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10 MINUTE POKER LESSON Here's our 10-minute Texas Hold'em crash course to get you on your way. Every couple months or so I'll have someone come up to me and tell me that they're going to Vegas for a couple days and they always ask me the same thing: What kind of poker tips can you give me? That question led to this article. So if you are going to give poker a shot, read this article first and your chances of success will improve greatly. Editor's Note: This article assumes that you know the basics of how to play the game of Texas Hold'em. If you are unsure about the rules of the game, please click here. Is Poker Gambling? The short answer is yes. The long answer is no, with a but. Poker is gambling insofar as you can't control which cards you get, which cards your opponent will get or which cards will come on the flop. But you can control when you put money into the pot. By only putting money into the pot when the situation is favorable to you, and folding when the situation is unfavorable to you, you can win money in the long run playing poker. You may still lose in the short term because of those uncontrollable elements, but if you regularly make better decisions than the majority of your opponents, you will more than likely make money. The 30-Second Strategy Rundown Texas Hold'em is a game about hand strength. Only the best hand wins at showdown. So you want to plan to have the best hand at showdown before you put a single penny in the pot. It all begins when you're dealt your two hole cards. You want to play only the best possible hands before the flop because they make the best hands after the flop. Generally you want to be playing around 18-20% of your hands at a full nine-handed poker table. It doesn't seem like many hands, and it isn't, but it's the best way to show a profit. Hold'em is often just as much about the hands you fold as the hands you play. If you play too many hands, you simply won't be able to profit. You'll be throwing away too much money with weak hands to make it back with your good hands. So play tight. Tight is right. Your opponents The Texas Hold'em games you find in the casino are generally very loose. A lot of players at the casino play 30% of hands or more. When your opponents play weak hands before the flop, they make weak hands after the flop. Generally, play 18-20% of your hands at a full table. Weak hands are second-best hands, and your opponent's second-best hands are going to make you money. Hand Strength Remember your goal. You want to have the best hand by the time all five community cards are out and the betting has finished. There is no clear-cut answer as to what hand is good enough to take to showdown. It always depends. But by playing tight you will ensure that you'll make more best hands and less second-best hands During each hand you have to take into account the cards that are on the board and the possibilities that they offer. Think about what type of opponent you're playing against and how the hand has played out. Poker is a game of information. Be a sponge; soak up as much as you can and use it to your advantage. Pre-flop Before you even see a flop you want to think about what hands you can make with the two cards you've been dealt. Your goal is to make 'top' pair (no other possible pair in combination with the board cards that can be higher than yours) after the flop with a very good kicker or better. Or you want a hand that has a reasonable expectation of making a big hand (straight, flush, etc) on a later street. Check out the hands below to see what you should consider as playable before the flop. Monsters: AA, KK, QQ, JJ These hands are already huge hands. A single pair is often the best hand at showdown and these will often make an overpair to the board. These hands are all extremely profitable and you should raise them whenever you are dealt them. More best hands, less second-best hands. With AA-KK and even QQ you can and should re-raise. Top pair hands: AK-AJ, KQ These hands, when they hit the flop, usually make top pair with a good kicker. Kickers are very important in texas hold'em poker where two players will often flop the same pair and it comes down to the kicker to break the tie. When you have one pair your kicker is almost always going to play. For example, on a A? 3? 4? 7? 2? board, A? Q? will beat A? T? because the winning hand of A? A? Q? 7? 4? is better than A? A? T? 7? 4?. When you play tight you're going to be winning the battle of the kickers and your loose opponents will be paying you off with worse kickers. Top-pair hands you can also play if there is a raise in front of you by just calling and seeing the flop. If nobody has raised in front you should raise these hands for value before the flop. Suited Connectors: QJs-89s At the casino, many players play any two suited cards. It's one of the biggest mistakes new players make and they bleed money seeing flops with worthless hands. Concentrate your efforts on suited connectors because they can flop both straight and flush draws. When they're suited and connected it doubles the likelihood that they will see a flop they like. Being suited or connected on its own is not enough to see a flop. They have to be both. Suited connectors are profitable because they win big pots when they make straights or flushes. Though they do make big pot hands, they should often be folded to a raise unless the raise is very small. These hands do very well when you can get in cheap. Look to flop a draw or get out. Pocket Pairs: TT-22 These pocket pairs are not monsters. Often with small and medium pocket pairs the flop will bring at least one overcard to your pair. When you are holding 6? 