Monday, October 4, 2010

How to Win and Not Just Play Your Next Hand of Poker

Bingo Card SampleImage via WikipediaHow to Win and Not Just Play Your Next Hand of Poker

I really think that a lot of people who play poker, play it like bingo. I mean they are trying to match their cards with those on the flop, turn and river--as if numbers on a bingo card. If there is a match they bet, if not they fold. How absurd!

The Bingo Player

Let me give you an example of what I see at the limit hold'em poker table. A player is in the big blind. Five opponents limp, and the player in the big blind peeks at his hole cards. He finds a Jc-5h offsuit. He checks.

The flop is Js-9d-4d.


He bets out into his five opponents.

He gets two callers.

"Uh, oh."

The turn is 7h.

He bets again, hoping his two opponents will fold.

He gets one caller.

The river is a 7c.

He checks, hoping his opponent will check.

His opponent bets.

He calls.

His opponent turns over J-10, and takes the pot.

Our hero loses.

What did he do wrong on this hand?

Answer: Everything!

Poker is Not Bingo

Let's take another look at this hand, played a much better way.

In the big blind, our hero should have been asking himself questions before he even peeked at his cards. Such as:
Player A limped. What does he limp into hand with? Is he straight forward or a tricky player?
Player B, C, etc. What does it mean when these players limp?

Yes, there are a wide range of hands they can each have, but start to formulate an idea of what is going on at your table. Perhaps, the player who limps in early position may be playing fewer hands and stronger starting hands than a player in a late position.

Our hero checks his cards and sees he has junk, so he checks on the big blind.

Before the flop, he should have an idea of what he will do if he hits top pair, low pair, trips, or nothing. This "idea" is based first on the number of opponents in the pot.

For example, he should be thinking "I have 5 opponents. If I hit top pair, it wouldn't make much sense to bet out in this pot with such a weak kicker. After all, they all limped, and players will limp with hands like K-J, Q-J, 10-J."

Note: If he had two opponents, betting out would make more sense. And, if the player to act last was aggressive, he could even check raise on the flop.

In this hand, when the flop hit, our hero should have checked. Now, when one player bet and another one called, our hero should be thinking about the odds to continue assuming he will win only if he hits a second pair. And, there is no guarantee that he will win, if he does hit his three outer! After all, an opponent can already have two pair, trips or a redraw to a flush or a higher pair.

Yes, there are a lot of things to be thinking about at a poker table! It is not bingo.

Ask Yourself Questions before, during and after each hand of poker

Who your opponents are? How do they play? What are their tendencies? Moods?
How can you beat their game?
What should you do with your hand, based on your position? Your chips stack?
How many opponents are in the hand? How does this effect your decision?
What are the pot odds? Implied odds?
Should I fold, bet, raise, check-raise, etc?

Think about writing down a list of questions to ask yourself. And, go through them in your mind, each time you play a hand of poker. Be prepared. Get into a routine so you are ready to win your next hand of poker and not just play it.

The Power of Poker Tells:

I was competing in a $15-$30 limit game last night, and I spotted a potential tell on one of the top players. However, I was not 100% positive. But, I knew if I was correct, I would be able to adjust my play to take advantage of his tell.

So, this is what I did to find out.

Hand #1: He raised pre-flop in a middle position. I had K-J and called. The flop was all rags. He bet and I called. The turn was a rag. He bet and I called. The river was another rag. He bet. I spotted the tell that he was weak.

I knew I did not have the best hand, and I thought about raising. But, I wanted to be sure about my tell. I decided to call, knowing I would probably lose to an A-x hand. He turned over K-Q. I mucked. Everyone was rather surprised I called all the way without being able to beat K high.

Hand #2: This player raised again pre-flop. I had 10-7. I called. Not because I had a good hand, but I was hoping to get heads-up and use his tell to my advantage. No one else called. The flop came down. I had zip. He bet and I called. The turn did not help me either. He bet. And again, his tell said he was weak. I raised. He mucked.

Hand #3: The same situation as before. However, when I raised him on the turn with nothing, he called. Uh oh. When the river hit, I had J high. He checked and once again I bet. He folded.

Unfortunately, this player left the table a few hands later.

The one thing about poker: If you can pick up on a tell on your opponent, you can literally own them at the poker table. I can't wait till I play him again!
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