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What 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 rank:

1.    The rank of the hands.

Don't scoff at thisó75 percent of all poker players have difficulty remembering.

2.    What constitutes a good hand, a fair hand, a bad hand.

All 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 source.

3.    Your chance of improving.

As I 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.

At 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.

This 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.

6.    What the opponent thinks he has.

This 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.

This 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.

Yet 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
Five-card 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.
Player B 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.
Player A calls and loses. His hole card is a seven.

There 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.

Put 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.

On this basis, Player A calls and fully expects his K-Q high to beat Player B's king in the hole.

As I 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.

Second Poker Chestnut

Draw poker, jacks to open. $10 limit. Ante is $7.   ($1 each).
Player A (next to dealer) opens with two aces. Player B plays. All other players drop.
Player A 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.

This 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.

Player B 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.

It is all inescapable logic, however unrealistic it may be.

The Plan of This Website

Now I 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 the 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:

1.    The ethics and etiquette of the game.
2.    The mathematics of the game.
3.    Psychology and bluffing.
4.    Position.
5.    Money management.
6.    Card memory and analysis.

I will take these up one by one.

Copyright 2006 - 2013 Content by Albert H. Morehead