6? and the board comes J? K? 3? your hand is practically worthless. The bulk of the value from pocket pairs comes from when they flop a set (three of a kind). Three of a kind is a big hand in Texas Hold'em and when you flop a set you should look to get all-in as fast as possible. That said, small pocket pairs benefit from cheap flops as well. Hand selection is key. If you can see a multi-way pot against a small raise that's fine too but your main goal is a cheap flop. If you don't hit your set you're best off folding. Ace-X suited: A9s-A2s These are the only weak aces you should ever play. The reason why A-Xs hands are playable and other ace-rags are not is because they are suited and can make the nut flush. If you make the ace-high flush you're going to win your opponent's entire stack if he has a smaller flush. That said, many players get into trouble when they flop a pair of aces, only to be beaten by someone with a pair of aces and a better kicker. Remember your goal. You want to take a cheap shot at flopping a flush draw. You don't want to get involved with a pair of aces and a weak kicker. A-Xs hands should not be played against a raise unless it's very small and there are many players. Cheap flops are the key. Everything else: All other hands should be avoided like the plague. It will just be too difficult to turn a profit playing any more than the outlined hands. Over time as you get better at poker you can gradually add more hands, but when you're learning you want to keep things simple. Good hands before the flop means good hands after the flop. Good hands after the flop mean easier decisions for you. Keep it simple. Post-flop The Flop As soon as the flop comes out, evaluate your hand. Look at the board, look at what hands are possible and how your hand stacks up. Remember: you want to make top pair or better or have a reasonable chance at a big hand. If you have a pair that's smaller than top pair and there's a bet, get out of the way and fold. If you have top pair with a good kicker, call or bet yourself. Entire chapters of poker strategy books are dedicated to playing on the flop so we're going to continue keeping it simple here. Examine how the hand has played out and remember: top pair is a good hand, but if multiple people are raising it may not be good enough. If you have better than top pair - two pair or a set for example - you should often raise to get value from worse hands. Cheap flops are key. A note on draws: A draw is when you can either make a straight or a flush on the next card. Draws are big hands because straights and flushes are almost always good enough to win at showdown. All draws are not considered equal however. For example 5? 6? on a 7? 3? A? board only has four outs - the four 4s - and the draw is weaker still because the 4? may also give someone a flush. When you need the middle card to make your straight it's known as a gutshot. The better straight draw is known as an open-ender. For example 8? 9? on a 6? 7? J? board. In this example there are twice as many outs as a gutshot. Open-enders are much stronger than gutshots. Gutshots should seldom be taken past the flop unless you get a free look or the betting is extremely small. Flush draws have nine outs (based on 13 cards of each suit in the deck) and are very strong. You generally can call one bet on the flop and if you miss on the turn you should abandon hope unless the betting is small. The Turn Usually by the time it gets to the turn there are only 2-3 players left. When a player makes it to the turn he generally has at least some piece of the board. If you have the lead in the hand (meaning you've initiated the betting) and the turn changes nothing you should often keep betting. If the turn completes the flush or the straight draw you should often tread carefully. If you bet and get raised, it's often best to just fold. The River The last street, the river, is usually contested heads-up. Use the information your opponent has given you throughout the hand to figure out whether you should bet or call a bet. Each play your opponent makes tells you a little bit more about his hand. If he raises before the flop, then bets the flop and the turn and now bets again on the river, he usually has a big hand. Conversely if he raises before the flop, bets into you on the flop, checks the turn and checks the river, he's usually going to be weak. Again there are thousands of different variables and going through all of them is impossible. Use critical thinking to figure out what your opponent may have and act accordingly. Position Position is one of the most important factors in Texas Hold'em. Position refers to your position in relation to the dealer button, which identifies which player acts last during the hand. Have fun. Poker's a life long game. Acting last is a huge advantage in poker because you have more information. When you act last you know if your opponent wanted to check or bet. You get to see everyone's actions before you decide what to do. Nobody can see the next card or showdown until you say. You are in complete control. Because of that, when you're in position you can play more hands than you normally would because you will have the inherent advantage of acting last. Poker's a long term game Though poker is a game that you can beat in the long term, it's still gambling to some degree. You make decisions and then random cards come out. You control when you put