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Poker Strategy - Beginner Players


Poker Jargon

This article is a quick glossary that explains the basic poker terms (flop, blind, etc.) and also some of the basic poker strategies (pot odds, outs). It is assumed that you know the basic rules of Texas Hold'em. (For a quick recap see the Poker Strategy homepage) For a more complete glossary, visit the Empire Poker School.

Blind (Small blind/big blind): These are the forced bets that take the place of an ante. The person to the left of the dealer must pay the small blind and the person after him must pay the big blind.

Board Cards: The cards in the middle of the table that are shared by everyone.

Draw: Drawing means hoping to improve your hand with the cards that will come on the board. You are on a draw when you want other cards to come out on the board to complete your hand. If you have 10 9 and the flop is QJ2, you are trying to draw an eight or a king on the turn or river.

Flop: This is when the first three cards come out in Holdem.

Implied odds: The same as pot odds (read below) except it takes into account making bets in the future. Thus, you may call a bet at the flop, but have implied odds of making bigger bets on later rounds if you hit your draw. So, if you have AK of diamonds and the flop comes two diamonds, your implied odds are what you have to call at the flop compared to how large the pot will be at the end of the hand.

Limit Poker: Poker with fixed bets. In a $2-4 limit game, all bets and raises are two dollars in the first two rounds (preflop and flop), and all bets and raises are four dollars in the last two rounds (turn and river).

Longhand: This refers to a poker game with seven or more people.

Outs: Number of cards that can improve your hand. If the flop is QJ2 and you have 10 9, you want a king or an eight to complete your straight. There are 4 kings and 4 eights in the deck, so you have 8 total outs.

Position: Where you sit at the poker table. The dealer has the best position because he bets last and therefore has a better understanding of what other people have in their hand. The small blind has the worst position because he goes first.

Pot Odds: This is the odds you are getting when you are drawing. For example, say you have Ace and 2 of diamonds and the board is King, seven, six- the six and seven are of diamonds. You are sure that someone else has the king. Nevertheless, there is a total of 9 other diamonds out there (13 – your two, - two on board), so you have a roughly 18% chance of hitting a flush on the next card. Thus, if the pot is 100, and the bet is 10, even though you are clearly losing, you have odds with your flush draw. However, let's say the pot is 100, you’re at the turn (one card left) and your opponent bets 300. The pot is 400 and you must put in 300 to see the river. Your pot odds are 300/700 which is too high, considering your chances of hitting your flush are about 1/5.

Preflop: When you just have two cards in your hand and there are no cards on the board yet.

River: This is the fifth and final card that comes on the board in Holdem, after the turn.

Shorthand: This refers to a poker game with six or fewer people.

Turn: This is the fourth board card that comes out in holdem, the card after the flop.

Poker Strategy - Thinking Like a Poker Player

THE FOUR KEY SKILLS

Poker pros are commonly described as tight and aggressive: "These poker pros do not play many hands, but when they play them, they play them like they had the nuts."

That's a nice general description, but it doesn't say much. And it's not even totally right about no limit games, as a solid loose, aggressive player is a person to be feared. Thus, when I think people say a player is tight/aggressive and therefore good, I really think they mean that the player has mastered four critical elements of poker.

#1. Math skills

  • Good poker players know general percentages. They know that you have about 1 in 8 chance of hitting a set when holding a pocket pair, and that you have about a 1 in 3 chance of completing a flush draw at the flop.
  • They know the importance of 'outs.' Outs are simply the number of cards that will improve your hand. Count your outs, multiply them by two, and add two, and that's roughly the percentage shot you have at hitting.
  • They can figure out the 'pot odds.' Knowing outs is meaningless unless it's translated into rational, calculated betting.

Knowing you have a 20% chance of hitting, what do you do then? Well, simply once you figure out your chance of hitting/winning, you divide the size of the pot at the river (i.e. the current pot plus the amount of money that you think will be added through future bets) by the amount you have to put in. If you have a 20% chance of hitting and the bet to you is 50, if the pot at the river will be greater than 250, call. If not, fold.

