Playing poker – Is that difficult to learn? Many people that have no experience with the game have asked me that question. Usually I answer that learning the rules to the game is pretty easy, but getting a feel for the finesse of poker is very difficult for most people. Some people may never learn it. If you’re looking to learn the rules of the game, I would like to redirect you to our ‘Poker Rules’ page. Everything you need to know is explained very clearly there.
So, the basics of poker start with learning the rules. And, because you know these by now (or at least that’s what I presume), we’ll move on to how you can play the game in such a way that you have the most chances of earning money with the game on a regular basis.
We’ll start with a proper basic strategy for beginners on the lower limits. After you get the hang of that, you can move up to the higher limits and give some other strategies a try. The real pros are constantly trying to out fox each other by playing unorthodox strategies. These players know exactly what they’re doing and are always a step ahead in the game. But for us, it is important to get the hang of the game first. We’ll be working with the most popular game in the world: No Limit Texas Hold’em. We will go through our explanation in the following order:
1,Intro 2. Starting Hands 3. The Flop 4. Odds & Outs 5. The Turn 6. The River 7. Conclusion
I’ll bet that many of you have seen poker games on TV and you’ve been intrigued. Often, the TV shows show you the most spectacular images of big bluff games and amazing calls. It’s images like these that seduce beginners into playing and they believe that this is the way to play the game. Yes, this is of course a part of the game… But, what you don’t see on TV is that the very same player that made the cool bluff was folding every hand for the past hour building up to the bluff.
We’ll be starting our poker education with playing the lower limits because this is where you’ll probably be starting to play, which is a wise choice by the way. You’ll find many weak players at that level, so playing with a solid strategy is the best way to go against these player that make error after error. Unskilled players usually make the following mistakes:
– Passive play – The player takes very little initiative in the hand. – Playing too many hands – The player is too eager to see the flop and tries to make a hand out of anything. – Very difficult to out-bluff – He always partakes in a hand because he can’t value his own hand. – Bluffs way too often – Has a low level of thinking (at least in the area of poker ) – Using complicated moves and strategies to beat him won’t have any effect because he won’t recognize them.
A very important basic rule to keep in mind when you’re trying to become a better poker player is to do the exact opposite of what your opponents are doing. When you’re facing players like we’ve described above, you’ll have to take the initiative in the hands that you do play, but also be selective about the hands that you partake in. Keep your bluffs to a minimum.
It’s difficult to determine what lower limits are for an individual player but as far as our strategy goes, we’ve been working with limits between $0. 10-$0. 20 for cash games and little tournaments up to a maximum of $10. However, due to the fact that more and more players are getting their information from the Internet and there is so much information out there, limits are changing. Whereas the $0. 25-$0. 50 range was considered to be low limits with mostly bad players as recently as four years ago, now you’ll find mostly well skilled players at that level.
That’s why we advise people to start at the lowest limits possible (often these are the $0. 01-$0. 02 limits) and work their way up to the limits that they still feel comfortable playing at and are still beating the other players. If you don’t feel comfortable enough to play even the lowest limits yet, but still want to be practicing your poker skills, then we advise that you play with «play money?. This is an option that’s offered on every poker site and it’s a great way to get a feel for the game without it costing you any of your own, real money. You’ll also find that most poker sites offer the option of free tournaments where you can actually win real money! If you look at our freeroll page, you can see which tournaments are starting on which site and when. In the next section, we’ll take a look at Starting Hands.
A common error that’s made by starting players is to get involved in too many hands. Sure, two face cards look good – but if you get a King-Jack as your pocket hand, then you should just muck it. Our advice is to play a solid strategy when you’re a beginner and be very selective about the hands that you actually do play. When you choose a hand to play, then play it aggressively. This particular style of play is called «tight-aggressive?. By only playing strong starting hands, you’ll steer yourself away from having to make difficult decisions. If you decide to play a Jack-5 hand and then get another Jack on the flop, you’ll be in a difficult spot when your opponent raises you. The pair of Jacks is of course good, but you have a very low kicker to go with it.
To determine the right starting hand, you’ll have to keep in mind that your position at the table is very important. For this example, we’ll use a ten-handed table. Of course a six-handed table also works, even a two-handed would be OK, but then you’ll need to open more hands and look for more complicated situations. We recommend that beginners start at a full ring table.
