No Limit Hold Em – