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Poker Strategy

When should I bluff?

There are several different situations that are suitable for a bluff. The ideal situation would be when your opponent doesn't have a good hand, and he/she could believe that you do. It's of course easier said than done to always indentify such situations, but some situations are generally more suitable for bluffs than others.

Look for situations when your opponents are few, and have shown weakness (for example by checking before you). A bet then often causes the other players to fold, unless they play very "loose".

Another bluffing situation would be if you have a drawing hand (for example an open-ended Straight or a four-Flush) on the Flop. A bet (or raise if someone bets before you) can sometimes cause the other players to fold. If they don't fold, then they are at least likely to check before you on the Turn. This can save you a bet on the Turn (when the bet-size is twice a big as on the Flop) if you don't improve your hand. This video poker technique is sometimes referred to as "buying a free card".

When everyone checked on the flop there's sometimes an opportunity to bluff on the Turn. If you are first to act on the Turn, or if everyone checked before you, you can bet hoping that everybody folds. This is most effective when there are no flush draws or straight draws on the board. If the Turn card is higher than any of the flop cards it's even better. Then your bet might force players with lower pairs to fold.

If you didn't make your draw (for example if you were drawing to a Straight) on the River, it may also be a good opportunity to bluff. This is assuming that the board looks "dangerous", for example with three cards of the same suit. Your opponents could be aware of that you were on a draw, but not what kind of draw (Straight or Flush). If you suddenly bet on the River they often assume that you did make your draw, which many times causes them to fold unless they have very good hands.

What if I get an inside Straight draw on the Flop? Should that hand always be folded?

No, not necessarily. It depends on how much money is in the pot, and how much you expect that it will cost to call.

A gutshot/inside Straight draw has 4 outs (meaning that there are 4 cards in the deck that can help your hand) if there are two board cards left to come. Your odds against making the draw are roughly 5 to 1 on the Flop. With only one board card left to come (on the Turn) your odds are 11 to 1 against you making your draw. You should keep those odds in mind when deciding to call or fold.

Also, you don't have to automatically stay until the River just because you choose to call at the Flop. A common strategy is to call one bet at the Flop when it's relatively cheap to call, and check-fold on the Turn in case you didn't make your gutshot draw. Always consider the size of the pot compared to what it will cost to call, including the possible scenario of a raise by players acting after you.

What starting hands should I play?

Good hands, of course.

But what is good in hold'em? Well, there is no easy answer to this one and you will often see even top players disagree on some hands. But they will all agree on one thing: a winning hold'em player should be selective when it comes to playing first two cards.

So what is a good video poker starting hand? Different types of hands are good for different types of situations. Let's discuss different types of hands...

A. Big pairs.

Big pairs like JJ are the best there is. These are the premium hands that hold'em players wish for, these are the hands that make real money. You nearly always play these and you should do it with a bang. Put some money in while you still have the probable best hand.

B. Big cards.

Two broadway cards are a good starting hand in hold'em, because this is the game of big cards. A hand like KJ can easily end up best with a pair kings or jacks or maybe even the nut broadway straight.

However beware! - these are sometimes referred to as trap hands - as they quickly turn into big losers if played in the wrong situation. For example, if KQ goes against AK, it will lose heavily if it flops a king. You will bet and raise only to have your opponent show you a better kicker at the showdown.

Of course, the problem is, how to recognize these types of situations to avoid them. Well, it helps to know your players. If a tight player opens in early position (which implies a very strong hand), you should think thrice before calling him with your AT. There is a good chance you are against AA, KK, QQ, JJ, AK, AQ or AJ, all of which have you in terrible shape and you should fold. This is the simplest form of the Art of Hand Reading, a skill all good players try to master.

Bad aces and kings like A6 are trouble hands also, they play very badly against many opponents, as somebody is sure to outkick your pair of aces or turn a pair of sevens to your pair of sixes. On the other hand, against a single fishy opponent a bare ace might even take the pot unimproved against his Q5s or something! Anyway, be careful with these.

AK, the best of the broadway hands, will usually not have this problem. It is only in bad shape against AA and KK, it destroys AQ or worse and it does fairly well against QQ and other pairs. It's a powerhouse.

JT is on the other hand the worst broadway hand. I try to rarely play it, never out of position. Which brings us to the next type, the connectors.

C. Connectors.

Connectors are hands that make the most straights, like 98 making straights from 98765 to QJT98. The wonderful thing of making a straight is that they are very robust against multiple opponents and they often make a nut hand that can raise or reraise without fear of being beat. If you have 65 on a board of KQ432 with no flush possible, you know for certain the pot is yours and the guy with QQ will feel like punched in the gut.

