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How not to suck at poker...
#173343 07/15/09 09:51 PM
Joined: Dec 2000
Posts: 188,782

OP Online

Joined: Dec 2000
Posts: 188,782
A friend of the forum sent this to me.. I found this to be a good read...

You lose to your friends in your home games. You lose the first few bucks you deposit online. Worse, you may not even understand why.

Are you just unlucky? Are you making huge mistakes? Are you missing one simple concept that could change things?

The truth: You're really not that far behind 95% of the poker players in the world. And you don't need to be the foremost expert on the game to become a winning poker player.

In fact, a relatively small amount of basic poker principles can produce massive improvements in your results almost immediately.

And the true first step to becoming a good poker player: simply figuring out how to stop sucking at it.

This is the first in a 10-part series explaining exactly how to do that on the most basic level, starting with the most important tip of all: playing fewer hands.

How Not to Suck at Poker Tip 1: Play Fewer Hands.

In Texas Hold'em, there are 169 different possible starting hands you can be dealt (this is ignoring specific suits).

Out of all these possible hands, there are only five hands that are considered "premium."

AK (Suited)
Regardless of your position at the table, a premium hand should always be played if there is no raise ahead of you. If there is a raise ahead of you - especially if there are callers or re-raises - sometimes it can even be a mistake to play anything below Aces or Kings.

When you think about Texas Hold'em starting hands in this light, you'll realize that you should be folding around 80% more hands than you should be playing at any given Hold'em table.

The stronger your starting hands are, the fewer difficult decisions you're forced to make.
Naturally, the hands you play, and how you play them, will change depending on thousands of different variables at the table.

But at the very core of the game, there are very few hands that are considered playable.

If there has been no player to open the pot (meaning no one has raised, or even limped ahead of you) you can play almost any hand with any sort of potential value.

Once someone has raised ahead of you, your hand selection should be narrowed down to only the hands that can give you the nuts, and help keep you out of any situation which has you dominated.

For example: you should never play KQ into a raise, as AA, KK, QQ, AK, and AQ all have you dominated.

Unless you have a very good reason to do so, as a beginner poker player you should stick to playing only the top 10 to 15 hands, period.

The more you play, and the better you become at the game, the more hands you can add to your playlist.

Until then, keep it simple, and always head to the flop with the best of it.

Top 15 Hold'em Starting Hands

AK (suited)
AQ (suited)
AJ (suited)
AK (off suit)
KQ (suited)
A10 (suited)
KJ (suited)
AQ (off suit)
JQ (suited)

Position is simply the single most important and valuable commodity to have at the poker table.

If you're unfamiliar with the term, position simply means you are the last to act in the hand (meaning you have the dealer button, or the players acting after you have folded).

The worst places, position-wise, are typically the blinds, as after the first round of betting the whole table acts after you for the rest of the hand.

Regardless of your skill level, the situation, or the hand you're playing, being in position will always give you more information in the hand than any of your opponents.

And in the world of Texas Hold'em, information is the most valuable commodity there is.

Four Biggest Reasons to Play in Position:

When it's your turn to act, you have more information than your opponents.
Position gives you "bluff equity," meaning simple, cheap and effective bluffing opportunities.
Acting last lets you make more accurate value bets.
Having last action gives you control over the final pot size.

Your hand always looks better in position.
These two players are arguably two of the best online poker players in the world. And if you look at the stats taken from all the hands they've played so far, you'll see an almost shocking theme.

If you compare money won or lost out of position to money won or lost in position, each player's results are a mirror image. Both are substantially down when out of position, and both are showing a substantial profit when in position.

Even though they're playing the same game, against the same player, simply having position is the difference between winning and losing millions.

For this reason, if one player was to give the other player position in every hand they play, there would be no contest; the player with position would dominate.

No matter what style of poker you plan on playing, if you want to make money you need to play as many of your big pots in position as possible.

Every large pot you play out of position is a potential disaster.

As Daniel Skolovy says "Playing out of position is like walking through a dark cave with no flashlight. You never know what might lurk behind that next corner."

If you ever want to get a handle on Texas Hold'em poker odds, it's imperative you learn how to count all your outs.

An out is any card that can come which will give you the best hand. Obviously, before you can begin to count outs, you have to know the poker hand rankings forward and backwards, so start there if you don't know them.

After you know the poker hand rankings, you need to be able to read the board. Are there possible straights or flushes? Is the board paired?