money in but you don't control the deck. It's that element of luck that makes the game interesting but it's also that element of luck that can make the game extremely frustrating. You can make every decision right the entire night and still lose the session. You can make every right decision all week and still lose. Conversely you can see some idiot in seat 10 play every hand and win a ton. It's the nature of the game. It's what keeps the fish (bad players) interested, so embrace it. Look at each situation individually and make the best possible decision. If you do that every time you will be a successful poker player in the long term. Try to downplay the importance of short-term results. And last but not least: Have fun. Poker's a fun game, so don't take it too seriously. If you are ready to try it out online then go to our poker client here. Five Traps Beginners Get Caught In Learning to play poker can be a very trying experience. Once you know the basics you can at least function, but you'll still be a complete greenhorn when it comes to playing well. As a beginner, you may find yourself stuck in a rut in terms of your play, making the same mistakes over and over again. Sometimes you might not even recognize what's wrong. Fear not, though: read on for five traps that new players commonly get stuck in, and for links to advice on how to avoid them. 1) Playing Too Many Hands Before the Flop This is the biggest trap of them all. New players play far too many hands pre-flop. When choosing a hand to play before the flop, it should meet certain requirements. You should be playing only 19-24% of all your hands and folding the rest; read more about pre-flop strategy. 2) Taking Hands Too Far Past the Flop This is an extension of the previous trap. Not only do most beginners play too many hands; they go way too far with them. Many players take any pair or any draw to the river. Generally you should be continuing with only top pair or better or a strong draw. 3) Playing by 'Feel' Rather than by Cards, Situations and Math Many new players play hands because they have a 'feeling' about them. This is wrong. Poker is a mathematical game: everything that can possibly happen boils down to odds. Therefore, you should only play a hand because it has good odds of winning - not because you feel lucky or you feel you're due. You play a hand because the situation dictates that in the long term, by playing that hand, you're going to make money. 4) Letting Your Emotions Get the Better of You Poker can be a stressful game. If you lose a couple of hands and start to let your emotions get the better of you, you're going to start making bad decisions. Poker is all about decisions; to make the best possible ones means you have to approach decision making with a clear frame of mind. 5) Thinking Short Term A lot of players will make a correct play, lose the pot and second-guess themselves. They'll say, 'Oh - I should have folded pocket aces because he ended up making a straight.' This is wrong. If you get your money in good, it's the correct play whether you win or lose. Poker is a long-term game. You may make all the right decisions and still lose frequently over the course of a day or a week or even a month. That's because there is a lot of short-term luck involved. However, in the long run, bad players will lose more of the time and good players will win. In summary: Rein in the number of hands you play before the flop Fold while the folding's good Base your decisions on concrete factors Keep your emotions in check Take the long view when you assess potential action. Keep these basics in mind and you'll get the hang of the game without breaking the bank in the process. How to Calculate Pot Odds and Equity: Equity Hand Equity Count Your Outs: In order to calculate your equity (your odds of winning the pot), you need to first know how many outs you have to make your hand. This becomes quick and simple with a little practice and a little memorization. Remember: There are four cards of every value, and 13 of every suit. If you have an open-ended straight draw, there are two different values of cards that will give you your hand: 2*4= 8 outs. If you have a flush draw there are 13 cards of that suit. You hold two of them, and two of them are on the board: 13 - 2 - 2 = 9 outs. Remember to remove the outs of cards you know (on the board and in your hand), and to not count outs twice (for example, if you have an open-ended straight flush draw, you have 15 outs). When counting your outs, you need to remember the idea of anti-outs (and possibly even blockers). If by making your straight you also complete the flush of your opponent, then those straight cards are not outs to your hand, and cannot be counted as such. The possibility of a flush draw on the board can turn a profitable eight-out straight draw into a six-out straight draw, rendering your odds insufficient. The stronger a read you get, the more accurate your equity calculations can become. If you're unable to make an astute deduction of the value of your opponent's hands, err on the side of caution and always assume that they have the hand most dangerous to your own. If there's a flush draw, assume they have the draw; if the board is paired, assume they have a full house or, if you're lucky, just trips. It's less expensive to wrongly fold a hand than to wrongly call off your whole stack. Equity Shortcut: The easiest way to get your equity is to remember this simple rule: On the flop, multiply your outs by four. On the turn, multiply your outs by two. This means with an open-ended