You Have To Know|
No matter what kind of poker game you are playing in, there are certain
things you have to know. I list them and comment on them below. They
are listed in order from the simplest to the most complex. The more of
them you are capable of, the greater your chances of winning.
Therefore, obviously I start with "kid stuff" that any poker player
worth his salt knows as a matter of second nature and I progress to
factors that may not even occur to anyone but players of the highest
The rank of the hands.
Don't scoff at thisó75 percent of all poker players have difficulty
2. What constitutes a
good hand, a fair hand, a bad
these are relative values and vary in accordance with the game you are playing. It is absolutely
necessary knowledge that you
must take into any game with you. In jackpots draw poker a pair of
sevens is a weak hand not worth playing; in blind-opening draw poker,
in certain circumstances, it might be a good hand worth a stay and even
a bet. A pair of tens and a king in the first three cards constitute a
good hand in seven-card stud but are not worth a play in seven-card
high-low stud, in which a good starting hand is something like 7-3-2.
Later on I tell what is a good hand, a fair hand, and a bad hand in
every one of the principal forms of poker. Before you go into a game,
make sure that you have a very clear idea of this, whether you get it
from experience, from intuition, from this webiste, or from any other
3. Your chance of
will explain later, poker is not a game of the higher mathematics.
All you need is rough approximations of the accurate figures.
Nevertheless, you have to know approximately what is your chance of
improving the hand you were dealt. To make an extreme example, if you
did not know this you would be as likely to play an inside straight (in
which the odds are nearly eleven to one against you, odds that you are
seldom if ever offered by the pot) as a double-ended straight (when the
odds are less than five to one against you, odds that you are
frequently offered by the pot).
4. What you stand to lose
and what you stand to win.
this point we begin to approach expert stuff. The ultimate
phase of mathematical figuring in poker is the number of hands you will
win and how much you will win on them, and the number of hands you will
lose and how much you will lose on them. You know the chestnut about
the man who had three farms and lost them all in poker; he lost the
first two drawing to inside straights and not hitting, and the third
drawing to an inside straight and hitting. It is not enough to know
that when you draw three cards to a low pair the odds are eight to one
against making three of a kind. The necessary next problem is, what are
the chances that I will win if, in that one case out of nine, I do make
three of a kind? If your three of a kind, once you make them, have only
an 85 percent chance of winning the pot, then to be mathematically
sound you must deduct your losses on the other 15 percent, the times
you improve and still don't win.
5. The best hand probably
held by each opponent.
comes even closer to the expert level, and if (as in stud poker)
it involves discounting all cards that you know about, it becomes
superexpert. I will give you a simple and oversimplified example. In a
stud game, you have a pair of kings. Your opponent has an ace showing.
What is the chance that he has a pair of aces? If you have watched all
the cards that have folded, and if three aces have shown, you know that
the chance is zero; if two aces have folded, you know that the chance
is a remote one; if one ace has folded, you know that there is a
distinct danger; if no ace has shown, there is a probability that your
opponent has aces. All of this is modified by your appraisal of the
opponent himself. If he is a player who probably would not have stayed
unless he had an ace in the hole, then regardless of the mathematics
of the case he is likely to have aces. The true expert in a stud game
must watch every card dealt, remember every card folded, and judge
every opposing hand in accordance with the cards that the opposing
player cannot have or probably does not have in the hole.
What the opponent thinks he has.
again approaches the highest degree of expert skill. After all,
your opponent may bet into your three aces when he has queens up,
because he honestly thinks that queens up will be the best hand. So
remember, when the opponent bets, that he may be wrong! Your bets and
especially your calls will be based on your estimate of how good a hand
the opponent thinks he has.
