Note: While reading a book whenever I come across something interesting, I highlight it on my Kindle. Later I turn those highlights into a blogpost. It is not a complete summary of the book. These are my notes which I intend to go back to later. Let’s start!
Preflop Limit Hold’em: Lessons for Beginners,Top Ten Hands Only To begin with, I recommend playing only the top ten hands and folding on all others. The top ten are, in order of relative promise: A-A, K-K, Q-Q, A-K, J-J, 10-10, 9-9, 8-8, A-Q, and finally 7-7. Experience has shown me that these are the strongest starting hands in limit Hold’em. This beginning “strategy for survival” is designed to keep you in the game while you learn the more subtle techniques that are necessary to beat tougher games, or to extract more money from weak games. And in some games using just this strategy will make you a winner
In general, I recommend playing the top ten hands regardless of your position in the betting order or the number of bets it will cost you to get involved in the hand. Always raise with these hands, no matter what it costs you to get involved. Of course, if you have a lot of evidence to suggest that your 7-7 is beaten (perhaps the tightest player in the game has just re-re-reraised the hand, making it, as we say, “four bets to go”), then you might do well to fold the hand. But in general, playing these hands aggressively is a good way to play Hold’em
Phil’s “Animal Types” There are the five animals: the mouse, lion, jackal, elephant, and eagle. I have created these animals because they seem to be the most common types out there right now.
The mouse is like your old aunt Edna, a conservative type who probably wouldn’t even approve of your reading this book. The mouse—like you—plays only the top ten hands but hates to invest any money with a hand as weak as 7-7 or 8-8. The mouse hardly ever raises someone else’s bet; but when he does raise, look out, because he has the goods!
The lion is a tough competitor who plays fairly tight poker but doesn’t limit himself to the top ten hands. He bluffs with excellent timing and seems to know when the other players are trying to bluff him. Though he plays pretty tight, he’s occasionally out on a limb with a bluff or a semibluff. You could do worse than play like the lion.
The jackal is loose and wild, and some days it seems as though he’s just giving his money away. Because he’s involved in so many pots and raises so often, his play can take some pretty big swings. The jackal’s logic seems at odds with the logic of all the other players. He just seems crazy! (He’s what many of us in poker call a megalomaniac, or sometimes just maniac.) The jackal can hurt you and himself too with his crazy play, because he puts in so many bets. But there is some method to his madness. He’s good at raising the pots at the right times (his style of play gives him many occasions to think about what’s going on), and when he does at last win a pot, it’s generally huge! If a jackal runs hot by catching good cards for a while, you may become convinced that he’s the best player in the world, but when his cards come back to earth, he can lose money as fast as he won it.
The elephant is fairly loose (which means he plays a lot of pots) and seems to be from Missouri, the “Show me” state. He’s what we refer to in poker as a “calling station”: he never folds when he is supposed to fold, because he doesn’t ever believe that you have the goods. Because he’s impossible to bluff, no one with much experience ever tries to bluff him—with one exception: can you guess who that is? The elephant keeps feeding the other players his chips, slowly but surely. The elephant isn’t very sharp and isn’t a very dangerous opponent for most players, but he seems to do well against the jackal, because the jackal keeps on trying to bluff the elephant.
Finally, we have the eagle. The eagle is a rare bird, and you might not ever play with him, because he’s one of the top 100 poker players in the world. You’ll find the eagle wherever high-stakes poker is played. He flies around high in the sky and swoops down to eat other animals’ chips when he’s hungry! You’ll find the eagles competing every year at the World Series of Poker (WSOP), trying to win world championships and the money and prestige that come with winning them—if not in the tournaments, then perhaps in the big-money side games the WSOP always generates
Raising with a Top Ten Hand in LatePosition The game is $2–$4 at your local bar. You hold J-J on the button. The player in the first position (see the illustration) has raised, making it two bets, or $4, to go, and the jackal, in the second position, has reraised (The jackal reraised! What a surprise!), making it three bets, or $6, to go. You then raise it again to make it four bets, or $8, to go. This hand is easy enough to play because you have one of those top ten hands and also have the advantage of late position
Beware of the Mouse The game is $5–$10 at the local businessmen’s club. You have 9-9 in the small blind, and the jackal, in the third position, has raised it to two bets, or $10, to go. Then the lion, in the fourth position, makes it three bets, or $15, to go. Now, the mouse on the button makes it four bets to go! Yikes, what to do? You know that the lion probably has a strong hand, but the mouse making it four bets, even over the top of the lion? That is big trouble!
You decide that the mouse probably has A-A or K-K, and you throw your hand away right then and there, because you figure that you’re a 41/2-to-1 underdog (a small pair is roughly a 41/2-to-1 underdog against a big pair). I know that I’ve said you should always play these hands, but sometimes a little discretion is the better part of valor. If no animal personalities had entered the picture, you could play this hand—but poker is about people as well as game theory. Deciding to call the four bets in this case wouldn’t actually be foolhardy—but it would be a pretty weak play, one that would lose money over the long run. Many players who consider themselves experts would call this a terrible play, but they’re forgetting to consider the very large pots you’re likely to win in such cases if you do happen to “flop a set” (three of a kind, in this case three nines)
Reraising the Jackal with a Top Ten Hand in Cyberspace The game is $10-$20 limit (which means you could win or lose $1,000 on any given night) at UltimateBet.com, an online poker site. You have A-K in the second position and with your raise you make it $20 to go. The elephant, in the fourth position, calls the $20 (that’s what elephants do, after all), and then the jackal makes it $30 to go from the small blind. What should you do? You make it $40 to go, figuring that you have both the jackal and the elephant beat. The elephant has probably called with a hand too weak to call with, and the jackal has probably raised with a hand too weak to raise with. If either of them has a pair, then you will need to make a hand, but this is still a good time to play aggressively. Making it four bets here is an especially good play because the jackal could have anything. And putting in those extra bets now will make the pot so large that you’ll probably be forced to play the hand farther than you might want to, making it easier to call the jackal down with ace high. This is good, because no one will be able to bluff you off your A-K if you miss the flop. The pot will be large enough to make it right to call even if you miss the flop
A Top Ten Hand against a Mouse The game is $15–$30 limit at the Mirage poker room in Las Vegas. The jackal in seat one raises the bet, making it $30 to go. The mouse on the button makes it three bets, or $45 to go. You have K-K in the big blind, so you make it $60 to go. Yes, the mouse’s raise is ominous, but you have K-K, the second-best-possible hand, and you need to raise with it no matter what the hand looks like otherwise. Pocket Aces
You have A-A in any position before the flop. Put in as many bets as you can before the flop, regardless of what your opponents do! This is the best possible hand in Hold’em!
Kings, Queens, and A-K You have K-K, Q-Q, or A-K in any position before the flop. Again, put as many bets out there as you can before the flop! With any of these you have one of the four best hands in Hold’em! Pocket Jacks
You have J-J before the flop, in any position. OK, you have the fifth best hand in Hold’em, and in general I would say never fold this hand before the flop in limit Hold’em. But there may come a time or two, as you become a lion, when you choose to fold this hand before the flop. Maybe, for example, the tightest mouse on the planet has made it four bets to go, and you just have a strong feeling that you’re beat. After all, what hand would encourage the tightest player in the world to make it four bets to go? Probably A-A or K-K. But because this is the beginners’ section, I’d advise you to put in your four bets anyway; when you are a lion you will know when the time is right to fold this hand Before the flop, then, successful play in Hold’em is pretty darn easy using the top-ten-hands strategy. In general, you raise or reraise every time you have a top ten hand, and you fold the rest of your hands. The exceptions are: when a mouse makes a raise or reraise (two bets or three bets), a lion makes it three bets (a reraise), or an elephant makes it three bets (since it is out of the ordinary for the elephant ever to bet his own hand). In these cases, you might want to back off if your top ten hand is 9-9, 8-8, 7-7, or A-Q
Betting or raising on the flop, when you have a top ten hand is important to find out if yours is the best hand. In this case I was representing an ace with my bet, and fortunately no one had an ace or a nine. If someone had raised me on this hand after I’d bet my 8-8 on the flop, then I most likely would have had to fold my hand, but the $300 bet was going to give me some valuable information, or a better chance of winning the pot (if it drove out someone who held something like K-Q and who might have caught that king or queen on the turn or the river), or, as wound up happening here, the whole pot
Four Examples on how to play the above hands
Now let’s take a look at the examples I’ve promised, situations that will teach you how to play your top ten hands after the flop. Seven assumptions will apply to the four examples that follow:
- You’re playing a $5–$10 online game at UltimateBet.com.
- You have J-J, also known as pocket jacks.
- Jim (a jackal) raises before the flop in the first position (the first player to act after the blinds, usually referred to as “under the gun”).
- You reraise, making it three bets ($15) with your J-J in the third position.
- Dumbo (an elephant) calls on the button.
- Jerry (unclear profile) calls in the big blind.
- Jim (the jackal) calls your raise.
The Flop Comes Down 10d-7d-4s Jerry checks and Jim bets out $5. This is a very good flop for you, because there are no “overcards” (Q-K-A) to your pair of jacks (an overcard creates a reasonable possibility of a pair for someone who entered the pot with two big cards in his hand), and therefore there is an excellent chance that you still have the best hand. Clearly a raise is in order here. You raise because you probably have the best hand at this point, but your hand is vulnerable to overcards, and you want to try to drive out (force the player to fold) a hand like Q-K that can hit a queen or a king on either of the next two cards, and thus beat you. Your raise may also drive out someone with 5-5, who would otherwise call for the relatively cheap $5 and perhaps end up beating you because he hit a five on the next card or caught a six and then a three to make a straight. In other words, right now your raise is all about “protecting” your hand from losing by driving out opponents who, though trailing at the moment, have reasonable chances to beat you on the turn or river, if you let them stay in the hand. Your raise makes it too expensive for players facing weak draws to stay in the hand
The Flop Has Come Down Ad-10s-4d Jerry bets out and Jim calls. Now what do you do? A raise at this point is a great idea. Clearly, you cannot fold right here, because the pot is fairly large and you may still have the best hand. As long as you’re going to play, you might as well raise it and find out if you have the best hand. You already know that you probably have Jim beat, because he’s a jackal who always raises when he has any kind of hand and he didn’t raise Jerry’s $5 bet
Assuming that you do raise, if Jerry reraises you here, he probably has you beat, but it’s not a certainty: he could have a hand like a pair-and-a-flush draw, such as 10d-Qd, or a straight-and-a-flush draw with a hand like Qd-Kd. You should call his reraise on the flop, since it is only $5 more to you, and you want to see what he does after the next card is turned. If Jerry then bets out after the next card, where the limits are now doubled (he can bet $10 now and on the last round of betting), then it is time for a decision. You have to analyze what kind of hand Jerry is likely to have.
Does he have a drawing hand that you can beat or a hand like A-Q (a pair of aces; remember the flop is A-10-4) that beats you? Did the flush card or a king or queen hit the board on the turn? (Note, by the way, that even though a jack on the turn would appear to be a great card for you, because it would give you three jacks, it could also present some danger, if it is the jack of diamonds, or if someone had K-Q and has now made his straight.) If so, then can you beat anything anymore? Perhaps a “blank” card (a harmless card that helps neither a straight draw nor a flush draw) like the 6c comes off and Jerry checks his drawing hand to you. Why has he checked? Because your raise on the flop scared him off from betting the 6c. (If so, then your raise on the flop has accomplished its mission!) If he does bet here after a “blank,” then you must watch the way he makes the bet (look for body language that might show confidence or fear) and make your best decision. On fourth street (after the fourth up card is dealt), if something in your head (intuition or instinct) tells you that Jerry is bluffing, then call. If you feel that he has a real hand, then fold. Trust your instincts and you will find that they keep improving as you continue to play Hold’em.
You will also find that your ability to read others will get better as you gain experience, especially if you work specifically on watching how people bet their hands. One of the best times to do this is when you have folded your own hand and so no longer have to concentrate on your own tactical considerations: you can focus entirely on studying your opponents (and the outcome!) for information that will come in handy later
The Flop Is Ac-Kd-4s Jerry bets out $5, and Jim raises it to $10 to go. In this case there is no flush draw, and it’s hard to imagine that both of your opponents have a straight draw with a hand like Q-J, Q-10, or J-10. Although one of your opponents might have a hand like that, what does the other one have? Almost certainly the other opponent has a pair of kings or a pair of aces, because people holding high-rank cards like that tend to stay in hands. In this case, the two overcards on the flop make folding your hand an easy choice. This is one of the worst possible flops for a pair of jacks, especially in a three-bet pot where your opponents probably hold A-something or K-Q, K-J, or K-10.“But wait a minute,” you might ask; “if my opponent can get lucky by hitting the ace he was drawing to on the flop, why can’t I get lucky and hit a jack on the turn or the river?” If one of your opponents does have a pair of aces or kings, then you can win only by hitting a jack (don’t even factor in the extremely unlikely chance of hitting two perfect cards in a row to make a straight); and because there are only two jacks left in the deck, the odds against that happening are about 22 to 1 on the next card. Just say to yourself, “OK, I’ve played this hand perfectly so far, so even though I’ve waited a long time for a pair of jacks, it’s time to fold them. Next time I have a big hand, I hope I have a better flop to it.” Then simply fold your hand and forget about the outcome of that one. (But again, see what the outcome tells you about Jerry or Jim.) Of course, the jack sometimes hits right away, and sometimes you would have won the pot because your opponents have Q-10 and 4d-Qd. (Obviously the jackal has this hand!) But regardless of the outcome, you made the right move by folding. Sometimes people drive themselves crazy by second-guessing their plays. The next thing you know they’re staying in pots trying to hit the shots that are 22 to 1 against them, and virtually giving their money away! Sometimes poker will drive you batty or, in poker terms, put you on “tilt.”
