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Poker 101 – Beginner Basics

Hold’em is a relatively easy game to learn, but difficult to master because your actions depend on the current situation (ie your position at the table, stack size, your opponents’ playing styles etc…). I won’t cover specific situations here (maybe for another entry), but just random generalizations for beginners.

Ideally you want to sit directly to the left of a professional to minimize his or her advantage because for most of the game, he or she will have to act before you. If there’s thing to take home from this long entry, it’s this: POSITION IS POWER. If you’re the first to act, then you’re at a big disadvantage because you don’t know what the people after you are going to do. Information is critical because the best players are the ones who make the best decisions.

For beginners, it’s best to play a tight-aggressive strategy. This means you play few starting hands (again maybe for another entry), but the ones you do play, you bet aggressively. This allows better control of your chip stack so you can grasp the flow of poker until you feel comfortable varying your style. I follow two basic rules when playing starting hands:

1) Don’t limp in if you can’t call a raise preflop. I usually fold weak ace (ace with a ten or lower kicker)  in early position because if someone else raises after me, then I’m already at a disadvantage before seeing the flop. If I hit the ace on the flop, I won’t know if my kicker is strong enough (many times it isn’t) so it isn’t worth the trouble playing that hand.

2) Don’t play a suited hand if you wouldn’t play the same hand unsuited. Chasing for flushes or straights isn’t a good idea. If you miss your flush, you won’t win the pot and if you hit it, other players will notice the potential flush on board and may not pay you a lot so it’s not worth the investment.

On a side note, yes pocket aces is the best starting hand, but sometimes overrated. Many beginners will win very little or lose very big with this hand. If you’re holding two aces, then chances are that no one else has an ace so they likely won’t see the flop. I usually raise with pocket aces. You actually want to limit the number of players who see the flop and minimize your chance of getting bad beat by a player. Against a random hand, pocket aces will win 83% of the time. That means against four other random hands, pocket aces will win the pot only 47% of the time. No longer impressive right and I guarantee you that anyone calling to see the flop won’t be holding any random hand.

Bluffing is very profitable and an integral part of the game. If you bluff $100 to win a $300 pot, you need to be successful only 33% of the time to break even. Don’t bluff to steal a small pot because you are risking your chips to win very little. Likewise, don’t bluff for a large pot either because the people are already pot-committed meaning they will likely call whatever you bet. There are two important considerations to bluffing: what you think other people have and what other people think you have. If you suspect someone has a big hand, then they will call your bet. Likewise you must also consider what other people think you have because if they don’t think you have a strong hand then they can call your bet even if they have a mediocre hand. Here’s an example of a bluff:

An average player will think only about the cards other people are holding. If you want to be a good player, you have to think what other players think you have. Go up one more level and you’ll have to think what your opponents think you think they have. Every action you make gives away some degree of info and good players will pick up on that. There’s no avoiding that so you have to take advantage of it. You have to think about what your opponent is thinking. Let’s say you limp in and the flop is K-5-3 with two diamonds. You check, your opponent bets and you call. Now your opponent is putting you on a flush draw so you have to play like you ARE on a flush draw. If a diamond comes out on the turn, you bet so other players will think you hit a flush when in reality you are bluffing. If a diamond doesn’t come out, you can’t bluff because your opponent thinks you’re on a flush draw so if you bet, he or she will call your bluff.

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Categories: Sports
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  1. April 3, 2012 at 9:33 am

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