7. How to fool or
outguess the opponent.
is as far as you can go in poker skill. It is the highest expert
or superexpert level of skill, and it probably cannot be taught, cannot
be measured, cannot even be denned. Anyone who has the knack or ability
to outguess his opponents probably has such an aptitude for poker that
he doesn't need a book to help him win. Furthermore, he probably knows
quite well that he doesn't need a book, or my advice, and no doubt if
he and I played poker together he could beat me.
the finest poker player or any player can profit from reading
books on poker. When he reads such a book, he is reading about what
other good poker players have done and the methods they have found
effective. I have never seen a bad poker book. Many of them are badly
organized, yes; usually they are incomplete; analyze them as a whole
and they consist mostly of tips that apply to specific situations and
not to the game as a whole. Nevertheless they are all worthy
publications, praiseworthy, helpful, admirable. If you tried to write
everything that is known about poker in all its forms, you would fill a
twenty-five volume encyclopedia as big as the Britannica. Many of the
finest poker exploits are inspirational and intuitional. They won't
necessarily occur even to the most expert player at the strategic
moment when they will be most helpful. But if that player has heard
about them, through reading books that give the experiences of other
players, he doesn't need inspiration or intuition or even practical
experience in a game. They become part of his experience. To
illustrate this, I will cite a couple of the chestnuts of the game, the
classic stories that don't lose their validity because they are so
classic or because the situations involved are so rare.
First Poker Chestnut
stud. Table stakes. Last betting interval.
Player A has
Q, J, 10, K showing, plus hole card.
Player B has
6, 10, 8, 4 showing, plus hole card.
Player A has
taken the lead throughout; Player B has played along,
outlasting other players. Player B has a six in the whole, giving him a
pair of sixes.
On the last
card, Player A bets out, perhaps half his stack.
knows that there are six cards that would give Player A a
cinch hand: A, K, Q, J, 10, or 9. But Player B taps.
calls and loses. His hole card is a seven.
was nothing unusual in the fact that Player B figured
the bluff of Player A. Every sucker in the land does that several times
per session. The significance of this case is in the fact that Player B
tapped and that Player A called.
The unimaginative player, in B's position, would be proud of the fact
that he had detected the bluff, would call, and would win the pot. This
particular Player B went further. He trusted not only his own judgment
but also his estimate of his opponent.
yourself in Player A's position. You have bluffed in a case in
which the odds heavily favor your having a cinch hand. Your opponent,
who has stuck around through three previous rounds of betting, has not
been content to call you but has bet everything he has. Why should he
do this if he has simply detected your bluff? He could content himself
with calling and take in an easy pot. So the only logical explanation
for Player B's bet is that he has detected the bluff, but unfortunately
he cannot beat the board. Therefore his only chance to win the pot is
to let you know that he has detected the bluff in the reasonable
expectation that you, being caught in your bluff, will fold your hand
and give up.
this basis, Player A calls and fully expects his K-Q high to beat
Player B's king in the hole.
said before, this is a matter of inspiration. The exact
circumstances will probably never present themselves to you if you play
poker all your life. Nevertheless, you should not under-estimate the
value of knowing about this and dozens or hundreds of other poker
situations that some previous good player has encountered and mastered.
They are all part of the well-rounded education that the finished poker
player must have.
jacks to open. $10 limit. Ante is $7. ($1 each).
(next to dealer) opens with two aces. Player B plays. All
other players drop.
draws three cards and makes four aces. Player B draws one card.
Player A bets
out, Player B raises, Player A reraises, Player B
reraises, Player A drops.
is the only case on record in which a player dropped four aces
after raising once. It is unlikely that it could ever actually happen,
because poker players are human beings and a human being would not drop
four aces, but the situation is entirely logical.
would not have stayed on a simple draw to a straight or flush,
and he would have raised with two pairs, so he was marked with a draw
to a straight flush. He knew that Player A knew this, so that he would
not have given his second raise if he could merely beat a full house,
on the assumption that any full house by Player A would be better than
his (because Player A went in with a single pair of openers).
Consequently, it must be figured that Player B made his straight flush
and Player A's four aces are no good.
all inescapable logic, however unrealistic it may be.
The Plan of This Website
am going to take up the general considerations that apply to all
forms of poker. Sooner or later on this website I will treat each of
principal forms of the game and give specific advice about it, but
first I consider it more appropriate to discuss certain important
coniderations that apply to every form of poker, no matter which
particular game you happen to be playing in.
There are certain considerations that
apply to all forms of poker. I
have divided them into the following sections:
The ethics and etiquette
of the game.
The mathematics of
Card memory and analysis.
take these up one by one.