The Flop Is Kd-Qd-7s Jerry checks, and Jim bets out $5. A lot of us would be tempted to think, “OK, I’m probably beaten in this hand because I cannot beat someone who has a K or a Q in his hand and I’m facing three opponents in this pot. But I’m not convinced yet that I’m beat, so I’ll just call the $5.” In fact, a “mouse” might even fold his hand at this point! But this is the wrong way to look at it. Yes, you probably are beaten, but for an extra $5 (raising instead of calling) you can gain a lot of information, and because of your raise you might even win this pot. Assuming that you do make the correct raise, making it $10 to go, you might:
- Have Jim the jackal beaten and force Dumbo to fold his Q-J (even though it has you beat with a pair of queens, Dumbo will be afraid you have a king in your hand). This is an example of winning a pot through aggressive play. The beautiful thing about this scenario is that you were really just making a raise to gain information about the strength of your hand, but as a by-product you forced the best hand to fold!
- Have Jim the jackal beaten and force Dumbo to fold his A-10, a hand he might have played for $5 trying to hit an inside straight, and lo and behold, the play saves you a fortune when your third jack comes off on the next card, because it would have given Dumbo an ace-high straight (10-J-Q-K-A)!
- Find out that Dumbo has you beaten when he reraises the pot behind you, making it $15 to go. Now you can call $5 more on the outside chance that a jack will hit the board or that Dumbo is sitting on a big draw like Z-W and will check it on the next two streets if he misses his hand. But if he bets again or if Jim calls the $15 total on the flop, you will have to fold. At least you will know that you are beaten at this point in the hand, and you can avoid calling the next two $10 bets.
- Find out that you are beaten because all three of your opponents called your $10 bet on the flop, and it’s just too unreasonable to think that your pair of jacks is the best hand after they all call a bet and a raise. (All three would have to be on either a smaller pair than jacks, or a straight draw, or the flush draw, and this is pretty unlikely.)
- Eliminate all the other opponents in the hand, but find that Jim does have you beat. In this case, you will probably wind up losing some extra bets to Jim because he’s a jackal! This is an example of what I mentioned earlier—of how jackals don’t lose as much as their wild play would seem to indicate, because they get paid off big-time when they actually do make a strong hand. But you will have ample opportunity to get those bets back from Jim later on, in another hand!
You can now see why raising Jim’s bet here on the flop may win the pot for you, or at least give you the additional information that says your hand is beaten. Of your three options, raising is best, folding is second best, and calling is the worst! Your raise on the flop will set up the way you play your hand on the next two rounds of betting, and it may bluff out a better hand
Playing the Flop, for Limit Hold’em Beginners:The Special Case of A-K
Here are your six assumptions:
- You have A-K in the small blind in a $2–$4 game at your house (someone may win or lose up to $200, but usually $50–$100 wins and losses are to be expected at this limit).
- A jackal named Joe makes it $4 to go in the third position.
- An elephant named Earl calls the $4 on the button.
- You reraise, making it $6 to go from the small blind.
- The big-blind lion named Leo calls the $6 bet.
- Joe the jackal and Earl the elephant also call the $6 bet.
The Flop Includes an A or a K (ForExample,A-9-4, K-10-7, A-2-3, or K-Q-J) You bet, raise, and reraise quite a bit because you have hit “top pair” with “top kicker.” In every case where an A or a K hits the flop you will have top pair with top kicker (A-A-K or A-K-K), and this is a very strong hand in Hold’em! For example, if the flop is A-9-4, then you have a pair of aces with a king kicker. This hand will beat all other pairs of aces like A-Q, A-J, A-10, A-8, etc.
But let’s suppose now that the flop is A-9-4 and someone is holding A-9. Your A-K would be losing on this flop, because A-9 now makes two pair, aces and nines. Still, for every time someone who plays a weak A-9 against your powerful A-K and beats you, you’ll beat him more than two other times (that is, the A-K is slightly more than a 2.5 to 1 favorite heads-up against A-9). The point I’m trying to make is that A-K becomes very powerful when you catch an A or a K on the flop, and you should put in a lot of betting and raising on the flop when this is the case. Fortunes have been won and lost with A-K!
Now let’s move on to a few examples of how to play the AK when you miss the flop.
The Flop Is J-5-2 You bet out $2. The lion, Leo, raises, making it $4 to go; and the elephant, Earl, calls the bet. In this case you figure that one of your opponents has you beat, but you call $2 anyway, on the chance that an A, K, Q, or 10 will hit the board on fourth street. If an A or K hits, then you should bet out $4 on fourth street. But if a Q or 10 hits, then you will want to call a $4 bet (check and then call $4 if your opponents bet) because you have picked up a straight draw. Since you know you will call $4 when a Q or a 10 hits, you may choose to bet out $4, attempting to win the pot right there (but right now we are talking about play on the flop). So the play on the flop here is fairly simple: you bet out $2 and call the raise of $2.
The Flop Is 7d-8d-9d and You Have As-Kc You bet out $2, and the lion raises it to $4 to go. The jackal calls $4. Now what do you do? Folding here isn’t a bad option, because two of the cards that under other conditions you would like to see on the turn or river, Ad or Kd, would make four diamonds on the board, so they’re very likely good cards for someone else, bad cards for you. Still, it costs you only $2 to see if you can hit your hand. I would probably just fold for $2, but an expert could call the $2 bet, because he feels that he reads his opponents well enough to avoid getting too involved later on in the hand. The point I’m trying to make is this: sometimes, even though you have A-K, you have to fold your hand on the flop when the others raise you. You’re not folding often, mind you, but situations where you face three suited connected cards like 7d-8d-9d or 8h-9h-10h on the board, and you have none of the suited cards in your hand (like with As-Ks), are just too likely to have helped someone else in the hand. Those two examples are the worst possible flops for your As-Kc, and it’s probably right to just fold your hand on the spot.
The Flop Is Q-10-2 You bet out $2, the lion raises it to $4, and then the elephant reraises it to $6 to go. In this case, you need a J for a straight or an A or a K for a pair. You have to call the $6. You have to figure that at least one of your opponents has you beaten, even though one of them may have a hand like K-J, an open-ended straight draw. The point of this example is that if what turns up on the flop gives you a straight draw, then you need to play your A-K. Three available aces, three available kings, and four of whatever card completes your straight draw (in this case four jacks) give you too many winning possibilities (pros call this having 10 “outs”) to fold right away.
The Flop Is 6-5-2 You bet out $2, and the lion calls. Then the jackal makes it $4 to go, and the elephant folds. What do you do now? You probably have the lion beaten, since he only called the $2 on the flop, and lions usually don’t merely call when they’re pretty sure they have the best of it. The jackal could easily have you beaten with a pair of deuces, fives, or sixes, and jackals play a lot of strange hands. But he is the jackal and he could just as easily have 7-8, A-4, A-3, 7-9, or 8-9, all of which give him a straight draw of one sort or another. If this is the case, then you are a favorite over his hand. (He has to hit something with only two cards to go, while you’re already winning and don’t need to improve to beat him.) You’re going to call the $2 raise anyway, so why not reraise, making it $6 to go? The reraise will probably cause the lion to fold his hand, isolating you (getting it down to just the two of you) against the jackal. If you don’t reraise, and the jackal does have 8-9, and the lion does have Qd-Jd, you might end up losing the hand to the lion because you let him in cheap! This is the advantage of being the jackal; his erratic play sometimes causes you to put in extra bets against him. But aggressive play against the jackal is a good thing! Since he will play his drawing hands “fast” (raising and reraising), you will have a chance to win some big pots when he misses his hand. What I’m really trying to say is this: play your “A-K high” (the best nonpair hand) aggressively on the flop against the jackal when you think there is a decent chance he’s drawing. You can always fold your hand on fourth street or the river if you think the jackal has you beat
Protecting Your Hand You have K-K. A jackal raises before the flop, you then make it three bets (reraise), and an elephant behind you calls the three bets “cold” (without having any money already invested in the pot). The jackal then calls the one additional bet. The flop comes 10-9-2 and the jackal bets, you raise, and the elephant calls the two bets. The jackal also calls two bets. The turn card comes up a 2, for 10-9-2-2, and now the jackal bets out into you. At this point you should be thinking, “Raise it!” But you’re distracted by the conversation going on across the table, and you just call the bet. Now, the elephant calls the bet as well. This is a most costly mistake, since you’ve now let the elephant call only one bet with his A-9, and the last card off is an A, for 10-9-2-2-A. Now the jackal checks and you decide to check as well, because you fear the A may have hit the elephant. Then the elephant bets and the jackal calls, and you call as well. The elephant then says, “I have two pair, aces up.” You think, “Man, am I unlucky, I cannot believe that he hit an ace on me here!” Wrong! You misplayed this hand! All you had to do was raise after the two came up on fourth street, and the elephant would have been forced to throw his hand away! Your call on the end might also fall into the mistake category (even though I’ve said you should generally not be folding on the end), because the one card you had legitimate reason to fear, the ace, hit the board, and a bet and a call were already in front of you. Let’s rewrite the script, then, so you’re making the obvious raise on fourth street. A deuce comes off the deck for 10-9-2-2, and the jackal bets out into you. You don’t really think the jackal has a deuce, so you raise and the elephant reluctantly folds his hand. The jackal calls your raise. The river card is an ace, for 10-9-2-2-A, and the jackal checks. You conclude that the jackal has a pair of tens, so you bet out, and then the jackal calls you. You say, “Pocket kings for me” and the jackal says, “Nice hand.” You then pile all the chips onto your stack as the elephant loudly complains, “Darn it, I would have made aces and nines if I’d stayed in, but I couldn’t call, because your raise on fourth street told me you had me beaten!” You just smile and finish stacking the chips, thinking, “Looks as though I played that hand perfectly!”
This first example is about “protecting your hand” with a raise on fourth street. If you fail to do that, you give your opponents a chance to outdraw you for just one bet. The next example is another fairly obvious play, but in the other direction—folding!
Knowing When to Fold ’Em Two opponents have called the bet before the flop, and now you make it two bets to go with Js-Jc on the button. The big blind and both other opponents call the raise, and the flop comes 2d-3d-Qs. The big blind checks, the first “limper” (caller) bets out, and the second limper folds. You then raise to find out “where you’re at” (great strategy!) and the big blind calls. The remaining limper, whose play falls somewhere between that of a lion and that of a jackal (he’s a fairly strong player who’s sometimes unpredictable), now reraises, making it three bets to go. You call, and now the big blind calls as well. Fourth street brings 4d, for 2d-3d-Qd-4d, and the big blind checks and the limper bets out. You fold because you can’t beat a pair of queens or a flush (the flush draw hit!) and you’re afraid of both the limper and the big blind. What hand could the limper make it three bets with on the flop, and nonetheless be a hand you can now beat? If he has a flush draw, then he hits his flush. If he has a pair of queens, then you’re already beat. If he has a “set” (trips made with a pocket pair like 2-2 and a 2 on the board, then you’re also beat). Of course it’s possible that the limper is overplaying a pair of threes, like A-3 (with 2-3-Q on board) or something similar, but it’s very unlikely that he would reraise on the flop with that hand. About the only realistic hope for you is that the limper three-bet with A-K, a hand your jacks still beat. That’s certainly not an impossible holding, but are you willing to pay off big bets on both the turn and the river to find out if you’re right? If the limper is willing to push A-K on the turn, there’s a very realistic possibility that he will push one more time with it on the river. I won’t carry the script of this hand further, but suffice to say that you made the right play, because there is almost no hand that you can beat at this point in the hand. Chasing (calling) on the strength of the slight hope that the limper is playing like a maniac and pushing his A-K will gouge big chunks out of your bankroll over the long run
Folding Down Your Hand With a hand of 10-10 you’ve made it three bets to go over the top of a lion before the flop, and two other opponents have called. This means you have four players putting in three bets each. The flop comes up Ac-4d-5s, the lion bets, and you raise him, but this time he reraises you (assume that everyone else folds on the flop). Fourth street is the time to fold this hand. The lion can’t be drawing here, because there is no draw, and you can assume the lion isn’t playing 6-7! The jackal might have 6-7, but the lion wouldn’t. So when the lion bets out again, into you, after the 9d comes up, for Ac-4d-5s-9d, it’s time to fold your hand. The lion’s response to your raise on the flop lets you know that he has you beaten! Now act on the information you’ve paid for, and fold your hand. You may even want to show the lion your hand and say, “OK, you win because I fold.” Although you are giving away free information when you show your hand in this spot, sometimes this sort of ad hoc play encourages your opponent to show you his hand for free (now or in some later hand), and you may wind up collecting a lot more free information than you’ve given away
Let’s now revisit an example we looked at earlier and consider a few different possibilities. Assumptions for the following five examples:
- The game is $5–$10 at UltimateBet.com.
- You have Jc-Js (pocket jacks).
- Jim (a jackal) raises before the flop in the first position.
- You make it three bets ($15) with J-J in the third position.
- Dumbo (an elephant) calls on the button.
- Jerry (unclear profile) calls in the big blind.
