Tip # 1 of 52
A tight-aggressive playing style gets the money in hold'em.
Adopting a tight-aggressive playing style is a winning strategy in all forms of poker. You would have a hard time finding a poker game in which this is not the case. To play a winning game of hold’em, you should (and must) adopt this style of play.
How do we define “tight-aggressive”?
Tight means entering fewer pots than most of your opponents. Being selective by playing only quality starting hands is the key here. “Quality starting hands” is a relative term — sometimes hands that are good in one situation are quite weak in another, and vice versa. As this book progresses, you will learn to read situations and how your read influences which hands are playable, and which are not.
Aggressive means that when you do decide to enter a pot, you play the hand for all it’s worth. You place an emphasis on betting, raising, and check-raising. Checking and calling just does not get the job done most of the time. There are some situations in which this is the correct play (and the text will identify these situations for you), but they are the exception. By the way, an aggressive approach does not mean that once you decide to play a hand, you jam your foot on the gas pedal and don’t ease up until the pot has been played out. Like most things in life, hold’em requires discretion, and that will come from experience.
How the World Poker Tour Has Affected Poker PlayTne by-product of the recent popularity of the World Poker Tour (WPT) is that a whole new breed of poker player has been created. If you watch the show with your goal being to learn how to be a world-class poker player, you may be in for a rude awakening when you go to play. The problems with using the show as a learning device for live game limit hold’em are numerous.
Right away, realize that you are watching a different poker game. It may look the same; after all, the players are dealt two cards, and there are blinds, flops, turns, and rivers. That is where the similarities end, though. What you are witnessing is the end of a no-limit tournament, in which the blinds are high, the game is shorthanded, and the program has been edited to showcase the more interesting hands. Also, when you play in a brick-and-mortar cardroom or online, unless you are in a tournament, the blinds are not large compared to your stack size. You are probably in a nine- or ten-handed game. And you see all of the hands dealt, not just those that some producer thinks might turn out to be interesting. Loose-aggressive play seems to be a winning style on the WPT. The successful players are in there dancing around with hands that you toss into the muck without a second thought. And the thing is, they are correct (most of the time) to play these hands, and you are correct to throw them away. The reason for this is that we are dealing with totally different circumstances.As a newer player who has not yet developed a good understanding of the game, you may think it self-evident to emulate the style of play you witness on television. After all, if T-2 is good enough for a world-class player, it should be good enough for you. So, as a new “television era” player, you may enter the game playing an extremely loose-aggressive style, and believe that to be a winning strategy. In reality, what you are doing is playing final table no-limit short-handed poker in a full limit hold’em game. You will not win playing like this, unless your opponents are all doing the same (only doing it worse).
The Tight-Aggressive EdgeSo, how exactly does a tight-aggressive approach give you an edge over your opponents? If you have played much low-limit hold’em, you have probably found the games typically to be loose (with four or more opponents seeing the flop on average), and for many hands to go to the showdown. This means that to win you must show the best hand most of the time, as bluffing is difficult in these games (one more down side to being a TV student).The tight part of tight-aggressive means that you play fewer hands than your average opponent. Thus, it stands to reason that the quality of your starting cards is typically higher than those of other players, which in turn means that a higher percentage of the hands you play reach the showdown as the best hand.
By playing good cards aggressively, you win the maximum amount from your winning hands. If your opponents wish to stay in the pot against you with inferior cards, you should charge them as much as possible to do so. An added benefit of aggressive play (and a key one) is that you will win some pots that your more passive playing opponents do not, by inducing opponents to fold hands that ultimately would have won the pot. You can’t win these “default pots” by checking and calling.
Tip # 2 of 52
Hold'em is a game of position
In poker, position refers to when a player must act on his hand relative to the other players in the pot. When a player is one of the first to act, he is in early position. When a player is last or nearly last, he is in late position. Similarly, players with several opponents on either side of them are in middle position. These terms appear frequently in this book, which provides a clue about the significance of considering position in your hold’em decisions.
Late Position Advantage
As you begin to play hold’em, you quickly become aware of the numerous advantages of having late position in a hand. One of the most important advantages is that you generally have a decent idea of what kind of strength you are up against. For example, suppose you are holding 8-8. This looks like a good hand, and, in absolute terms, it is just that. It is not, however, a great hand, and it is often unclear how (or whether) to proceed with it.If you are in late position with your pocket eights, the actions of the other players influence how you play. Suppose everyone has folded to you, and only the blinds are yet to act. It is highly probable that you have the best hand, so you should choose to play it aggressively by raising the pot. Assuming the blinds call your raise, you now hold a positional advantage over them for the remainder of the hand. This means that on the flop, turn, and river, they must act before you, giving you the advantage of making your decisions with more information about your opponents’ cards than they have about yours. Let’s look at a different scenario in which you hold 8-8 in late position. This time, however, a tight player has raised and an even tighter one has reraised before the action has reached you. Once again, the useful information gained due to your positional advantage can be used. Clearly, your two eights are not the best hand here, and this knowledge, combined with the high price of entering the pot, allows you to safely fold your hand.
