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Beginner's Guide to Hold'em Poker Dec. 17th, 2009 @ 01:54 pm

  • Help! I have to play in a poker game in a few hours and I don't know what I'm doing!

    Okay, I'm assuming that this is a social event (like a charity tournament or your boss's poker game) and not something stupid like a game with strangers whom you don't know and can't trust?

  • This is a legitimate game I want to play in, and I'm not risking money I can't afford to lose. I just don't want to look like an idiot in front of my friends/coworkers.

    Fair enough. (1) Make sure you understand what kind of poker they will be playing. This is a guide to playing Texas Hold'em. (2) Make sure you understand the relative value of the poker hands. (You can wiki this.) (3) Watch some youtube.com videos of poker being played, so you have a sense for how the game works. Celebrity Poker Showdown is a good place to start. (Seriously.) After you have done this (and before you read on), you should understand what these terms mean: "bet," "raise," call," "fold," "check," "limp," "button," "small blind," "big blind," "flop," "pre-flop," "turn" and "river."

  • I think I understand the mechanics of the game. What strategy do I follow "pre-flop"?

    Here is the simplest strategy guide I can offer you.

    • Suppose it is "pre-flop" and no one has raised yet. Raise with AA, KK, QQ, JJ, TT, AK. ("AA" means you have two aces in your hand, "TT" means you have two 10's in your hand, and "AK" means you have one ace and one king in your hand.) If there are six or fewer people left to act after you (including the blinds), you can also raise with AQ, KQ and 99. If you are on the "button" or you are the person who acts before the button, you can also raise with 88 or any two cards that are T (ten) or higher.
    • Suppose it is "pre-flop" and someone raises ahead of you. Re-raise them with AA, KK, QQ, JJ, TT. Call with AK. Fold everything else.
    • Suppose it is "pre-flop" and you raise, but then somebody else re-raises you. Re-re-raise them with AA or KK. You can either call with AK or fold it, depending on how brave you feel. I would seriously think about folding QQ or less, because you don't play well enough yet to play those hands in the face of a re-raise.

  • How much should I raise?

    If the big blind is X, you should say "raise" and put 4*x in the pot. For example, if the big blind is $2, say "raise" and put a total of $8 in the pot.

  • How much should I re-raise?

    If someone in front of you raises X, you should raise about 3*x. For example, if someone raises it to $6 and you want to re-raise, you should put $18 in the pot.

  • People at the table are teasing me about not playing more hands.

    Say "Hey, tight is right!" and wink.

  • I really want to play more hands.

    Okay, okay. Assuming no one has raised yet, you can call the big blind (this is also known as "limping") with 77, 66, 55, 44, 33, 22. If you want more, try limping with "suited connectors" (two cards next to each other in rank, like JT, a jack and a ten, down to 87, of the same suit). With the small pairs, you are hoping to hit "trips" (also called a "set" or "three of a kind") on the flop. Fold to any bet if you do not make trips. With "suited connectors," you are hoping to hit two pair, a straight or a flush. Again, fold if you don't hit it.

  • How do I play the flop?

    First, figure out what hand you have. Remember, you are trying to make the best five-card hand using any combination of the cards in your hand and the "community cards" on the "board."

  • Hmm. Looks like I've got hand X. Is that good?

    It depends. (You'll hear that a lot in poker.) The next step is to figure out what hands can beat you given this flop.

  • Could I have some examples of hands that might beat me?

    Sure. Here are the most common ones. (1) Suppose you have JJ and the flop is AT4. If someone else has AQ in their hand, their best hand is AAQT4 while yours is JJAT4. They have a better hand. (2) Suppose you have AA (one of clubs and one of spades) and the flop is K72, all of hearts. If someone has two hearts in her hand, she has a flush, which beats your pair of aces. (3) Suppose you have QQ and the flop is J87. If someone has T9, they have a straight, which beats your pair of queens.

  • Yikes! It looks like there are lots of hands that can beat me.

    Unfortunately, there usually are. This is why poker is hard. Keep this in mind, though: It is possible that you are beat on the flop, but that does not mean that you are in fact beat on the flop. And for all your opponents know, you currently do have the best hand.

  • So how do I play my hand on the flop?