- Jim calls your raise.
- The flop comes down Ad-10s-4d.
- Jerry bets out and Jim calls the bet.
- You raise with your Jc-Js, making it two bets to go.
Folding Your Hand Because a Bad Card Came on Fourth Street Jerry makes it three bets, and Jim calls three bets. Now you call three bets, but you now believe that Jerry has some kind of a strong hand. You aren’t sure if Jerry has an ace, or a flush draw and a straight draw (like Kd-Qd, Kd-Jd, or Qd-Jd), or a flush draw and a pair like 10d-Qd, 10d-Kd, or 10d-xd (x is a random card). The next card is the 6d, for Ad-10s-4d-6d, and Jerry bets out into you and Jim folds. OK, the flush draw has hit, so you fold your hand, because you figure that Jerry has either an ace or a flush.
Protect Your Hand Jerry and Jim both call your raise, and the next card off the deck is the 8s, for Ad-10s-4d-8s. Jerry and Jim now check to you. They probably aren’t checking an ace (a pair of aces) to you, and you don’t want to give them a free draw at their flush, or at an overcard hand like K-Q. So you bet to protect your hand
The Elephant Scares You Off Dumbo makes it three bets to go, and he isn’t the type to raise it unless he has a big hand. Dumbo makes a lot of calls but doesn’t raise too often. Jerry now folds, and Jim calls the $15 bet. It is only $5 more to you to call, so I would call, but I’d be ready to fold my hand on fourth street for one bet from Dumbo. I would be thinking that Dumbo has at least a pair of aces with a high kicker, and probably two pair, aces up with A-10 or A-6
Raising the Jackal on Fourth Street When a GoodCard Hits Jerry and Jim both call your raise on the flop, and now the As comes off the deck for Ad-10s-4d-As. (This is a good card for you: first, because now there are only two aces left and the chances that one of your two opponents has it are decreased; second, because this isn’t a straight or a flush card.) Jerry checks and now Jim bets out into you. You decide that you have Jim beat and you raise to protect your hand, because there is a chance that your raise here will cause Jerry to fold his flush draw. If Jerry does have an ace, you will know when he raises it to $30 to go, and now you can fold your hand. Either way, you’re pretty sure you have Jim beaten here, because he’s a jackal who hasn’t made a bet or raise until now! Don’t be afraid to raise Jim on fourth street if you think you have him beat
A Tough Situation Jerry reraises you on the flop, making it three bets, and Jim calls the three bets. You also call the three bets. Now 6s comes off the deck, for Ad-10s-4d-6s, Jerry bets out into you, and Jim calls the bet. Now you have a tough situation to deal with! You really aren’t worried that Jim might have you beaten. The question is, does Jerry have you beat (as he would with an A or three fours) or is he holding a big draw like 10d-Qd, 10d-9d, Jd-Qd, Qd-Kd, or something similar? I would lean toward folding my hand here, but everything would depend on my read of the player. Is Jerry the type to try to bluff me here? When I look straight at him, what do I sense he is pondering? Does he want me to call or to fold right now? Just make your best guess and go with it! You will find that the more often you’re put in this situation, the better you become at reading your opponents
Playing the River with the Top Ten Hands: Callfor the Pot Odds! In general, if you’ve made it all the way to the river with your top ten hand, then it’s probably correct to call one bet on the river. The concept of “pot odds” will help me explain to you why I like to make a lot of calls on the river in Hold’em. In poker slang, I’m a “calling station” on the river in limit Hold’em; I’m from Missouri, the “Show me” state! If the game is $5–$10, and I’ve played my top ten hand aggressively throughout the pot, then the amount of money already in the pot might be $140. For example, I make it $15 to go with three opponents ($60) before the flop, and now I raise on the flop and two opponents call my raise ($30). Then I bet out and two opponents call my bet on fourth street ($30), and finally one opponent bets out into me and my other opponent calls ($20). So the pot holds $60 + $30 + $30 + $20 = $140. Now, my $10 call gives me a chance to win $140! If you do decide to fold here, then you must be at least 93 percent sure that you are beat (10/140 = 0.0714, and 1-.0714 =92.86). That’s why I don’t lay down too many hands on the river! Of course, when the worst possible card for my hand hits on the river and a mouse bets into me, then I’m 98 percent sure that I’m beaten! So the $140 pot is laying me 14 to 1 odds on my call. $140 to $10 is pretty strong pot odds! This is why I encourage being a calling station like me in limit Hold’em
Having said all that, I’ll start with two examples of where I would fold a hand, even on the river
Folding on the River Let’s assume that you have Q-Q in a four-way-action pot with a board of 5d-10d-Js-7s, and that there has been a lot of betting and raising on the flop during this hand. Say now that Ad comes off the deck and a mouse bets into you. You’ll want to fold your hand without further thought. The Ad makes a flush, a straight, and a pair of aces all possible. That combined with the specter of a mouse betting into you is a scary scenario! You’d probably have to fold even if a jackal bet into you, especially if there are other opponents in the hand behind you yet to act. It is also a bad sign for you that there was so much betting and raising on the flop; this suggests that there are straight and flush draws out there. Some cards are just so bad that you have to fold.
The Board Is So Bad I Surrender! Suppose you have As-Ad, the flop comes 8h-9h-10h (this is one of the worst possible flops for your hand), and two opponents are really “jamming it” with you on the flop. Say 2c hits on the turn, they both check, you bet, and they both call you. Now you know that you probably have the best hand at this point, since no one has raised you, but you’re also sure that your opponents have big draws. (What else could they have been jamming it with on the flop?) So when Jh pops up on the river, for 8h-9h-10h-2c-Jh, what can you beat? Any heart makes a flush and any seven or queen makes a straight. How can you call even one bet on the end, especially given the way the others have played the hand? You can’t even beat an opponent who holds 10c-Jc (that hand makes two pairs). Even though you waited hours for your A-A, and even though the pot odds are pretty good, sometimes you just have to surrender!
The Following Hand Has Three Different Endings Here’s a familiar situation, involving Jim (the jackal) and Jerry (unknown profile). You have J-J and you’ve made it three bets over the top of Jim’s two bets (reraised) before the flop. Jerry calls you from the big blind, and the flop is Ad-10s-4d. Jerry bets out on the flop, Jim calls the bet, and you raise it, to find out what they really have. Both players call your raise, and then 6s comes off on the turn and they both check to you. You bet out, thinking your J-J is still the best hand, and they both call again. The last card is Kd, for a final board of Ad-10s-4d-6s-Kd. Jerry bets out and Jim calls. The Kd was probably the worst possible card for your hand, other than 10d, because now you can’t beat a flush, a straight, or a pair of kings. Jerry probably has you beaten, but how about Jim? It looks to me as if Jim has you beaten here as well
Here, I’d put Jim on K-Q, which makes a pair of kings for him on the end. Think about it. If Jim has a flush, then he would have raised on the end. If Jim has kings and tens (another possibility, given the way the hand unfolded), then he would probably have raised on the flop himself, with his pair of tens. Whatever the case may be, it looks as if Jim has you beaten. It’s true that there is already $125 ($45 + $30 + $30 + $20) in the pot, so you need to be over 92 percent sure that you’re beaten before you decide to fold. But given this situation, I would have to fold, because I’d be convinced that both players have me beaten. Both players expect you to call on the end, and the chances that both of them are trying to bluff you therefore seem very remote to me. Let’s suppose now that the last card is 6c, for Ad-10s-4d-6s-6c, and now Jerry bets out into you and Jim folds. This bet would seem very suspicious to me, and I would call it very quickly. I would be thinking, “Why did Jerry decide to bet right here and now? I don’t think that the six helped him, so he’s either bluffing or holding an ace.” If I’m facing an either-or situation and getting this kind of pot odds, I’m going to call without hesitation
Let’s suppose again that the last card is 6c, for Ad-10s-4d-6s-6c, and now both opponents check to you. Do you bet here or check? If you bet here, you have to be hoping that either Jerry or Jim will call you with a pair of tens or worse. I wouldn’t be worried about Jim in this case, but Jerry would concern me a little bit. (Could Jerry have an ace with no kicker, like A-2, A-3, or A-5, which would explain why he just called on the flop? Did he fear an ace with a kicker on the flop?) This “value bet” that you’re considering making (a bet you make believing that it will earn slightly more than it will lose, over the long run) is one that needs a little bit of reading ability as well (a little finesse). If you decide to bet, then that’s fine; if you decide to check, that’s fine too. I would bet it myself unless I felt strongly that Jerry had me beaten
You’re holding K-K, and you three-bet an elephant before the flop. The flop then comes down 5d-6s-7h, and now you make it four bets (a raising war on the flop). The next card off is 10s and he checks and then calls your bet. Now 8s comes off on the river, for 5d-6s-7h-10s-8s, and the elephant bets out into you. In this case, any four or nine makes a straight, but you call the bet quickly because you can still beat a lot of hands. The pot odds are heavily in your favor for a call here—there is already $7 from the blinds that folded, $30 from before the flop, $40 on the flop, $20 from fourth street, and $10 from the elephant’s bet on the end. One $10 call to win $107! I’d call quickly as well. Suppose it’s Ad that comes off on the river, for 5d-6s-7h-10s-Ad, and the elephant bets out into you. I’d call quickly here as well, because of the pot odds (there is a lot of money in this pot)
Calling Two Bets on the River The question here is whether or not you should call on the river when calling costs you two big bets. In general, when you have to call two bets (someone bets and then someone else raises) on the river in a Hold’em pot, it’s a good idea to fold. Usually, the only hands that you can beat on the end, when it costs you two bets just to call, are bluffs. You will rarely see an experienced player bluff raise on the river in low-limit Hold’em! It’s just not a very profitable play. To return to a familiar example: let’s assume that the hand has been played out among Jim, Jerry, and you, as detailed above. When Jerry bets out into Ad-10s-4d-6s-Kd and Jim raises, it’s a good idea to exit stage left with your modest little J-J If the last card is 6c, leaving Ad-10s-4d-6s-6c, and, as before, Jerry bets out and Jim raises, then get out of that one too. Even though 6c seems a harmless card, all you can really beat here is a bluff by both players. Is it really possible that both Jerry and Jim are bluffing? I don’t think so! (If you want another reason to fold this hand, suppose now that you call, and Jerry really has the goods, something like A-6, and reraises! Now what are you going to do?
Folding A-A for Two Bets on the End When John bets out into 5d-6d-8c-10s-4d on the end and Frank raises to two bets, then it’s a good time to dump your A-A even though the pot is huge! When they bet and raise at this point in the hand, what can you beat? It seems likely that one of your opponents has made a flush or a straight (he needs to have only a seven in his hand for a straight) or at least two pair. I’m assuming in this example that you played your A-A very aggressively and put in a lot of bets, which would have discouraged them from thinking that they could bluff you on the river
In general, when you aren’t sure whether or not to call one bet on the river, then call. The pot odds support a whole lot of calling on the river, because in the long run you don’t often have to be too successful in picking off a bluff for this call to prove profitable! Generally, though, I would fold my hand on the river for two bets, since rarely do you see someone making it two bets to go on the river on a bluff. Of course, if your instincts say fold, or call, or raise on the river, and you’ve begun to trust your instincts, then follow them! So, before the flop in limit Hold’em, play only the top ten hands, and make sure that you play them very aggressively. On the flop, remember to raise to find out “where you’re at” so that you can make the right moves later on in the hand or possibly win a pot through your aggressive play that others wouldn’t have won. On fourth street make sure that you protect your hand, or fold it, depending on what you learned on the flop, what card came off, and the way the betting came down. On the river, look to call down your opponents because of the pot-odds principle, but be leery of calling two bets on the river
The majority play hands are 6-6, 5-5, 4-4, 3-3, 2-2, A-x suited, and K-Q. “A-x suited” simply means an ace and any other card of the same suit, like Ad-4d, Ac-5c, As-2s, Ah-3h, etc
6-6 strongest out of majority play hands while K-Q is weakest
The intermediate-level majority-play-hands strategy will be more “swingy” than the top-ten-hands strategy. By swingy, I mean that you’ll find that your chip stack goes up and down both more frequently and for higher amounts when you use this intermediate-play strategy along with the top-ten-hands strategy. For example, you may now lose a small pot or win a big pot when you play Ac-3c against your opponent’s A-Q (most of the time you’ll lose). Using just the top-ten-hands strategy, you would never have gotten involved in this hand, so your chip stack wouldn’t have had to endure the swings up or down that this confrontation can create
Similarly, you will lose many small pots when you play hands like 2-2 or 3-3, but you will also win some really big ones when you flop a set, the poker slang term for three of a kind. Of course, you’re not guaranteed to win when you flop a set, but I like your chances! The problem is that you will flop a set only one time out of every 7½ attempts. That’s why playing this hand will cause you to lose a lot of small pots: most of the time you’ll miss the flop, but you’ll be smart enough to fold when you do, and when you do hit the flop, you’ll probably score well
In most tough games, you’ll see a lot of folding before the flop. When everyone folds up to the player on the button, then that player will usually raise in the hope that the small blind and big blind will fold their hands too. If they do, then the button player gets to keep the blind money
The power of the blind steal is related to the fact that the button player has the best position. Being on the button gives a player the advantage of position, in that he will act last during the whole hand. In Hold’em acting last (having position) is a huge edge. If you’re powerful, weak, or somewhere in between, you can sit back and wait for all the other players to reveal their strength or weakness before you act on your hand. Two good reasons for you to fold a marginal hand in the blinds when the button raises are that you’re in bad position and that the button may actually have a real hand instead of a weak hand
The pairs 2-2 through 6-6 as basically being of the same value before the flop in limit Hold’em
You will flop a set roughly once in every eight tries
Re raising with Small Pairs, before the Flop
I like to re raise with a small pair before the flop and then “represent” whatever hits the flop (to your opponents, you seem to have started with something before the flop, and to have hit it on the flop). This is a more deceptive approach, allowing a chance to win every pot you play. Imagine having made it three bets with 4-4 over the top of your opponent, and now the flop comes down A-8-2. Your opponent checks to you, and then you bet out with your 4-4, just as if you have A-K. Your opponent now folds his K-Q, and you have won this pot fairly easily
By re raising, you’ll win more pots, but you’ll also get yourself into trouble more often. Consider the following scenario. You have three bets in with 4-4, but the original raiser has K-K. He decides just to call your raise and then play his hand hard on the flop if an ace doesn’t come. This is a common strategy for people who hold aces or kings. The flop comes down 7d-8d-2c. This appears to be a good flop for you. After all, it’s unlikely that the original raiser has a seven or an eight in his hand, so unless you’re up against a big pair instead of the more likely two big cards, you’re winning at this point. The K-K bets out and you raise him, and now he reraises (three-bets) you
You have a fair amount of money already invested in this pot. If you had known your opponent had kings, you would have thrown your hand away, but it’s also possible that he could have been playing a big flush draw this way. You end up calling him all the way down, only to have him show you K-K. You have just lost a fortune using my reraising approach! Every approach offers its own risks and its own possibilities
Small Pairs When the Mouse Has Come in Raising You have 3-3 in late position, and a mouse has raised in front of you. A mouse raising, as you will recall, is a scary thought indeed! Both theories are now in agreement: the mouse probably has your 3-3 beat with a higher pair. So what to do? My reraising approach doesn’t advocate reraising when you’re almost certain that you’re beat. Folding your hand at this point is clearly the best idea. Why put in your money as a 4½-to-1 underdog to the mouse’s higher pair, which he probably has? You can throw away a lot of “majority play hands” and some “top ten hands” when the mouse comes in raising!