  • Math skills are the most basic knowledge. The purpose of this book is not to go over pot odds, implied odds, etc. That's day one reading. Anyone who doesn't understand these concepts should not play in a game until they do.

#2. Discipline

  • Good poker players demand an advantage. What separates a winning poker player from a fish is that a fish does not expect to win, while a poker player does. A fish is happy playing craps, roulette, the slots; he just hopes to get lucky. A poker player does not hope to get lucky; he just hopes others don't get lucky.
  • Good poker players understand that a different game requires a different discipline. A disciplined no limit player can be a foolish limit player and vice versa. A disciplined limit player is always very tight preflop. He or she will not play too many hands, only the ones that have a very good chance at winning.

    However, a disciplined no limit player is VERY different. This player is not so concerned with paying too many blinds; instead, he or she does not want to get trapped. The main difference between a disciplined limit and no limit player is that the limit player avoids piddling away his stack bit by bit while a disciplined no limit player avoids losing his whole stack in one hand. Hence, a disciplined no limit player can play a lot of hands. Preflop, he or she can be as loose as 'that' girl in high school. However, a good no limit player knows when to toss hands that will get him or her in trouble.

  • A disciplined player knows when to play and when to quit. He recognizes when he is on tilt and is aware when a game is too juicy to just quit while ahead.
  • A disciplined player knows that he is not perfect. When a disciplined player makes a mistake, he learns. He does not blame others. He does not cry. He learns from the mistake and moves on.

#3. Psychological Skills

  • A good player is not a self-centered player. He may be the biggest SOB you know. He may not talk about care about anyone but himself and may enjoy stealing food from the poor. However, when a poker pro walks into a poker room, he always empathizes with his opponents. He tries to think what they think and understand the decisions they make and why they make them. The poker pro always tries to have an answer to these questions:

    a- what does my foe have

    b- what does my foe think I have

    c- what does my foe think I think he has

  • Knowing the answer to these questions is the first step, manipulating the answers is the second and more important step. If you have a pair of kings and your foe has a pair of aces, and you both know what each other have and both know that you each know what the other has, why play a game of poker? A poker pro manipulates the latter two answers by slowplaying, fastplaying, and bluffing in order to throw his opponent off.
  • Good poker players know that psychology is much, much, much more important in a no limit game than in a limit one. Limit games often turn into math battles, while no limit games carry a strong psychology component. I would NEVER play against a solid computer 'bot' in a limit game. However, in a no limit game, that bot would be toast.

#4. A Clear Understanding of Risk-vs-Reward

  • Pot odds and demanding an advantage fall into this category. Poker players are willing to take a long shot risk if the reward is high enough, but only if the expected return is higher than the risk.
  • More importantly, they understand the risk-vs-reward nature of the game outside of the actual poker room. They know how much bank they need to play, and how much money they need in reserve to cover other expenses in life.
  • Good poker players are fundamentally slightly risk-averse. In economics, a person is defined as risk-neutral, risk-averse, or risk-loving, depending on how that person rewards the next dollar they gain or lose. Risk loving are perfectly happy risking their entire roll on an even odds bet, a risk-neutral person is indifferent towards it, and a very risk-averse person would never risk his whole roll. Thus, a good poker player is slightly risk averse b/c he demands a big enough advantage to not be considered 'risk-neutral,' but he tends to value every dollar in his roll equally. If you cannot afford to lose your entire roll, you should not be playing with that much money.

Poker Strategy - Bankroll

How much money should I invest?

This is an important question, with two simple answers.

If you are looking to just have fun, don't invest any more than is 'fun' to lose. Hence, if you're comfortable blowing 100 bucks, put in $100 and see if you can win with it. This is what I did. My original roll was only $100 but I built it up into my current, much more powerful bankroll.

If you are looking to make money, you should be able to bank 200 big bets at the limit you play. Hence, if you play a $2-4, you should have $4 X 200= $800 dollar roll. For $5-10, your target roll should be $2000. These numbers prevent you from blowing your entire bankroll b/c of one bad run.

Some may say that the 200 big bets is too low for shorthand, but I believe you need to be reasonable about potential losses.

You don't want to invest more than 200 big bets unless you've proven that you're successful at that limit.