The table positions can be sub-divided into 4 categories:
- Early Position: You are seated in one of the first 3 seats next to the big blind. 2. Mid Position: You are seated in position 4, 5, or 6 next to the big blind. 3. Late Position: One of the two positions before the blinds. 4. Small Blind and Big Blind: The two positions with mandatory bets.
Each of these positions has their own strengths for the starting hands. In the early positions, you should keep the number of hands you participate in to a minimum. There are simply too many players after you that still need to make decisions about their play and so you have very little information to base your play on. If you are in one of the late positions, you have the advantage of seeing what the rest of the table has done and this opens up more options for playing more hands. Being in the last positions will bring you the same advantage in the later stages of a hand (flop, turn, river), which is a great benefit. Sitting on the button (dealer position) is therefore the best position at the table.
We’ll give our advice about the different categories and the kinds of hands that you should play. In the event that you feel like the other players at the table are a lot less skilled than you are, then you can expand this list. But, to start, we advise that you stick to this schedule. Do yourself a favor – print this chart and keep it next to your computer.
- Early Position: A-A, K-K, Q-Q, J-J, T-T, A-K, A-Q (muck the rest) 2. Mid Position: A-A, K-K, Q-Q, J-J, T-T, A-K, A-Q, 9-9, 8-8, 7-7, K-Q, A-J 3. Late Position: A-A, K-K, Q-Q, J-J, T-T, A-K, A-Q, 9-9, 8-8, 7-7, K-Q, A-J, 6-6, 5-5, 4-4, 3-3, 2-2, A-T, A-9, A-8, K-J, K-T, Q-J, Q-T, J-T 4. Small Blind and Big Blind: A-A, K-K, Q-Q, J-J, T-T, A-K, A-Q
Now, don’t get this wrong. The above list of hands is merely a tool to see which hands you should play at the opening of the hand. We did not say anything about calling, raising or re-raising. This is one of the most complicated issues with No Limit Texas Hold’em. But, there is a general rule that you should keep in mind:
– If you are first in line to play a hand and your hand is good enough to play – make a raise. By raising, you show the other players that you are not letting them on board (the flop) cheaply. Many players make the mistake of limping on an A-A (only calling with a great hand like this) because they don’t want to scare off the other players. But, the other players will now have the opportunity to see the flop for free. This way, there will be a lot of players that stay in the pot. Aces loose their value after the flop because most hands improve significantly after the flop. Pocket aces are the best you can get with only two cards but five cards give many more options. Try to «thin out? the player field to a maximum of one or two other players.
– As you can see from this explanation, we advise that you play similar hands on the blinds as you do in the early positions. The reason being that you will be out of position after the flop; it is always up to you to initiate a round and you have zero information about the hands of your opponents. Many new players will play to defend their blind and don’t want to loose their mandatory bet. And, if you get a substantial raise while being on a blind position with a mediocre hand, muck it for the reasons given above. Now let’s have a look at playing the flop.
Now that the flop is on the table, things have potentially changed significantly. The best starting hand (A-A) can now be trailing at the end against the worst starting hand (7-2) if the flop came with a 7-7-2! The flop has so many options for hand combinations and ways to play them that it’s difficult to give one single strategy. What we can do is to give some general guidelines for making the right decision on the flop:
– Most important to keep in mind for playing the flop is the composition of the flop (what does the flop consist of?) and how your hand hooks into that. This is the deciding factor for the way you play your hand. An example: you raised pre-flop with A-A and two other players called your raise. The flop comes and puts 6-7-9 (all diamonds) on the board. But, you are not holding any diamonds. Chances are that you’re still holding the strongest hand, but this flop puts your hand in danger. There is a possibility that one of the other players made a straight or a flush. If one of your opponents puts in a raise, be clever and muck your hand.
– Realize that once the flop is on the board, you know about 75% of the cards that will make or break your hand. At this point, it is mostly decided whether your hand has potential or not. Don’t risk it if the flop comes with a 4-J-K when you’re holding a 9-10. True, a Queen would give you a straight, but the chance that it works out is slim-to-none. And, if that Q does not come on the turn, you risk having to pay another big bet to go to the river.