Sure, they can sometimes win with as little as bottom pair, but when they do, they will win a small pot. Therefore, they somewhat prefer multiple opponents that will pay off when they lose to your straight. David Sklansky suggest they can be often played in late position when several players have entered the pot in front of you.

I like to play them in the blinds, when somebody raises the pot and several other players are in, as I get a discount on entering the pot and I pray for a straight.

Connectors with a gap (like T8) are somewhat weaker, as they don't make as many straights, while a hand like T7 is weaker still.

D. Suited cards.

When you start with two suited cards, you have a chance to make a flush, which again will often hold up against multiple opponents. But since suited cards don't flop a flush draw that often, you should look for more ways to win with your suited hand. A hand like T2s is usually no good, because it will not win often enough with a pair of tens, let alone pair of deuces or worse yet, lose a bunch of chips to a better flush.

You want your connectors to be suited and your big cards and aces too! A5s will often win as well with the nut flush, a pair of aces or maybe the A2345 bicycle straight. 76s will maybe flop a pair and a single of it's suit on board, call another bet on the turn when it catches a flush draw and maybe win with two pair when it catches again on the river. Multiple ways to win, that's the secret of poker.

Suitedness adds a lot of value to any hand, for that reason AKs is rated as one of the premium hands in hold'em, way up there with AA, KK, QQ, JJ and TT. JTo is a trouble hand that all good players try to avoid, but JTs on the other hand is a pretty good hand that can be played in almost any position if the situation is right.

E. Small pairs.

A small pair like 44 is in trouble if against two opponents. Imagine a flop of AQ7 in a three-way pot. First player checks, the other bets, what do you do with your 44? You are probably beat and must fold even those times that you are not.

Small pairs want to be small sets. But they don't become sets all that often, here's the catch! So when they do, they need to make a lot of money to account for all those times they miss the flop. Therefore small pairs play best against many opponents, when they flop a set they will usually do some major damage to anybody who still hangs around on the river. If there are many players already in, that's the time to play small pairs and try to flop a set.

F. Everything else.


Good luck on the flop!

What are broadway cards, the nut broadway, the nut flush and a bicycle straight? And why do they use these two words: river and turn?

-broadway cards

-the nut broadway

The broadway straight is the AKQJT straight and is always the nut straight. A, K, Q, J and T are therefore called the broadway cards. When a broadway hand (a hand with two broadway cards) makes a straight using both cards, it will always be the nut straight. For example:

You have JT (the worst of the broadway hands) and the flop is AQ9. If 8 or K comes on turn or river, you will have the nut straight (but not necessarily the nuts, as the board might pair giving somebody a full house or the flush draw might come in, but that's another story). It's the same with all other broadway hands, but some of them don't make straights that easy; note that with AT you will always need a gutshot to hit to make the broadway.

This is one of the reasons hold'em players think of the broadway hands as somewhat strong, another is simply because their high hand value; a pair of jacks with your JT will often win you a fair pot. Except when against something like AJ, of course, but that's another another story.

-nut flush

The nuts is a term for unbeatable hand. Unlike in the game of 7 Stud, the best possible hand is easily determinable in the game of hold 'em. There is no hand that can beat 2s2c a board of 2h2d7h8hKh or A3h on a board of KhTh2c7hQs. This is what we call "the nuts", it is an important concept in hold 'em, especially in pot or no-limit games.

The nut flush is the best flush possible on a given board. If you start with a suited ace, any flush that you will make will be the nut flush (but again, not necessarily the nuts). Some players will argue that on a board of 9h8h7h the player with JTh has the nut flush, not the player with AKh. I say JhTh9h8h7h is a straight flush, not a flush, it is a flush no more than KKKQQ is trips. But again, that's another another another story.

Even a hand like J4s can develop into the nut flush. If the board is AsKsQs2h3c, there can be no hand out that can beat you and you can raise and reraise silly.

-bicycle straight

If the broadway is the best straight you can have in hold 'em, usually being the nuts, then the bicycle is the worst one. It is the 5432A straight and the 5, 4, 3, 2 and A are called the bicycle cards.

The bicycle has special value in hi/lo games like Omaha 8, where the best and the worst hand compete for half of the pot. The bicycle is a monster hand, because it will usually scoop the whole pot and not just take the measly half of it. The straight part of the hand is usually good to take the high and the baby card part of the hand is always good to take the low.

In hold'em, the bicycle is not something to go ga-ga over, as the bicycle will rarely be the nuts.

Why do they use these two words: river and turn

I dunno, sorry, but I'll ask around.

For more info on poker terminology, get your hands on the excellent Dictionary of Poker by Michael Wiesenberg.

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video poker
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