Beginner Poker Strategies – Odds

A basic knowledge of poker odds will add a new dimension of strength to any beginner poker player’s Texas Hold’em strategy. The ability to calculate hand odds and pot odds equips a poker player with the information needed to gauge whether or not their hand is statistically worth the price to stay in the pot to see the next card.

Pot Odds

If you have read “Beginner Poker Strategies – Outs“, and have practiced identifying your outs, you are ready to move on to determining pot and hand odds. First we will show you how to calculate the pot odds. The pot odds are simply the ratio between the value of the pot and the amount it will cost you to stay in the hand. You don’t have to be a math whiz, just follow a simple formula.

Example: The pot holds $45, and your opponent bets $5 – bringing the actual value of the pot up to $50 – so you must pay $5 to see the next card and stand a chance of winning that $50. That puts your pot odds at 50:5, which can be simplified (for future use) by dividing both numbers by the number on the right (our cost). This gives us 10:1 pot odds. Keep in mind that the number on the right is divided by itself; it will always reduce to 1.

Hand Odds

Now let’s calculate the odds that you will make your hand. There are a couple of approaches to calculating these odds. Since this is poker strategy for beginners, we will teach you the simplest formula for a beginner poker player to estimate the likeliness that s/he will hit an out on the next card.

The quick and easy way to arrive at the figure we want is to multiply the number of outs we have by 2, the result of which is the percentage rate for hitting an out on the next card. So if you have 10 outs, there is a 20 percent chance that the next card is going to improve your hand. To convert that number into a ratio, simply subtract 20 from 100 to get the percentage rate for failure to hit an out. The ratio in this case is 80:20 – failure:success – which now can be reduced the same way we reduced the pot odds. 80/20=4, which puts your hand odds at about 4:1.

For a more detailed look into the calclulation of hand odds (including the full formula) you may want to check out our Odds and Outs info page.

Let’s review:

  • Outs x 2 = % rate for success on next card
  • 100 – % rate for success = % rate for failure
  • %failure / %success = failure rate : 1 odds

Weighing the Odds

The entire point of calculating pot and hand odds is to determine whether or not it will be profitable in the long run to call the bet. In the example above, a $45 pot and a $5 bet from an opponent gives us 10:1 pot odds. If the pot odds are greater than the hand odds, you stand to make a statistical profit in the long run, even if you lose this particular hand.

The example 10-out hand had a 4:1 chance of hitting. Your hand odds tell us that you will hit your hand on the next card every 5 times you play this hand. Calling every 4:1 hand with 10:1 pot odds will – regardless of the outcome of this particular hand – inevitably earn you a return on your bet.

However, if the pot odds are 3:1 and your hand odds are 5:1, you will lose money over time if you consistently call the bet. The profit of one pot, in this example, is less than the value of the bets you will lose over time playing these odds. The pot is worth 3 times what it costs you to call, and over the course of six hands with the same odds, you will win the 3 from the pot once, but lose the 1 you paid to call five times – that’s a loss of two calls.

Many strategy guides instruct players to calculate their hand odds on the flop based on the odds of an out hitting on either the turn or the river, instead of confining the odds to the next card. This is done by multiplying the outs by 4 instead of 2. This is great if you just want to know the probability of making your hand anytime after the flop. The fallacy in this is when you use these two-card odds to calculate your pot odds.

A hand with 5 outs will have 4:1 odds when you allow for two chances to hit, but it has 8:1 odds on the next card to land on the board. So if you are betting on a 4:1 hand after the flop, you would likely call an opponent’s $10 bet to a $40 pot (5:1 pot odds on a $50 pot). However, if you don’t hit on the turn, and your opponent bets another $10, bringing the total pot value to $70 ($60 from the previous betting round – including your $10 call), you are looking at 7:1 pot odds with an 8:1 hand. The odds indicate that you should now fold a hand you just paid $10 for. That is why it is recommended to base your hand odds calculations on the next card when comparing to the pot odds, whether it is the turn or the river.