All of these things may affect your outs. Here's a simple outs cheat sheet covering the most common situations you'll be in after the flop (definitions for the terms are below the list):

Hand Outs
Open-ended straight draw 8
Gut-shot straight draw 4
Flush draw 9
Open-ender & flush draw 15
Three of a kind to make a full house 6 on the flop, 9 on the turn (add one out for quads)
Pocket pair to hit a set after the flop 2

Open-ended straight draw - You have four cards in a row.
Hand:8 9 | Board:6 7 2
Gut-shot straight draw - You need one card in the middle of four.
Hand:8 9 | Board:6 10 2
Flush draw - You have four cards of the same suit.
Hand:8 9 | Board:6 K 2
Open-ender & flush draw - You have both and open-ended straight draw and a flush draw.
Hand:8 9 | Board:6 7 2
Three of a kind to make a full house - You have three cards of the same rank.
Hand:8 8 | Board:8 7 2
Pocket pair to hit a set after the flop - You have a pair in your hand.
Hand:8 8 | Board:6 7 2
The more time you spend practicing counting your outs, the simpler it will become.

Any card that will bring you the best hand is considered an out. Be careful not to count outs that will potentially give your opponent a better hand.

For example, if you have an open-ended straight draw, but there's two to a suit on the flop, you only have six outs, since two of your outs will bring a flush to anyone holding the flush draw.

Once you no longer have any difficulty counting your outs, you're ready to move on to the next step.

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Re: How not to suck at poker...
FREAK #173344 07/15/09 10:01 PM
Joined: Dec 2000
Posts: 188,782

OP Online

Joined: Dec 2000
Posts: 188,782
Like it or not, Texas Hold'em is an odds game. Every action you make, hand you play or bet you face has odds, probability and statistics attached to it.

For the math-phobes out there though, don't worry. You don't need to become a math expert to be a strong poker player.

In fact, there are tons of serious players who have no idea what a common denominator is. As complex as Hold'em strategy is, the game at its core is still very simple.

And this simplicity makes for simple equations and easy mathematics.

Many of the following things you don't need to fully understand - you just need to know enough to have a good feel for the game.

Figuring Out Your Pot Odds

Pot odds are the odds you're "being offered by the pot" to make your call. This is the amount of money in the pot compared to the amount of money you must pay to stay in the hand.

An example:

Say we go to the flop heads-up. There's $10 in the pot and your opponent bets $5. Since your opponent's bet is now part of the pot, you're being offered $15 for a cost of $5. In ratio form, that's 15:5

To simplify, you always make the right side of your ratio equal to 1 (you'll see why this is easier in a second). So to make the right side equal to 1, divide 5 by itself. 5/5 = 1.

Basic math rules say that whatever you do to one side of a ratio, you must do to the other. So since we divided the right side by 5, we divide the left side by 5. 15/5 = 3.

Your new ratio is 3-1 (If you want to skip a step, you canalso just divide the left side by the right side (15/5) to find the left-hand side of the new ratio).

So in this situation, the pot odds are 3-1.

When you're heads up with Phil Ivey, the odds are never in your favor.
Figuring Out Your Equity

The next step after figuring out your pot odds is figuring out your equity (your chances of winning the pot compared to your opponent's).

To calculate your equity, take your total number of outs and multiply that number by 4 on the flop (or 2 on the turn).

This will give you your chance at winning the pot as a percentage.

So for example if you have a flush draw, you have 9 outs on the flop. 9x4 = 36% chance at making the best hand.

Since we have the pot odds as a ratio, we then need to make that percentage a ratio to compare the two. With 100 possible percentage points, your equity ratio is then 64-36 (64 times you don't make your hand; 34 times you do).

If we use the same ratio shortcut from the pot odds section to get the right side equal to 1, the equity ratio is (64/36)-1 or 1.7-1. Meaning for every one time you make your hand there will be 1.7 times that you don't.

If you don't want to be that precise in your pot-odds calculation (and poker math doesn't need to be exact at the table), the simple shortcut is to estimate that 36 will go into 64 a little less than twice.

It really doesn't matter if you think that means it's 1.6, 1.7, 1.8 or 1.9-1; even if you just round it to 2-1 that's probably close enough to decide on making the call or not.

Comparing Your Pot Odds to Your Equity

So how do you know if you should make the call? Simply compare the two numbers on the left-hand side of the ratios.

If your pot odds number is higher than your equity number, then it's a good call. If it's lower, then you're making a bad call.