But if you feel that others will call the mouse’s raise behind you (something possible to probable in a low-stakes game where the other players haven’t even noticed that the mouse is someone who doesn’t raise very often), then calling is OK. If you do flop a set, then you’ll probably win a big pot. Frankly, I would probably call the mouse’s raise, thinking that the most I could lose would be two small bets, but the most I could win would be a lot of bets. In this calling scenario, I’m looking to collect from the other players more than from the mouse. In other words, I would be thinking that if I flop a three, I win big; but if I don’t, then I’ll just fold my hand, having lost little
Raise and “Isolate” the Jackal You have 3-3 in the fourth position and a jackal has raised in the second position. My theory says reraise (three-bet) and “isolate” the jackal (play the crazy player one on one) with your 3-3. The “call to build a pot” theory says just call the bet. But even if you subscribe to it, that theory and the notion of isolating the jackal aren’t mutually exclusive. Nonetheless, people who like to call and build large pots tend not to use the more aggressive isolation play. Small Pairs—Don’t Call Three Bets! You have 5-5, and it has been two bet and then three bet in front of you. For the “majority play hands,” as opposed to the “top ten hands,” calling three bets is a bad idea. Just fold your 5-5 and live to fight another day. Still, if nearly every hand in your game is being three-bet, then by all means call the three bets! (In a crazy game like that—which by the way, I love to play in—sets tend to play well and win huge pots.) Even at low stakes it is unusual to play in a game where every pot is three-bet, so folding small pairs for three bets is the norm. In general, then, fold all small pairs for three bets unless you know three things: that more or less every hand in your game gets three-bet or four-bet; that your bankroll can handle the wild swings this is almost certainly going to create; and that your emotions can handle things like flopping sets and losing to people who make straights with hands like 2-3 off-suit (this can be tough to swallow!)
How to Play A-x Suited before the Flop
Once you add A-x suited to the arsenal of hands you play, you need to pursue this hand within certain constraints:
- A-x suited is not a hand you would ever want to call three bets with before the flop. Perhaps if your hand is A-10 or A-J suited, and you’re in the big blind, then it’s OK. But with only a very few exceptions, you don’t ever want to call three bets with A-x suited.
- When no one else has entered the pot in front of you, you should usually make it two bets with this hand. This way your raise seems to be representing a strong hand, and you may just end up winning the blinds if no one calls your raise. With these types of weak hands, picking up the blinds is a good result.
- When anyone else has already limped into the pot in front of you (just called one bet), you should call that one bet. For the intermediate-level player, this play is slightly better than making it two bets. If you then hit the flop, you can play your hand hard, but if you miss the flop, you can fold your hand, having lost only one bet.
- If someone raises in front of you, then just call the two bets. The one exception is that you could three-bet a jackal with A-10 or A-J suited
Playing K-Q before the Flop I think we can safely move on now to the play of K-Q before the flop. When you’re considering calling a raise with K-Q, pause and consider some more, because most of the time your hand is beaten! In fact, if a mouse were to raise, I would just throw this hand away before the flop. A certain small percentage of the time, the first raiser will have A-K or A-Q, in which case you’re in particularly bad shape!
Let’s look at a quick list of rules for K-Q
- Never call three bets with K-Q. You just don’t want to get yourself in too deep with this hand before the flop. If it’s three bets to you to go, then you can be almost certain that your hand is beaten, and probably in bad shape.
- Always raise it to two bets with K-Q before the flop. Whether someone else has limped in front of you or not, make it two bets to go. Representing hands in Hold’em is a strong way to play poker.
- If it’s two bets to go to you, then use your best judgment regarding whether you should call the two bets, raise it to three bets, or fold. If a mouse made it two bets, then fold your hand; if anyone else made it two bets, then call; if a jackal made it two bets, then sometimes you might make it three bets to go (this is more of an advanced play). But what if an elephant made it two bets to go and then a mouse called the two bets? Here, too, use your best judgment. Calling and folding are both OK, but when you’re on the fence, don’t forget to take position into account (it’s a much easier call on or near the button).
The play of K-Q before the flop is thus relatively simple. Notice that it is almost exactly like playing A-x suited before the flop. The only difference is that with A-x suited you should call just one bet when there are limpers before the flop, whereas with K-Q you should make it two bets with other limpers. (When you have A-x suited you’re hoping for more opponents.)
Playing the Majority Play Hands on theFlop Although you can still use “raise to find out where you are” as a strategy with “majority play” hands, it’s not as powerful a move as it was in playing the top ten hands. Now that we’re playing the majority play hands as well, two things will change dramatically. The first is your table image; the second is the power of the hands you’re playing.
Your table image is the way the other players in the game are likely to be viewing you. When you’re playing the top ten hands only, people will fear your hands when you raise the pots, because you’re playing only very powerful hands—if they’ve been paying attention (but remember, some people won’t pay attention, no matter how consistently you play). Now that you’re playing some weaker hands too, your opponents will fear your raises less and therefore call (or raise) you more. When you add the “majority play hands” to your acceptable starting-hand list, you’ll find yourself playing well over twice as many hands as before. Therefore the power of the average hand that you’re playing will go way down, and in time your more astute opponents will begin to perceive that as well (your table image is now altered). Both of these changes will have a direct impact on the way you should play your hands on the flop. You should continue to raise to find out where you are in some hands, but now discretion and deception become very important
Playing Small Pairs (2-2 through 6-6) on the Flop:Pump It or Dump It In general, if there are four people in the pot when the flop comes down and you have a small pair, you need to flop a set in order to continue playing your hand. Of course, if you have 6-6, and the flop comes down 3-4-5, this too is a good flop, although certainly not as strong as flopping the set. When you have this kind of flop, you want to raise to protect your hand, because although there’s a reasonable chance that you have the best hand at the moment, all you have at this point is a pair of sixes, a hand clearly vulnerable to overcards that could give someone else a higher pair. Of course, if you get callers and then make your straight (preferably with the deuce, because then you’ll get a lot of action from anyone holding an ace), you’ll want to continue raising—for the same reason you want to raise when you flop a set: you have the best hand and want to “pump it.”
When the flop comes down J-Q-2 to your 6-6 with four players in the pot, then use some discretion and (in most cases) fold your hand: “dump it.” The “pump it” tactic is used either to protect your hand, by raising to eliminate your opponents on the flop, or to get more money into the pot when you have a strong flop. “Dump it” is used to save bets, by using your best discretion to fold your hand on the flop, thus losing no more bets
Playing Small Pairs on the Flop You have 4-4 in the fourth position, and the player in the second position (two seats to the left of the big blind) makes it two bets to go. You’re playing my theory—“three-bet with small pairs”—before the flop, so you make it three bets. No one else calls, and the flop is Q-10-3. The player in the second position then bets out into you and you raise him, thus “representing” a queen (or perhaps K-K or A-A) but also gaining information. If your opponent re raises you, then either you’re already beaten (this is more likely) or your opponent has a straight draw, and it’s time for a decision. If you feel you have him beat at this point, then you may want to reraise him. Or you might decide that your opponent has you beaten and fold your hand on the flop. You might decide simply to call his reraise on the flop and defer a decision to call or fold when you see what drops on fourth street. I would call one more bet and make a decision on fourth street heavily weighted toward folding, but trust your instincts here
If your opponent just calls your raise, then he may still have you beaten, with something like A-10 or Q-J. But if he doesn’t have you beaten, then he most likely has some sort of straight draw like K-J, A-J, or A-K. Therefore, any 9, J, K, or A would be a terrible card for you on fourth street. Let’s look at the way this hand would be played on the flop if you had just called the two bets with your 4-4 before the flop. In this case, it’s likely that at least one other player will have called the two bets before the flop. Suppose one of them was the big blind, since it costs him only one more bet. Now the big blind checks after the Q-10-3 flop, and the preflop raiser bets out. You have to use a bit more discretion here because you also have to worry about the big blind behind you. I would probably just call the bet in this case and see what the big blind does. If the big blind were to fold, then I would make a decision about this hand later, on fourth street. (In this case, it’s all about how you read your opponent on fourth street.) But if the big blind were to raise the bet on the flop, then I would just fold my hand right there. And if the big blind were to call the bet, then I would assume that he has some sort of straight draw, or maybe a mediocre piece of the flop with something like 10-8 or 3-A
Suppose now that the button player and the big blind both call the two bets before the flop. So we have the second position making it two bets, you calling the two bets with 4-4 in the fourth position, and now the button and the big blind calling the two bets as well. The flop comes down Q-10-3. Now the big blind checks and the original raiser bets out on the flop. What do you do? With three other opponents still in this hand and two overcards on the board (Q-10), folding is the proper play. Moreover, the fact that the second-position original raiser has bet out into you, and there are two other people behind you yet to act, is a little bit scary in this scenario. You just have to give up and fold
Playing Small Pairs: Flopping a Set You have 2-2 on the button, the second position raises, and then the fourth position calls the two bets. You play in my style and make it three bets to go, everyone calls, and the flop comes down 2-4-J. You have flopped a set! You should put in as many raises as you can, both to build the pot and to protect your hand.