Beginner Poker Strategies – Outs

Understanding what “outs” are, and how to use them to calculate your odds of forming a winning hand, will significantly enhance your Texas Hold’em strategy and results. With a little time and dedicated study, learning to calculate odds by identifying the outs will soon boost your level of game play from beginner to intermediate.

“Outs” are all of the unseen cards that stand to improve your hand if they are dealt to the board. For instance, there are 13 cards of each suit in the deck. If both of your starting cards are hearts, and the flop produces two more hearts, there are 9 hearts – that’s 9 outs – left somewhere in the 47 cards you haven’t seen yet. That gives you a 9 in 47 chance that the turn will give you the flush.

When counting outs, it is recommended to start with the outs that will give you the nut hand – the best possible hand that can be formed. Do this by examining the flop for potential flushes or straights. A royal flush is the highest hand that can be achieved in Texas Hold’em, but has very few outs. If you are holding A(h)-10(h), and the board shows J(h), K(h) and J(c), there is one out for the royal flush – Q(h) – and 8 other outs for the non-consecutive flush. You also have 3 outs for an off-suit straight. That is a total of 12 outs that will beat three of kind if someone is holding one of the two remaining Jacks.

Of course, things can shift very quickly, and it important to consider the best hand your opponents can have, too. What if the turn reveals the K(c)? Anyone with two clubs in the hole is looking at the same number of flush outs that you are, maybe even a straight or royal flush.

What’s worse, if you have an opponent holding one of the two hidden Jacks or Kings, you will have to beat a full house. In fact, it is possible that one of your opponents may hit four of a kind, if they haven’t already. There is only one out that will allow you to beat anything better than a non-consecutive flush in this situation, that Queen of hearts lurking somewhere in the 46 cards you haven’t seen. You would need to rely on your other poker beginner strategies – such as your position, your opponents’ betting patterns and the size of your chip stack – to determine the best way to proceed.

Keeping a few simple rules in mind will help you get started. Note that an open-ended straight draw (four consecutively ranked cards such as 6-7-8-9) will have 8 outs; four outs at each end of the potential straight. A gut-shot straight (one rank missing from anywhere in the middle of the straight) will have 4 outs. If you have 3-of-a-kind at the flop, you have 7 outs; 6 for the full house, and 1 for the four-of-a-kind.

Counting the outs will become easier the more you exercise the ability. You can train yourself with online Texas Hold’em practice games, or simply by sitting down at the kitchen table with a deck of cards. With a little effort, any beginner poker player can elevate their Texas Hold’em strategy with a good understanding of outs.

Beginner Poker Strategies – Position

Beginner poker players tend to undervalue the importance of position in Texas Hold’em. Many novice players make the mistake of wasting their poker chips calling small raises just to see if the flop or turn happens to improve their weak hand. Understanding the impact position has on your poker strategy will considerably improve your game play, equipping you with general guidelines to determine the strength of your hand relative to the other players.

Each position at the poker table has advantages and/or disadvantages. This is why the positions rotate after every hand. We will take a look at each position, and the pros and cons associated with them, in order to help you develop a more reliable beginner poker strategy.

Dealer or Button

The position of the dealer is indicated by a button in front of that player. This is considered the most advantageous position. After the flop, the player on the button will be the last to act, allowing that player to evaluate the behavior of every opponent before deciding how to proceed.

The button is the best position to bluff from, especially if it is obvious that your opponents don’t have strong hands. A confident raise before the flop will weed out most of the weak hands. Post-flop you are in a position to see how your opponents bet. If everyone checks, it is probably safe to assume that no one has anything stronger than a low pair. A strong raise will usually result in the remaining players folding their cards.

Small Blind

The player to the left of the dealer is called the small blind, and must post a predetermined bet before the cards are dealt; generally half the value of the big blind. Before the flop, the small blind will be the second to last to act. After the flop, the small blind is the first to act (assuming they haven’t folded), putting you at a disadvantage. A check or small raise will indicate to your opponents that you have a weak to mediocre hand. If you don’t have a very strong starting hand as the small blind, it is generally in your best interest to conserve your chips and fold.

Big Blind

The big blind is posted before the deal by the player to the left of the small blind. The big blind is the last to act before the flop. However, after the flop, the big blind is the second to act (first if the small blind has folded). This is not an ideal position to be in, but it is possible to limp your way to a full house or a straight if your opponents have weak cards.