In its most basic form, odds are no more complicated than this.

Some Random Odds and Ends to Keep handy

Probability of... Odds Example
Being dealt a pair 17-1 (5.9% ) 7 7
Being dealt Aces 221-1 (0.45%) A A
Being dealt Ace-King Suited 331.5-1 (0.3%) A K
Flopping a set with a pocket-pair 8.51-1 (11.76%) 8 8 | 2 8 A
Flopping two pair (without a pocket-pair pre-flop) 48-1 (2.02%) 7 10 | 7 10 3
Making a Flush by the river (flopped 4 to a suit) 1.9-1 (35%) A Q | 9 4 A 10
Making an open-ended straight by the river 2.2-1 (32%) 6 7 | 8 9 2 3 10
A full house or better by the river (flopped three of a kind) 2-1 (33%) 4 4 | 4 K Q K

Texas Hold'em is a game of partial information. The more you can acquire, the better you'll play.

And everything that happens at a poker table - whether you're in the pot or not - is one more piece of information you can add to your collection.

Making the Most of Auto Play

The vast majority of poker hands you'll be dealt actually require little to no thought at all.

If you're following the advice from the first article in this series (play fewer hands), you should only be playing somewhere in the neighborhood of 15% of all hands.

This means 85% of the time you're dealt in, you're folding.

Of the 15% of hands you're playing, many of them are going to be simple, one-action hands. Either you raise your K K and everyone folds, or you're ready to play your 9 9 when a player moves all-in ahead of you.

There are more distractions in a poker room than you think. Your friends being one of them.
Only a few hands you play will really require some thought. And only a fraction of those will force you to make a very difficult decision.

When you do need to make those difficult decisions, you'll need as much information as you can - and you can gain that while you're auto-playing.

What to Look For

In short: everything.

Everything a player does at the table is a clue to how they play and what kind of decisions they're going to make.

Watch how they talk, how they sit. Watch every hand that plays out even if you're not in it.

Take notes (mental notes in live poker obv.) anytime someone does something out of the ordinary. Note how much money they brought, how they bought in.

Do they like to play in large pots? Are they scared of losing? Do they bluff? Watch everything, and understand that everything is a clue.

Sometimes, distraction is inevitable.
The more you take in, and the more you consciously catalog, evaluate and remember, the better chance you'll have at making the right decisions when the time comes.

Making the Hard Choices

When you're in a hand that requires you to make a difficult decision, you need to quickly and accurately compile all of the information you have about the hand and the players involved.

Every scrap of information you have is one more piece of the puzzle. The more pieces of the puzzle you hold, the easier it will be to see the big picture.

And making the correct decision in these few key moments is what separates the losing player from the winners.

One of the most important things you can do for yourself when starting out in poker is to set aside a poker-specific bankroll.

Meaning a lump sum of money used exclusively for playing poker. This money is "poker money" and poker money only.

The Poker Money Mindset

Most people are extremely attached to money.

They stress over it to the point of becoming physically sick at times. Unfortunately, this attachment to money makes it nearly impossible to be successful in No-Limit poker.

The poker bankroll must be separate from your regular money, physically and mentally.

When you go on a bad run and lose hundreds or thousands of dollars, you can't be having thoughts of what you could have done with that money.

Money won or lost in poker is simply poker money. You need to expect to lose at poker from time to time, and those losses should never affect the financial situation of your regular life.

Separate yourself from the poker money, and think of it only as a way to play the game - not money that could be spent on something else.

Jean-Robert Bellande is the king of being busto.
Playing on Scared Money

One of the most common ways players suck at poker is playing with scared money.

If you're scared to lose the money in front of you, or you simply can't afford to lose it, it's impossible to play a very strong game of No-Limit Hold'em.

You have to be willing to put every chip you have in front of you across the line at any time. If a player knows you're not willing to risk your chips, they're going to walk all over you.

Even if the other players don't catch on to your un-willingness to risk your chips, you'll be unable to pull the trigger when the time comes to make a bluff or difficult call you know to be correct.

Going Busto

The final reason all poker players need a bankroll is to avoid going completely busto.

Regardless of how well you play the game, you're going to have periods of time where no matter what you seem to do, you just can't post a win.

Some of the world's best players have endured months of straight losses. For this reason you need a bankroll large enough to sustain these losses and allow you to continue playing until you earn the money back on your next upswing.

