Poker Strategy I - An Introduction to Poker Strategy

Introduction to Poker Strategy
Before you sit down ...

Everyone likes to think they are a good poker player. Ask nine people at a poker table if they are good and five or six will say they are good, one or two will say they are exceptional, and one or two will say they are just there for fun ... who's lying ... who really is good ... who is the fish ... when you know that ... then you are an exceptional poker player.

That said, before you sit down and look at any cards ... consider the following: 

  • What is your bank roll ( Don't sit in on a game you can't afford - bank roll at least 40x the minimum bet.)

  • What is your tolerance for risk. If it's rent money, scared money, or your going to really have to explain how you lost $50.00 ... then don't play.  Cards run hot, they run cold ... you can be the best player in the world ... and lose if you don't get cards. 

  • The situation ... this is really the intangible element that we all face. There might be someone smoking a cigar, or an old lady you'd feel guilty beating, or a dealer who never gives you cards, or you might prefer hold'em and only Omaha has a seat, or you might need to sit in on a 6 - 12 game because the 3 - 6 game is full ... you get the picture ... IF YOUR COMFORTABLE WITH THE SITUATION THEN YOU WILL RELAX ... AND WHEN YOU ARE RELAXED YOU WON'T MAKE MISTAKES ... AND MISTAKES COST YOU MONEY!

If you are just learning how to play there are a couple of basics to follow: 

  1. have fun ... your not trying to make a living doing this ... your just out to enjoy yourself and maybe make a few bucks

  2. Understand the basic rankings of the hands:

    • Ace High (A-K beats A-Q)

    • A pair (Highest pair is A-A and the lowest 2-2)

    • Three of a kind (also trips or a set)

    • A Straight is 5 consecutive cards that are not the same suit (A,2,3,4,5 is the lowest 10,J,Q,K,A is the highest).

    • A Flush is 5 cards of the same suit - the suits are not ranked so if 2 players had flushes, the cards would be matched down (A-Q-9-8-7) would beat (A-Q-9-8-5)

    • A Full House is three of a kind (A-A-A) and any other pair (2-2)

    • Quads or Four of a kind (A-A-A-A)

    • A Straight Flush is five consecutive cards of the same suite (2h-3h-4h-5h-6h) with the highest possible hand being a Royal Flush (10-J-Q-K-A).

  3. Don't be afraid to ask the dealer questions. He can tell you  the rules and clarify how to play - they just can't tell you what to do.

Now, for those of you who have read the Hold'em introduction - this is covering old ground. For some of you, it's probably worth the review: 

Basics of Hold'Em

Hold'Em is a derivative of 7-Stud . Players form the best five-card Poker hand from seven available cards. The main difference between 7-Stud and Hold'Em is that only two cards are actually held by the player as pocket cards. The other five are open, dealt to the middle of the table and shared by all players. This Means there are fewer cards in play, so a typical Hold'Em game usually seats nine or more players at the table. More Players = Bigger Pots

The dealer in Hold'Em is marked by a disk called the button. For each hand the button rotates to the left. Players are identified by their seat position. The dealer is seat one, the player to the dealer's left is seat two and so on, clockwise around the table to the player on the dealer's right which is typically seat nine. Unless you are playing in a private game, there is always a house dealer so the button will rotate around the table and be dealt according to the location of the "dealer". Betting position greatly affects a players opportunity, so be aware of the button position.

Small Blind & Big Blind: Instead of an Ante, Hold'Em uses forced bets or "blinds" to quickly build the pot. The first player to the dealer's left -- seat two -- is the small blind and must kick in half the lower limit ($5 in a $10-$20 game). Seat three is the big blind and must kick in the full value of the lower limit ($10 in a $10-$20) game.

The Opening:

  • The Deal rotates around the table starting from seat #2 (small blind)

  • Each Player receives to cards, face down

  • Since Seat #2 (small blind) and Seat #3 (big blind) were forced to bet "blind", seat #4 must either call, fold or raise (checking is not an option because of the forced blind bet). This continues around to Seat #2 and finally Seat #3 who both have the option of raising.

The Flop:

Once the first betting round is complete, the dealer burns a card and then deals the first three community cards in the center of the table. This is called the flop.

This betting round begins with seat #2 (small blind), or the first remaining player on the dealer's left. Checking is permitted now and for the rest of the hand. Bets are placed at the lower limit ($10 in our example).

The Turn

The dealer burns a card and a fourth community card it dealt onto the table.

This betting round begins with seat #2 (small blind), or the first remaining player on the dealer's left. Checking is permitted now and for the rest of the hand. Bets are placed at the higher limit ($20 in our example).

The River

The dealer burns a card and deals the fifth and final community card.

This betting round also begins with seat #2 (small blind), or the first remaining player on the dealer's left. Checking is permitted now and for the rest of the hand. Bets are placed at the higher limit ($20 in our example).

The Showdown

As in 7-Stud, the best 5 card hand wins. Players may form their final hands from any combination of the table cards and their own pocket cards, even ignoring the pocket cards and using only the table cards if they wish.

Two quick Lessons ... for those who just want the basics:

Lesson 1: Most people play to many hands with bad openers. So until you get a better feel for the game, stick with the cards that will make you money in the long run.

Pocket Pairs AA through 99 (See at least for 3 x Big Bet)
Obviously, AA is the best possible hand to start with. Premium pairs AA - JJ are worth raising and should be defended to see the flop. Defend 10-10 and 9-9 to see the flop unless you are in weak position.
Pocket Pairs 22  through 88 (See the flop for 1 or 2 bets)
On small pairs you are calling to see the flop. They are not worth defending beyond a small raise. If you don't make a set, then check or fold. Small pocket pairs become very weak hands if there are more than 2 people in the game.

T9 suited or better

Any two faces
Particularly if they are suited - AK, AQ, AJ, KQ, KJ, QJ are potentially  stronger hands than having small pair. You have many potential outs. You can draw the straight, or the flush, or top pair.
A4 suited or better


Lesson 2: Don't chase too many bad draws into the turn and river. 

Some quick percentages and odds for making your hand on the river after the flop: (all this will be covered more in depth later)

Chance to hit a flush (when needing one more of that suit): 35% or 1.9:1
Odds to hit an open ended straight: 31.5% or 2.2 to 1
Odds to turn your set into a full house: 22% or 3.5 to 1
Odds to turn one pair into two pair: 21% or 3.7 to 1
Odds to hit a gut shot straight: 16.5% or 7 to 1
Odds to turn pockets into trips: 8.5% or 11 to 1

Odds to turn a set into quads:   4.25% or 23 to 1

If  you don't see your hand listed above ... why are you playing the hand?