If you’ve used the other approach and just called before the flop with your 2-2, and then get your 2-4-J flop, nothing changes in your postflop approach. You still put in as many bets and raises as you can in order to build a pot and protect your hand. No matter how you play your small pair before the flop, when you hit a set it’s time to “ram and jam” (raise and reraise). Sets usually win or lose (a majority of the time sets win) pretty good-size pots
Playing Small Pairs: Good Flops, Protecting Your Hand Assume that you have 6-6 in the small blind, the third position has raised before the flop, the fifth position has called the raise, and now the flop comes down 2-4-5. Now it’s your turn to act. You bet out, and the third position calls the bet. Now the fifth position makes it two bets, so you reraise (making it three bets) in order to protect your hand. This is a great flop for your hand, and you need to reraise in order to get rid of the original raiser. At this point, the only hands that can beat you are overpairs, and in any case, you have a straight draw to go with your hand. Maybe the original raiser has K-Q and your reraise forces him to fold his hand. If you don’t drive him out, you may lose the pot to him by allowing him to call just one more bet in the hope of catching a king or a queen
Suppose you’re taking the approach where you just call the two bets before the flop, and the big blind calls. Now it’s your turn to act. Because you haven’t shown too much strength before the flop, you might want to try checking with your now powerful hand, and then raising when someone else bets out into you. Sometimes the “check-raise” plays can help you eliminate your opponents and therefore help you protect your hand. But betting out into the flop works well also. In either case, you want to “ram and jam” (raise and reraise) your hand with this flop in order to protect it
Playing Small Pairs: Terrible Flops Some flops are so bad for small pairs that you should just run for cover, no matter whether you’ve just called two bets before the flop or made it three bets. If the flop comes down Q-K-A, it’s time to fold as soon as possible! Of course, if I had been using my three-bet approach I would bet on the flop when it was my turn, on the off chance that all my opponents might fold their hands, giving me the pot right there. It could also happen that I get called on the flop and then hit my set card on either fourth street or the river. Such things are possible. But I would not call a bet on this flop; I would not call a bet on the turn; I would not call a bet on the river; I would not bet on either fourth street or the river. All I would do in this case is make that one bet on the flop when it’s my turn to bet
Playing Small Pairs: Good Flops When you have 4-4 in a pot, flops like J-J-3 or 10-10-2 or 9-9-3 are good for your hand; there is in fact an excellent chance that your two pair are the best hand at the table at this point. So put in some bets and raises, for two reasons: first, to find out if you do have the best hand; second, to protect your hand. When you face mixed overcards like J-10-3, you’re in trouble, but when a big pair lands on the flop, it’s much less likely that someone already holds the key card. For example, in the J-J-3 flop, there are only two jacks left in the deck; had the flop come J-10-3, there are six cards—three jacks and three tens—in the deck that would beat you. So with the J-J-3 flop, your pocket fours are the best hand unless someone has a higher pair or one of the two remaining jacks (both are unlikely)
Reraising before the Flop Leads to Betting on the Flop When you’re playing the small pairs the way I suggest (reraising with them before the flop), a lot of times you’ll end up playing three-bet pots against only one or two opponents. When this happens, be sure you bet the flop aggressively, so as to gain information about what your opponents may have. Suppose for example that you’ve made it three bets before the flop with 3-3, and then the flop comes down A-K-9. If your lone remaining opponent checks, then go ahead and bet once. You never know—he may just fold for the one bet. Perhaps he too has a small pair, or he holds 10-8 suited or something of that sort
Playing A-x Suited on the Flop: Hit It or Fold It In the discussion of preflop situations, I said that if no one else has raised the pot before the flop, and you have A-x suited, then you should make it two bets to go. In general, if you’ve done that but missed the flop, you should bet out once anyway, thus representing that you’ve hit it. If an opponent calls your bet on the flop when you’ve missed the flop, prepare to fold your hand soon. There is no need to get too involved with A-x suited if you miss the flop, and no warrant for bluffing off too much money with this hand. If you’re the raiser before the flop, then take one “shot” (bluff) at the pot and give up if you get called
Where someone else has raised the pot before the flop, I’ve been recommending that you just call his two bets. In general, if you’ve done that but then missed the flop, then you should fold your hand. Again, there’s no need for you to get involved in such a pot by calling or raising. Just throw your hand away, save some chips, and forget about it
With A-x suited you’ll see a lot of different flops that hit part or all of your hand. You may have Ad-7d when the flop comes down J-10-7; this one is trouble for you (because you hit just enough of the flop that you may decide to play on until the end and lose a bunch of chips). You may have Ad-7d when the flop comes down A-7-4, a terrific flop for you. You may have Ad-7d when the flop comes down 8-7-2, a reasonably good flop for you. You may have Ad-7d when the flop comes down 7-5-2, a strong flop for you (top pair with top kicker). Finally, there are dream flops for Ad-7d like Kd-Jd-2d (ace-high-flush) and A-A-7 (top full house)
Playing A-x Suited on the Flop: Flush Draw Suppose that an elephant has made it two bets in the second position before the flop and then a jackal in the fourth position has called the two bets. Now you call on the button with Ah-3h, and the big blind calls as well. The flop is 9h-Qh-2s, and the big blind checks. The elephant bets and the jackal raises. What do you do? You have flopped the “nut” (best) flush draw. If another heart comes off the deck, then you have made an ace-high flush
This is a reasonably strong flop for your hand. With this strong draw, you’ll make the flush about one-third of the time, and occasionally you may win simply by hitting your ace, so you must either call the two bets or raise it to three bets to go. My instinct in this case would be to raise. Who knows what the jackal has in this hand? He may have a flush draw or a straight draw, in which case you have him beat with your ace high at this point. Your raise may eliminate the elephant (who may have the best hand!) and get you one on one with the jackal, whom you may have beaten. The worst-case scenario for you, if you make it three bets to go, is that the elephant makes it four bets to go and you end up having to call one more bet
In general, I recommend playing a nut-flush draw very aggressively on the flop, especially when you have position, as you do in this example. This hand all but requires that you call a bet with it on fourth street, and if it were mine I would want to put in a lot of bets on the flop and then bluff at the pot on fourth street even if a bad card comes off. Alternatively, I’d put in a lot of bets on the flop and call down one opponent on the end with my measly ace high if there’s any chance that this opponent was drawing to something as well. Sometimes the size of the pot that you create by playing the nut-flush draw aggressively will necessitate your calling on the river with merely ace high, because the size of the pot may tempt other players who are on inferior draws to make desperation bluffs at you. You win these often enough, with your ace-high river call, to justify this play
Playing A-x Suited: Bad Flop Suppose that a jackal has raised before the flop, and you have called his raise with Ad-5d, and then the big blind calls as well. If the flop comes down Js-Qh-3d and the big blind checks and the jackal bets, fold your hand. You have missed the flop (you don’t have either a pair, a straight draw, or a flush draw); you have only two bets in the pot at this point; and you were the caller before the flop, not the raiser. There is no warrant for getting further involved in this hand.
Suppose now that a jackal has called one bet before the flop, and you’ve raised it with your Ad-5d. Then the big blind and the jackal both call and the flop comes down Js-Qh-3d. If they both check to you on the flop, then go ahead and bet once on the flop. They may both fold at this point. If one of them does bet into you, just fold your hand. Other than taking one shot at the pot on the flop when you were the preflop raiser with A-x suited, what you really want to do when you miss the flop is fold your hand
Playing A-x Suited: Hitting Second Board Pair A jackal in the second position raises before the flop, and you call with As-9s in fifth position. The button and the big blind call as well. The flop is 10h-9h-2s, and the jackal bets out into you. This situation seems to be a good time for a raise. To have you beaten right now, someone has to have a ten in his hand or an overpair (a set or two pair are also possible). You also know that the jackal could have anything at this point in the hand
Let’s try the same situation, but let’s say that the big blind bets out this time and then the jackal raises on the flop. What do you do? It’s time to use that newly developed reading power you’ve been working on. There are two possibilities here: you have the best hand or not. With this flop (10h-9h-2s), it’s possible that you still have the best hand with your As-9s. Perhaps one of your opponents has J-9, and the other has the J-Q for an open-ended straight draw. Maybe one of your opponents has a straight draw and the other has a flush draw. But you may also be in a lot of trouble with the way that the action came down on this flop. Perhaps one of your opponents has a ten (for a pair of tens) and the other has a flush draw. If this is the case, then you need to hit one of two aces left in the deck (the Ah makes a flush), one of two nines left, or consecutive spades (called “runner-runner,” not something you want to depend on!) for a backdoor flush. So if one of your opponents has you beaten, then you’re really an underdog to win this pot. Whether you call two bets or fold in this case depends on how you read your opponents
Playing A-x Suited: OK Flop Suppose you’ve called an elephant’s early position raise with Ac-6c on the button. The big blind calls the raise as well, and the flop comes down Jh-Jd-6h. Now the big blind bets out and the jackal raises. What do you do? Read, read, and read your opponents. If it were my hand and if I didn’t have a read on my opponents, I would reraise (make it three bets) to find out where I am, especially given that the raiser was a jackal. Your opponents need to have an overpair or three jacks to have your two pair beaten at this point in the hand. They may have the three jacks, or they may have 6-7 or K-6 or a smaller pair or a flush draw. Raise it in this spot, unless you have a strong feeling that you’re beaten, in which case fold
Playing A-x Suited: Marginal Flop Suppose you’ve called an elephant’s early-position raise with As-10s and then three other players call, including the big blind. The flop comes down Jd-10h-8c, and the big blind bets out and the elephant calls. What do you think, and what do you do? I wouldn’t raise, because I figure that there is an excellent chance that the big blind has me beaten, and with five players in the pot, what are the chances that I have the best hand? But calling and folding are reasonable options. I would lean toward calling, but with two other people behind you and the big blind leading out, I could also make a pretty reasonable case for folding your hand right there. What did the elephant, the original raiser, call the one bet with on this flop? It seems pretty likely that he has A-Q, A-K, or K-Q, all of which would give him a straight draw. The reasons why I lean toward calling a bet on the flop in this situation are these:
- You may have the best hand
- There are already six big bets in this pot
- Calling will cost only one more small bet, and perhaps both opponents behind you will fold their hands
- You may hit an ace or a ten on fourth street and wind up winning this pot because you called that one bet on the flop
- It’s possible that everyone will check the rest of the way (no one will bet on fourth street or the river) and that you win the pot because you called one small bet on the flop. (Don’t hold your breath hoping for this to happen!)
Playing A-x Suited: Flopping a Draw Suppose that a mouse in second position has raised it up before the flop and the jackal on the button has called. You then called as well in the big blind with Ad-8d, and the flop is 5d-6c-7s. Generally, when you flop an open-ended straight draw (you need a four or a nine to make your hand) in Hold’em, especially when you’re drawing to the big side (in this case a nine-high straight as opposed to having A-4 and drawing to the small side or eight-high straight), you’re well advised to play this hand all the way to try and hit it. What do you do now? You know that you are going to have to call on the flop, and on the turn as well, if you miss making the hand on fourth street. You also know that the mouse has a strong hand and that the jackal could have anything. I would be thinking, “I hope the mouse has A-K so that I can bluff him out of this pot.” (We all know how tightly the mouse plays!) I would also be hoping that the jackal has a hand that I can beat, but that he can bet with, for example A-4 or K-8 or J-8 or some other straight draw. Perhaps I would check with my hand, hoping that the mouse checks and the jackal bets. Then I could check-raise, making it two bets to the mouse and therefore forcing him to fold his A-K or A-Q. Of course, what I really want to do is complete my straight on the turn or the river. You could also decide to bet right out into the mouse on the flop, to see what he does. The mouse would either call you or raise you; it’s hard to imagine him folding this flop, just because he’s a mouse, which means he had a pretty strong hand before the flop. If he were to call me, I would try to bluff him out on the next two rounds of betting, thinking he couldn’t call me down with A-K—because he’s a mouse! If he were to raise me on the flop, then I would call him and check to him on the next two rounds of betting (unless I were to make my straight). I’m assuming that the mouse would just call on the flop with A-K and raise me with any overpair
Playing A-x Suited: Second Pair with Mouse Suppose that a mouse has raised in the third position and an elephant has called on the button, before the flop. You call with As-8s in the big blind because it’s only one more bet to you in the big blind. Normally you wouldn’t call the mouse’s raise with this hand, but you’re getting a discount! The flop comes down 9-8-3. What do you do here? I’d want to bet out here to see what the mouse does. If the mouse were to raise me, then I’d probably call the bet, but I’d fold my hand if the mouse bet on fourth street (unless I’d caught an A or an 8). If the mouse just called me on the flop, then I’d figure that I have him beat (I’d put the mouse on A-K or A-Q) and I’d continue to bet with my hand all the way. If the elephant were to put in a raise on the flop, then you’d have to read him the best that you could. You’d want to call his raise on the flop and see what card comes up on fourth street and whether the elephant bets on fourth street or not
Playing A-x Suited: Strong Flops, Slow Play When you hit a really strong flop for your A-x suited hand, you have to decide how to collect the maximum number of bets. Usually, you can win the maximum by jamming the pot (putting in as many bets and raises as you can) after the flop. But sometimes, in order to give the impression that you’re weak, you need to slow-play your hand—put no bets or raises in on the flop. If you’ve just flopped a “monster” (a huge hand) and someone bets out into you on the flop, you might want to just call one bet in order to draw your other opponents into the pot. Why raise everyone out of the pot when you flop a big hand? If your table image is weak or wild, you can raise on the flop because no one thinks you have anything anyway. If your table image is strong or tight, you’re better off letting someone else bet your hand for you, even at the cost of missing some bets on the flop, in order to increase the chance that you can collect lots of bets on the last two rounds, when the limits are doubled
Playing A-x Suited: Strong Flop, Slow Play or Not Suppose that a jackal in the first position raises and you call with Ac-4c in the third position (even in this early position, this is a pretty easy call against a jackal). Now the fifth position and both blinds call the raise as well. The flop comes down 10c-9c-6c, and now the big blind bets out and the jackal raises. What do you do now? You have flopped the nut flush! The others can’t beat you unless they flopped a set and the board gives them a pair, or unless they catch perfectly on both of the next two streets (you can’t live in fear of runner-runner)
If you reraise and make it three bets to go on the flop, you might drive out the fifth-position player and both blinds, and that’s not what you want. You’re not going to drive out anyone who flopped a set (that is, anyone who has a reasonable chance to beat you); you’re going to drive out only people who need a miracle to beat you. This is the time when you should just call the two bets and hope that everyone else calls as well. Or better yet, just call, hoping that everyone else calls, and hope that the big blind reraises it. This is a time to keep as many players in the pot as you can on the flop, because in the next two rounds of betting the limits are doubled
If everyone checks to you on the flop, then you should bet out one bet rather than checking. After all, you have to give the other players a chance to check-raise you on the flop! You have to start building a pot sometime, and the flop is the place to make sure that you get at least one bet in the pot. Making the pot larger now may encourage people whose hands are still trailing badly to call for the size of the pot later (they may call bets later because they want to try to win the big pot out there), when they (although they won’t know it) have little or no chance to win
Trying to lure in the maximum number of bets in a hand is a nice problem to have, but doing it well every time can be tricky. Most of the time, in most pots, no one gets the maximum anyway when playing with a monster hand. After all, we can’t see everyone else’s hole cards. So just strive to get as close to the maximum as you can
Playing A-x Suited: Strong Flops, Slow Play? When you have Ad-7d, and the flop is Ah-7h-3s, you want opponents in the pot, but you want to make sure that you protect your hand as well. In other circles, this would be known as wanting to eat your cake and have it too. Suppose that four people are in the pot, and the player in front of you bets out. What do you do? You could just call and let people in for one bet, but you might then let 8s-8h in the pot for one bet and then lose the pot to the 8s-8h when an eight comes off (in this case you’d lose a lot of chips as well!) or lose it to a heart-heart finish. I would raise on the flop to protect my hand and build that big pot right there and then. Maybe your surviving opponent has As-Ks, and maybe he’ll reraise you on the flop
When you flop the nut flush or a full house with your A-x suited, it’s time to try to extract from your opponents all the bets you can. This may well include slow-playing your hand on the flop. When you flop two pair with your A-x suited, then it’s time to protect your hand by jamming the flop as much as possible. You’ve flopped a strong hand, but it’s still much too vulnerable for slow-playing. If you flop trips (three of a kind) when it comes 7-7-J and you have A-7, then it’s time to examine the situation more closely. Should you slow-play or not? How many opponents are there in the hand? Are there two to a suit on the board on the flop? Generally, I will jam it with my trips in order to protect my hand. Most people slow-play too much, and they risk letting opponents back into positions where they can beat the slow player. Not only is this a big financial setback; it’s the kind of defeat that can put a player on tilt
We could talk all day about how to play your A-x suited after a marginal flop. What it really comes down to, though, is this: when you have a marginal flop with A-x suited, try to read your opponents to decide what to do with your hand. If you feel that they are weak, raise. If you feel that they are strong, fold. Don’t forget to raise to find out where you are at if you aren’t quite sure. This play is a great way to sort things out in your mind
Playing K-Q on the Flop: Hit It or Fold It I consider K-Q the weakest of my “majority play hands.” Some pros may consider A-6 suited the weakest, because one might make a straight with A-2 suited. Others may consider 2-2 the weakest. A good argument can be made for any of these hands being the weakest of the majority play hands. Be that as it may, K-Q gets my vote for the weakest hand of the lot. This is a hand you need to hit on the flop if you are going to continue playing it
Of course, when the flop is 4-10-J, and you hold K-Q, then you have an open-ended straight draw. In this case, you need to play the hand all the way to the end, in the hope of hitting your straight. The trouble flops for K-Q are something like A-Q-2 or A-K-5. You have flopped second pair (the kings or queens) with top kicker, and this hand is just strong enough to get you into trouble. You can’t beat any ace, but you can beat almost every other hand. Of course, it’s always nice to see K-Q-4 (top two pair) or 10-J-A (nut straight) when you have K-Q!