Early Position Disadvantage
Contrast this with holding the same hand in early position. Poker is a game of incomplete information, and the earlier your position, the more incomplete the information. Now, you don’t have the benefit of knowing what your opponents are going to do. You must make a poorly informed decision, and in poker these kinds of decisions are often wrong. In the case of the 8-8, sometimes it is the best hand (or at least playable), and other times it is way behind. Thus, the earlier your position, the less likely you are to know which one is the case. But the problems with early position don’t stop there. Once you decide to enter a pot by opening early (or decide to look at the flop from a blind position), you act before your middle and late position opponents for the remainder of the hand. This will cost you, in terms of both bets and pots. Because you must act first, you will at times be unsure as to whether a card helped your opponents’ hands. For example, you may check, when in fact had you bet your hand one or more opponents might have called with inferior hands. Your poor position has cost you one or more bets in this case. Worse yet, your apprehension about whether the development of the board has helped your opponents may cause you to check, when betting would have induced everyone else to fold. Now, suppose everyone checks behind you, and the next card comes. An opponent who would have folded for a bet on the previous betting round now improves his hand and wins the pot. For example, suppose you are first to act with 8-8, and the flop is K-9-7. If you are first, with three or four players behind you, you would probably choose (correctly) to check, as this flop is likely to have helped one or more of your opponents. However, suppose nobody can beat your pair of eights, and the hand gets checked around. Now, an ace comes, giving one of your opponents holding A-5 a better hand. Since this player would probably have folded on the flop had you bet, your check has cost you the pot. If you had the same hand in last position, however, it would have been correct for you to bet the flop once it was checked around to you, likely making you the winner of the pot.Playing Position Clearly, it is to your benefit to try to play most of your hands from late position. As a result, you should enter the pot only with premium hands when you are one of the first players to act. When you play only big pairs and big cards such as A-K from early position, your postflop positional disadvantage is partially offset by your hand being fairly easy to play after the flop. If you have a big pair, you stay aggressive on the flop in nearly all cases (the main exception being when your pair is smaller than aces, an ace flops, and several players are in the pot). If you have big cards, such as A-K, you tend to bet when you flop a pair, and check when you don’t (tempered by certain factors to be discussed later). These hands don’t require as much guesswork; thus, their postflop performance does not suffer as much from poor position as do more marginal holdings like small and middle pairs.Because you have the benefit of observing the actions of all your opponents, you can be much more liberal with your starting requirements when you are in late position. Don’t misinterpret “liberal” as “loose” or “sloppy,” though. Some hands are not profitable to play in any situation. Nevertheless, acting last allows you, first, to see how your hand figures to stack up against your opponents before the flop, and, then, to make well-informed decisions about how to proceed after the flop. Do not underestimate the value of position. It should be a consideration in nearly every decision you make in the game.
Tip # 3 of 52
Be aware of pot odds at all times
Pot odds is another important poker concept, with applications throughout the play of a hand. Essentially, pot odds refers to how the amount of money in the pot influences your decision to play or pass. For those of you new to this concept, here is an example to help clarify. Suppose you are holding K-Q, and see a flop of 3-T-J. As you can see, any ace or 9 will make you the nut straight. Also, a king or queen pairs you, which may or may not produce a winning hand. You can determine your pot odds if you know the following:
• how much money is in the pot• how much it will cost you to stay in the hand• what your chances are of making the best hand
For this example, let’s say that there is $100 in the pot, and it costs you $10 to call a bet. Also, for simplicity’s sake, assume that we are talking only about making your hand on the next card, and that you will win only if you make a straight.
You can express your likelihood of making the best hand by forming a ratio of the cards that miss you to the cards that make your hand. In this case, that would be 39-to-8. (This representation is called odds.) Of the 47 unseen cards, 39 are blanks (cards that do not make your hand), while eight (the four nines and four aces) make you a straight. You can also express this same relationship as a fraction, 8/47, or a shade better than 1 in 6. (This representation is called chances.)
Here, the difference between odds and chances is that odds usually refer to the unlikelihood of an event (like making a hand) and chances usually refer to the likelihood of the event. Odds are expressed as a ratio, with the larger number being the ways of missing and the smaller number the ways of hitting. In our example, there are 39 ways of missing the straight and eight of making it. Thus, the odds against making the straight are 39-to-8.
Chances are expressed as a fraction, with the denominator being the total number of possibilities and the numerator the ways of hitting. In our example, there are 47 possible outcomes, of which eight make the hand. Thus, the chances of making the straight are 8/47.Now, it is time to combine those three points above to determine the correct course of action. It is wrong to automatically call with your hand simply because you have a straight draw. You must make sure that the pot is offering you the proper odds (the right price) to call.
You can express the price the pot is offering you as both a ratio (in this case, it is 100-to-10); and as a fraction (10/110). Reduced, you are getting pot odds of 10-to-1 on your call. What this means is that as long as you will make your hand more than one time in 11, it is profitable for you to draw. Since your chances of improving your K-Q to a straight are about 1 in 6, calling is clearly the right play.What about an inside straight draw? With this holding, you have only four ways to make a straight. This makes your chances 4/47, or just slightly better than 1 in 12. With the same size pot and cost to call, a fold is now in order, since you will not make your hand often enough for drawing at it to be profitable. Had either the pot been larger or the amount of the bet smaller, however, calling often would be correct.How Much Math Do You Need?So, do you have to be a math wiz to play hold’em? Absolutely not! Poker at its essence is a game of people and logical thought. The ability to do complex mathematical equations in your head, while impressive, will probably not be of much benefit to you here.So, do you have to be a math wiz to play hold’em? Absolutely not! Poker at its essence is a game of people and logical thought. The ability to do complex mathematical equations in your head, while impressive, will probably not be of much benefit to you here.
You should, however, have a good working knowledge of odds and probability. Whether you do this in your head on the spot, or take some time to learn by rote the odds of making certain draws, you should not neglect this aspect of the game. Failure to learn the odds may cause you not only to call when you should fold, but also to fold when you should be calling. It is perfectly acceptable to memorize a chart showing the odds of completing the various draws. Doing so will save you from having to make on-the-spot calculations.
There are many close, “coin flip” type decisions in poker, in which it doesn’t appear to matter which decision you make. However, good poker players learn to include additional factors in their analysis of a hand. Decisions that at first appear to be cases of “six of one, half a dozen of the other” become clear-cut after further study.
Tip # 4 of 52
Raise or fold when you are first to enter a pot.
This tip refers to those situations in which no one has yet called or raised when the action gets to you.
Since tight-aggressive poker is winning poker, you should fold your inferior hands. Don’t call trying to hit a lucky flop. Not only is it tough to get a nice flop when you are holding rags (substandard cards), but if you initiate the action by calling, this is often seen as an invitation for other players to call behind you. Now, you must play an inferior hand while out of position. This is not a winning proposition.
When you do have a good hand, you should open the pot with a raise. In addition to putting pressure on the players yet to act and the blinds, your raise allows you to take the lead in the pot. Even if you miss the flop completely, a bet on the flop, coupled with the strength you demonstrated with your initial raise, may be enough to win the pot.