If the size of your roll will leave you broke after one or even a few concurrent losses, you're simply gambling that you don't start your poker timeline off on a downswing.

If you start to lose significantly, the best thing you can do is to drop down in levels. That way, even though your BR is lower than where it was when you started, the ratio of your roll to buy-ins for the game you're playing stays healthy.

If you still can't win even after dropping down in limits, it might just be time to take a break. Clear your head and come back to the game fresh.

Bankroll Rule of Thumb

The rule of thumb for a cash-game bankroll is to never have more than 5% of your entire roll in play at one time. This means a 20 buy-in minimum for single-table cash games, and more for multi-tabling.

In a tournament setting, you typically want over 100 buy-ins to the tournaments you want to play. So if you're playing $5+50ยข tournaments, you want $550 as your roll.

This almost ensures that (as long as you don't suck) you will never go busto.

Having a bankroll is the best thing you can do for yourself as a poker player, but even a healthy bankroll can't save you if you don't follow the next step in How Not to Suck at Poker: Stop Bluffing.

Let's start by clearing up a misconception:

There is actually very little stone-cold bluffing in poker. Thanks mostly to Hollywood's dramatic interpretation of it, people seem to associate poker with making huge bluffs at every possible opportunity.

Just as players rarely, if ever, lose with a straight flush to a royal flush, the game simply doesn't work quite like that.

As you would expect from a game as in-depth as Texas Hold'em, bluffing comes in many various forms and degrees:

Quick bluffs
Stone-cold bluffs (or naked bluffs)
Quick Bluffs

The vast majority of all bluffs in Hold'em are quick bluffs.

Also known as "small ball," these are small bets made to win small- to medium-sized pots with a high expected rate of success.

The risk is minimal, and the reward is slightly profitable.

Example: Three players check to you on the button with a flop of K K 7.

There were no raises pre-flop, and no one looks at all interested in this pot. There are really only two options:

Someone has a king and is slowplaying.
No one has a king and everybody's ready to fold

Moneymaker made a huge bluff to help secure his WSOP win against Farha.
This scenario is straight forward. Chances are no one has a king, meaning they will be willing to fold.

Also, the size of the pot is too small to make a hero call worthwhile. This is a position bet, intended to finish the pot, regardless of your hand.


Let's say you raise pre-flop with A K and get two callers.

The flop comes J 9 5; you have nothing but a flush draw and over cards. The first player checks, followed by the second player betting three-quarters of the pot.

In this situation, raising would be a semi-bluff as technically you have nothing; you're behind anyone with as little as a pair.

The fact that you have a flush draw and the best overcards though means you have many legitimate ways to win this pot by showdown.

Your hand does have some value, making this only a semi-bluff. Ideally your opponent will fold and you will take the pot. But if you do get called there's the chance that you'll make the nuts on the turn.

Semi-bluffs are a crucial part of poker, but be warned: if you semi-bluff every time you have a big draw, you'll be as transparent as half of Britney Spears' wardrobe.

Stone-Cold Bluffs

Possibly the greatest stone-cold bluff ever to be caught on tape is Brad Booth's bluff against Phil Ivey in the third season of High Stakes Poker:

Brad was drawing dead to a five or a runner-runner two pair. Because his hand had almost no value whatsoever this is a textbook example of a stone-cold bluff.

Realistically, the only way Brad is going to win this pot is if Ivey folds.

These are the type of bluffs you see in Hollywood movies, and these are the types of bluffs people seem to think poker is made of. In reality, it's almost never a good idea to make a bluff like this.

To expect these sorts of bluffs to be profitable, you need to understand everything going on in the hand, including your opponent's thoughts and plans. It's a high-level play left only to the very best in the world.

Some tables are almost un-bluffable.
Sure, you can make these bluffs and have them work, but without being a truly high-level player, you're just rolling the dice on not getting called.

Dan Harrington describes these bluffs as "dark tunnel bluffs." All you see is the light at the end of the tunnel. You have no idea what's actually going on around you.

To not suck at poker, you need to stop making stone-cold bluffs, and limit the number of quick and semi bluffs you're making.

The best way for a beginner to make money at poker is by playing straight-forward, ABC poker. If you have the best hand, bet. If you don't, fold.

Not yet a member? Become one today and get in on the action!
Re: How not to suck at poker...
FREAK #197274 03/02/10 12:26 AM
Joined: Sep 2007
Posts: 1,088
Joined: Sep 2007
Posts: 1,088

CHARGE it to the GAME

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