When you do hit K-Q, it is important to protect your hand by jamming the flop. K-9-2 and K-J-4 are pretty strong flops when you have K-Q. Without going into any further examples, suffice to say that K-Q is the kind of hand that you fold if you miss the flop, but jam with if you hit the flop, period
How to Play the Majority Play Hands on Fourth Street
Fourth street is the time to dump those hands that you decided were no good on the flop, now that the bets have doubled in size. Obviously, if you’ve hit a strong hand or a good drawing hand on the flop, then you’ll continue to play the hand in some manner. If you flopped a set, two pair, a straight, or a flush, then you’ll be doing a lot of betting and raising (jamming the pot) on fourth street. If you have flopped a strong draw, then you’ll either be in the lead in the betting or just calling other people’s bets at this point in the hand, depending on how you played your draw on the flop.
Fourth street is also the time to evaluate whether or not your opponent has hit his draw. Sometimes it’s obvious that he’s hit his hand; he’ll reveal that by being easy to read. Perhaps he’ll all but jump out of his seat when the card comes off the deck! At other times, the card that comes off the deck is the one you knew would be the worst possible card for you, and now you’re almost certain you’re beaten
Sometimes, of course, you’re the one who hits the draw on fourth street, and now you have to decide how to win the most from your hand, from here on out. Of course, this is a nice problem to have! Maybe you need to jam the pot, or perhaps you need to “smooth-call” someone else’s bet—merely call when you have a raising hand—in order to lure other players into the pot at this point
Tricky plays like smooth-calling and slow-playing generally offer bigger payoffs in pot-limit or no-limit than they do in limit, where you can’t grab one giant bet from someone on the end; but even in limit these plays are an important part of the good player’s arsenal
Jamming the Pot This is the counterpart of the example of slow-playing given above. Sometimes, when you hold the nut hand, you just need to jam the pot on fourth street, in order to make the pot as big as it possibly can be. But it’s hard to know the right time to jam the pot, rather than smooth-calling someone else’s bet. Generally, it depends on whether someone has bet right in front of you or not. If someone has, then you usually want to smooth-call the bet. But if someone has bet and several others have already called that bet, then it’s time to go ahead and raise it up
Protecting Your Hand with a Raise The principle of protecting your hand by way of a raise is also very important in Hold’em. (“Protecting your hand” is all about making raises when you have a strong hand, so that you can eliminate players, thus giving yourself a better chance to win that hand.) It can mean the difference between winning and losing a pot. Suppose that you have Ac-3c (A-x suited), and garner two pair with Ad-10d-3s on the flop. Now on fourth street 9c comes off the deck for Ad-10d-3s-9c. Someone now bets into you, and you just call the bet. But because you just called the bet, you let a jackal in with K-Q, and he hit a J on the end to make a straight. Clearly, even the jackal would have folded his “belly buster” (inside-straight draw) for two big bets; but for just one, he was able to dream about a jack and convince himself that hitting a king or queen might win also. Because you didn’t protect your hand here by raising, you wound up paying the ultimate price in poker; you lost a pot that you should have won
Folding Your Hand When you’re involved in a big multiway pot and there’s been a lot of raising on the flop, watch out for indications that the drawing hands have hit on fourth street. Suppose you have 6-6 and the flop came down 2d-3s-4d. On the flop you have three opponents all putting in some bets. Still, you’re pretty sure that your hand is the best hand on the flop. But what if the worst possible card for you comes off on fourth street? Then what do you do? To me the worst possible card here is Ad. If Ad comes off the deck, then the straight draw (any five in your opponent’s hand), the flush draw (two diamonds in an opponent’s hand), and any ace (like A-K or A-4) all get there and beat you. If this card comes off of the deck, then you’d better look to exit stage left immediately. When you face a situation like this, ask yourself, “What are they holding that’s driving them to put all this money into the pot on the flop?” Probably straight draws, flush draws, pairs, and ace high. Folding your hand on fourth street wisely when the draws appear to have been hit is considered an art form
Playing the Marginal Play Hands on the River For the top ten hands on the river, I advocated making a lot of calls on the river, because of the large size of the pots with the top ten hands. Often, in my advice to beginners, you should be in the lead with a strong hand (you’re the bettor), and it would be your opponents who were calling you down
Now, with the weaker marginal-play hands, you will often be calling your opponents’ bets. Sometimes, situations will come up where you’re calling someone down with your A-3 (calling all the way to the end) and a board of As-Ks-4h-7c, and then the last card is Js and someone else bets into you as well. In this case you were calling just one opponent, whose hand probably had your pair of aces with a weak kicker beaten. Now, when a third party bets out into both of you when the flush card hits, folding your hand would seem to be the wise move
But you may also end up with A-10 and a board of 10s-Js-4d-5h, and then see the river produce Qh. Now what do you do? If there had been a lot of action on the flop here, then you were probably playing against either a spade flush draw, a straight draw, a pair of jacks, or an overpair. With Qh on the river, you can now beat only the flush draw, assuming that the flush draw didn’t have a Q with it. The point is that you may have already been in trouble with the A-10, but with this last card and two other opponents still in the action, you shouldn’t even think about calling on the river. Again, playing the marginal play hands, as opposed to the top ten hands, may put you into some bad situations when it’s time to ponder calling on the river
You’re still getting pot odds to call someone on the river—the payoff could be huge—but if you can make four or five prudent and well-timed folds a night, that will add up to some serious money by the end of the year! Learning when to call with your marginal-play hands on the river, or fold them, will become clearer as you gain experience
ADVANCED POKER STRATEGY
All these advanced concepts should be used with great caution. Most of them shouldn’t be used by anyone other than the top pros, because most of them are highly “read-dependent.” In other words, when you’ve advanced to the stage of your poker career when you’re able to read your opponents well, then your chances of using these concepts successfully will be greater
Generally, in order to play suited connectors, you need to have multiway action (at least three players in the pot). Generally, you don’t want to call three bets with these types of hands. Nor do you want to play these kinds of hands too often. The best time to consider playing suited connectors is when you decide to reraise (three-bet) someone you feel is weak, before the flop, in the hope that you’ll be taking the pot away from this player later in the hand. Stealing the pot with these suited connectors is quite similar to the concept of stealing from the blind stealers
The problem with playing suited connectors is that they don’t win the pot very often. You might, for example, play 7d-8d or 9s-10s and hit a hand that will just get you into a lot of trouble. You might make top pair or second pair or even a flush and still lose a big pot. So the best way to play these kinds of hands is very carefully! If you’re an advanced player, you understand that it’s very difficult to fold the 7d-8d when the flop comes down 2-6-7. If you’re trying to play suited connectors, you have to learn how to fold them at the right time. This takes finesse, skill, and, above all, reading ability
Three Limit Hold’em Situations Appropriate forPlaying Suited Connectors Situation 1: One situation conducive to playing these hands is when someone has raised and two or three players have already called in front of me. Here I’m investing two bets with at least three other opponents. In this situation, I like to have at least 5-6 suited or higher. I don’t see much value in 2-3, 3-4, or 4-5 suited: the pairs, straights, and flushes these hands might make are all too low. To show you what I mean, if I’m playing a hand like 3-4 suited, I’m hoping to make a straight. It’s not that I object to making a flush, but mine would be the worst possible flush, and I could easily lose to a higher flush. So I’d rather make a straight, but unless I hit the hand absolutely perfectly with A-2-5, my straight is probably going to be on the low side of what’s available.
For example, if the flop comes 5-6-7, I have indeed made my straight, but I’m vulnerable to people who are playing higher suited connectors: 8-9 just buries me, 7-8 gives my opponent top pair with an open-ended straight draw that can easily beat me, and both 5-6 and 6-7 leave me vulnerable to losing to a full house. Someone with pocket eights will be trouble, too. But if my suited connectors are a little higher, I’m not quite as vulnerable to losing a big pot. I’m not going to hit a suited connector hand too often anyway, and when I do hit it, I want to be reasonably sure I’m going to win with it
Playing suited connectors, I’m hoping to hit the flop pretty solidly; if I don’t, I just surrender my two previous bets on the flop and fold the hand. I’m also prepared to jam the flop if I think I’ve flopped the best hand, in order to protect it
Situation 2: The second favorable situation arises when I have suited connectors in the blinds, because I get in for a discount. In other words, calling two bets in the big blind amounts to calling just one bet, since it was I who posted the first bet in the blind
Situation 3: The third situation involves messing with other players’ heads and making myself more unpredictable in other players’ eyes. In this situation, I’ll make it three bets over the top of someone who I think is raising the pot with a weak hand in front of me. I may three-bet (reraise) a jackal when I’m on the button with 5d-6d in order to try to steal the pot from him
If I am able to take the pot away, by forcing everyone to fold, then I’ll just place my winning hand facedown. But if I get caught bluffing, then I’m more than happy to show the whole table my hand and say, “Six high.” When the other players realize that I reraised with 5d-6d before the flop, then I can expect to receive a lot of extra action for a while! After I’ve shown down six high once or twice, then it’s time to play the top ten hands only, for a while, and wait for the players to give me their chips. They’ll still be thinking that I have nothing (six high!), but I’ll be showing them some real hands for a while. This pattern tends to keep many players off balance, and eventually they may decide they don’t want to mess with me
Calling with Suited Connectors The idea behind calling two bets with suited connectors is to try to win a big pot. So I’m looking for a lot of opponents when I consider calling two bets with this hand. It doesn’t make sense to me to call two bets with 8h-9h when no one else has called before the flop. In other words, I’m looking for good pot odds for this type of drawing hand. An occasional big pot pays for a lot of failed attempts
Suppose that someone raises before the flop in early position and now two other people call the raise in front of me. I’m on the button with 4d-5d. I simply fold this hand, because 4-5 is below the suited connector line that I like to maintain. In this same situation, if I have 7-8 suited, then I’ll go ahead and call the raise, trying to get lucky on the flop or later
Suppose that a mouse in early position makes it two bets to go and now two other players call the two bets in front of me. I’m on the button with 9c-10c. In this case, although two other players have already called the raise, I’ll probably fold my hand because the original raiser is a mouse. (When a mouse raises in early position, I’m always looking for an excuse to fold as soon as possible!) Of course, if the original raiser isn’t a mouse, I would call with my 9c-10c. My rule for playing suited connectors is this: if two other people have called two bets (a raise), then I’ll call with my hand (assuming that it’s above the 4-5 line)
Calling with Suited Connectors in the Blinds Usually, I will call two bets in the big blind with any suited connectors, even the weak ones like 2-3. After all, in the big blind it will cost me only one more bet to call, since I have posted one bet already. In the small blind, too, I will defend with most suited connectors, but I’ll usually draw the line at 4-5 suited because it will probably cost me 1½ bets more to call the two bets in the small blind. With 10-J or J-Q suited, I’m usually willing to call three bets in the blinds.
