A BEGINNER’S COURSE IN TEXAS HOLD’EM – PART 3
Over the course of the next few issues this column will continue to
be aimed squarely at beginning hold’em players. The goal is to
introduce new players to this exciting game and give them enough background
to make them feel comfortable playing casino poker.
You’ve Been Raised
If the pot has been raised before it is your turn to act, you must tighten
up significantly on the hands you play. Savvy players might raise with
almost anything in late position if no one except the blinds are in
the pot, but if a player raises from early position, give him credit
for a good hand, and throw away all but the very strongest of hands.
Remember that you need a stronger hand to call a raise than to initiate
one. After all, if you raise, your opponents might fold, allowing you
to win the blinds by default. If you call a raise, you have to give
your opponent credit for a strong hand, and you should call only if
you believe your hand to be even stronger.
When someone’s raised after you’ve called
When an opponent raises after you’ve called, you are essentially
committed to calling his raise, seeing the flop, and then deciding on
the best course of action.
But when you call only to find yourself raised and raised again by
a third opponent you should throw your hand away unless it is extremely
Suppose you called with a hand like 10h-9h. Just because this hand
may be playable in a tame game doesn’t mean you must play it.
The ideal way to play speculative hands like this is from late position,
with a large number of opponents, in a pot that has not been raised
— when a hand like this is worth a shot. After all, you can always
throw it away whenever the flop is unfavorable.
When Should You Raise?
Hold’em is a game that requires aggressive play as well as selectivity.
You can’t win in the long run by passively calling. You’ve
got to initiate your share of raises too. And here are some raising
You can always raise with a pair of aces, kings, queens, jacks and
tens. In fact, if someone has raised before it’s your turn to
act and you have a pair of aces, kings, and queens in your hand, go
ahead and reraise. You’ve probably got the best hand anyway. Reraising
protects your hand by thinning the field, thus minimizing the chances
of anyone getting lucky on the flop.
You can also raise if you’re holding a suited ace with a king,
queen, or jack, or a suited king with a queen. If your cards are unsuited,
you can raise if you’re holding an ace with a king or queen, or
a king with a queen.
If you are in late position, and no one has called the blinds, you
can safely raise with any pair, an ace with any kicker, and a king with
a queen, jack, ten, or nine. When you raise in this situation, you’re
really hoping that the blinds ¾ which are, after all, random
hands ¾ will fold. But even if they play, your ace or king is
likely to be the best hand if no one improves.
Playing the Flop
Defining moments are crystallized instants in time, forever frozen in
memory, imprinted into consciousness, never to be forgotten. Like Armstrong
walking on the moon, and the first home run you hit in little league,
these magical moments shape the way you perceive and value the world
Hold’em also has its defining moment, and it’s the flop.
Unlike seven-card stud, where cards that follow your initial holding
are parceled out one by one with rounds of betting interspersed, when
you see the flop in hold’em, you’re looking at five-sevenths
of your hand. That’s 71 percent of your hand, and the cost is
only a single round of betting.
The implications of this should be abundantly clear: If the flop does
not fit your hand, be done with it. Playing long-shot holdings after
the flop is a sure way to lose money. After the flop, the relationship
between the betting and cards-to-come is reversed. Now you’re
looking at spending 83 percent of the potential cost of a hand for the
remaining 29 percent of the cards!
Fit or fold
Fit or fold. That’s the concept. Fit can take one of three forms:
The flop fits because it improves your hand; it offers a draw that figures
to pay off handsomely if you hit it; or you hold a big pair before the
If you don’t improve to a big hand or a draw with a nice potential
payoff, get out — and do it now.
Flops you’re going to love
While you’re not going to like the flop most of the time, there
are those rare instances when it fits like a custom-made suit. When
you’re lucky enough to flop a straight flush, four-of-a-kind,
a full house, or the nut flush, your major worry is not whether you’ll
win, but how much money you can extract from your opponents.
Your first order of business is examining the texture of the flop.
Based on the betting pattern prior to the flop, try determining whether
one or more of your opponents has made a hand or has a draw to a hand
that would be second best to yours.
Straight Flush - Bet the house, the farm,
and mortgage your soul. You won’t lose.
Four of a Kind - If there are two pair on board,
and you have the smaller of the two pair, it is possible ¾
though very unlikely ¾ that you can lose this hand. But
if there’s only one pair on board and you have the matching
pair in your hand, you have the nuts. You can’t lose.
Full House - A terrific hand, but you have
to examine the board to make sure that yours is the best possible
full house before you bet the farm. But don’t be afraid
to raise with a full house; it’s probably a winner.
Nut Flush - If you have an ace-high flush when
all the cards have been dealt, and no pair is on the board ¾
which means that a full house or four-of-a-kind is not possible
¾ you’ve got the best possible hand. Just keep betting
or raising and don’t stop.
Nut Straight - If you have the highest possible
straight, and there’s no possibility of a flush or full
house, you’ve got the best hand, period. Bet and raise for
all you’re worth.
Set/safe board - If you’re lucky enough
to hold 8c8d and the flop is 8hKs2d you’ve flopped a set,
and there’s not much to be wary of. There’s no flush
or straight draw, and anyone holding a king is going to pay you
Trips - If you have Ah8s and the flop is 8c8d7s
you’ve got trips. It’s not quite as good as it would
be if the pair were in your hand, because anyone holding 8-7 will
have flopped a full house. But that won’t happen very frequently,
so go ahead and bet and raise as long as the board is not threatening.
Two pair - Top two pair is usually a winning
hand, as long as the board is neither paired nor three-suited
or sequenced. If your two pair are not the top two pair, you have
a good hand, but one that is still vulnerable. Stay with it unless
it appears obvious that you are beaten.
Top pair - A lot of hold’em pots are
won with one pair, and that one pair is usually the top pair on
board. Your primary concern with top pair and an apparently safe
board is determining whether your kicker is bigger than your opponent’s.
Overpair - If the board is 8h-7s-3c and you
hold 10d-10s you have an overpair. It’s better than top
pair, and usually a hand to consider raising with.
Kicker trouble - Even if you flop top pair,
your hand is only as strong as your kicker. It’s a lot nicer
to make top pair with an ace kicker than a weaker one.
Suited board - Flops where all the cards are
of the same suit, or are sequenced, like 10-9-8 are dangerous.
Someone may already have made a straight or a flush, and even
if you’ve been lucky enough to flop a set, you are staring
up hill and will probably have to see the board pair - giving
you a full house - in order to win. With top pair, or even two
pair, discretion is usually the better part of valor with suited
or sequenced flops.
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