Generally, it is advisable to open the pot only if you feel your hand is likely to be the best. This means that hands such as 8-7 suited, while playable in some cases, should not be played when you are first in. This hand is not strong enough to merit a raise, and calling when first in is not in your repertoire. If you are unsure of whether your hand is worthy of a raise, a good guideline for playing before the flop is that whenever you are in doubt, you should fold. You will be dealt plenty of hands with which you can forge ahead aggressively.
Tip # 5 of 52
Your position is of vital importance in deciding whether to open the pot.
As detailed earlier, you should strive to play most of your hands from late position, since this allows you to ascertain more accurately the strength of your opponents. At no point in the hand is this more evident than in deciding whether to open a pot for a raise.
Very few hands should be played from early position, which can be classified as the first three seats in a 10-handed game. You won’t go wrong sticking to only premium hands, such as J-J, A-K, or A-Q suited. In good games (those with several weak players), money can be made by playing T-T, 9-9, A-J, and K-Q suited as well. This is because the poorer players will be calling your raises with worse hands than these, which would not necessarily be the case in tighter games.
If the other players have folded to you and you are sitting in any middle position, you can add a few more hands to your opening range. Now, pairs such as 9-9 are definitely worth a raise, as are big suited cards such as A-J or K-Q. A-Q offsuit is also worth raising now. The hands 8-8, A-T suited, and A-J offsuit are marginal here, becoming more playable in later middle position.
On the button, you can dramatically expand your playbook when it’s folded to you. The primary reason for this is that you have only the blinds to contend with, meaning that even if they should decide to defend (call from a blind position in a raised pot), you will hold position on them for the remainder of the hand. Pairs such as 5-5 should be played in virtually every situation, and you can raise with the baby pairs too, if the blinds are either very tight or poor players. You want to capitalize on players who play too tight in the blinds by raising them at every opportunity. When a poor player is in the blind and you hold the button, you shouldn’t mind playing quite a variety of hands either, as you hold position on this inferior player for the rest of the hand. This is a good way to attract chips your way.
In addition to any pair, you can open on the button with hands as weak as K-T or Q-T offsuit, or with suited hands such as K-8. The button is the one time you may wish to open with a drawing hand. Again, position is a major reason, along with the fact that if both blinds fold, you win the pot right away. Even if you do get called, your position and aggression will often allow you to pick up the pot with a bet on the flop.
Tip # 6 of 52
When one or more players have called in front of you, you need a big hand to raise.
Although you would prefer to get some action when you pick up a monster (an extremely good hand for a particular situation) such as A-A or K-K, one of the incentives for raising when you enter a pot is the possibility that you may simply win the blinds right away. However, this is not the case when one or more players have entered the pot before the action gets to you. Since other players have shown a willingness to compete for the pot, you need a very good hand to raise.
Some knowledge of your opponents comes in handy here. If you pay attention when you sit in a game to what types of hands your opponents are turning over, you learn their starting requirements. (Also observe their position when they enter a pot.) You may not even need to see their hands; if a player calls 80 percent of the hands before the flop, he is likely to show you just about anything. Conversely, alarm bells should sound in your head if another player enters his first hand since you sat down — hours ago. These types of playing styles definitely influence whether some of your hands merit a raise.
In general, when a typical player has called in front of you, you need a hand such as J-J, A-K, or A-Q suited to raise. When several players are in, you should elevate your standards even more. Raise with Q-Q or A-K suited. If one loose player has called, you can raise with some additional hands, such as 9-9, A-Q, or K-Q suited. If the one caller is exceptionally solid, these hands are only worth a call, however, and raises should be limited to J-J, A-K, or A-Q suited.
Tip # 7 of 52
When players have already entered the pot for one bet, there are some playable hands that are worth a call but not a raise, because they need to improve to win the pot.
As in Tip 6, some hands are profitable to play, but don’t have to be played for a raise. This may seem to contradict the tight-aggressive style being preached here. However, this is not necessarily the case. When you make a raise in hold’em, you should have a clear objective. Essentially, raises are made for one of two reasons. The first is to eliminate players, and the second is to increase the size of the pot due to the strength of your hand.
When players have already called the initial bet, your raise will not accomplish the first objective. It may cut down on the number of additional players to enter the hand, but if several players have already called, you will still be facing a multiway situation. Thus, should you choose to raise, you are not doing it for the purpose of eliminating players.
So, with players already in the pot, the main reason for you to raise is to increase the size of the pot due to the strength of your hand. Few hands are strong enough to merit a raise here. These hands are summarized in Tip 6.
Calling is correct with hands that play well against several players. Primarily, these hands include medium pairs from fives to tens, and big suited cards such as K-Q or A-J. The reason why you don’t raise with these hands is that they need improvement to win. For the big suited cards, you need to flop a pair, straight draw, or flush draw to continue with the hand. For the pairs, you need to flop a set (three of a kind), although flops such as 2-2-5 are frequently good enough for a hand such as 9-9 when four or five players are in the pot. So, by just calling preflop, you are able to make a minimal initial investment, allowing you to release your hand quickly and painlessly when the flop misses you. However, should you catch a nice flop, you can now go into an offensive mode. Essentially, with these types of hands in multiway situations, you are saving your tight-aggressive play until after the flop, when you have more information.
Sometimes you are sitting in late position holding a decent hand when five or more players have limped in. How should these family pots (those with multiple players) affect your starting requirements? First, remember that with so many participants, it will likely require a better than normal hand to end up winning the pot. In two- or three-way pots, hands such as top pair (one of your cards matching the highest card on the board, such as A-9 and a flop of 9-4-2) tend to get the job done. However, top pair (even two aces) will usually not be enough against more than five opponents. So, you should look to play hands that have the potential to develop beyond just one pair. Hands such as A-T offsuit are virtually worthless in these situations, as they contain little straight or flush potential. Instead, good hands include any pair and big connecting suited cards. With a pair, you should win a nice pot if you flop a set, as one of your many opponents will likely pay you off when he holds top pair. The hand T-9 suited is definitely playable here, as it possesses the versatility of turning into a straight or a flush. However, with a hand such as this, you can’t get too excited when you flop a pair, if several players are involved. You will likely be either outkicked* or outdrawn, as a middle pair is extremely vulnerable.