Poker Strategy - Starting Hands

The first thing you must understand when you play Texas Holdem is which hands are good and which are bad. Though it depends on the number of people in the game and the type, here is a general guide to use when you are just starting out but want to be a winning player at the lower limits. I suggest starting out at a fixed limit of $1-2 or lower.

Hands to Raise with:

These are 'premium hands' that you want to jam the pot with preflop:

AA, KK, QQ, AK, JJ, AQ, 1010

Hands to call with:

You want to see the flop with these hands and then decide. Do not call three bets with these hands, call only one or two.

AJ, KQ, QJ, J10, 109 (only if of same suit),99, 88, 77, Ax (same suit)

Poker Strategy - Pot Odds

Once you hit the flop, you should use pot odds to decide your next action. When you hit the flop, either you will be winning or hopefully winning (with a made hand) or you want cards to improve your hand (you are drawing). If you have a made hand, you should bet and raise. You want to win the pot now because more cards can only help your opposition. An example of a made hand is if you hold AK and the board is KJ4.

If you do not have a made hand, you are drawing. You must use 'pot odds' to determine if you should call or fold. First, you must count the number of outs you have. An out is a card that will make your hand the best hand. For example, if your hand is KJ, and the board is Q 10 7, then your outs are 4 Aces and 4 9's, or 8 outs total. To calculate your percentage of hitting an out, you take the # of outs times 2, then add 2. Once you figure out this number, you multiply it by the pot to see what the maximum bet is that you can call. For example, if you have 6 outs (6 cards will help you), you have about a 14% chance of hitting. If the pot is $100 and you must call $10, you should call b/c you can call up to $14 (.14 X 100) but the cost is only $10. However, if the bet to you was $20, you should fold, because that would require a 20% chance of hitting.

Poker Strategy - Deception

Bluffing and Slowplaying are two deceptive techniques you should employ.

Bluffing

Contrary to popular belief, bluffing is almost useless in a low limit game (anything less than $2-4). Rarely will people not call to a showdown, so there is no point in scaring people out of the pot. I suggest waiting to bluff until you play at a higher limit. When you play at a higher limit, it's best to bluff when you 'represent' something and there are only one or two opponents in the pot. For example, betting at the flop with a high card on the board 'represents' a pair, raising when a flush is possible 'represents' the flush.

Slowplaying

Slowplaying means deceiving your opponents into thinking you have less of a hand then you do. For example, suppose you hold KK. The flop comes K33, so you flopped a full house! There is no need to scare people out of the pot because there is little chance of someone drawing out on you. Thus, you should wait to the turn or maybe even river to jam the pot with bets and raises. You should slowplay if two conditions are met:

1. You hold a whopper and there is almost no chance of someone drawing on you

2. You will only get action if some other cards come out that will improve your opponents' hands, but these cards are not good enough to make these hands beat yours.

Poker Strategy - Tilt

Being on tilt means letting your emotions disrupt your ability to play. All poker players go on tilt at least once during their career, but limiting these episodes is essential to winning at poker. Poker is a game that requires reason. If you have JQ of spades, and the flop comes AQ10, all of hearts, and there is a lot of betting action, you need to know to fold. If you were on tilt, you would let your emotions take control and make you do whatever it took to take down the pot. You would keep chasing, hoping to catch a king and hoping that no one had a flush.

In general, people who get upset and don't stay focused and reasonable will lose all the money they brought to the table.

Poker is almost anti-human in the way it triggers emotions but rewards people who are made of stone. I don't mean to scare you or act as if all poker players are unemotional stones, but it is imperative to stay focused and rational while at the poker table.

Generally, most players tilt due to a bad beat or if they just can?t seem to win a hand. Some players have a slight tilt after they win a big hand or two, but those episodes generally are much shorter than tilts caused by losing.

For example, take a hand I played recently. I had AQ and the flop came AQ2. I bet and was called. A 10 came on the turn. Bet, call. River was a 7. I bet and he raised. I decided to just call, thinking he may have actually had KJ. No, he had 77. The idiot had called me to the river with little hope but won on a very lucky river catch. Needless to say, I was not playing well the next couple of hands.