straight draw (eight outs) you have a 32% chance of making your straight with two cards left to come. For hands on the flop with a large number of outs (>8), the previous shortcut gives a slightly incorrect answer. There's a simple formula you can remember to get a slightly more accurate figure: (number of outs * 4) - (number of outs - 8) = Equity This means the equity of an open-ended straight flush draw (15 outs) would be: (15 * 4) - (15 - 8) = 53% Without this little formula, the percentage would be higher by seven points, giving us an artificially large result. If your equity calculations are wrong, you will be unable to make informed decisions on the day. Putting the Two Together Now that we know the equity and are capable of calculating the odds, how can we tell if it's a good call or not? In the previous article, we got our odds as a ratio (the final example ended with the cut-off being offered 2.3-1 odds, and after the cut-off called the button was offered 3.3-1). It's impossible to compare apples to oranges, so we need to convert our equity percentage from a percent into a ratio. 32% is most easily described as having 32 out of the total 100. 100 - 32 = 68. Since you're looking for your odds, and not the odds of your opponents, your ratio is 68-32. Use the techniques from the previous article and you'll get yourself a final ratio of 2.1-1. This means your odds of winning the pot are 2.1-1 against. For you to make money, you need to have pot odds higher than that ratio. If you're sitting with your open-ended straight draw (32% or 2.1-1), your odds example from the previous article gave the cut-off odds of 2.3-1, meaning the cut-off would have just enough pot odds to make this call. If you put yourself on the button with your open-ended straight draw, and the cut-off calls, your odds become 3.3-1. You only needed 2.1-1 to make money, so the call has become very profitable in the long term. Although this result is correct, it's only half of the odds spectrum you will want to take into play, as you haven't taken any consideration of the implied odds. Implied odds change the game of No-Limit Hold'em greatly. In fact, having a very large amount of implied odds can render a call correct, even though pot odds would render it absolutely incorrect. As you can see, equity and pot odds hang on a bunch of relatively simple calculations. All that they require is some memorization of the formulas and techniques, and a little bit of practice calculating them in your head. For some people this will be much easier than for others, but everyone can do it if they spend a small amount of time practicing. Tracking Your Records: Excel-ent Practice It's imperative that any player who plays poker often enough to call it a hobby, a passion or even their source of employment keep detailed notes on their sessions. Legitimate businesses have accountants who spend their days looking over cash flow. To grow any sort of company and increase its profits, you have to have a clear understanding of where you make your profit and what accounts for your losses. Your poker exploits are no exception. Without keeping notes on all of the sessions you play, it's simply not possible for you to truly analyze your game. You need to understand where you make your money, and how much money each area makes you. Almost all winning poker players become losing players at some specific limit. If the only number you keep track of is your total roll, you will never know if any specific limit is a money pit for you. For example, if you make $20/hour playing a $5/$10 game, but lose $10 an hour playing $10/$20, as long as you played more hours of $5/$10, at the end of the month you will have ended up on top. Because you see the month as being in the black, you will continue to play $10/$20, not realizing how much money it's costing you to do so. What to Track The more information you record and track, the more interesting reports you can create with that information. You have to decide exactly how in-depth you care to go and are capable of going. No matter what you choose, some items are vital for all players to track. For every session you should record: Date Hours spent at the table Limit Total buy-in amount (including all cap-ups and rebuys) Total cash-out amount This information will allow you to see your profits/losses, hourly rate, BB/hour ratio, yearly trends (what months are more or less profitable) and how many buy-ins deep you go in for on average. If you want your records to be more informative, you can also keep track of: Location Variant Specific players at the table Day of the week Time of day Mood Recording this data will help you figure out: Where you make the most money What days of the week/times of day you tend to play best How your mood affects your results How specific opponents affect your results Which variants are most profitable for you These are all important pieces of information for a professional poker player to know. If you're a casual player, the first set of results will do you just fine. How to Track It In my humble opinion, the best way to track these numbers is to write them down in a little book at the table. When you get home, put them into an Excel spreadsheet. This makes it simple to get instant reports and results, as well as allowing for more in-depth analysis. If you've never used Excel before, there's no better time to start. Grab some online tutorials and figure the program out. Once you have even a rudimentary knowledge of the program, you can start to create your stats-tracking spreadsheet. Here's