Tip # 8 of 52
When one player has raised, and it has been folded around to you, you should stick to the raise-or-fold philosophy
Following this advice will keep you out of trouble. Many hold’em hands seem like they should be worth seeing the flop, but when you look at the situation objectively, you see that these hands just get you into trouble.
For example, suppose a player has raised from early position, and you have A-J. At first glance, this seems like a good hand. After all, you have two high cards including an ace. However, when you consider the range of hands the raiser is likely to hold, your A-J doesn’t seem so mighty. (The assumption here is that the raiser only raises with decent hands.) It is very important to think about what sorts of hands your various opponents are capable of raising with, and from what positions.
When you think this way, you see that getting involved in a raised pot (when the raiser is a typical player from early position) with A-J is not a profitable strategy. In all likelihood, the raiser is holding one of two hands: a medium or high pair, or two high cards including an ace. If it’s the first possibility, his pair is probably in the range of aces down to eights. So, if you have A-J, you are in decent shape against eights, nines, or tens. However, you are a sizable underdog against jacks, queens, or kings, and a monster underdog should you be unlucky enough to run into two aces. That is, more than half the pair hands he is likely to have put you at a severe disadvantage. Against two big cards with an ace, you are approximately a 5-to-2 underdog if they are A-K or A-Q. You are a favorite against A-T, but many opponents won’t raise with this hand. If your opponent is almost certain to have either a pair or ace-something here — and that “something” is almost sure to be a high card — he’ll have a hand with an ace in it more than half the time. Thus, overall, you’re likely to be severely behind something over three-fourths of the time. So, although your A-J looks like a good enough hand (particularly if you’ve spent the better part of the last hour looking at 9-2 and 8-4), if you play it here you’re asking for trouble. So, fold your hand and wait for a better situation.
With a hand that figures to be the best, it is good to reraise and make things tough on the players yet to act. Against one early-position raiser, if you stick to a general philosophy of reraising with J-J or better or with A-K, and folding all other hands, you will tend to get involved mostly in situations in which you are holding the better hand. And, if you consistently start with the best hand, you should do just fine in the game. However, when the pot is opened by a raise from a late position player, the situation changes considerably. It is helpful to possess some knowledge of your opponents’ playing styles here. Some players feel that “any two will do” when the hand has been folded around to them in late position. So they raise, attempting either to steal the blinds or play against them with position. When confronted with a player like this, you must expand the range of hands with which you are willing to go to battle. Otherwise, you will be folding the best hand too often.
Although you don’t want to loosen up too much, when confronted with a late-position raise, it is frequently correct to reraise with hands such as A-T offsuit or 77. The reason for this is that your opponent may be holding an even weaker hand, such as K-T, A-x*, or 4-4. By reraising, you accomplish two things. First, you knock out the other players (unless they either have very good hands or are extremely stubborn), enabling you to play the probable best hand in position against one opponent. Second, a reraise allows you to take the lead in the pot. Frequently, the flop will be of no benefit to either of you, and your follow-up bet on the flop will convince your opponent to fold (partially due to the strength you represent by reraising before the flop).
Tip # 9 of 52
It's okay to cold-call a raise with A-K.
This tip is not an absolute. There are situations in which a better play exists, and these are addressed here as well.
The problem with “going to war” with A-K is that it generally must improve to a pair or better to win the pot. There are times in which it is preferable to not commit a lot of chips before the flop; rather, you can smooth call (just call, that is, specifically not raise) a raise with your A-K and wait to see what develops. If you flop a pair, you can then kick into a more aggressive gear. By doing this, you tend to lose the minimum amount when you miss the flop. Also, you may win extra bets when you do hit your hand, as your lack of preflop aggression might cause your opponents to underrate your hand.
Basically, calling a preflop raise with A-K is preferable when you feel your hand needs improvement to win, and reraising is preferable when you feel you might be able to win the pot with just ace high. Let’s see how you can determine which condition is the case:
Factors favoring calling with A-K:• When you face an early-position raiser, this player likely has a good hand, probably a high pair or even A-K himself. Typical players do not raise with A-x or hands like K-J from early position. So, it is unlikely that your A-K is much of a favorite over most early-position raising hands. However, it improves often enough to justify a call.• When one player has raised and a few players have called, you definitely have to improve to win the pot, since someone has either started with a pair or will make one. Also, should you flop a pair, it is possible that the original raiser will bet into the field, setting up an opportunity for you to trap the other players for a raise.Factors favoring reraising with A-K:• When the only player in the pot is a middle- to late-position raiser, you should almost always reraise with A-K. In this scenario, it is likely that the raiser has nothing more than high cards (or possibly a hand like A-x suited), and your A-K plays quite nicely against this type of hand heads up. So, your reraise has two objectives. You would like to get more money into the pot with the probable best hand. You would also like to eliminate the rest of the field, enabling you to play the hand heads up and in position. In this situation, you have two ways to win the pot: either with a bet on the flop, or by showing down your ace-high on the river.• When the original raiser is a maniac*, you should probably reraise regardless of your position. The reasons for this are the same as those in the preceding point, since you would prefer to get rid of the other players, plus you will have the best hand most of the time.
Tip # 10 of 52
Paying attention to your opponents allows you to more accurately read the strength of their hands.
Few intangibles affect your results in poker to the extent that your level of focus does. Simply by paying attention to the action, you can learn what to expect from each of your opponents. This does not refer strictly to the times you are involved in a hand; rather, you should be watching every hand, whether you are involved or not.
By focusing on the game, you learn which players play loose, tight, passive, and aggressive, and how their position influences which hands they enter pots with. Once you have a good read on their play, you can start developing effective strategies for beating them. Although adhering to a solid basic strategy will help you become a winning hold’em player, that alone is not enough. You must also make adjustments based on the other players in the pot. Poker is a situational game, and each situation requires independent analysis.
Here are two examples in which knowledge of your opponents allows you to make the proper decision:
You can’t treat an early-position raise from a player who raises every fourth hand the same as you would treat an early position raise from a player who seems to raise only every fourth year.