    If you raised pre-flop, and no one has bet at the flop yet, you should bet. (If you raised pre-flop, you should bet here even if your current hand is merely "high card." This is called a "continuation bet" and will often win the hand on the flop.)

  • How much do I bet on the flop?

    A standard bet is at least 1/2 the size of the current pot. So if there is $40 in the pot after the pre-flop betting, you should bet at least $20. HOWEVER, betting half the pot is a minimum. You probably want to bet 2/3 to 3/4 of the pot (so if the pot is $40 bet around $26 or even $30). Your object (until you are more experienced) is to win the pot here, so that you do not have to face any tough decisions on the turn or river.

  • I didn't raise pre-flop. I limped with one of those small pairs or suited connectors. Or I called a raise with AK.

    Did you "hit the flop"? In other words, did you get trips with your small pair, or did you "hit" two pair or a straight with your suited connectors, or did you "hit" your A or K with your AK?

  • No, my hand doesn't connect with the flop in any significant way.

    Check if no one bets. If someone bets, fold to it.

  • Dude, I hate to interrupt here, but I'm a really experienced (and quite good, if I do say so myself) poker player, and the strategy you are recommending is totally weak-tight. Are you out of your mind?

    Listen up, "dude." This is a guide for beginners who are frantic about playing their first game. This strategy is not optimal, but it will generally keep a newbie out of trouble.

  • What's "weak-tight" mean?

    Pay no heed, grasshopper. What's your next question about playing your hand?

  • Uhm, all right. I limped with a small pair (or suited connectors), or called a raise with AK and I "hit my hand." Now what?

    Bet, or raise if the other person bets.

  • I raised pre-flop, then bet on the flop (just like you told me to!) but I got raised on the flop. Now what?

    At small stakes, people usually have what they "represent." (To "represent" a particular hand is to bet as if you have that hand.) So if someone raises you, they probably have at least paired the highest card on the board. For example, suppose you have TT, the flop comes A92, you bet, and someone raises you. They probably do have either a pair of aces or a set. (Maybe they called your raise with A5, 99 or even 22 and got lucky.) One of the basic rules of poker is this: Don't go broke with just one pair. If there is a higher card on the flop than your pair and you are raised, look thoughtful, count to 15 in your head slowly, then fold.

  • But I have a pair with the highest card on the board. I raised pre-flop with AK (just like you told me too!), the flop came A92, I bet and then got raised. Now what?

    You're in a tricky spot. Try re-raising him. If he folds, yippee! If he calls, you probably have the best hand. If he re-re-raises you, he probably has at least two pair, and you need to fold.

  • But I have two pair on the flop!

    Is one of those pairs on the board? Like do you have TT in your hand, and the board is A22?

  • Uhm, yeah.

    Everyone has that pair on the board, so it doesn't help you much, does it?

  • No, no. I limped with 89 suited and the flop is A89. I bet, but now I'm being raised.

    Jackpot! Your opponent probably has a pair of aces (one in his hand and one on the board), and you should be able to win a big pot here. Re-raise him.

  • I raised with TT pre-flop and the flop came AT2 so I made trips. I bet and got raised, so--

    Yes, yes. Same thing. Jackpot!

  • I played exactly the way you told me too, and I lost a big pot. Specifically, I raised pre-flop with AK, the flop came AK9, I bet, I got raised, I re-raised, he re-re-raised, I shoved my remaining chips into the pot, and the guy called and showed 99, giving him trips, which beat my two pair.

    In the immortal words of poker great Doyle Brunson, "That's poker, folks." (Say it with a resigned Texan drawl but a sparkle in your eyes, and it sounds much more comforting.)

  • I bet the flop, but I got called. How do I play the turn?

    Ask yourself the same questions I told you to ask on the flop: what hand do you have, and what hands can beat you? Then ask yourself a third question: what hands could this person have that would make them call my flop bet? If you can still beat that hand, bet. If you cannot beat a hand they would have called with, check or fold to a bet.

  • Can you give me an example of how to figure out what hands they called my flop bet with?

    Sure. Suppose you raised with TT pre-flop and got two callers. The flop is A92. You bet the flop. One of the other players folds but the other calls your flop bet. Why did he call your flop bet?

