep you honest.” To beat this kind of player, just wait for strong hands and then bet the bejeezus out of them. Save your bluff attempts for when you move up to higher limit games.
PRACTICE PATIENCE. Most of the hold ’em hands you see will be, let’s face it, pretty crummy. After hours of getting hands like J-3, T-7 and 6-5, you start to think that you’re “due,” that you “deserve good cards.” Well, the truth is, nobody “deserves” good cards, and everyone gets their fair share of premium hands and lousy hands over time. The winning Slot Online hold ’em player knows how to do one thing very well, and that one thing is fold bad hands. If you can find and develop and maintain the patience to wait for good cards, you can be a winner too.
STUDY YOUR OPPONENTS. Careless opponents will regularly give you the information you need to protect yourself and save many bets. Suppose you’re wondering whether to call with a marginal hand, and you notice the player to your left preparing to make a raise. He’s giving you a tell – literally telegraphing his intention. Now you know, for certain, that you’ll not just be calling one bet, but at least two (and maybe more, since someone might re-raise). With this information, your marginal call becomes a clear fold. Look for tells. They will save you many bets and win you many, many pots.
STUDY THE GAME. Because hold ’em is so popular, there is no end of available information about it. Books, magazines, websites and discussion groups devote themselves to the contemplation of poker in general, but of hold ’em in particular. Remember: Every situation you ever face in hold ’em has already been faced by someone else. With this in mind, why reinvent the wheel? Study! Study hard! You can learn as much about hold ’em by not playing as you can by getting in the game.
AVOID KICKER TROUBLE. If you’re holding A-J and someone else is holding A-K, you have almost the same hand… but that’s a big almost! Suppose the flop comes A-T-2, and the turn is a 6 and the river an 8. Your best hand is A-J-T-8-6, but your foe holds A-K-T-8-6. His kicker, the second card in his hand, is better than your kicker, and so he wins the pot. There’s nothing sadder in hold ’em (nor, alas, more common) than getting out-kicked. To avoid this problem, beware of the kickers that can beat yours, and be aware of the possibility that your opponent holds one of those. Above all, don’t play hands with weak kickers – and punish those players who do!
DON’T FALL IN LOVE WITH SUITED CARDS. Many rookie hold ’em players will play any starting hand that contains suited cards. K-2, 7-5; they don’t care. This is a very perilous way to play, because while it’s true that you may flop a flush (once in every 119 hands that you start with suited cards) you’re much more likely to lose money chasing a flush draw – or, what’s worse, making your flush but losing to a higher one. Again, remember, high cards are what you want in hold ’em, whether they be suited or not.
PLAY YOUR POSITION. The later you act in hold ’em, the better off you are, because you already know the decisions of most of your opponents, and have to fear the decisions of just a few. That’s why the relative strength of a hand changes depending on its position. A hand like K-J can be worth a raise if you’re last to act, and no one has entered the pot. With a raise here, you might get the blinds to fold, and win the pot right now. Even if they call, they still have to act before you do on every betting round, and that gives you the edge. But that same K-J is a throwaway hand in early position, in which you might have seven opponents yet to act, any one of whom may have a powerhouse. Exploit position – don’t be exploited by it.
Next time, we’ll examine the top tips for seven-card stud. Till then, enjoy your hold ’em, stick to high cards, and always bring your best game. Tell ’em JV sent ya!