This should be fairly obvious. The first player could easily have a hand like A-7 suited or K-J offsuit if he raises this frequently. Therefore, you should not be unduly apprehensive of this action. Instead, you should reraise with any hand that you would ordinarily raise with in your position. Ideally, the hand will then be played out between you and the maniac, and you should be holding the best hand most of the time.
But if it’s the tight player who raises in early position, you must fold all but your very best hands. You should be saying to yourself, “This guy hasn’t raised since the Carter administration. Just what can he have?”
The answer, of course, is only a few hands: A-A, K-K, Q-Q, or maybe A-K. So, it doesn’t do you much good to call his raise with J-J. It’s a nice hand in absolute terms, but this is the time to toss it into the muck (the discard pile). Also, if you are holding Q-Q, you are in trouble as well. Your opponent is either a big favorite with his overpair, or close to an even money shot with A-K. If ever there was a time to pass Q-Q, this is it. If you stick to playing only A-A, K-K, and A-K suited when a supertight player raises, you won’t be contributing to his account.
Treat a limp from a tight player differently from that of a loose one.
When a tight player calls, he is far more likely to hold a quality hand than when a loose player limps. The tight player is not entering the pot with trash. Just because he didn’t raise the pot, you cannot assume he isn’t holding a quality hand. Tight-passive players commonly just call with hands such as T-T, A-Q, K-Q suited, or possibly even A-K and J-J. With that in mind, it takes a monster to raise the pot behind him. If you hold a hand such as A-Q or T-T, you are generally better off just calling a limp by a tight player.
Conversely, you can play aggressively behind a loose player’s limp, in an attempt to isolate him in the pot. It is nearly always a desirable situation if you can play a pot heads up against a weaker hand. If a loose player has limped and you are on or next to the button, you can raise with any of the hands you would have played had it been folded around to you. This can include hands as weak as K-T, which still figure to have a decent chance at being the best hand in this situation. Plus, you hold the benefit of position.
Tip # 11 of 52
You are generally receiving good odds on your hand when faced with calling half a bet in the small blind.
Suppose three players have called the initial bet. You are in the small blind with half a bet in. What price are you receiving from the pot on this call? You must put in half a bet, and the pot contains nine half-bets (including the big blind and your small blind) already. So, the pot is laying you a price of 9-to-1. This means you must win only 1 time in 10 for calling to be correct, assuming no additional betting. However, there is additional betting, and your positional disadvantage should also be considered here. Therefore, you should be holding a halfway decent hand to complete the bet.
A broad range of hands are worth a call, though. Any two suited cards will do, as well as any hand containing an ace. Also, any two connecting cards 9-8 or higher are worth a call. Hands with one gap (cards not adjacent in rank, but separated by one rank) smaller than Q-T should typically be folded (T-8, for example). Any pair is playable from the small blind. Some of these hands need to be hit pretty solidly by the flop for you to continue, but they do possess the potential to develop into big hands.
The preceding guidelines apply to games with a 1-2 chip blind structure (such as the $1 and $2 blinds in a $2-$4 game or $3 and $6 in a $6-$12 game), in which the small blind is exactly half the amount of the big blind. However, you may find yourself in a game with either a 1-3 or 2-3 structure. This has a huge effect on how the small blind should be played.
For 1-3 chip games, treat the small blind as you would a late position hand. If the hand isn’t worth a full bet from late position, it isn’t worth two-thirds of a bet from the small blind. Of the types of hands listed earlier as playable, suited trash and bad aces should now be folded, as should connectors such as 9-8 and T-9 offsuit. Small pairs are still worth a call, as are medium to large suited connectors.
In 2-3 chip games, playing the small blind is incredibly simple. If two or more players have called, you should call with everything! Yes, even 7-2 offsuit* is worth an extra chip in this spot. Just don’t get carried away if you flop a deuce. The time to consider folding the small blind for one-third of a bet is when only one player has called, you are holding a bad hand, and the big blind is a frequent raiser. As long as those conditions aren’t all there, though, you should put in the extra chip.
Tip # 12 of 52
Call a raise from an early-position raiser only with very good hands.
A raise from a typical player in early position nearly always signifies a hand of great strength. As a result, you must elevate your playing standards considerably. One of your goals in hold’em should be to try to enter pots with what you think is the best hand as often as possible. Calling early-position raises with a wide range of hands is not the way to accomplish this objective.
What hands are playable against an early-position raise? In the absence of other callers, if you stick to a very selective strategy of playing only A-Q suited, A-K, or a pair of jacks or better, you avoid putting your money in with the worst hand too often.
At first glance, it would seem that T-T is a good hold’em hand. And it is. However, when the first player in has raised the pot, you should ask yourself, “What range of hands is he likely to be holding in this situation?” If the raiser is a solid player, toss those two tens into the muck. The reason for this is that most solid players raise up front with only a few hands: A-A, K-K, Q-Q, J-J, T-T, A-K, and A-Q. Your two tens are a big underdog if your opponent has a pair, and only a slight favorite against A-K or A-Q. It is important to avoid these types of either-or situations in hold’em as much as possible, if you plan on winning at the game. Either you’re a big underdog or you’re a slight favorite.
However, if the early-position raiser is a loose or reckless player, you are playing too tightly if you fold your tens. The reason is that a maniac raises the pot with a huge number of hands that are dominated* by your pair of tens, including smaller pairs, A-x, or even hands like 7-8 suited. Against this type of opponent, the correct play is to reraise in an attempt to play your pair heads up against the maniac.
Tip # 13 of 52
When a player in late position opens the pot for a raise, you should reraise liberally from the small blind if you plan on playing.
There are several reasons why playing your hand this way is correct, all of which center around the basic truth that players open-raise from late position with less than-premium hands. After all, you do this yourself (see Tip 5).
What sorts of hands might you reraise with from the small blind? Against a raise from the button (unless he is a very tight player), you can reraise in the small blind with hands as weak as A-8 offsuit, any pair, or K-J offsuit.
For one thing, it is quite possible that you hold the best hand here. Your opponent on the button may have a hand like Q-T, A-3, or T-8 suited. It is never a bad thing to get more money into the pot when you have the best hand.