– This is also what our last piece of advice on this topic is about. If you miss the flop, don’t be afraid to muck your hand. Too many beginners are too curious about the flop and will put a big bet on the table just to see the cards. Another common mistake is to not let go of a hand that looked promising before the flop. Ace-King is a great hand to start with but not so great after a 6-7-8 flop.
Odds and Outs
It is difficult for beginning players to assess their chances of making a good hand after flopping a straight draw (pocket 7-8 and a 5-6-K on the flop). To determine your chances of winning, you’ll need to know your number of «outs? and the «odds?. Outs are determined by calculating how many cards are in the game that can give you a winning hand. In the event of the 7-8-pocket hand with the 5-6-K flop of various suits, there are eight possible out cards to make your hand; the four 4’s and the four 9’s. Using the number of outs, you can calculate your odds. It might seem very difficult to do this while playing a hand but there is an easy way to do it.
To calculate your chances for a particular hand, you multiply your number of odds by four on the flop or by two on the turn. This is a very close estimate of your chances. When looking at the above example of the draw straight with eight outs, to get the best hand you’ll have to multiply 8 by 4 which gives you 32. This 32 is actually a percentage, making it 32%. (The actual winning percentage is 31. 45%.) Losing a few outs in the burned stack, you might be off by a few percent but it’s still close enough because you don’t need to know the exact percentage.
So, now we know what our rough chances are of making a straight. The thing we need to know next is if we have enough leverage to make a call with this straight draw in the event that your opponent puts in a bet. We need to know the «right price?, or the pot odds, for this hand. We’ll explain this using another example:
– Let’s say that our previous scenario already has a pot of $120 pre-flop. Your opponent puts in a $40 bet on the flop. The question is «Can you call this with your straight draw, disregarding any other factors??
– The pot was already $120 and your opponent now puts in another $40, making the pot $160. This gives the odds of 160 to 40, making 4 to 1 on your money. 4 to 1 means that you only need to win 20% of the time to make this call profitable. Whether we can call or not depends on the size of the bet against the size of the pot. Now we see that the chance of making the straight is greater than the 20% for calling the bet. With a difference like this, you can even consider putting in a raise on the bet of your opponent. If you keep these rules in mind, you’ll be making money in the long term.
– This scenario is of course simplified for the sake of illustrating the example. There are many other aspects to the game and you never know what your opponents are holding in their hand. This example is just a clear way to show you what you need to know about these situations, generally speaking. Once you get the hang of it, you can start to explore the other factors that influence the outcome of a pot.
The bets have been settled on the flop and it’s time for the 4th card on the board: The Turn. The turn has many of the same rules and restrictions as the flop. We can calculate this as well if we still have the right odds to call (remember, that’s the number of outs multiplied by 2). However, there are a few differences compared to the flop. We‘ll discuss these differences now:
On the turn, we have more information than we had on the flop. We’ve now seen what the flop has brought to the board and we’ve also seen the playing styles of the other players before the flop and on the flop. There are a number of other points that can provide you with valuable information. First, who made the bets and what was the reaction to the bets? Usually players placing a bet pre-flop will also place a bet on the flop. This is called a continuation bet; the person that initiated the first bet will try to grab the pot by showing the rest of the table that the flop was beneficial to his hand – or that he did not even need it. This is a common strategy in No Limit Hold’em.
To analyze the information on the turn, we’ll look at two scenarios where only two players play the hands. There are many more possibilities like more players on the flop or different flop reactions, but in this case you need to understand what changes on the turn. OK, so the two scenarios are:
Scenario 1. You are the pre-flop raiser, in the right position, and you put in a bet on the flop. If you are now at the turn, then one of your opponents has called you. You can safely assume that the flop was beneficial to him if he called you on the flop. A bad player with an A-K pocket hand will continue on a flop of 2-10-J hoping on the Q to make his hand. An opponent often checks towards the aggressor (you). So, now there is another card on the board and we have another question to ask: «Has this card been beneficial to my opponent?? On the flop of our example 2-10-J, a 6 is pretty harmless. But a 9 is much more dangerous and could be helpful for the players that have called on the flop. The 9 can complete a hand of pocket Q-K or give a pocket 10-9 or J-9 two pair.