If you have a mediocre starting hand from the big blind, and no one raises before the flop, you might as well ‘check’. If the flop doesn’t connect strongly to your hand, you probably shouldn’t call a raise. However, if you can check your way to the turn, go ahead – it isn’t costing you anything. Same for the river – if you can just check your way along, you could end up with a decent hand. But keep in mind that your opponents’ hands could be improving with every card that hits the board, too.

Under the Gun

This is the player to the left of the big blind, and is the first player to take action in the hand. This is considered the worst pre-flop position, but improves a little after the flop if the blinds haven’t folded. However, this is still an early position, and only the strongest starting cards stand a chance from this location. If you have weak hole cards in this position, it is recommended that you save your chips and fold before the flop.

Your position at the poker table has a significant impact on how strong your starting cards need to be. Players in early position – the first players to act – will need to have stronger hole cards, as it is more difficult to judge the strength of the cards held by your opponents. When you are in late position – one of the last players to act – it is easier to discern how much faith the early players have in their hole cards. Incorporating position into your poker strategy will have a profound effect on your results at the felt.

Beginner Poker Strategies

A solid poker strategy can take time to develop, progressing through various stages of edification. It’s only proper to begin that progression with a series of beginner poker strategies. Such points of interest include player position, outs and odds, managing your bankroll and staying alert. We’ll cover each of these aspects in the following beginner poker strategies.


Player position is a basic, but very important element in poker play. In some situations, your position can turn a mediocre hand into a solid betting hand. Late position is easily the best seat to be in, particularly on the button.

As a late position bettor, you are privileged to extensive knowledge, including the confidence of all previous bettors. When early and middle position bettors choose to fold, or limp in, you can raise with the healthy assurance that they will fold. If an opponent calls the blind early, they rarely have a strong enough hand to call a follow-up raise. Late position is the easiest place in which to steal blinds.

From early position, the rule is simple enough, bearing in mind that you soon have to face a late position bettor. Either fold your hand, or raise the big blind. If you’re not willing to call a possible raise from your opponents in the late positions, don’t bother betting at all.


Outs are a poker player’s best friend, and the more you have, the better. An Out is any card that will improve your hand. For instance, a 6 would complete a Straight in a hand of 3-4-5-7. There are four 6’s in a deck, so this hand would have four Outs. Let’s say this hand also contains four Spades. There are nine Spades left in the deck, giving you nine more Outs to a Flush. Every Out you have raises your chances of getting one of the cards you need, thereby raising your chances of winning the hand.


Pot Odds are based directly on the number of Outs you have to a better hand. By calculating your Pot Odds, you can determine exactly how much you can safely risk wagering. For example, should your hand have 8 Outs (an Outside Straight for instance) after the Flop. That leaves 47 unseen cards, 8 of which can help you. We calculate that to find there’s a 17% chance the next card will be one of your Outs. The proper bet would be 17% of the current pot size. If the pot has $100 in it, you would bet or raise $17. This is called a “value bet”.

You can try to make some odds calculations yourself using the Max Poker Bonus Odds Calculator, or you can even install a tool such as Poker Crusher to help you make proper decisions.

Be Alert

Awareness is a vital skill in poker. You should always pay close attention to how other players are betting, and how they have acted in previous hands. By observing your opponents, you can get a strong read on their behaviour. If a player always bets or raises with a marginal hand, then suddenly chooses to check, they may be attempting the classic “check/raise”; i.e. they have a monster hand. Look for any kind of patterns you can associate with a player and soon enough you’ll be able to predict their hands and upcoming manoeuvres.


As a novice poker player, proper maintenance of your bankroll (bankroll management) is crucial. Knowing what size stakes to play, as well as how much to bring to the table, will help your bankroll to last much longer, especially if you’re utilizing the above beginner poker strategies as well. There are two major bankroll rules to follow.

First, never take more than 10% of your bankroll to the table. This ensures you’ll have at least ten fair shots at a winning session.

