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Poker Tactics

This section presents tactical plays for each stage of a hand, and provides scenarios that illustrate the best decision for commonly encountered situations. The reasons for each "best play" are explained. While working though each scenario:

  • Reference the earlier chapters as needed. Each scenario uses information and terminology that has been introduced throughout this website.
  • Get a deck of cards and lay out each play. The ability to visualize the potential hand that you have -and the hands that your opponents can have- is important.

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Entering the Hand


After receiving pocket cards, you are immediately faced with a choice: play your cards and call the blinds, or fold. In making this choice, discipline yourself to:

  • Play high cards.
  • Play cards appropriate for your position.

Poker Tactics

As shown in the Poker Facts Chapter, the majority of starting hands should be folded. Because premium and strong hands are rare and unevenly distributed, patience is required. You may play for two hours receiving garbage or you may get several premium hands in a row. It is important to develop the discipline to play the best cards, which at times requires long periods of waiting. Be wary of playing hands that seem stronger than they are. Having suited cards adds strength to your starting hand, but not as much as you might think. Flushes are rare hands, even when you start with two-suited cards. Much of the money won in Hold'em comes from matching a high pocket card with a high card on the board to form a high pair, in combination with a high kicker.

 

Remember that before the flop, checking is not an option. To see the flop, you must call at least the big blind. Raises before the flop add to your cost and usually indicate the raiser has a strong hand. Only call raises before the flop if you have a strong or premium hand. If you call the blind with a drawing hand in an early position, you are making yourself vulnerable to later pre-flop raises that should not be called.

When you have a premium hand, you should raise regardless of your position at the table. With A-A and K-K, you should re-raise. Raising from an early position tends to narrow the field and make it more likely your premium starting cards will win. Raising from a late position tends to build the pot since players who already called are less likely to fold. Your premium cards are less likely to hold up against many players, but you will win more money when they do. In either case, you benefit from raising.

 

With many players in the hand, you can play weaker starting cards. Drawing hands face long odds on winning, but if enough players contribute to the pot, the potential winnings make entering with a drawing hand worthwhile. For example, if you are in the last position and you have a connected straight flush draw like 5 6, and all the other players have called but not raised the blind, entering is worthwhile.

If the flop comes up 4 7 8, you have a well-disguised straight and could win big if the people holding high cards bet heavily. But the odds of hitting a flop that favorable are low. Therefore, if there are bets from the early position players and folds from the mid-position player (which leaves only 3 or 4 players), you should fold as well. The people who called in an early position have good cards and you will not win enough money in this situation to justify playing for a long shot draw.

Poker Tactics

Pre-Flop Poker Scenarios

When more players stay in the hand, or when there are more bets and raises, the pot gets large early in the hand. Large pots tend to protect themselves since players are less likely to fold when a great amount of money is on the table. When the pot is large, you should have premium starting cards or a draw to straight or Ace-high flush. Again, for small pots, drawing hands should not be played since they don't win often.


Consider the following scenarios:

Scenario 1- You are dealt 2 5 and fold the hand following the advice to play only high cards. The flop is 2 5 5. Betting is heavy after the turn and river cards (10, J) and a large pot is awarded to someone holding pocket Queens. Your 5's full would have easily beat Queens and fives if you had stayed in the hand.

Don't regret your choice to fold a hand that would have been a full house: you made the correct decision. A miracle flop does not override the fact that over the long run, playing low cards will cost you more money than you will win. Even your miracle flop is vulnerable to overcards on the turn or river. Had a Queen hit, the person with pocket Queens would beat you. You would also 10se to opponents holding Jacks, lo's, or even.l0,5. While it is true that any two cards can win, to play profitable Hold'em, you must play high cards and fold low ones.

 

Scenario 2- You are dealt 10 J and you are in an early position- to the left of the big blind. You call, and the player to your left raises. The next five people fold, and the player in the dealer position calls the raise. Then the blinds fold. Not wanting to fold after putting money in the pot, you call the raise. The flop is A 2 7. There is a bet after the flop and you fold since your hand is now worthless. You need to catch two perfect cards to make the straight.

 

You should have folded after the first raise. It costs too much to play for a straight or a flush in an early position, and against so few people, little money is won even if you hit your draw. The person who raised probably has a big pocket pair so you are an underdog from the start. Had you known about the raise and the small number of players, you never would have called the blind. From an early position, you can't know, so don't call.

 

Summary of Pre-Flop Play

These scenarios illustrate wishful thinking that you need to avoid. In short:

  • Play premium hands from all positions. Raise, and call raises to stay in the game until the flop. With A-A and K-K, re-raise.
  • Play strong hands from middle and late positions. Call the big blind, but use your judgment on calling raises.
  • Play drawing hands from late positions. Only call the big blind if a large number of players remain (5 or more). Use judgment on calling raises, and remember that if many people also call the raise, it is correct to stay in the hand.
  • Fold all other hands.

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