You need to ask yourself what kind of player you think your opponent is. Many players will call almost any flop because they hate mucking a pocket hand. But, if you give it a little push on the turn you’ll see that a lot of them will forfeit their hand if it’s not a great hand. When playing against opponents like that, you’ll want to go for the turn regardless of what you are holding, in the hopes that they’ll muck their hand first. This is where the saying «In No Limit Texas Hold’em, you mostly play your opponent? comes from. Other opponents will call almost every turn because they hate being bluffed out of a hand. When holding a lesser hand yourself, you could consider checking more often. You do need to keep the strength of your own hand in mind, however.
Scenario 2. It was your opponent that raised pre-flop and pushed through on the flop. You called, but you’re off position. You called the flop because it brought you some good and now it’s time for the turn. We often check towards the aggressor. The information we need now is whether he will raise again or just check. The difficult part is that we’re off position and the control is not with us. Instead, your opponent has control. He can check to get another card on the river to improve his hand or he can raise to try to bluff you out. This shows us again how important position is.
For example: You called the flop with 9-9 and the flop came with 4-5-6. The turn brings an Ace and puts us in a difficult position if he bets again. We won’t know if he is just bluffing on the Ace or if he is actually holding an Ace. However, if we were in position for this situation, then we would have the control and we would have the option to keep the pot small by checking the turn.
Apart from the issues that we just discussed, there are a few other things to keep in mind… Watch the size of the bets your opponents are making. It is important to know the playing style of your opponent, so pay attention to him/her! Many players at the lower levels love to go in with huge bluffs and then, when they are holding a good hand, they will play small to keep you in the game. These things are of course different with each and every player, so reading your opponent is key.
OK, so we have survived the pre-flop, the flop and the turn and have now arrived at the river. The river is really important because the pot is reaching its max. for that hand. Every error will cost you! At the lower limits, the river is not the most difficult stage to play. We advise that you keep it simple on the river. What if you raised pre-flop, bet on the flop and turn but you’re still not holding a decent hand? Usually it’s not advisable to continue. If your opponent has gone this far, he will probably go with you on the river too. In the event that the flop was promising for a flush or a straight, but it did not deliver, then you could consider putting in a small bet if you’re not convinced that your hand will hold up in the showdown. If you’re holding a relatively good hand and you decide to put in a bet and get re-raised, the chances are pretty big that you have lost. At the lower limits, this kind of play is rarely a bluff.
On the other hand, if you called on the flop and turn and your opponent bets again, then you can safely assume that he is holding a good hand (unless he is an aggressive player). Most players at the lower limits won’t continue a bluff all the way up to the river.
If you are a beginner, it can be very difficult to see all of the various combinations that are possible with the cards on the river. When playing on the Internet, you sometimes need to make split second decisions and that might make it hard to see all the options. That’s why it’s really important to get used to that by practicing with Fun Cash in practice mode at online casinos. Then, when you are playing flawlessly, give the real deal a try!
Hopefully you have a better understanding for how complex poker actually is after reading this «basic guide to poker? and also realize that a clear-cut strategy does not exist. We also hope that you have picked up enough of the game to make a good impression at the lower limits. Finally, we’ve summarized the most important points in a quick-reference guide for you:
-Most players at the lower limits are relatively passive, play too many hands, bluff too often and call too often. Keep that in mind and try to do the opposite.
-Be very selective with your starting hands. Only play the good ones so you don’t get lost in difficult decisions early on.
–Position is KEY. Sitting last at the table gives you the advantage of making your decisions last. Good Texas Hold’em players know the importance of position!
-When the flop is on the board, you have seen about 75% of the cards for that hand. Keep that in mind when hunting a particular hand.
-The further you progress in a hand, the greater the value of the pot will be. Think ahead. Are you sure that you want to end up playing a large pot with a mediocre hand?
-Keep it simple on the river. Don’t go for the bluff; you will be called anyway when playing the lower limits. And, if you are not holding a very strong hand, keep your calls to a minimum when another player has been betting hard on the flop and turn.
That concludes our guide for beginners. Learning how to play poker is easiest by practicing your game after reading our guide. Be sure to create an account with one of the poker rooms on our website. We are always searching to get exclusive deals from these poker sites for our readers that sign up through us, like freerolls and special bonuses. If you want to play with Fun Cash, just set up an account at one of our recommended poker rooms and start practicing! Pick the best poker rooms for you on our poker review page. And, if you want to know where to play the best freerolls, be sure check out our freerolls page.
We wish you lots of fun and success at the tables!