    Well, he must have some kind of hand or he would not have called. People often call a raise with an ace and some other random low card. (This is a mistake, but people often do it.) So maybe he called your bet with A5. His hand on the flop is AA952. However, he is worried that you raised with AK, so that your hand is AAK92, which beats him. (Make sure you understand why you each have those hands and why your hand beats his.) So just in case he does not have you beat, he only called you on the flop instead of raising.

    In actuality, you have TT. Suppose the turn is a 7, so the board reads A92-7. Your best hand is now TTA97 which loses to his AA975. In short, you probably have the worst hand here, and since he called you on the flop he will probably call a bet again on the turn. So your best play on the turn is to check or fold to a bet. (This is perhaps the hardest answer to follow in this essay, but it is important. Read it a couple of times, and once you understand it you will be a long way toward a deeper understanding of poker.)

  • Can you give me an example where I am called on the flop but bet again on the turn?

    Sure. You raise pre-flop with JJ and get three callers. The flop is T92 with the T and the 9 being hearts. You bet the flop, one person folds and the other two call. What hands are they calling with?

    It's possible that one of them now has a pair of tens (perhaps they called you with AT), or one of them could have A5 of hearts (so that they have a "flush draw" -- four cards to a flush, needing one more heart to make it), or one of them could have 78 (giving them an "open-ended straight draw" -- four cards to a straight, needing either a 6 or a J to make it). Any of these hands would explain why they called but did not raise your flop bet. You currently beat any of those hands with your JJ.

    The turn is a 3 of clubs. Notice that this would not help any of the hands we guessed our opponents called with. We still beat all of them. So we should bet, not check.

  • How do I play the river?

    Basically, the same way you played the turn.

  • Anything else I need to know?

    Try to relax and have a good time. Be a gracious loser. Stand up for a moment and go get a (non-alcoholic) drink if you suffer a "bad beat" and are feeling grouchy. Don't gloat if you beat someone in a hand, but also don't try to comfort people. (It just makes them feel worse.) Watch what is going on in the game: that's both good strategy but also helps you learn nuances of the mechanics of the game. Do not criticize how others play. Do not comment on a hand while it is in progress. When you are in a hand, try not to talk and to make your facial expressions as robotic as possible. If the etiquette of your game requires that you talk during a hand (more common in informal home games), be evasive and try to think about something other than your actual hand. (If you are a guy: boobs, think of boobs, not your hand.) And the proper response to "You got aces?" is to smile and say "Is that what I need?"

  • What else can I do to get better at poker?

    Set up an account on http://pokerstars.net and play in some games to get familiar with the mechanics and flow of the game. (For now, do not use any other sites.)

  • Uh, these online poker players are not playing the kind of hands you recommend at all.

    Yes, you're playing very bad players in "play money" games now. You will not learn good strategy by playing the way they do. I'm just recommending this to get you used to the basic game structure.

  • Can I play online for money?

    Yes. If you want to do that, I recommend downloading the http://pokerstars.com (not .net) sofrware, depositing about $100 and playing in "micro limit" games, like with blinds of 1 cent / 2 cent.

  • What about sites other than pokerstars.com?

    Fulltiltpoker.com is the other major play-for-money poker site. HOWEVER, before you open an account there it is IMPERATIVE that you FIRST open an account at http://rakebackpros.com and carefully follow their directions for setting up your fulltiltpoker account. (The simplest thing is to just start at pokerstars, though.)

  • How about playing on ultimatebet and absolutepoker. They have some really cool ads and I notice a couple of pretty famous pros who endorse them.

    NO, NO, NO, NO, NO! Friends do not let friends play at UB or absolutepoker. These sites have bad track records for security and honesty. If you want details, look here: http://forumserver.twoplustwo.com/162/best-two-plus-two/poker-site-scandals-638056/ .

  • Isn't it illegal to play poker online for money?

    No. The Bush administration pushed through some legislation that makes it complicated for BANKS to deal with poker sites, but even those rules have never been officially implemented, and they do not apply to individuals playing on poker sites.

  • Are there any good poker shows on TV now?

    Most people think High Stakes Poker, currently on GSN, is the best poker show on television. The World Poker Tour, also currently on GSN but moving to FSN, is very good for thoughtful tournament coverage. ESPN's coverage of the World Series of Poker is fun, but most people agree the coverage is not helpful to those who appreciate (or want to learn to appreciate) high level play.

  • The poker pros on TV (like on High Stakes Poker) play completely differently from the way you told me to play! Shouldn't I try to play like them?