The second rule applies to what stakes to play, according to how much 10% of your bankroll is. If you enter a Fixed Limit game, you should have at least 100x the Big Blind bet. For a Pot Limit or No Limit game, bring at least 400x the Big Blind bet.

Poker Tournament Strategy – Part IV

The previous poker strategy articles from LadyHoldem about tournaments covered up most of the game before reaching the money. This episode continues how to play after you’ve made the money.

How you play once you’ve made the money really depends on where you are chip-wise. If you’ve played very tight, you are probably a little bit low by now. On the other hand if opportunity arose, and you dug in, you might well have needed help getting your chips to the table.

Being Short Stacked

Let’s go with short stacking and then we’ll work our way to the chip mountains.

If you’ve made your way to the final table there are two things I want you to keep in mind. One is if you’re in last place, you’ve already won last place, so don’t be afraid to shove your chips into the middle often and with every playable hand.

Whenever there’s considerable money in the pot and you have a plausible hand – go for it. Don’t let the blinds eat you here, and if you have less than 10 times the big blind, call nothing, shove everything.

Worst that can happen is you’ll double up.

However, the second thing I’d like you to keep in mind is that a passive game here may well get you more money. If you get to 3 or 4 players, and you still have a seat, it might be a good time to ask about a chop. (We’ll get into making chop deals later in this article.)

Hang onto your seat, it might prove to be quite valuable.

In most cases the longer you stay in the game, the more money you make. Each person sent to the rail usually doubles your money. So you do have last in the bag, and if ever there was a time to gamble, this was it. However, there’s also reason to hang onto your chair with all your might. That’s why the big bets, they’re harder for your opponents to call, and make it easier for you to pick up a few extra pots. This alone can often take you out of last place, and put you solidly into a better position.

If you came to the table with a larger sized stack, then take that last bit of advice to heart. The longer you stay at the table, the more money you make. If you have a considerable chip lead for one you’re poised for first, don’t donk off that lead thinking it’s your job to call every idiot bet.

Use Large Chip Stacks as a Weapon

There are bets that are just equitable calls. However, just because the short stack is short doesn’t mean you should call. You’ll just bleed off chips if you lose here. With the large stack however, you do have the ability to shove the other players around a bit.

When playing against smaller stacks, they really only need two choices, if you’re going to be involved with the hand at all, let them choose, all in, or fold.

As the seats at this table empty, you should also be thinking of chop possibilities. Because with the majority of the chips in your possession, the remaining players should be anxious to chop.

You might for instance suggest that they just give you first place money, and chop what’s left evenly. If you have a large stack, and are playing with very inexperienced players, tell them you’ll chop, as long as you get 1st place plus an additional 10% to cover your entry fee.

You’ll be surprised how often you can get away with that move.

Poker Tournament Strategy – Part III

Tournament Mission – Get in the Money

In my last article, Poker Tournament Strategy – Part II, we touched on something I’d like to bring up again.

I’ve often walked into poker tournaments where that loud and boisterous fellow is bragging about being the sheriff. In fact, often times there are grinders there egging him on. Encouraging him to be the sheriff.

The reason for this is that the sheriff has a job in every game. Yes he steals a lot of pots, and even cashes now and then. He re-raises often when he thinks someone is bluffing, he’s the guy that will call your bet just to keep you honest.

Hallelujah for him! We need his chips. He gets them by overplaying a small pair, or a weak ace, and then hitting some amazing stuff, and getting the nits to put all their chips in. Understand me here, he gets rid of the nits, and then he donks off his chips.

The point here is that we do not want to be the sheriff, he’s going to play a big part in getting us into the money though. We want to wait until the sheriff has over-bet a few dozen pots, and hopefully taken a few people out of the game, narrowed the field for us, and we want to wait until we catch said sheriff, and smack him over the head with a big bag of NUTS.

Final Stages Tournament Play

During this later portion of the game we really have but one goal. Make money, first and foremost. So if your only goal here is to finish in the money, you can’t shove in all of your chips and risk your tournament stake with mediocre hands. That King Jack of Diamonds that Darvin Moon shoved in at the final table of the World Series of Poker, well that’s just not going to work consistently.