Also, by reraising, you will most likely cause your opponent to read you for more strength than you actually possess. This can come in handy later in the hand, enabling you to steal the pot on the flop or turn with a bet if the board is of no help to your opponent. What you have done is take the lead in the hand. Winning hold’em players play aggressively, helping themselves to the large number of pots that are there for the taking.
For another, the big blind will often call one raise, but not two. Generally, you would like to raise this player out if you have the opportunity, and send his blind money to the center of the pot. This creates a bit more value on your hand, with the presence of some dead money* in the pot. You should particularly lean towards reraising a late position raise if the big blind is a good player, as you don’t need him in your pot anyway.
One further benefit of reraising frequently from the small blind against a steal position** raiser is the psychological effect it has on your opponents. They will ultimately tire of your aggressive play, and think twice before raising when you are in the blinds. This may allow you to see more cheap flops than you should be entitled to, a nice perk generated by your aggressive play.
Tip # 14 of 52 It is a bad idea to raise very often from the big blind.
When you raise from the big blind, you are doing so for one reason only: to get more money into the pot. You won’t eliminate players, as everyone who has called one bet will surely call another. Also, you will be out of position throughout the play of the hand, which negates some of your hand’s merit, because you won’t be able to bet as many decent hands for value* from early position.
As a result, it is probably best to raise only with absolute premium hands from the big blind. Against several limpers, only A-A and K-K are true raising hands. While it is okay to raise with AK suited, you should be prepared to check and fold if you don’t flop either a pair or a flush draw.
Against only one or two limpers, you can raise with a few additional hands, such as Q-Q, J-J, and A-K. The reason for this is that with only a few opponents, your big pair is more likely to hold up if one overcard* flops, and your raise gives you the lead in the pot. For example, suppose you have Q-Q in a three-way pot, and choose not to raise. Now, the flop is K-9-7. If you check, the next player is likely to bet regardless of whether he has a king, as he is attempting to win the pot based on the weakness indicated by your check. You are now in a position of uncertainty, which could have been avoided had you raised preflop and then bet on the flop.
The same goes for raising with A-K in a three-way pot. Had you just passed your big blind option and seen a flop of 2-7-8, your first inclination would likely be to check. By raising before the flop, though, you have built a pot worth taking a stab at with a bet. If your opponents don’t flop a pair, they will be hard-pressed to call you.
Recommending not to raise with Q-Q from the big blind when several players have limped in may seem to contradict the advice given in Tip 13 about getting money into the pot with the best hand whenever possible, but this is not necessarily so. All you are doing is delaying the moment at which you choose to increase your involvement. With four or five limpers, it is fairly safe to assume that one opponent holds an ace, and another is likely to hold a king. Why not wait to see the flop before deciding if you wish to make a major commitment to this pot? After all, you are not in a position to protect your hand, as all the A-x and K-T hands are already in, and they will see the flop.
Now, if the flop brings overcards, you can check and try to determine if your hand is beaten based on the action behind you. However, if you catch a nice flop such as 2-4-T, you are in a position to take your opponents by surprise. You can either bet out or go for a check-raise, but either way you may win additional bets because your opponents have misjudged the strength of your hand due to your failure to raise preflop. So, you should be able to recoup those bets that would have been in the pot had you raised, and you can save money those times your pair is outdrawn by overcards on the flop. When you have an opportunity to play a hand in a manner that limits your losses but not your wins, you should capitalize on it.
Tip # 15 of 52
You can call more raises on the big blind than any other position, because you are halfway in.
To call a single raise, you always get a price of at least 3-to-1 on the big blind. The slimmest scenario is when everyone folds to the small blind, and he raises. More typically, however, you get a price of 7-to-1 or better to call. As a result, many more hands become playable.
When deciding if your big blind hand is worth defending, you must first pay attention to who raised the pot, and from what position. You should tend to play tighter when the raise is from an earlier position, or when a solid player has raised. You can be more liberal in your playing standards against loose or late-position raisers. For example, you should fold A-8 suited against an early-position raiser, but this hand is definitely worth a play when the raise is from late position.
Next, consider how many players are in the pot. The more players, the better your pot odds are. In multiway pots, some hands fare better than others. You should try to defend more with hands that have the potential to improve to better than one pair, since one pair frequently won't get the money when several players are vying for the pot. These include any pocket pair and medium to large suited connectors (7-8 or better). Simply having big cards in your hand doesn't justify a call in a multiway pot. The reason for this is that it is too easy to flop a pair and still lose, either to a bigger kicker or to two pair or a better hand. For example, suppose you call a raise in a five- way pot with K-J offsuit. (If suited, you should call.) Now, the flop comes J-9-6. If the preflop raiser had a legitimate hand, you may be beat already. Also, there are three other players to contend with here, one of whom may have A-J, 9-9, or 6-6. Another hand that may be out is Q-T, a hand that poses a serious threat to drawing out on your holding. All in all, a hand like K-J is highly likely to finish in second place in a multiway race, an expensive proposition in hold'em.
Contrast this to calling a raise with a pair of deuces. Although the flop is much more likely to bring improvement if you are holding K-J, the problem is that the improvement may either not be enough, or may help your opponents even more. With the deuces, though, you should have a pretty good idea of where you stand. If a deuce flops (which happens slightly more than 1 time in 9), you are in the driver's seat. This should be all the improvement you need to win the pot, regardless of how many players are in. As a result, you can play the hand very aggressively. Any player with top pair will likely call you down, and the more players in the hand, the more likely it is that someone will have flopped top pair.
Tip # 16 of 52
You can occasionally reraise from the big blind against a late position "blind thief."
Although it is generally advisable to just call a raise on the big blind (since reraising is unlikely to eliminate any opponents, and just calling provides some deception about the strength of your hand), in some situations reraising is proper strategy. Remember, though, that the small and large blinds are different animals altogether.
When you are in the small blind, one of the major reasons to reraise a late-position raiser is to knock out the big blind. Without this possibility, you want to reraise less frequently from the big blind than from the small.
Reraising from the big blind allows you to take control of the pot. As shown in Tip 13, the player with the lead after the flop often wins the pot when the flop is of no help to either player. Typically, whichever player gets the final bet in prior to the flop bets regardless of what comes, putting the burden on the other player to either call the bet or fold.