an example of a very simple stats-tracking setup: A B C D E F G 1 Date Hrs Limit Buy-in Cash-Out Result $/h 2 15-Oct-08 4 $2-$5 $1,000 $2,150 $1,150 $143.75 The first five columns (A-E) need to be filled out by you, but the last two can be populated by Excel automatically; to do that you're going to need to put a formula into each field. If you click on a field and enter an equal sign into that field, Excel will discern that you're creating a formula. Result: =SUM(E2-D2) $/h: =PRODUCT(F2/B2) Now when you add a new row of data into row three, all you have to do is highlight the column with a formula you want to reuse, copy it and paste it into the new cell. Better yet, you can use the Fill Down function. Use the mouse to select the cell with the formula, and all the cells below it you want the formula in, and hit CTRL-D (or use the 'File' menu to select the option 'Fill Down'). Now you have a simple spreadsheet. To easily build other basic formulas, use the built-in formula builders in Excel. All you have to do is follow the instructions, point and click. If you want to get more advanced, a little googling and you can figure out how to run almost any report you can think of. For example, here's the formula to calculate your BB/h (based on a table layout like the one above): =PRODUCT(_(F2/(RIGHT(C2,LEN(C2)-FIND('*',SUBSTITUTE (C2,'-','*',LEN(C2)-LEN(SUBSTITUTE(C2,'-','')_)_)_)_)_)/B2)_) *NOTE: All underscores ( _ ) need to be removed for this formula to work. This formula is a fancy way of doing this: Result/BB)/Hours). All the stuff in the middle is just to get the big blind (or big bet if you're playing limit) from the Limit field. If you had two fields (Low-Limit and High-Limit), this formula would be much simpler. Regardless of how you choose to do it, start keeping track of every session you play. If you already do keep track of your sessions, then start tracking more info about them. Used logically and truthfully, the data and reports you generate will present you with practical ways to maximize your ROI. Play in Position The button is your friend. 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. To give you an idea of exactly how important position is: Tom 'durrrr' Dwan and Patrik Antonius are in the middle of a $1.5 million, 50,000-hand heads-up challenge online, with the winner getting the money from the game plus added money in a side bet. Your hands always look 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. How Not to Suck at Poker: Count Your Outs Counting your outs just to stay alive is never a good feeling. 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. Limit Seven-Card Stud Beginners Guide Part 3 Hand-Against-Hand Here are a few computer simulations of interesting hand matchups: Hand A Hand B Dead Cards Win Percentage (A? A?) 7? (Q? Q?) 7? None Hand A wins 66.6% (A? A?) 7? (Q? Q?) 7? None Hand A wins 63.9% (A? A?) 6? (9? 9?) J? None Hand A wins 61.4% (K? K?) 8? (Q? Q?) A? None Hand A wins 55.8% (A? A?) 7? (J? 6?) 2? 5?, Q? Hand A wins 72.7% The Effects of Dead Cards Below are a number of tables displaying how your chances of making a certain hand change, depending on the number of dead cards. Hand: Three-Flush Chances of a Flush (%) 0 Dead Cards 23.6% 1 Dead Cards 19.6% 2 Dead Cards 15.8% 3 Dead Cards 12.3% 4 Dead Cards 9.1% Hand: (5? 5?) A? Chances of Aces Up or Trips (%) Number of aces and fives out: 0 41.0% Number of aces and fives out: 1 34.1% Number of aces and fives out: 2 26.5% Number of aces and fives out: 3 18.3% Number of aces and fives out: 4 10.5% Hand: (6? 7?) 8? 9? Chances of a straight (%) Number of fives and tens out: 0 49.8% Number of fives and tens out: 1 44.8% Number of fives and tens out: 2 39.4% Number of fives and tens out: 3 33.8% Number of fives and tens out: 4 27.8% Stud is one of the oldest forms of poker, and still a favorite game to many. Next time you're spreading a home-game, add some stud into your rotation and you'll be glad you did. Limit Seven-Card Stud Beginners Guide Part 2 Stud was the biggest poker game until the emergence of Texas Hold'em We'll start with some of the usual beginner mistakes you should try to avoid. Common Mistakes in Limit Seven-Card Stud Playing too many starting hands. Not paying attention to which cards are out. Not folding with modest holdings and weak draws. Not raising with premium holdings, thus letting too many drawing hands in. Drawing for cards that are likely to give you a second-best hand. For example, calling an opponent who raised showing three to a flush with a straight draw is likely to land you with a losing, second-best hand. Paying exclusive attention to your own game and not that of your opponents. How many players are in on fourth street? Did someone raise on third street? What types of players are left in the pot? These are all questions to consider during play. Not being aggressive enough on third street (taking initiative) and fourth and fifth streets (following through/protecting hand). Calling all the way to the river without proper pot odds. Calling too often, instead of raising, when you have the best hand. General Third Street Advice The most important decisions in Seven-Card Stud are made on third street. You must be able to decide whether or not to play a hand and how to play it. Some hands play better in multiway pots and some in short-handed pots. The hands that play well in multiway pots are drawing hands, like three-flushes, three-straights and combinations of the two. The hands that play well in short-handed pots are big pairs. Stud. One of the most valuable skills in