Basically, if you can find a reason to fold a hand here, unless you are severely short stacked (and we’ll cover short stack play later on in another series) fold’em up. Basically you are considered short stacked once you leave the green zone according to Dan Harrington’s M-Calculator. Personally I think at this stage of the tournament you should even consider the yellow zone as somewhat safe. Don’t start acting panicky yet.

As long as you’re comfortable with your stack size here, you really just coast. If the table tightens up, and no one is calling bets, make a few.

If however there’s plenty of action, watch the show for awhile. As the money gets closer, and the blinds get bigger, you’ll find that the action slows way down.

Now when this happens, and opportunity may present itself for you to do some stack building, and when there are free chips on table, who are we to turn them down.

Stealing the Blinds

Since we’re nearing the money, the blinds are of course easier to steal here. We’re playing smart and are not risking our own tournament life, but that has nothing to do with our willingness to take advantage of other players’ fears.

When playing poker tournaments, watch for weaker opponents, and the ones that know how to lay a hand down. Generally the ones that always bet a big ace will make a few calls if you have the chips to gamble with. I’ve found that calling pre-flop, just flat out calling, slows them down on the turn if they’ve missed. Now you’ve let them see four cards, so this can be risky if they’ve hit something, but you should have some idea what they’re drawing for here.

Making the Final Table in a Poker Tournament

If the turn bet is smaller than what you’d expect, or they check the turn. Cut into them deep. Make a large sized bet, if they missed it this late in the game, they’ll lay it down.

Your ultimate goal here is only to make final table, and to make the money. To be a winning tournament player, you need to be consistently making money. You don’t always need to win first, but you need to cash.

Once you’ve made the money, we’ll switch things up again, open up our game, and we’ll gamble a bit more. But we’ll talk about that in another edition.

Poker Tournament Strategy – Part II

In her previous article, Poker Tournament Strategy – Part I, LadyHoldem wrote about early tournament play. In this episode she continues with middle stage strategies for poker tournaments.

Once you’ve reached say the 4th or 5th blind level, even just stealing the blinds now and then can add valuable chips to your stack.

Something to keep in mind is that picking up the blinds once per revolution keeps you even. Don’t dwell on it, or feel overly compelled to obsessively make a stab at the blinds every revolution, but do keep it in mind. For instance, say you’re hanging in, waiting to wake up to a decent hand. The play is soft for a bit, so you pick up a couple mini-pots, and then the next revolution a new player comes to the table and changes the tables dynamic.

Players seem to be in the mood to get their money into the pot. This new comer to the table is pushing, and your table mates are bored and enjoying the action. Feel free to sit this spell out, floating along on the chips you gained from earlier steals.

In fact, whether or not you’re able to snag a few pots during the slow periods, one thing you want to avoid when playing a poker tournament is premature pressure to act.

Many players realized they’ve lost all their ‘big chips’, or they’ve lost half their stacks, or for whatever reason they’re playing with less chips than they would prefer to be playing with at some point. As long as you’re holding at least 10 big blinds, just wait.

Wait for a hand, or your blind, an opportunity to set a trap, wait for a real hand. Don’t shove at the site of an ace. More often than not that action will send you on your way to the rail, quite prematurely.

Patience is Key in Poker Tournaments

If you’ve ever played the 440 man tournaments on PokerStars, and cashed, you’ve probably realized that this entire tournament can be played in as few as four hands. A player can play that tournament folding nearly every hand that is raised before it gets to them, and then towards the middle of the game, play a hand or two doubling their chips, a couple strong plays at the last stretch, and first or second place is pretty much a given.

What’s to be learned here is patience. Fight it out with the bullies, only when you have the nuts. With that point made. Pots at this level when the blinds are steadily increasing really add some weight to your stack.

The time to gamble with lower suited gappers and the like is pretty much over. You might see a flop with a QK suited if the play at your table hasn’t been overly action packed. Aside from that, it’s a good idea to remain seriously particular. Strong hand selection is a MUST.

Once you opt to play a hand, dig in. But remember, a bad beat is a lot worse when you’re on you’re way out the door. There’s no river that you HAVE to see. Look for signs that you’re beat. Fold when it’s time, but until it’s time, shove on.