For example, suppose you hold K-Q offsuit in the big blind, and the button (a loose-aggressive player) raises. Obviously, you are at least going to call here, as the button could have a wide range of hands (most of which you can beat). Suppose you call and the flop comes 9-6-6. No help to you. It seems natural to just check and fold to your opponent’s inevitable bet here, or perhaps call one time hoping to spike a king or a queen. However, what if you had reraised before the flop? This flop is unlikely to have helped your opponent either, and perhaps your reraise, coupled with a follow up bet on the flop, could have won you this pot. Your opponent could have Q-T just as easily as A-T. Either way, he is going to bet the flop if you just call preflop, but he would likely fold on the flop if you had reraised. So, your aggressive play has earned you the chips.
How low can you stoop in your reraising standards? This depends largely on the play of your opponent, as well as his position. For the most part, we recommend making this play (unless you have a monster hand) only against a loose player on or next to the button. This way, you are more likely to be up against an inferior hand. That said, you can make this play with hands as weak as A-8 offsuit, K-Q, or small pairs.
One final reason to reraise here is the intimidation factor. You are better off if the players in late position think twice before raising your blinds. It is sometimes helpful to make this reraise play once or twice early on in a session, as it helps set the tone for the session. If you are successful, your opponents will be more likely to wait for real premium hands before raising your blinds in the future, as they realize you are not afraid to challenge them. Poker is part psychological warfare, and making a few well-timed reraises on the big blind is an effective pre-emptive strike against the enemies to your right.
Tip # 17 of 52
If no one has bet yet, you should bet if you think you have the best hand.
This tip is consistent with the tight-aggressive strategy you should be practicing in hold’em. Because you are playing selectively, you have a good hand when you enter the pot. As a result, your hand tends to be better than those of your loose-playing opponents most of the time, even after the flop. So, you should play aggressively. Bet When Checked To In particular, this is true when the hand is checked to you on the flop. It is common for the flop not to have helped any player, and your bet might win you the pot right then. This is almost never a bad thing, unless your hand is so strong that nobody can catch up (for example, you flop four of a kind).
What exactly constitutes a hand worth betting on the flop? One of the main considerations is the number of opponents in the hand, as this has a major influence on how strong a hand is typically needed to win the pot. Several later tips cover this topic in more depth, but for now we establish some general guidelines for which hands are worth a bet most of the time.
Don’t Be a Rock
It is incorrect to bet only when you are 99 percent certain you hold the best hand. Some players play hold’em this way, and they are commonly referred to as rocks. Don’t be one of them! If you play like a rock, you won’t lose your money as fast as someone who recklessly rams and jams* every pot, but you will just as surely lose.
As a general rule, when the action has been checked to you (or if you are first to act), it is correct to bet anytime you hold the top pair on the board, or an overpair. So, if the board shows 3-7-Q, you should bet if your hand contains a queen, or if you have A-A or K-K. Also, bet any stronger hand such as two pair or three of a kind.
Betting a Draw
Betting a draw is also good strategy at times. The more outs (cards that make your hand into the winner) you have, the better it is to bet. For example, it is generally a good idea to bet if you hold K J and the flop is 4 T Q . Here, you can win with any heart (flush card), 9, or ace. A king might win it for you as well. Added up, this draw gives you 18 outs (9 flush cards, 6 aces and nines that aren’t hearts, plus three kings). With two cards left to come, you will complete your draw most of the time. Playing a good draw aggressively is correct for two reasons. First, you might induce your opponents to fold, allowing you to win the pot without having to make your hand. Second, if they do call, you have managed to build a larger pot with a good draw, enabling you to win more if you hit your hand.
Lesser draws can still be played aggressively for profit, for the two reasons just stated. The possibility of your opponents’ folding is enough justification for betting a straight or flush draw on the flop when it’s checked to you. Betting Middle PairHolding a hand like middle pair on the board is somewhat more complex to play correctly. Generally, your position has a lot to do with how you should play this type of hand. Since you tend to be entering most pots with high cards, a good percentage of the times you flop middle pair occurs when you get a free or cheap look at the flop from one of the blind positions. Being in the blinds is a disadvantage to you, as you will have to act without much information about the strength of the hands behind you.
Thus it is usually best to check middle pair from the blinds if several players are yet to act. However, bet if only one or two opponents are in the pot with you, as you are likely to be holding the best hand. You don’t want to give your opponents a free chance to catch up when you are in the lead.
In late position, bet your middle pair if it is checked around to you. You may very well be holding the best hand here. If several players call, you can see the turn card and then reevaluate your position in the hand. The same goes for virtually any pair when it is checked to you in late position. For example, you should bet if you hold A-3, the board is K-7-3, and everyone has checked to you. Most likely, everyone will fold if they are not holding a king. If you check, you are basically giving up the pot, as someone will probably make a better pair by the river. However, think twice before betting A-3 if the board shows K-Q-3, as it is too likely that some opponents will call you here due to the presence of the big straight draw.
Tip # 18 of 52
When a player in front of you has already bet, raise if you think you have the best hand.
One of the inevitable side effects of playing hold’em is having to listen to your opponents whine about how unlucky they got in the last hand, the hand before that, and the hand last month when some caught two consecutive flush cards to outdraw their set. What you won’t hear is how their demise could have been avoided with one simple action: a raise on the flop! So often it happens that a player calls a bet with a fairly strong hand on the flop, which in turn convinces other players to call as well. Had he raised, the player holding the best hand on the flop might have induced his opponents either to fold or make a very expensive call, both of which are positive results for the raiser.
Make It Tough on Opponents
When you hold the best hand, play it aggressively. Tip 17 encouraged you to bet whenever you feel you have the best hand, and this Tip encourages you to raise when the player to your right has bet, if you feel you have the best hand. Again, you need not be certain your hand is good to make raising correct.
You want to make it difficult for players behind you to remain in the pot. Raising serves to protect your hand; that is, it becomes very expensive for opponents to stay in the hand with you, and they will likely fold. This generally increases your chances of winning the pot, and that is a good thing.