While going on tilt is natural, you need to limit it. Generally, the best way is to sit out a couple of hands and go on a walk. Another good way to handle a bad beat is to just think about all the bad beats you have laid in the past. After the bad beat I mentioned above, I sat back and thought about the time I stupidly went all in in a pot limit omaha with bottom set. I had 33J7, 3J7 of spades, and there was 368 on the board- the 8 was a spade. My opponent had 88, the best hand when all the money went into the pot. I was lucky enough to catch a backdoor flush on the turn-river and took down a huge pot. I went on to win the most money that day that I have ever won. If I had lost that hand, I probably would have called it quits and never would have won all of that money. Thinking about the time I pulled off this bad beat and went on to win such a huge sum helps me get through the times that some idiot rivers me.

Many people, myself included, tend to curse at the computer if they get bad beat. However, for myself at least, cursing is not nearly as therapeutic as thinking about that huge bad beat I laid at the omaha table. Cursing tends to make you more mad and will cause you to develop some bad habits. When you are about to go on tilt, sit out and think of happy thoughts (as cheesy as it sounds, it's true) and hopefully you can resume playing your best.

Poker Strategy - Adjusting From Home Games to Internet Games

Most people who play poker just played in a typical home game at first. The structure of these games was simple. Generally, everyone would ante a certain amount (say 25 cents) and then the betting was structured as to have a minimum and maximum bet.

For example, everyone would ante 25 cents and then the bets/raises would range between 25 cents to $2 each round.

The play at the home games was generally bet, call or perhaps bet,raise, call. Most hands would go to a showdown and generally the person who had the hottest cards (not one who necessarily made the best plays) would win at the end of the day.

Internet poker is very different from this in 3 ways: the ante structure, the betting structure, and the competition.

Ante Structure

First, unless you are playing 7 stud, there is no ante. The person to the left of the dealer must pay the small blind and the person after him must pay the big blind. These are forced bets. All the other players are not forced to bet anything to receive cards (they do not need to ante), but they must match the big blind or any raise to the big blind to see the flop.

Thus, a typical game, involving 6 people, with a small blind (sb) of 50 cents and a big blind (bb) of $1 would go as follows preflop:

Seat one: SB ($.50)
Seat two: BB ($1)
Seat three: Fold
Seat four: Calls BB ($1)
Seat five: Raises BB ($2)
Dealer (Seat six): Fold

Seat one: Fold
Seat two: Calls raise ($1)
Seat three: Calls raise ($1)

Then the betting would begin with the big blind (since the small blind folded) after the flop.

Betting Structure

In addition to the blind/ante structure being different in online games, the type of betting differs. The most similar to the spread limit (i.e. the minimum/maximum bet) would be 'no limit.' In other words, there is still the minimum bet, however the maximum bet is the amount of chips in front of you. The best place to play no limit is Party Poker or Ulitmate Bet.

There is a common myth at no limit that if someone bets more chips than you have, you must fold. THAT IS NOT TRUE. If Tom bets $30 and I only have $15, I only must put in $15 to call. Thus, Tom is essentially only betting $15 dollars if I'm the only person in the pot. However, if the pot is between me, Tom, and Jane and both Tom and Jane have $50 dollars, Jane must match Tom's bet of $30. The extra $15 would be in a sidepot. So, at the showdown, I would be in contention for $45 dollars and Tom and Jane would be in contention for the $45 plus the extra $30. Thus, if I have the best hand and Jane has the second best hand, I would win $45 and she would win $30. If Jane hand was in fact better than mine, she would win the entire $75.

Closely similar to no limit is pot limit, where you can bet any amount from the minimum bet to the size of the pot.