Poker Tournament Strategy – Part I

It has been some time since Max wrote his Sit&Go Strategy articles and they have been valuable information for quite a few of our visitors. And now the time has come to finally talk about strategy for multi table tournaments.

The beginning of a poker tournament depends a lot on what is already going on at the table. For instance, if you’ve sat down to a multi table tournament online where many players are all in every hand, you probably want to just sit back and watch the show for awhile. Even if you’re dealt pocket aces, you want to fold here.

I know that seems like crazy advice, but the fact of the matter is that if you’re playing at a table where maniac fever has taken over, you need to preserve your tournament life. That usually is only the case in micro stakes game and free poker games.

If you’re playing at a bit higher stakes, you will still want to take it a bit easier during the lower blind rounds, getting in as many hands as possible, for the cheap price, but really playing the other players, paying attention to tells (there ARE tells whether you’re playing live or an online tournament). A big part of these early rounds includes either drawing to the nuts and getting paid off big, or picking off some small pots and keeping your blinds plaid up.

This is also the portion of the tournament where you can really start observing other players. Be on the look out for players that make unusual bets, not the normal 3/4 times the blind amounts, as that’s one sign of an inexperienced poker player. Also, pick out the rocks from the calling stations. Rocks play the big big hands, and often use the chat box to talk badly about players that call a raise with anything less than big slick.

It’s really easy to put these guys on a hand when you’re involved in a hand with them, and it’s generally easier yet to bet them off a hand when they miss the flop. But we’ll get into that later on.

The loose players or calling stations are easily identifiable as the guys that tend to see every flop, or even a large percentage of flops. Another player to look out for is a player that shows his hand, that’s (1) a sign of inexperience and (2) free information for you.

Early Tournament Play – Hand Selection

During the first 3 levels of a tournament, you want to play very strong hands, as well as experimenting with some drawing hands when you’re in a good position. At this point for instance, a suited 9T would be a decent hand to play from the button as well as from the blinds. I wouldn’t recommend raising under the gun with it, however, as long as you’re in a late position and the tables been playing pretty ‘friendly’ (i.e. more calling than betting going on) go ahead and give those smaller suited connectors a shot.

Now this is not the time in the game to do much bluffing, or even semi bluffing. When making a flop you want to have at the very least top pair, preferably two pair. Remember, at this stage of the game it’s not uncommon to have four guys call with nothing, meaning if you bet a pair of 8’s, there’s a pretty good chance there’s going to be a few overcards left in the hand.

Early Tournament Play – Betting The Flop

When you do have a strong hand, dig in. Bet it, and bet it big. Early in the tournament as a rule of thumb, bet 1/2 the pot, to all of it. If there’s a good draw on the table, and I’m not drawing for it (for instance if you hit to pair, but there are two spades on the table, and your cards are not spades) bet the whole pot.

Remember, you’re still watching your opponents, look for the ‘sheriff’, the guy that likes to pay off his opponent at showdown with ace high “Just to See”. The new players can double you up, or with dumb luck alone, they can take you out. If someone’s brand new, you’re not going to bet them off a draw, or a hand if you’re hugely over-betting, and they’re calling. Back off a bit if you’re vulnerable.

Play strong when you play, and coast your way into the bigger blind levels, which… we’ll talk about in a future article here on Max Poker Bonus.

Sit&Go – Flop Or Drop

In my last blog post we took a look at position and starting hands – when should you play which hand and how. In today’s post I would like to explain what we hope to see on the flop and how to play our hand from there. Please take into consideration that my whole Sit&Go strategy blog is geared towards micro limit SNGs as stated in my first post (Sit&Go Preparation). While some of the basic principles may be used in SNGs with higher buy-ins you will have to keep in mind that the game is very different at higher limits.

So we have decided to call or raise pre-flop. Our pre-flop raise will be an impressive one in the first few blind levels of our micro limit SNG. We don’t simply raise to three or four times the BB but for example to ten times the BB. In our virtual SNG with the 10/20 starting blind level and our 1,500 chip stack such a raise thus would be around roughly 200 chips. Our general strategy aims to build up big pots even pre-flop. Whenever there is a flop we want to get the most out of our opponents. Therefore the blog title Flop or Drop – we invest chips in order to help the pot grow quickly.

