Poker is the common name of several card games in which players make their bets depending on the cards they hold. Poker is a game with a common pot consisting of the bets of the players involved. The pot is won by the player with the best card combination or by the player who places a bet that is not answered by the rest of the players.
There are different types of poker and different types of winning combinations (depending on the variant of poker). For instance, in high – low games, the highest combination wins the half of the pot and the lowest combination wins the other half i.e. the pot is split into two. Regardless of differences, all variants of poker games begin with forced bets. There are two forced bets in 7 cards stud – they are called ante and bring-in. Omaha and Texas Hold’em have Small Blind and Big Blind bets. In any poker, variant players place their bets using some of the allowed moves in the game. So, players are allowed to:
- Check – if during the betting round there are no bets placed, a player can check. Then the next player to the left is to act. Check does not mean that you refuse to fight for the pot, it means only that you refuse to place a bet in this round. In case all the players at the table check, the round is considered complete.
- Bet – if during the betting round there are no bets placed, a player can bet. If a player places a bet, the one to the left, as well as the next players, have the right to fold, call or raise.
- Fold – this means that you refuse to continue fighting for the pot. A player who folds cannot and should not place bets during this game.
- Call – if during the betting round there is a bet placed, players can accept it by a call that is equal to the bet placed by the last player.
- Raise – if during the betting round there is a bet placed, players can place bigger bets i.e. raise. In order to do that they should place bets higher than the bet of the last player. All next players have the right to call or re-raise in order to continue fighting for the pot.
Each round the betting continues until it reaches the player to the right of the last player who placed a bet or a raise. When his turn comes, either the next betting round starts or the hand is completed.
After a bet or a raise during the last round, the players are to reveal their cards. This is called a showdown and means that it is time to see who is going to win the pot. Then all players reveal their combinations card by card. There are cases when there is no showdown. It happens when a player places a bet or raise but no one of the other players plays a call in order to answer the bet i.e. all other players fold. In this case, the player who placed the bet or raise wins the entire pot.
Basics of poker – table stakes and all-in
Poker is usually played with table stakes i.e. during a hand a player can use only the chips he had on the table at the beginning of the hand. The rule of table stakes has an extension called all-in i.e. a player cannot be forced to stop the game if he does not have enough chips to call. If a player does not have enough chips to call, he goes all-in. This player can get something from that part of the pot he participated in with his last bet. All further actions of other players relate to the so-called “side pot” and the player who goes all-in has nothing to do with it.
The mathematics of poker
Poker is a game of mathematics but also a game with incomplete information. It may sound a little bit complicated but this is the truth. At the most basic level, the winning strategy in poker should always start with selecting your starting hand. If you enter the pot with a strong hand more often than your opponents, you will win more often than your opponents.
Like it or not, Texas Hold’em is a game of chance. Each of your actions, each of the hands you play and each of the bets you make are connected with the odds, probabilities, and statistics.
If you are afraid of maths or you don’t like it, don’t worry. You don’t need to be an expert in maths in order to become an expert poker player, not at all. As a matter of fact, there are a lot of wonderful players who have no idea even what a common denominator is. The strategy of Texas Hold’em is quite complex but basically, the game is very simple. This simplicity is expressed in basic equations and very easy mathematical operations. Many of the things below you don’t need to understand fully, you just need to know enough to feel confident during the game.
Learn how to select your starting hands
Selecting your starting hand is fundamentally important, but it is only one part of the poker strategy. Once you have mastered the fundamental principles of the starting hands and you have understood how they change depending on your position at the table, you should concentrate only on your game till the end of the hand. The difference between the beginners and professional players is that the professionals play much better than their opponents after they have chosen their starting hands (they know what to choose).
This is an exceptional accuracy with regard to decisions taken at the end of each hand. These professional skills include the probabilities and pot odds, the order of betting, bluffing, and using the advantages of the position. The years of practice necessary to improve your play in the middle and at the end, fully justify the results, because even a small improvement of skills of a player can have a tremendous effect on a player’s winnings.
There are 169 different starting hands in Texas Hold’em (if you don’t take into account the suits). Of all these possible hands only five belong to the “highest category”. They are as follows:
- A, A
- K, K
- Q, Q
- A, K (suited)
- J, J
No matter what is your position at the table, you should always play these hands if no one made a raise before you. In case somebody did, especially if there was a call or re-raise, you should play only the aces or the kings, because to play the rest of the hands will probably be a huge mistake. When you think about the starting hands in Texas Hold’em now, you realize that you should fold about 80 % of the hands and play only about 20 % of them. The stronger your starting hands, the smaller the number of difficult decisions will be. You don’t need to make your life more complicated than it is. Naturally, the hands that you play, and the way you do it will vary depending on thousands of different circumstances.
Generally, there are very few hands, which are considered suitable to enter the game. If no player has opened the game (no one before you did not raise or limp), you can play almost any hand with some potential value. But once someone made a raise, you should narrow the range of playable hands to those that can give you some nuts and won’t get under domination.