Finally, the most popular form of betting is known as limit. This type of game has fixed bets. For example, in a $2-4 game, the size of the bets are $2 or $4, depending on which round it is. In Texas Holdem and Omaha, each bet preflop and at the flop (when the 3 cards come out) is $2. If someone wishes to raise, he or she must do so by $2 dollars. Thus, in a 4-handed situation, this would be a typical case:

Seat one: Check
Seat two: Bet $2
Seat three: Raise $2 (to $4)
Seat four: Call $4

Seat one: Fold
Seat two: Call $4

The bets on the turn (when 4 cards are out) and the river (when all cards are out) would be the higher amount- $4. So, taken the above example, this is how the turn betting may happen:

Seat two: Bet $4
Seat three: Fold
Seat four: Raise $4 (to $8)

Seat two: Call $4

Competition

Finally, skill pays off more on the internet than dumb luck. People actually try to win because the money exchanged is often more than just nickels and dimes. You should not just call to the river 'just to see what he has' and such. You must use strategy to expect to win in the long run. Someone who plays his typical home game strategy may win at first, but will probably lose in the long run (unless his or her home game is particularly tough). The other strategy articles on this website will prepare you to become a winning poker player.

Poker Strategy - e-cash

By the time you begin to really make money at online poker, you'll have a great understanding of how the ecash system works.

But if you are new, here's a quick primer.

Don't use your credit cards at these websites. If you are a US citizen, chances are your credit card company has blocked online gambling purchases. Even if you are not, there are much more efficient ways to deposit/withdraw money. The best one is Neteller, though Firepay is decent as well.

First of all, many of you may be wary about not being paid. DON'T WORRY. Every site that I have listed (except Planet Poker)

I have sent and received money from. I trust these places more than I trust my university. Most of these sites will credit your ecash account within two business days. In fact, it is a major rarity if it takes longer than that. So deposit there, play for awhile, once you make money (say after a week), cashout some and it should be in your Neteller account within 2 days.

Anyways, here's an explanation of the more popular ecash options.

Neteller

This place acts as an e-cash middleman. It is a Canadian company with no direct ties to any government or pokerroom/casino.

How to deposit into Neteller: After you sign up at Neteller.com, you have two good options for depositing money. First, just deposit with a credit card. That's what I've always done. They charge you a small fee, but who cares. The second option is transferring money from your bank account. You should register your bank account with neteller. The process takes about 3 days. What happens is you put in your bank account information, and they verify it by sending you two small deposits of less than a dollar. When your bank account is verified, you can transfer money through an Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT) which takes about 3 business days. So, if you're new to neteller, it takes about 15 min to deposit with a credit card, but about a week to deposit straight from your bank account.

How to withdraw: There are two good ways. After you credit back any credit card deposits, they can just send you a check or they can EFT you the money to your bank account. This is why it's good to register your bank account with neteller; once you do so, you simply transfer your poker room winnings to neteller (about 1 day) then you transfer your neteller money to your bank account (2-3 days). I've never used an EFT to deposit, but I've made many EFT withdrawals.

Firepay

Sign-up at Firepay.com. This place acts as an online debit card.

How to deposit: You can't with a credit card. You must verify your bank account with them and then you write them an 'e-check.' In other words, you tell them how much to deduct from your bank account and they do it. The process is instantaneous (unlike Neteller, where it takes 3 days to send them money from your bank account).

How to withdraw: You can have them EFT you the money back to you. They charge you 10 dollars to do this and it takes several days. One problem though is that you must wait 6 business days after your last deposit to withdraw any money.

I heavily recommend neteller over firepay or any other ecash account for several reasons:

1. Firepay accounts sometimes take longer to credit back. I'm not exactly sure why this is, but a pokerroom that takes 1 day to credit back my neteller account will sometimes take a week to credit back my firepay account.

2. Some poker rooms will only send you as much money to your firepay account as you put in. They then force you to redeem your other winnings by check (which takes about a week) or neteller.

3. Firepay's only advantage over neteller is that you can send them cash from your bank account instantaneously for free.

However, with proper planning, you can avoid any major credit card fees with Neteller (either deposit a little with neteller through credit card or just wait the week and deposit with an EFT.) Yet, there is no way around that 10 dollar fee to EFT your winnings from firepay to your bank account.

So, in brief, create a Neteller account. It takes maybe 20 minutes to create it and fund it through credit card. You can withdraw your winnings to it easily and quickly. Once your money is in your neteller account, you can receive it quickly through an EFT or check (the checks take about a week unless you have them fedex it to you).

 

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