Monday, May 10, 2010

Trouble hands

In my last post I talked about starting hands you can win big with. In this post I will be discussing hands that can get you in trouble and cost you big money in the long run if you're not careful. Some hands are easy to get away from. 7-2 offsuit, 8-3 offsuit, 9-4o, etc. They have no high card, they're not connected, and they're not suited. There's no need to discuss their junkiness any further. What I'm going to cover here are hands that are tempting to play, but will end up costing more than they will profit.

My list of trouble hands starts with what many call "Ace-rag". This term simply means an A with a junky kicker. Here's what happens more often than not when you play A-rag. Someone raises, you call, 2/3 of the time you miss the flop and fold. The other 1/3 of the time you will pair either the 6 or the A. If you pair the 6, it is likely to be bottom pair. Not much value in that. If you pair the A, you will either win a small pot because your opponent will be concerned about the A on board or your opponent will have you dominated with a bigger A and take you for a scenic tour of value town. You are going to win a little bit or lose unless you hit two pair or trip 6's. These scenarios don't happen often enough to justify calling a raise with A-rag.

The next category is "broadway cards". I know you will see any two picture cards and be tempted to play with KT, QT, KJ, QJ. Then you'll flop a pair and get owned by AK, AQ, even KQ and AJ. The real value in those hands comes from straight draws and two pair hands. Remember that our goal is to be the one in a dominant position, not the other way around.

Finally the most overplayed type of hands are suited cards. You'll see two suited cards and think "OMG, it's suited. I can make a flush!" Remember that more often than not you won't be making a flush, you'll be making pairs. How much value does T-2 suited have on a board of T-8-3? Not very much at all. It's another trouble spot. Not to mention when you flop four to a flush, pay to draw, and miss. There are many ways these hands can cost you money and only a few ways you can win with them.

Starting hands

It is generally true that many new players make the mistake of seeing the flop with too many hands. Their reasoning goes something like this, "I want to see a lot of flops because anything can fall on the flop and I don't want to miss out on a big pot because I folded." The problem with this logic is that most of the time you will not hit the flop perfect. In fact, most of the time you will not even make a pair. When you do catch a piece of the flop you want to be comfortable getting your money in. You want to avoid playing a guessing game for large chunks of your stack. Your hand should be strong enough that you can bet and get called by worse hands.

Good Example: you hold AK, flop is A-8-3. You can extract value from any AQ or lower. You could be beat by A8, A3, 88 or 33 (8-3 has no business in the pot, but you never know). In any case you should be willing to put some money into this pot.

Bad Example: you hold Q5, flop is Q-T-7. You have flopped top pair with no kicker and are beat more often than not. However, the top pair will be enough to cost you some money. Any Q has you beat (AQ, KQ, etc.) any set (QQ, TT, 77) and even if you do have the best hand, you still have to dodge straight draws (KJ, 98, J9). Just about all you can beat is a pair of T's or 7's and they won't give you much value. Basically any action means you have the worst hand, so there's no value in playing.

Playing a tight starting range will make sure that when you do hit the flop, you will most likely be way out in front. Your goal most of the time should be to flop top pair (or an overpair), top two pair, three of a kind or an open ended straight or flush draw. My top 10 starting hands are as follows.


After these hands are playable hands, which should be played more carefully than the top 10 hands.

small pairs, 66-22

With these hands you should have a good idea where you stand in most pots and can avoid dangerous guessing games. Later I will discuss when to open up your starting hand requirements to include more speculative or marginal holdings. Sticking to these however will keep you out of trouble for the most part.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Play for fun

Poker is a fun game. You can make money if you play well enough. If you're a beginner it is likely you will your share of mistakes that will cost you money. It happens to everyone. You should make sure that you're playing for the right reasons; fun & enjoyment. If you start playing simply because you want to make money, you will become frustrated if you don't have early success playing the game. Play because you enjoy the competition and excitement of the game. If it stops being fun at any point, take a break or end your session early.

Monday, April 19, 2010

5 Common Newbie Mistakes

Novice players often make bad decisions that cost them money at the poker table. Here's some common pitfalls and how to avoid them.

1. Playing too many hands. When you first start out you should stick to premium hands. As you become more experienced and learn to make better decisions you will gradually open up your starting range.

2. Not enough aggression. Many new players are intimidated or unsure about their hand strength so they choose to check and call with hands they should bet and raise with. This allows others to hit their draws cheaply and it doesn't maximize value when you do have the best hand.

3. Too much aggression. Another type of player has heard that aggression is good in poker. Aggressive raises and re-raises puts a lot of pressure on opponents and can induce them to fold. However, if one does not control this aggression it can lead to disaster.

4. Chasing too much. A flush or straight draw on the flop looks nice, but it's not a made hand. New players don't always understand the odds of making their hand or how to play it when they get there. Use a poker calculator to help you learn the odds.

5. Not sizing up opponents. If you don't pay attention to your competition you are costing yourself money. Everyone has their own style and you should try to be aware of what others are doing so you can make more informed decisions when the time comes.