Don’t Give Them Odds to Call
Suppose you have K-Q and the flop comes K-9-5. You flopped top pair. If the player to your right bets and you are next (with a few players yet to act), you must raise here. Yes, it is possible you are behind. The bettor could have A-K or 9-9, for instance. However, most likely you have him beat at this point. The problem with just calling is the players behind you. If you call, they will probably call as well with hands like Q-J or A-9. Raising here relates to the concept of pot odds. You don’t want to call and give your opponents a favorable price to overcall in an attempt to draw out on you. Rather, raise and take away the value of their hands. They may choose to call anyway, but you have done your part. They are throwing money away if they call — throwing it away to you. Don’t give your opponents the proper pot odds to draw out on you. Build a PotAnother reason to raise a bet to your right when you feel you have the best hand is to build a bigger pot. There is nothing wrong with getting more chips to the center when you have the lead. Aggressive play will enable you to win the maximum with your good hands. Don’t Slow-PlaySome players choose just to call on the flop when they have a big hand such as a set or a straight. They want to wait for the “expensive” rounds to bet their hand. Slow-playing* can cause problems, however. First, doing this will occasionally cost you the pot. By just calling, you may allow an opponent to see a cheap turn card that produces a miracle** straight, or helps him develop a good draw. Then, when you do later decide to put some chips into the pot, you may find to your dismay that you are the one who has been trapped. A second reason not to slow-play is that players in lower-limit hold’em games typically call anyway. Why play deceptively when you don’t have to? Slow-playing is generally done in an attempt to gain later action on a hand you feel you won’t be able to get any action on if you play it aggressively right away. However, you rarely run into this problem in the games we’re talking about, so go ahead and raise if someone bets.
Tip # 19 of 52
When a player in front of you has bet, it's fine to call with a good draw or a medium-strength hand.
Although taking a raise-or-fold approach is typically the best way to play hold’em, in some scenarios it can be correct to call a bet from your right.
It is often best just to call when the flop produces a good draw at a complete hand. A typical example is when you hold a hand like 9-7 suited, and the flop is 3-6-T with two of your suit. You have 12 outs, of which nine make a flush and three produce a straight. (One of your needed eights also makes a flush, so you don’t count it twice.) You are close to even money to complete this hand by the river.
So, should you be ramming and jamming with this big draw? Typically, you should not. One key reason for this is that your raise may eliminate other players. With this kind of drawing hand, you would prefer to have as many opponents as possible, since one of them may develop a hand that is second-best to yours, and contribute a lot of chips to your stack. You won’t be able to raise out anyone holding a better flush draw anyway, as anyone with this hand would call your raise. The price you get from the pot will be better if you are up against several opponents, so don’t raise with your draw if you feel it is likely to narrow the field.
Another factor to consider is that the original bettor has you beat at this point. Sure, you are likely to draw out on him, but you probably won’t wind up with the best hand if you don’t make your straight or flush. You do not want to raise and cut the field down to you and the best hand. Rather, leave the field in and give yourself a good price on your big draw. You’ll win more money when you hit your hand, and lose less when you miss.
Playing a medium-strength hand is somewhat trickier. With a hand such as middle pair, or top pair-weak kicker, you are often not sure whether you hold the best hand when the player to your right bets. Although making a raise might succeed in protecting your hand, you don’t always want to commit a lot of chips at this point. Ideally, you would like more information about where your hand stands before getting too heavily involved.
If you are unsure of whether to call or raise with your hand, here is a good general rule to follow: Tend to call when it will be difficult for your opponents to outdraw you, and be more apt to raise (or fold) when your hand is vulnerable. Two examples illustrate this point.
In Example 1, it will be more difficult for an opponent to outdraw you, so there is less danger in just calling a bet on the flop. If your ace is the best hand, it is likely to hold up with this board, whether there are two, three, or four players in the pot. However, in Example 2, you are in a tough spot if the player to your right bets, you are next, and a few players have yet to act behind you. This is a raise-or-fold situation for you. A call makes it easy for players behind you to stay in with hands like A-K or K-Q, which are drawing quite live against you. And, for one bet, they probably will call, but might fold when faced with calling a raise.
There is one additional benefit to raising with the two sevens here. Your raise screams out “I have a jack!,” and this will probably cause a few hands to fold that have you beat — 8-8, 9-9, and T-T. Anytime you can raise and induce a better hand to fold, you have earned yourself a pot. Over time, the players who are capable of making these sorts of plays are the ones winning the money at hold’em.
However, you should exercise some discretion here. If you are familiar with the play of the bettor, and know that he is a very solid player, it is likely that you are trailing in this situation. You don’t need to raise with your two sevens every time this situation arises. Against solid opposition, a fold is often the best play.
Tip # 20 of 52
With a bet in front of you, fold if there isn't a good chance that you hold either the best hand or best draw
Perhaps the biggest edge you have over your opponents in lower-limit hold’em games is your ability to fold. You often find yourself in games in which several players stay until the river, and then whoever winds up with the best hand wins the pot. If you make it a priority to remain in the hand after the flop only when you hold either the probable best hand or a good draw, you will be miles ahead of some of your opponents.
Some players believe in “taking one off” after the flop. That is, even though the flop didn’t necessarily help their hand, they call the cheap bet on the flop hoping to develop some possibilities on the turn card. The problem with this strategy is that, with several players in the pot, the flop is very likely to have helped somebody. Often, they flop a hand that requires their chasing opponents to catch runner-runner (two consecutive improving cards) to beat them. Calling the flop bet in a six-way pot when the best hand you can make on the turn is a pair is nearly always a mistake, even if you hold A-K or A-Q. Your pair will often be someone else’s two pair or flush card. So, get out cheap and wait for a better opportunity.
When you hold a hand that stands a chance of winning unimproved — J-J for example — you don’t need to catch another jack on the flop to stay in the pot. Flops such as 4-6-T are typically quite good for J-J, so play the hand aggressively. However, when overcards hit and several players are in the hand, it is time to get out. A good example of this is when the flop comes K-Q-6 or A-T-8. Against a large field of opponents, it’s likely that someone has out-flopped you, leaving you with only two outs. You rarely play for two outs in hold’em.
on the 20th july