A BEGINNER’S COURSE IN TEXAS HOLD’EM – PART 4
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.
Should you play overcards or not? Many of your opponents will routinely
call with overcards. Suppose you call before the flop with K-J, you’re
up against three opponents, and the flop is 8-6-3 of mixed suits. What
should you do if someone bets? Do you call, hoping the next card off
the deck is a King or Jack — one of the six remaining cards in
the deck that presumably gives you a winning hand? Or are you better
off folding, and waiting for a flop that fits your hand?
Making a good decision involves knowing your opponents and the hands
they are likely to play. Then examine the flop. Is it the kind of flop
that will tend to hit one or more players? Or is it so ragged that it’s
unlikely any of your opponents are holding cards the flop would have
paired? You should also be aware of how many opponents you’re
facing. The more opponents, the more likely the flop will hit at least
one of them.
If you’re unsure what to do, err on the side of caution until
you gain enough playing experience to feel comfortable in these situations.
Flopping a draw
When you flop a four-flush or a four-straight, you’ll have to
decide whether to continue with your draw. Here’s how to make
You’ll need enough opponents so that the size of the pot offsets
the mathematical odds against completing your hand. How many opponents
do you need? If you’re facing three or more, it’s worthwhile
to draw. If you’re holding two large cards, like A-Q, you’re
probably favored against any lone opponent regardless of whether you
make your hand. You might also win by pairing either of your cards on
the turn o river. Sometimes just two big cards will be sufficient to
win in a showdown.
You’ll occasionally flop hands that offer a plethora of possibilities.
Assume you hold 8h-7h and the flop is 7c-6s-5h. You’ve flopped
top pair, as well as a straight draw, and you have backdoor flush potential.
A hand with more than one way to win is stronger than any of its individual
components. Your pair might win by itself. Your hand could improve to
trips or two pair. You might make a straight on the turn or river, or
make a flush if the next two cards are both hearts.
Here’s another example. You hold A-J of clubs and the flop is
Ah-9c-4c. Chances are you hold the best hand and are favored to win
even if your hand does not improve. You might also get lucky and turn
your good hand into a great one. A jack gives you two pair, and ace
gives you three aces, and any club makes the nut flush.
With a hand this promising you want action. Get more money into the
pot by betting or raising. And if you think one of your opponents is
going to bet, you can try for a checkraise.
for Winning Play on the Flop
Here are six tips that will help you play successfully on the
1. If the flop doesn’t fit your hand,
most of the time you’ll have to release it. The flop defines
2. When you flop a big hand, give your opponents
an opportunity to make the second best hand, but avoid giving
them a free card that could beat you.
3. If you are new to hold’em, err on
the side of caution. It costs less.
4. When you have a hand with multiple possibilities,
play it fast. It has value exceeding any of its component possibilities.
5. Be selective about the hands you plan to
play both before and after the flop, but be aggressive when
you have a hand that warrants it.
6. If you flop a draw, stick with it as long
as the pot promise a greater payoff than the odds against making
Playing the Turn
Some poker pundits have suggested that the turn plays itself. While
you can’t play the turn on autopilot, you shouldn’t get
yourself into too much trouble unless you’ve already made the
mistake of seeing the turn when you shouldn’t have. If that’s
the case, you’re probably throwing good money after bad.
Much of the time you won’t even see the turn. You’ll have
thrown away most of your hands before the flop, and released others
once you saw that the flop didn’t fit. If there’s no logical
reason to be in the pot by the turn, you should have folded. It’s
very easy to squander your bankroll one bet at a time. Poor players
do just that, calling one more bet and then another. While calling any
one bet might be insignificant by itself, collectively it can break
If you’ve made it to the turn you should be holding a good hand,
a promising draw, or believe your bluff can pick up the pot.
What should you do when you improve…
Your hand can improve on the turn in one of two ways. The first, and
best, happens whenever the turn card helps your hand. But you’ll
also benefit if you had a good hand going in, and the turn — while
not helping your hand — does nothing to improve your opponent’s
If you have top two pair on the turn and an opponent bets, you should
usually raise. If you are in late position and none of your opponents
have acted, go ahead and bet. If you’re in early position, check
with the intention of raising if you are fairly certain one of your
opponents will bet. If you think your opponents might also check, forget
about trying to checkraise and come out betting.
If you have the best hand, betting gets more money into the pot, and
makes it expensive for anyone to draw-out on you. But it’s not
a totally risk-free strategy. If your opponent has made a set or turned
a straight, you can count on being raised or reraised.
…And when you don’t?
It’s unfortunate, but true: most of the time the turn card will
not help you. What’s a player to do?
If you’ve got an open-ended straight or flush draw, and you’re
up against two or more opponents, call any bet on the turn. However,
if the board is paired, and there’s a bet and raise in front of
you, be wary. You might be facing a full house. If you are, you’re
You might be facing a set or two pair. Once again, knowing your opponents
will help you determine what they might be holding. If you’re
up against someone who never raises a three-suited board unless he can
beat that probable flush, release your hand.
If the turn didn’t help and there is a bet in front of you, not
only has the cost gone up, but the number of future betting rounds has
decreased. You have less opportunity to punish your opponents if you
make your hand. Moreover, many of them will probably fold on the turn
too, leaving you with fewer opponents to punish, if indeed you were
to get lucky on the river.
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