If I have 6-7 suited in the big blind and a mouse has made it two bets to go, then I will call if at least one other opponent calls, and I may call if I’m the only one left in the pot. Although I don’t like to mess with a mouse’s raise, the 6-7 suited in the big blind may bring a big reward for me if I hit the flop, and of course it will cost me only one more bet to see if I hit it. Moreover, a mouse is generally easy to read: he probably has a big pair or AK high when he raises before the flop
By risking one more bet to call before the flop, I may win a lot of bets from the mouse. And if I run into a troublesome flop like 10-6-4, then I can usually figure out fairly easily whether the mouse has me beaten or not. Again, in general I don’t like to mess with a mouse’s preflop raise, but being in the big blind (a discount) with suited connected cards is the time and place to do it
If I have any suited connected hand in the big blind before the flop, then I’ll call someone’s raise (two-bet), period
If I have J-Q or 10-J suited (they’re both worth about the same before the flop) in the blinds, then I will in general call three bets (a reraise) before the flop. Of course there are exceptions: a mouse’s three bets will force me to lay down my hand for sure! I have learned that it’s very hard to beat Q-Q, K-K, A-A, or A-K with Q-J or 10-J suited! Use your own discretion when you’re deciding to call three bets with J-Q or 10-J suited in the small blind. If you have a bad feeling that the three-bettor has a big pair, then just throw your hand away before the flop. Remember, you’re getting only a half-bet discount, not much compared with the 2½ bets you would need to add, and you’ll be playing the hand out of position for every betting round. The same thing applies to Q-J or 10-J suited in the big blind, although calling isn’t ever a terrible play unless it’s against someone who is a consistent mouse
Three-Betting with Suited Connectors: Messingwith the Other Players’ Heads It’s time now to talk about advertising—a way of messing with players’ heads in order to confuse them and induce action later on: three-betting someone with a suited connected hand like 6-7 suited. Why suited connectors? A suited connector is the kind of hand that you might hit easily when you’re out there making a play. It’s said that timing is everything in life, so how do you time this crazy move? Before I go any further, I want to stress that it is a play you shouldn’t use too often, and, further, that it’s important to use this play against the right people. I would never use it on a mouse, for two reasons. First, the mouse is set in his ways and won’t give you any extra action no matter what you do. Second, why take 6-7 suited against a big pair (which is probably what he has), when it’s so hard to win that pot? Early in the evening is the perfect time and situation to use this play, because then you may get extra action all night long! Why use it when only a few more hands are to be played, when you won’t gain the benefit of extra action? In general, three-betting an opponent with suited connectors is a losing play for that one hand, but you make the play occasionally anyway because it will bring you extra action for another hour or two. This extra action will ultimately bring you more money, but it may also cause you to lose some pots that you ordinarily would have won when someone who now thinks you might be in there with any piece of junk runs you down with a really weak hand. Still, reraising with this type of hand will mess up the other players’ attempts to read you. In the future when you three-bet preflop, they will begin to wonder whether you have 6-7 suited
If you win one of these pots without having to show down your hand, then I recommend folding your hand facedown and trying the same play again soon. As long as the play keeps working and you don’t have to show your hand, continue to use it. But when you’ve been caught bluffing with one of these hands on the end, then flip it faceup and say, “I have nothing.” Even better is when you do hit your hand and flip it up at the end of the hand and say, “I have a straight!” It’s pretty funny to watch the players at the table study your hand and realize that you three-bet before the flop with your 8-9 suited! When you show down weak suited connectors that you three-bet with preflop, make sure that you’re ready to play really tight for a while, since you will get extra action for a time afterward. Just make sure that you have a strong hand when they do call you down later
Stealing from the blind stealers is a very advanced Hold’em play. I’m not sure that it’s a winning play, but it definitely falls into the realm of advanced Hold’em play. Personally, I like reraising players whom I suspect of stealing the blinds with a hand like any two cards ten and above (called “20” in honor of its value in blackjack), such as 10-K or 10-Q. I also like reraising with any ace. This play is a lot more effective if you reraise in a better position than the original raiser. (If the raiser is two or three off the button, then being on the button—and acting behind the raiser—gives you an edge, because you act last.) Reraising with 20 is a lot more solid than just reraising with 5-7 off suit, because you have a playable hand when you get called (and everyone will call one more bet when he’s already made it two bets). Nonetheless, it is important to talk about stealing from the blind stealers with a really weak hand. I know of a couple of world-class limit Hold’em players who absolutely love to reraise the “live” (weak) player in the game with nothing at all in their hand, in order to steal the pot from him or outplay him later on in the hand. This reraise of the live player in the game also causes them to isolate themselves against the live player because the reraise usually drives the other players out of the pot. So the reraise (three bet) of the live player isolates that player and gives the better player a chance to outplay him later on in the hand. And when you give this kind of extra action to the live player, he also gives you extra action, and believe me, he’s the fellow you want extra action from!
A lot of good things can happen when you reraise the blind stealers preflop. If the blind stealer misses his hand (and remember, it’s hard to hit a hand in Hold’em—you miss many more flops than you hit), then he’ll often have to surrender his hand on the flop. You can also get lucky and win a big pot when you hit your own hand restealing
On the other side of the ledger, you can get yourself in a heap of trouble making a three-bet resteal with a weak hand. If the alleged thief has your hand beat, you’ve already put in three bets to little purpose when you were losing, and he still has both position (when you reraise out of the blinds) and has just as good a chance as you do to hit something on the flop. It just seems counterintuitive that you should be putting in three bets with 5-7 just because you suspect that someone is making a blind steal. Why not wait for a decent hand, one that is probably the best hand at the table preflop, before you three-bet it? This play may work best of all late in a Hold’em tournament when your opponent is more likely to throw his hand away on the flop, rather than risk going broke with a weak hand on the flop
A good time to trap is when you are sitting in late position with A-A or K-K and you suspect that both blinds will fold if you make it two bets to go. By just calling the one bet, you allow the players behind you to call before the flop. By slow-playing with A-A or K-K and looking for action, you’ll often get it. Sometimes, you need to be careful what you ask for! You may let the big blind play his 2-6 off-suit hand free by not raising before the flop, and then the flop may come 2-2-J and you are stuck in there losing a lot of bets because you trapped yourself. Still, sometimes I like to trap in this situation, and it usually works out pretty well for me (it’s pretty tough to beat pocket aces or kings)
Advanced Hold’em on the flop is really all about reading other players. If you read your opponent as weak and think you might be able to take the pot away from him, then do it! If you have flopped a big hand and you feel that betting will drive out your opponent when what you want to do is keep him in the pot, then go ahead and trap your opponent by checking on the flop. Use your reading ability on the flop to determine what you can and cannot do. You may have flopped top pair, but if you read that your opponent has you beat, just fold your hand, having lost the minimum number of bets. If you read your opponent as being weak before the flop and you are making a steal on him, then make sure that you follow through on your steal attempt, unless you then have a strong read that he has hit the flop well. Again, advanced Hold’em on the flop is all about reading your opponents. I know I keep mentioning reading the opposition, and I can’t teach you how to be intuitive. I can, however, tell you that a lot of the information going into my reads comes from working hard at studying my opponents, both when I’m in a hand with them and when I’m out. Intuition springs from a combination of matters that you can understand and explain, and others that you. The objective is to try to determine someone’s exact two hole cards in a hand. Through practicing guessing at what my opponent’s cards are, even when I’m out of a hand, I increase my own reading abilities
The real problem with advanced play—for all of us, whether we are world-class or beginners—is that it causes us to play too many hands. When we begin to win pots with 7d-8d (or see other players win with this hand), then we start to play 7-8 suited far too often before the flop. Pretty soon, 6-8 suited looks good as well. Playing suited connectors is like eating potato chips: once you eat one chip, you can’t help eating many more! Once you start to win with suited connectors, you begin to play them all the time. I’ve seen people think this way many times in the past, “Three bets to me when I have 9d-10d; sure I’ll call. Why not, when I’ve been winning with these types of hands all night?” Beware of overplaying suited connectors. If you’re not careful, before long you’ll tell someone, “Man, was I unlucky with 6s-7s today. I called three bets and the flop was 8-9-10, and then…” Buddy, if you called three bets with 6s-7s, then you got what you deserved!
Being able to act last is a huge advantage in all forms of Hold’em. Imagine, you can just sit back and wait for all your opponents to act in front of you. “Just sit back and all will be revealed to you” isn’t exactly the case, but it is nice to know where the other players stand. If the others check, then they’re generally weak. If you have a powerful hand, then you can raise it when they bet. If you have a weak hand, then you can check behind them when they check. Having position in Hold’em is always good
NO LIMIT HOLDEM STRATEGY
My “NLH fifteen” cards to play are all the pairs, plus A-K and A-Q
The idea behind playing only the NLH fifteen hands is that you will be playing hands that will win you big pots. These are the hands that you’ll most often double up with: put your $210 into the pot and win a pot of $420+). The NLH fifteen strategy is very conservative but very effective against other beginners
To win NLH tournaments or larger NLH side games, you would need to play more types of hands, but here I’m addressing beginners’ play
The “NLH fifteen” strategy is simple. With these hands, you’ll put yourself in some very good situations. You can “double up” when you flop a set. You can double up by getting your money into the pot with A-A, K-K, Q-Q, or A-K before the flop. You can even double up with 9-9, 10-10, or J-J, after the right kind of flop. The best thing about sticking to this strategy, at least in the near term, is that the game becomes easier when you play poker this tight.
Beginners: If You Hold A-A, K-K, Q-Q, or A-K before the Flop, Bet It All When you have one of these top four hands in NLH, you can almost always justify shoving all your chips out there before the flop. There are very few exceptions to this advice, and virtually no exceptions for the beginning NLH player. For the more sophisticated player, you will, once in a blue moon, be wise to fold Q-Q or A-K before the flop. If you’re to do this, however, you should have some very strong evidence that your opponent holds K-K or A-A. The evidence might be that someone has made a big raise and then a mouse has moved all-in for a mountain of chips. A mouse reraising someone with all his chips should set off an alarm or two in your head!
Beginners: Trapping with the Top Four Hands The trapping theory for NLH applies mostly when you have A-A or K-K. Some players like to just call someone else’s raise or reraise before the flop when holding A-A or K-K, in the hope that the move will trap someone into giving them all his chips after the flop. This is a dangerous theory with a risk-reward hazard that any expert in game theory would love to look at! Most of the time you should just go ahead and reraise with A-A or K-K and hope that your opponent either moves all-in right there with a hand like J-J or Q-Q (which makes you a 4½-to-1 favorite) or folds his hand. Reraising is the safe way to play A-A and K-K; it prevents you from losing all your chips in some situations. You’ll lose them all less often when you reraise with A-A or K-K, but you’ll also usually get less action on these hands. When trapping works out, you look brilliant; but when you bust yourself trapping someone, you look like an idiot
The trap works like a charm when you have A-A or K-K and your opponent has a hand like A-J, and the flop is 2s-2h-Jh. You may force your opponent with A-J into losing all his chips in this scenario because he may think you have K-J or a flush draw. Trapping with aces can go badly for you, however, when your opponent hits his flop really well, as when he raises with Qd-Kd and you just call and the flop is K-Q-4: now you can kiss your chips good-bye. (However, think of the chips you’ll win trapping with K-K on that same flop.)