Seven-Card-Stud is the ability to be very selective about the hands you begin with. The problem with playing too many starting hands is that these mistakes are usually compounded in later betting rounds. For instance, you might start with nothing and end up drawing to something with a hand you should not have been involved with in the first place. Mistakes like this can prove very costly in the long run. There are a number of issues that should be taken into account when deciding which hands to play. They are as follows: Which cards are out? How many players are in the pot when it is your turn to act? Is the table tight or loose? How many players are sitting at the table? Has the pot been raised? If so, from what player and position? What is your position in relation to the raiser (if any)? The most important factors to consider are what cards are out and how many players are in the pot. The combination of these two may sometimes make it correct to throw away the best hand on third street. For example, in a multi-way pot where you hold (J-J)7 and both of the other jacks and one seven are out, you should fold, even though no one has represented a bigger pair or has bigger up cards than a jack. The chances of you still holding the best hand when all the cards are out are simply too small to justify calling or raising. You can play this hand when you are in an ante-steal position (it is already short-handed), or in a multi-way pot when all your cards are live. And, while it is imperative that you remember which cards are out on third street, you must not stop there, as it's also crucial that you watch the other cards as they are turned up. Starting Hands It is very important to look around and see whether or not your hand is live. Most weak pairs, straight draws, flush draws, etc., are playable when your cards are completely live. For example, you start with (T? 9?) 8?. This hand is much stronger if all sevens are live, as compared to two of them being out. If all sevens and a jack are out, your hand is almost dead. The only exception to this concept is when you hold a pair of aces or kings (when no ace is showing), which can be played in most situations even if the hand is almost completely dead. In order to make it easier when deciding what to look for in your starting hand, here's a list of the best starting hands. Three of a kind (also called rolled-up trips). Starting with (A-A) A and on down. The big pairs AA-JJ. The hand is stronger when the pair is hidden, thus making the hand more deceptive to play against. Also, your kicker is important; a (J-J) A is stronger than a (J-J) 2. The big suited connectors, such as (A? K?) Q?, (K? Q?) J? or (J? T?) Q?. The medium pairs TT-88 and medium suited connectors, such as (J? T?) 9?, (T? 9?) 8? and (9? 8?) 7?. The big suited semi-connectors, such as (A? Q?) J?, (K? J?) T? or (A? K?) T?. Mike McD, in the much-quoted Rounders line, talks about having 'nines or better wired, jacks or better split.' This means having pocket nines or better for your two down cards, and pairs of jacks or better with one of them your show card. He also mentions 'three high cards to a flush.' All the aforementioned hands are valuable Stud holdings if played properly. This is a very tight system for starting hands. If you find yourself playing too many hands, it's a great default to revert to. Stealing Antes A good way to increase your profits is by stealing the antes. In a regular game, you generally get enough pot odds to show a profit if your steal success is around 40%. However, your chances do not actually have to be that good because there are times when you will win the pot even though someone called you down. An example of this would be catching a scare card (usually an ace or a king, or a card that might not help your true hand but connects your show cards, making a straight or a flush possible in your hand) on fourth street. Doing so enables you to win the pot by betting and representing a big hand. Oftentimes your opponent will fold a small pair on fourth street if you have been the aggressor and if you have higher board cards than his pair. Another reason to steal the antes is because it adds deception to your overall game. If you only raise with legitimate raising hands, you will never get any action and thus will not win as much as you could. Anytime you are on a steal, it is important that you consider your opponents' up cards. In general, consider stealing when you hold the highest or second-highest up card. A good time to steal is when you have the second-highest up card and the highest up card has yet to act. This creates the illusion that you have a legitimate hand since you raised into a higher card. When trying this move you must always consider what type of player is holding the highest up card. If that player is a good, aggressive player, be more cautious about stealing. Occasionally, if you suspect another player might be stealing, you should attempt to resteal. A good time to do this is when you hold a bigger up card than your opponent and your hand has some additional value, like a three-straight or a flush. Since you were planning to call regardless, you may as well try for a reraise if it seems likely that your opponent is on a steal. If you are playing in a tight game, you can steal when you are sitting up front holding an ace or king as your up card. This is usually a mistake in a loose game because the chance for a successful steal is much smaller. In general, you should not try to steal when your up card is duplicated in any of your opponents' hands. Your