Let’s assume our pocket cards are QQ – according to our last article we will either raise (if we see no raise before it’s our turn), reraise (if a player raises before us) or fold (if there are two or more raises). So our raise here would be 200 chips. But how high would our potential reraise be? That basically depends on the value of the first bet on the table – we will count all the chips in play and reraise to twice the amount or slightly more. So if a player before us raised the BB to 200 we will reraise him to at least 460 chips (200 chips + 20 BB + 10 SB = 230 chips, therefore twice the pot amounts to 460 chips). Our reraise must never be below the sum of our regular raise (according to our rule above) and the current pot.

Example: Pocket cards QQ, 10/20 blind level, a player raises the BB to 50 chips – we won’t reraise to a mere 160 (50 + 20 + 10 = 80, 80 x 2 = 160) but our regular raise amount (200) plus the current pot (50 + 20 + 10 = 80), which equals a total of 280 chips. We will always use the higher amount when deciding which of our two rules to use (double pot or raise + pot). If the reraise amounts to more than half of our stack we can decide to either go all-in or fold our cards. Under no circumstances do you want to see two thirds or more of your stack on the table and then see an ace on the flop which pretty much hurts our QQ – at that point you’d already be committed and would have to play the hand to the end anyway.

What is a good flop for us?

Lets take a look at your potential starting hands and the according flops that we want to see:

  • Pocket Cards: A Pair
  • Let’s assume your pocket cards are a Pair. Once you see the flop check for a third card for your Pair. If you don’t hit the Set the next thing you want to check is whether you have the Overpair. In both of these cases you have a strong hand that you should play accordingly.

  • Pocket Cards: No Pair
  • You see the flop with AK, AQ, AJ or KQ – what should you hope to find in the first 3 community cards? Well, preferably your highest card – 3 times. Presumably your opponents will however drop out with your first best in that case. The next best scenarios would be – in declining order – Full House, Straight, Triple, 2 Pairs or 1 Pair. A finished Full House or Straight on the flop is of course much less probable than hitting at least a Pair. So when should you continue playing your hand and when should you fold and drop out of the current hand? If you don’t hit on the flop you will either check or fold. If you hit a Pair and it is not the Top Pair you will either check or fold. In all other cases you can basically go for it and build some pressure by betting or raising.

General notes: Carefully check the flop in order to see whether it might be dangerous. If there are 3 cards of the same colour or 3 connected cards (like 8-9-T) on the table you risk running into a Flush or Straight. In that case you will probably be better off to be on the safe side and fold your cards if someone before you bets – unless you have a card that gives you a Flush Draw or Straight Draw (or even better, you actually hit the Flush or Straight right at the flop yourself). If you bet after the flop your bet at your typical micro limit SNG should be around 2 thirds of the pot – at this limit most of the players should be tempted to call.

We hit on the flop – what now?

If you are lucky enough to have hit something like Four of a Kind or a Straight right at the flop you should try and play it slowly in order to not frighten your opponents. You want to keep them in the hand so they can help build the pot. With pocket cards of AK and a flop of AAA even the craziest maniac will probably fold if you bet half the pot or more. Instead you can decide to simply check and with a bit of luck one of the other players will bet, either in order to attempt a bluff or because he has a pair in his hole cards. You can still decide to play the hand on the turn (and even then still pretty soft) and hope for one or the other player not to believe you have the Quad.

On the turn we stick to the same principle as on the flop: First make sure that the community cards are not dangerous and bet approximately two thirds of the pot (or go all-in if your remaining stack is only marginal). We want our opponent to either pay us big time or fold his cards.

Usually most players will fold before a potential river because at some point they should realise that we have a strong hand. If you actually happen to see the river and lost to someone with two pairs (for example AA88) keep in mind that a player who is willing to pay that much pre-flop with A8 had a much worse hand than you and will end up losing that hand more often than not which means he is a losing player in the long run. This player will make this mistake again and again and he will end up paying you out considerable amounts of chips most of the times. Of course you may even end up losing with your pocket aces to someone with 72 but our aim is to become a long term successful poker player. Unlucky defeats and bad beats are just part of playing poker and there is no use crying over spilt milk. Just keep in mind that you did everything right and lady luck sometimes just smiles upon someone else.