Your trap could get uglier still if the raiser has 8c-9c, and now the flop is 5-6-7! In both these scenarios of trap gone bad, you would have won the pot had you reraised before the flop, but instead of winning the pot before the flop you have trapped yourself into losing all your chips! I rarely trap with any big hand, but some circumstances encourage me to try it. Trapping with aces is obviously safer than trapping with kings
Beginners: Reraising J-J, 10-10, or 9-9 beforethe Flop J-J, 10-10, and 9-9 are strong NLH hands, and you should reraise with them when someone raises before the flop. With these three hands you really want to use the reraise to win the pot before the flop, because you’re probably winning at that point and because these hands are very vulnerable to overcards on the flop. Sometimes, when you smell weakness in your opponents, you can make a stand with one of these three hands and put in all your chips. In general, though, you want to reraise someone else before the flop, and if he or someone else puts in another raise (a third raise) over the top of you, you should just throw your hand away. These three hands are usually in a lot of trouble when an opponent puts in the dreaded third raise! You’re roughly a 4½-to-1 underdog with an underpair against an overpair in Hold’em. (The exact odds depend on which two pairs you’re comparing, but 4½ to 1 is close enough for most table estimations.) Beginners: Pairs 8-8 and under and A-Q— ThreeDifferent Theories Let’s examine three ways these eight hands (8-8, 7-7, 6-6, 5-5, 4-4, 3-3, 2-2, and A-Q) might be played in NLH. In my view, these small pairs and A-Q are the kinds of hands that you want to take a flop with; thus they are hands worth one raise before the flop, or even worth making the first raise yourself. If you’re raising with one of these hands, then raise about the size of the pot So you can just make the first raise with one of these hands and, hopefully, win the pot when everyone folds before the flop. But you don’t want to put in very much money with these kinds of hands before the flop. Ideally, you want to call a small raise (or the initial blind bet) or make a pot-size raise yourself before the flop, and then hit your hand on the flop (a set is a great hand) and win a huge pot! Again, my theory is that you want to call a small raise before the flop or make a pot-size raise before the flop to try to win the pot before the flop
Intermediate NLH theory: Adding A-x Suited Now we’ll simply add A-x suited to the mix of hands that you play. The ramifications of adding these hands are two: you can get yourself into trouble when you hit an ace or the x with an A-x suited hand, and you will occasionally make an ace-high flush
Try not to lose too much money when you hit an ace with your A-x suited hand. In NLH most of the value of A-x suited comes when you hit the hand hard, as when you make a flush, two pair, or trips (when you make trips with the x card, it’s hard for anyone to notice). When you hit the ace only, as with Ac-3c and a flop of A-K-2, then watch out! Don’t get overinvolved in this situation, because anyone putting in big bets against you will almost certainly have you beat, unless he’s bluffing. In limit Hold’em you can just call someone down in a situation like this, without doing too much damage to your chips, but in no-limit doing that could cost you a big chunk of your chips
When you do hit your hand hard, then you need to figure out how to win the maximum number of chips with it. You should also be thinking about protecting your hand, especially when you draw a flop of 8c-8h-9c and you have As-8s. In this case, your opponents could be drawing to a straight or a flush. Keep this in mind when you think about betting a small amount to lure your opponents into the pot. The funny thing is that you want action with this hand and this flop, but you can’t just let someone beat you for free. If you knew that your opponents didn’t have a straight or a flush draw, then you could check on the flop, hoping for a lot of action on the next two rounds of betting. Betting out with a hand like this may cause someone with a drawing hand to raise you, and now you can reraise and win the pot right then and there
Trying to determine the cards your opponent holds is a great game when you play poker, and it will help your reading skills immeasurably. If you’re bad at it at first, don’t worry—your reads will get better and better
If someone raises a very small amount before the flop (less than 5 percent of my chips), I will often call with suited connectors and take the flop. When I do this, I’m putting a lot of pressure on myself to read my opponents well. Sometimes it works out beautifully and I have a huge flop and win a big pot. Sometimes I have to scramble and make a great fold in order to save chips. Sometimes I bust myself because I can’t get away from (can’t fold) my hand after the flop
I’m capable of trapping with big hands like a pair of tens, jacks, queens, kings, or aces, but I’m very careful that I don’t trap myself with these hands! I rarely use this play, because it can be very dangerous in NLH. I absolutely hate getting all my chips in with any hand. When you are all-in you can go broke! Of course, if I have the best possible hand on the last round of betting, then I love to get all my chips in. I try to avoid getting all-in in NLH unless it can’t be helped. More often than I probably should, I will throw away the best hand when I play NLH. I will throw away very strong hands if I believe that they’re beaten, no matter how much money is already in the pot. When you can do this, you can escape losing situations and even consider that you’ve gained an emotional win. I folded pocket kings before the flop at the World Championships in 2001 when my opponent opened for $1,200, I reraised him to $3,800, and he then moved my last $12,000 all-in. I thought he had pocket aces, so I folded my hand, rather than risk my last $12,000. As he was throwing away his hand facedown, I said, “Show me pocket aces!” Amazingly, he did show them
The ability to throw away strong hands is a mark of an NLH champion
I often protect my hands with huge bets and raises
For a good or great player, or someone aspiring to be a good or great player, anything that takes away your options in NLH is bad. Sliding a mountain all-in to try to win a molehill takes away all your options and is a very risky play as well. One bad move like this, and you find yourself out of options when the player behind you jumps up from his seat because he has pocket aces. It’s too late now to take advantage of this new information, because you’ve already made your big move all-in!
Huck Seed’s Suited Connector Play This is the theory of calling other players’ raises with suited connectors, such as 6d-7d or 8c-9c or even 3s-4s. These are excellent drawing hands in NLH. Ideally, you want to call an opponent’s $400 bet with a hand like 4d-5d when he has another $10,000 to $20,000 left in front of him. This way, if you hit your hand, you may win that other $10,000 to $20,000. So the idea is to call a small bet from your opponent and win a large stack of chips when you hit your hand
If you want to play this way, try not to risk more than 7 percent of your chips before the flop with these suited connector hands
Playing the suited connectors requires an excellent read of your opponents, so that you don’t get yourself into trouble when you hit some of these hands halfway. Before you try this approach, make sure that you’re reading your opponents almost perfectly. I would never recommend this theory to any novice or intermediate-level player!
With suited connectors you might also just end up drawing to the lower straight or flush and wind up losing all your chips when you hit it!
LIMIT TOURNAMENT PLAY
Jack Keller simply tried to win every pot that he played. He never just called someone else’s raise before the flop: he always either threw his hand away or three-bet it
Jack, however, always three-bet before the flop, even with only a small pair, and continued to play his hand aggressively from that point on in the hand. The percentage of pots that he won was much higher than the percentage of pots that I had won, for three reasons
First, Jack’s constant three-betting before the flop helped him win more pots by eliminating more opponents preflop. When you start with fewer opponents before the flop, you’ll win more pots
Second, Jack would play his hand pretty hard on the flop and win a lot of pots if his opponents had, say, king-high when an ace hit the board Third, Jack would just plain try to bluff you out if he thought he could
Tight play is also an important factor in success at tournaments. The really tight players tend to be around en masse fairly late in limit Hold’em events. These players tend to play almost as tight as the “top ten only” strategy
The right strategy against a group of supertight players differs from the right strategy against a group of average players. In fact, Jack Keller’s three-betting preflop with every hand that he plays is more successful against a supertight player who will fold his hand right away if he misses it. Which tight player is going to win the pot when Jack three-bets his 5-5 into his 7-7? For example, when the flop comes A-J-2, then Jack can win pretty easily with a bet on the flop. Although supertight play will help you last, you will need to change your tactics at some point in order to win. Therefore, I recommend playing the “top ten only” strategy for the first five or six hours of any Hold’em event while the weaker players are weeded out. After the first few hours of playing this strategy, it is time to switch tactics a bit.
Stealing the Blinds Helps You Survive Late inLimit Hold’em Events At some point after the first five or six hours, it’s time to start stealing the blinds from the supertight players who are still alive in the tournament. But be wary of stealing the blinds from the looser players or the champion players, because they will probably defend with skill. Stay aware also of the person who keeps stealing your blinds, because at some point you will have to make a stand against that player. If you take a close look around your table about six hours into the event, every time you enter one of these events, after a while you will develop the ability to see into the future a little bit. For example, there will probably be someone at your table who is playing way too loose but nonetheless is still alive. You may worry that this player may continue to be lucky, but chances are that he will bust himself out sooner rather than later, because of his reckless play. There will also be a player at your table whom you will recognize as being very tight, and you can figure that he or she will probably be around very late in the tournament, although probably low on chips.
When you start to reach the money-cutoff stage (when, say, there are 19 players left, and the tournament pays only 18 spots), make sure that you have your priorities straight. As the other players begin to play even tighter, in order to last until the final 27 or 18 players, you need to understand that making the money isn’t your objective at this point. You are here to finish in the top three and make the big money
One phenomenon you will observe is that when there are 28 players left in an event paying 27 places, the players will all play even tighter, in order to be sure they “make the money.” This is the time to be sure you’re stealing every blind you can steal! If no one is going to put up a fight, then make sure you grab all this “free money”! So what if you are eliminated in the “stink hole” (often called the “bubble”)? In other words, so what if you finish twenty-eighth when the event is paying only 27 spots! Does twenty-seventh place change your life at all? If it does, then just do what everyone does and play supertight. Just be warned that I will be there picking up your blinds every round.
This strategy—“steal while they’re in survival mode”—has helped me (and many other players) accumulate chips that become important when I’m later trying to advance into the final rounds and win the tournament. But you have to be a little careful with it. Enough players have learned about the strategy to defend the blinds with aggression of their own. Not everyone will go into a shell. You have to know your players and pick your spots
Once you’re in the money, things and people change. It’s important that you take note of just what these changes are. If your opponents are playing too tight, steal their blinds. If they’re playing too loose, you play a little bit tighter
When you’re in the money, you should still be waiting for some really high-quality hands before you get too involved in any pot. Remember that the limits are high, and you should be thinking about playing very tight, because at high limits losing one big pot can be devastating. If you can get away with stealing some blinds, do it; but with the limits way up there, every hand will cause a major swing in your chip count. So it’s better just to sit back and watch the action and continue to survive. And when you do pick up a top ten hand, you’ll be taking your shot at the pot with some power.
Sometimes I just wait for a big hand in a limit Hold’em tourney and let the cards decide how long I’ll be around for that day. If I catch good cards and win, then I might win the whole enchilada. If I catch good cards and lose, then at least I’m happy that I went out with some top ten hands
When you decide to play a huge pot, then you’d better have a huge hand. I’m always looking for A-A, K-K, Q-Q, J-J, 10-10, or A-K before I get involved in a big pot. In fact, I never feel too bad after I’ve been eliminated late in a limit Hold’em event if I know that I lost some big pots with some big hands. Even though I hate losing a big pot late in one of these events with A-A, what more could I have asked than the chance to play a big pot with A-A? Ultimately, I feel pretty good knowing that an opponent had to put a lot of money into the pot with his Q-K or whatever against my A-A
One good time to trap is when you’re in late position and no one else has entered the pot yet. This is a good place to just call one bet, to see if anyone else enters the pot behind you. In this scenario, if you make it two bets to go, then you’ll probably just win the blinds. But by smooth-calling, you will at a minimum force the big blind to take a free flop. Just remember that in this case you’re asking for action when you have a big hand. We all know that you should be very careful what you ask for, because you may get it
Another time when I may smooth-call with A-A or K-K is when I’m in the big blind and someone else has raised, and it’s just myself and one other opponent in the pot. I smooth-call in order to trick my opponent into thinking I’m weak (that is, merely defending my mediocre blind hand), so that he will give me a lot of action the rest of the hand. Just remember that smooth-calling in limit Hold’em with big hands can work out very badly or perfectly, depending on the way the cards fall. When you smooth-call with a big hand, you really are gambling
You’ll be able to determine what kind of players your opponents are by the number of pots they play and the type of hands they show down. If you notice that a player hasn’t played a pot in a while, the early evidence suggests that he may be a mouse type. Of course, if you play at the same online room over and over again, you will start to understand from past experience what type of players the others are
Remember, though, that the sword cuts both ways in online poker. The other players won’t know anything about you except what you let them see. If you are raising a lot of pots, the other players will think that you are a jackal, especially if you show down some weaker hands. You may show some of your weaker hands at the end of the hand even if you don’t win the pot, in order to convey the illusion that you are a jackal. Or you can show your strong hands faceup at the end of a hand in order to give people the impression that you are a mouse. In general, I like to show my strong starting hands faceup, to make people think I am a mouse. Then I will be able to bluff more pots in the future, because they think I always have a big hand. (In lower-limit games, however, it is pretty hard to bluff someone out on the end!) Even though you can’t read other people’s facial expressions, there is still plenty of information available about the way they play Hold’em. You can also confuse the other players by showing down weak or strong hands in order to give them the wrong impression about the way you play Hold’em
Other things to watch include the amount of time a player takes to make a decision, and the number of other games a player is in. If players are in another game, they are likely to lose concentration, and you may be able to take advantage of this weakness by playing more aggressively against them. A good online “tell” is whether or not a player bets his hand right away. Sometimes you can figure out if a quick bet means a hand or a bluff. A quick bet is usually a sign of weakness, and a slow bet is usually a sign of strength. Everyone in poker is an actor, and when people bet slowly they are usually trying to say to you, “I don’t know if I should bet this hand or not. Let me think. I’m pretty weak right now.” At least that’s what they want you to think when they bet slowly on the end. By contrast, a quick bet is meant to convey an impression of strength; they’re saying, “I have a huge hand, and I’m going to bet because of this.” You might not want to believe it, though!
I am recommending that you use the “top ten only” strategy when you play online poker at a 10-handed table
If you intend to risk $100 online, make sure that you play no higher than $1–$2 limit. This way you will have 50 big bets to play with, and you will give the “top ten” strategy a chance to succeed for you. With 50 big bets, you will have a decent shot at turning $100 into a lot more money over 40 hours of play using my online strategy
However, 50 big bets are still not much money in a poker game, and 100 big bets are a much safer amount to start with
Heads-up poker is strategically much different from a full game. Interestingly, some players who are jackals in a full game tend to do very well in a heads-up game. Perhaps the reason is that they are already used to playing many hands aggressively. Being a tough player in a nine-handed Hold’em game requires patience, discipline, and aggressive play. However, being a tough player in a heads-up Hold’em game requires superaggressive play, good reads in almost every hand, and the ability to play bad hands well (so to speak). Notice that I didn’t mention patience as an important trait in a tough heads-up player. This is because patient players usually don’t learn how to play bad hands well. Knowing when to bet with bottom pair on the end because you are certain that your opponent has ace high is an important ability in a heads-up match. In other words, knowing if and when you have the best hand is extremely important in heads-up play. While this may be important in any game of poker, you’ll have to do it far more often in heads-up play. When you’re playing against a player who bluffs out against you all the time heads-up, I recommend that you smooth-call with a lot of hands on the flop and on fourth street, and then raise on the river.
Slow-Playing against a Superaggressive Player Often, you will find yourself playing heads-up with a superaggressive player. When this is the case, I like to slow-play my hands. Suppose that I have Q-Q in the pocket and the aggressive player has raised on the button. Most of the time in this situation, I will just call him before the flop to trap him later on. Suppose that the flop is J-8-5. Now I like to check and just call again! Give him a little rope. Let’s say that the next card off is a deuce for J-8-5-2. Now I check again, and if my opponent bets, now I finally raise! If I trap my opponent here, he will be less likely to try to bluff on every hand, because he knows that I am capable of trapping him again soon!
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