For example, you should never play K, Q, in response to a raise since A, A; K, K; Q, Q; A, K; and A, Q will dominate your hand. If you do not have very good reason to do the opposite, as a beginner in poker, you should play only the best 10 to 15 hands. The more you play and improve your skills, the more hands you can start playing. But in the beginning, do not complicate the situation and always enter the flop with one of the best possible hands.
The top 15 starting hands in Texas Hold’em are as follows:
1. A, A;
2. K, K;
3. Q, Q;
4. A, K (suited);
5. J, J;
6. 10, 10;
7. A, Q (suited);
8. A, J (suited);
9. A, K (not suited)
10. K, Q (suited);
11. A, 10 (suited);
12. K, J (suited);
13. A, Q (not suited);
14. 9, 9;
15. J, Q (suited).
Learn how to count your outs
Any card that after revealing may improve your hand is called an out. Obviously, before you start counting the outs, you need to learn the combinations of poker, so start with this topic, if you have not studied it. After you have learned the hand ranking, you have to learn how to read the cards on the table and see what are the possible hands you can form later, and what are the chances to improve. In order to do that, see the simple statistics below that show the most popular situations in which you may be involved after the flop.
Two-ended straight draw – 8 outs; one end straight draw – 4 outs; a flush draw – 9 outs; two ends straight draw and flush draw – 15 outs; two cards to a full house – 6 outs on the flop, 9 on the turn (add one more out which will help you form a four of a kind); one card to a set on the flop – 2 outs.
Two-ended straight draw – you have 4 cards in sequence. For example, your pocket cards are 8 of spades and 9 of hearts; the flop is 6 of hearts, 7 of clubs, and 2 of spades.
One-ended straight draw – you need only one card to form a straight. It may be an inside straight draw (when you miss a card in the middle). For example, your pocket cards are 8 of spades and 9 of hearts; the flop is 6 of hearts, 10 of clubs, and 2 of spades.
Flush draw – you have 4 cards of one suit. For example, your hand is 8 of spades and 9 of spades; the flop is 6 of spades, king of clubs, and 2 of spades.
Two-ended straight draw and flush draw – you have two-ended straight draw as well as a flush draw. For example your pocket cards are 8 of spades and 9 of spades; the flop is 6 of spades, 7 of spades, and 2 of hearts.
Two cards to a full house – you have a three of a kind i.e. 3 cards of the same rank. For example, your pocket cards are 8 of spades and 8 of hearts; the flop is 8 of diamonds, 7 of spades, and 2 of hearts.
One card to a set – you have a pocket pair. For example, your pocket cards are 8 of spades and 8 of hearts; the flop is 6 of spades, 7 of spades, and 2 of hearts.
The more time you spend exercising how to calculate the outs, the easier this procedure will become. Any card that will help you to form a high combination is considered an out. But be careful and do not count those outs which may help your opponent to form a better combination. For example, if you have a two-ended straight draw and the flop revealed two cards of one suit, you have only 6 outs since the two cards that will complete your straight will complete the flush of your opponent with a flush draw. Once calculating the outs is not a problem for you anymore, you are ready to move to the next stage.
Learn how to calculate the pot odds
Pot odds are the odds the pot is “offering” to you when you are to call. This is the amount of money in the pot compared to the amount of money you are to bet in order to stay in the game. For example: Let’s say you have only one opponent on the flop, there is $ 10 in the pot and your opponent makes a bet of $ 5. This way your opponent’s bet now becomes a part of the pot i.e. you are offered $ 15 for the price of $ 5. If you express it as a fraction that will be 15:5. In order to simplify the ratio, always try to make the right side equal to 1. In order to do that, you should divide the right part into 5 ( 5/ 5 = 1). Basic mathematical rules say that any operation that you make with one part of proportion, you should make with the other part as well. And since you have divided the right part into 5, you should divide into 5 the left part too ( 15 / 5 = 3). Then the new proportion will be 3-1 (You may also skip a step by dividing the left part by the right one (15/5) in order to determine the left part of the new proportion). So in this situation, the pot odds are equal to 3-1.
Learn how to calculate your equity
The next step after calculating the pot odds is to calculate your equity (in other words, the probability for you to win the pot). In order to calculate your equity, multiply the number of your out by 4 on the flop (or by 2 on the turn). This way you are going to get the percentage of probability for you to win the pot. For example, if you have a flush draw you have 9 outs on the flop (9 . 4 = 36 % probability to get a better hand).
Since the pot odds are expressed as a proportion, you should express these percentages as a ratio in order to be able to make a comparison. Since the maximum percentage is 100, your equity, expressed as a proportion, is equal to 64 – 36 (i. e. 64 times you are not going to get a better hand, and 36 times you are going to get it).
If you make the right part of the proportion to be equal to 1, your equity will be 1,7 – 1. In other words, for each case you manage to complete your flush draw, there are 1,7 cases when you won’t complete them. In case you don’t want to be so precise when you calculate the pot odds (the maths at the table should not necessarily be very precise), you can just notice that 64 is greater than 36 a little less than twice. As a matter of fact, it does not much difference whether the proportion is 1,6; 1,7; 1,9 to 1 – you can even say it is 2 to 1 and that will be enough to decide to call or not to call.