opponents will know you are less likely to hold the hand you are trying to represent and that you will most likely not improve to that hand if you get played with. In part three we will take a look at some of the odds and statistics important in becoming a winning Stud player. Limit Seven-Card Stud Beginners Guide Part 1 Before Hold'em became a dominating force in the poker world, Stud was the big game all across America. In the post-Hold'em-boom poker world, Stud is becoming rarer, and is mostly played by poker's old-timers. One of the aims of this article is to try to get new players into this game. Stud was a big game for decades for a very good reason. It's a wonderful game worth getting into, and can make for a great break from the everyday grind of two cards. This article aims to help beginner players improve their Limit Seven-Card Stud game by playing in a solid, tight and aggressive style. It advocates balancing bluffs and semi-bluffs with mostly solid play, and focuses on third-street play because this betting round is the most important. If you play correctly on third street you will face fewer difficult situations in subsequent betting rounds, because the game quickly becomes very complex as it progresses. Limit Seven-Card Stud is a highly strategic game, involving a great deal of skill and discipline, and one that requires players to balance many concepts simultaneously. It is even harder to analyze than Hold'em because of the extra betting round. As in all forms of poker there are exceptions to the rules, and the concepts addressed in this article should be understood as general guidelines only. To be a truly successful player, you must be able to make exceptions and use your judgment in order to determine the best possible play. It is virtually impossible to give clear-cut advice that applies to all situations. The best general advice is for you to read below: You only play premium hands. You only start with jacks or better split, nines or better wired, three high cards to a flush. If it's good enough to call, you got to be in there raising, all right? Key Skills to Becoming a Successful Seven-Card Stud Player Strict hand selection Discipline (the ability to wait for a good hand and not chase with second-best hands) Ability to read opponents Ability to remember the other players' up cards A Comparison: Seven-Card Stud vs. Texas Hold'em Here's a list of difference between the two games, some of which are glaringly obvious: There are no community cards. An ante and a bring-in bet are used instead of blinds. There are five betting rounds as compared to four in Hold'em. The player who has the best starting hand starts the action on every betting round, except for the first round of betting, when the lowest up card begins. You must remember the folded up cards. The number of players is limited to a maximum of eight. There is no positional advantage before the cards are dealt. The cards determine who acts first and last on every betting round. There is no dealer button, as every hand is dealt in the same order starting at the dealer's immediate left. Structure and Antes All players receive two cards dealt face down (hole cards) and one card dealt face up (up card). The cards are dealt one at a time. The player with the lowest up card has to make a bring-in bet. The betting continues clockwise with the player to the left of the bring-in bet. A fourth card is dealt face up. The action begins with the player holding the best up cards and continues clockwise. A fifth card is dealt face up. The action begins with the player holding the best up cards and continues clockwise. A sixth card is dealt face up. The action begins with the player holding the best up cards and continues clockwise. A seventh card is dealt face down. The action begins with the player holding the best up cards and continues clockwise. All remaining players make out the best possible five-card poker hand. The following table shows the most common betting structure in Seven-Card Stud: Limit Ante Bring Opening Bet $1-2 $0.25 $0.50 $1 $2-4 $0.50 $0.75 $2 $3-6 $0.75 $1.25 $3 $4-8 $1 $2 $4 $5-10 $1 $2 $5 $6-12 $1 $2 $6 $8-16 $2 $3 $8 $10-20 $2 $4 $10 $15-30 $3 $6 $15 $20-40 $5 $10 $20 $30-60 $5 $15 $30 $50-100 $10 $20 $50 $75-150 $25 $50 $75 $100-200 $25 $50 $100 Key Advice for Limit Seven-Card Stud Be very selective with your starting hands: Nothing is more important than choosing the correct starting hand for a certain situation. Play the players: Assess the opposition quickly: who plays inferior hands, who folds at aggression, who bets with draws, who calls bets with weak hands and long-shot draws, who can be bluffed, who bluffs, etc. Pump it or dump it: Fold or raise. You should avoid calling unless you have a good reason (like trapping an opponent). Remember the up cards: Be sure to look at all of your opponents' up cards and remember them. It is very important to know if the hands are 'live' (none or few of the key cards are gone) or not. The only way to get good at this is to practice. The more hands you play, the stronger you will get. Sign up for free at Youwin Poker Room to play as many free hands of Stud as you like Raise with your strong draws: Betting on the come is even more valuable in Stud than in Hold'em, depending on which parts of your draw are 'up' and which are in the hole, or 'down'. If you're on sixth street with a four-flush (meaning you have four cards to a suit, only needing one more to make a flush), and three of your suited cards are down, betting on the come is less likely to get a fold than if you have