    Those pros play much better than you (or I) do, and they take into account very subtle and complex strategic, tactical and psychological factors that make plays work in that particular situation. Trying to copy what they are doing is like trying to jump over a bus on your moped because you saw a professional stunt rider do it on his Harley. In addition, pros often "show off" on TV by playing weird hands or trying bizarre bluffs because the media attention they attract is worth the money they lose.

  • What can I read to get better at poker?

    I think that a great beginner's book is Ed Miller, Getting Started in Hold'em (Henderson, NV: Two Plus Two Publishing, 2005).

  • Okay, I'm really getting into this. Where can I learn even more?

    Subscribe to a few poker podcasts on iTunes, like the "Two Plus Two Pokercast," "Final Table Poker Radio Show," "Deuce Plays" and "Cash Plays." The first two are more "chatty," like talk shows, while the second two are hard core strategy. In addition, set up an account on http://forumserver.twoplustwo.com. Read around a lot on this site, especially the FAQ lists in the forums that interest you. (Warning: The twoplustwo forums are a great resource. But on every online site some people take anonymity as an excuse for being a douchebag. So make sure you have read around enough to understand what to post where and how to format a post before you contribute anything.)

  • Okay, you're endorsing books, poker sites, TV shows -- you're getting some kind of kickback here, right?

    Sadly for me, no. I just love poker, and I'm a teacher, so I can't help myself from disseminating knowledge.

  • Why should I even trust your opinion?

    Well, I doubled my initial deposits at pokerstars and fulltiltpoker within one year. And if that's not good enough for you, fine, don't believe me. See if I care. I'll just sit here and pout.

Nov. 20th, 2009 @ 11:52 am
Two women I would like to sleep with (in the unlikely event that they were interested, and if I were not already taken):

  • Olivia Munn

  • Eva Amurri

    Eva Amurri Smilingsexysexy

    Click on any of the images for a bigger picture.

Poker Trip to Atlantic City Feb. 3rd, 2009 @ 09:28 pm
This is the story of my recent visit to Atlantic City to play poker...Collapse )
Overall, I was up $80 in poker winnings for the trip. So when you combine my winnings from this trip with my losses from the last trip, I'm slightly ahead.

A poker hand I am proud of Jan. 9th, 2009 @ 03:03 pm
I'm proud of this hand because of the raise I made on the flop. Most people would just call in this situation, but I knew that the right move was to raise.

On the flop, I almost certainly did NOT have the best hand. The bet by the small blind suggests that he has a Q in his hand, giving him a pair, whereas I just have ace-high (with a flush draw). However, I have at least 12 "outs" (cards that will probably give me a win, consisting of the nine other spades in the deck and the three non-space aces, because pairing my ace will probably also be good enough to win). Consequently, my "pot equity" (the average amount I would expect to win in this kind of situation) is about 45%. Now, every extra bet I make represents 33% of the total (assuming that I am called by the other two players). So every bet "costs" me 33% of the increase, but "earns" me 45% of the increase. Although I might lose this individual hand, if I keep betting in situations like this, in the long run I will profit.

PokerStars Limit Hold'em, $0.20 BB (9 handed) - Poker-Stars Converter Tool from FlopTurnRiver.com

Preflop: Hero is Button with J, A

1 fold, UTG+1 calls, 4 folds, Hero raises, SB calls, 1 fold, UTG+1 calls

Flop: (7 SB) Q, 7, 10 (3 players)

SB bets, UTG+1 calls, Hero raises, SB calls, UTG+1 calls

Turn: (6.5 BB) 3 (3 players)

SB bets, UTG+1 calls, Hero raises, SB calls, UTG+1 calls

River: (12.5 BB) 4 (3 players)

SB checks, UTG+1 bets, Hero raises, 1 fold, UTG+1 3-bets, Hero caps, UTG+1 calls

Total pot: $4.10 (20.5 BB) | Rake: $0.19

Can you guess what Villain's hand was?Collapse )

Poker Oct. 10th, 2008 @ 10:20 am
My first trip to play live poker...Collapse )
This means I was down $73 for the whole trip, which I think is not bad for a first adventure playing LIVE poker.

Oh, and TONIGHT I won $90 in an online H.O.R.S.E. tournament. Go me!
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