Cash Game – Introduction

I am often surprised that only a minority of poker players prefer cash games to tournaments. While both have their appeal I prefer cash games when trying to make money instead of playing some tournament. I do make most of them when it comes to qualifying for some live event as there is an ever increasing number of satellites nowadays that allow you to compete for a lot of money at huge events like the WSOP, WPT or EPT for the proverbial peanuts.

With all the focus on tournament play (be it multitable or Sit & Go) I feel the “original” type of poker, the cash game, is being somewhat neglected. Here you sit at the table and play for real money. Just as you see in every mainstream wild west movie. Fortunately however you don’t risk staring into the barrel of an opponent’s gun.

When playing cash games your aim isn’t being the last player sitting at the table
nor is your evening over when you have lost all your chips (you can simply buy new ones) – it is over when you want it to be, either because you simply had enough poker for one evening or you have reached your goal (or – heaven forbid – you have squandered your whole bankroll). The chips that you receive when sitting down at the table represent the exact amount of money you used to buy yourself into the game. And the money you will receive when leaving the table is vice versa the exact amount of money represented by your chips at the table.

Be warned, playing cash games can be risky when you are new to the game and have not had any experience with playing for real money. I strongly recommend you play for play money first and handle it like playing with real money (even though some of your opponents may not do the same and play a bit wild) or play some tournaments, be it Sit & Go (I urge you to read Max’ posts on Sit & Go Strategy even if you will not play SNG tournaments as you will find a lot of tips that are generally useful for new players) or multitable tournaments as you will simply pay the buy-in and the tournament fee and will not risk losing more money than what you invested in the first place.

Ready to Rumble?

Now that you feel you are ready to play your first cash game I advise you to ease into it by playing very low limits at the beginning. Start from the bottom and work your way up slowly once you think you mastered a certain limit and manage to win on a constant basis. Keep in mind that your opponents will be tougher with the increasing amount of money that you play for. Always keep an eye on your bankroll and make yourself aware of what you can afford to lose. Nothing is worse than playing cash games with money you cannot afford to lose except maybe playing with borrowed money. This is something you should never do when playing poker – on the one hand it is simply a bad idea in general but on the other hand it is strongly frowned upon by poker players. You either have the money to play or you better don’t play at all.

If you manage to get a feeling for cash games and can emerge a winning player in the long run you can make some serious money. Looking at the amounts of money that people play for at cash game tables makes it easy to understand why more and more players who consider themselves to be better than the average player enjoy playing cash games instead of tournaments. You can make a lot of money in a short time – but you can also lose a lot of money in the same time!

Information is Key

Poker is a game of patience – and of gathering as much information as possible. Even before the actual game itself. I advise you to check and compare poker tables prior to taking a seat there. Compare the average pot, the percentage of flops seen and so on. Most poker rooms allow you to gather this information while waiting in the lobby which helps you determine whether there are many loose players or not (the higher the percentage of flops seen, the looser the game) and whether you are comfortable with the average size of the pot. Most of the poker rooms nowadays will offer you this basic information in the table overview inside their lobby.

Keep in mind that even though you are not bound to a strict time schedule as in a tournament you should not try and “squeeze” a quick cash game in if there are other matters on your mind that have to be taken care of. Take your time when playing poker or the quality of your decisions will suffer tremendously from lack of concentration. And you better focus when you play for money.

In my next post I will talk about position and pocket cards and will explain to you why you should never play KQ unless you should do so. Confused? Then there is still quite a lot that you should learn about – but don’t you worry, it is not that difficult to become a competent cash game player as long as you remember a few things and make sure to stick to your bankroll management at all times (this is something that I simply cannot emphasise enough). It helps to always have a general financial plan that decides the amount of money that you use as your bankroll – especially when playing cash games – and that you manage to slam on the brakes immediately when necessary.