three suited up cards. Difference between Omaha and Hold'em To the Hold'em player, Omaha seems like the same game with twice as many cards. Without understanding the odds and numbers of Omaha a Hold'em player will default to their two-card knowledge, assuming that the numbers they know simply need to be doubled (or halved) to work with Omaha. It seems logical, since 4 cards are twice as many as 2 cards, the odds should be twice as good. Since no one likes to sit through a math lesson (or if you do, you'll already know all of this), I'll keep this explanation very simple: In Omaha you're dealt a four-card hand, not two two-card hands. Because your cards can all work together, like in a wrap draw, the odds increase (and decrease) exponentially. In the simplest explanation possible: two plus two does not always equal just four. The Fine Edge Poker is an odds game. You wait for a situation in which you have favorable odds, and then you bet as much as you can. On the other end, when the odds are against you, you try to bet as little money as possible. That's the very foundation behind poker strategy, excluding the bluffing aspect. In Hold'em you will commonly find yourself in white and black situations, where you're either dominating or dominated. If you have aces against anything else, you're a massive favorite to win, and know it. Hold'em is full of these scenarios, when you can be almost positive that you're dominating or dominated, making the game (at times) very easy to play. The best Hold'em players are not the ones who make the most when they have the best hand; they aren't even the ones who lose the least with the worst. The best players are the players who consistently make a profit when they're playing hands in the grey areas, where the facts are unclear at best, and the edges are fine. Unlike Hold'em, Omaha is almost exclusively a game of fine edges. With the most dramatic examples aside, almost any hand vs. hand matchup you can come up with will have the better hand at about a 60:40 favorite. You will play almost every hand of every session of Omaha in this grey zone of fine edges. To be successful in a game like this, you need to be relentless in your value bets, a super nit when you're on the losing end, and absolutely dead on with your reads. Even when you flop the nuts, there's almost always someone with a legitimate chance at catching up by the river. This is why Omaha doesn't function properly as a No-Limit game. If the game was No-Limit, the player who flops the best of it would be all in on the flop, basically turning the game into a gamble filled, two-betting round shit show. To play Omaha successfully, you need to understand that you're almost always only a 60:40 favorite at best, but at your worst you're only behind by 20 points. Once you add four cards combining for multiple draws, and the equity this gives you, you'll begin to understand why Omaha is known as a drawing game. Large Outs and Faulty Odds The final point every Hold'em player needs to drill into their head before playing Omaha is the faulty odds associated with a large amount of outs. If you find yourself with a big wrap draw, sitting on 20 outs, an average Hold'em player will put their odds of winning at 80%. The full-time grinder will put their odds at 'Ship it', not caring about where the actual numbers come in at. The astute Hold'em player will use the formula (20*4)-(20-8)=68%. While you have a huge hand with a big wrap, you can't count your outs and your odds as you do in Hold'em, and assume that they'll be correct and accurate most of the time. If your one opponent has just a single over pair to your wrap draw, you're sitting at around 73% to win. If your opponent happens to have a set though, your odds drop to around 54%. Once you factor in other players, especially other players with blockers and higher draws, your equity can absolutely plummet. With 36 cards dealt out to players preflop (at a 9 handed table), chances are another player is holding your outs. This doesn't mean your wrap draw is weak, in fact your hand is probably the best hand at the table, but you need to understand that even the most promising of a draw hand can still be dominated, only with a hand this strong it can take more than one player to do it. In short, as a Hold'em player you need to take a step back, and shed the confidence that comes along with hitting a big flop. You need to separate yourself from the confidence that comes with holding a massive draw, and you need to understand that often times, regardless of how the situation may appear, you're sitting at about even money. This game isn't for the faint of heart; it's for the players who are willing to be aggressive enough to put their money behind their hand. The best Omaha players understand all of the concepts in this article and are willing to put their entire stack on the line knowing that the odds of you folding, along with the 60:40 rule makes betting, on anything, a decent proposition. If you're not willing, or able to play back at someone throwing pot bets at you all night, on every street, then you should stick to a different game. Omaha is not a game to play super-tight, if that's the only style of poker you're comfortable with you're going to have a hard time turning a profit. If you're willing to play back at someone throwing pot bets at you like candy, then take some time to digest the information in the articles and understand where you truly stand with your hand. Once you know where you're at, you'll know where you need to get to if you want to come out on top.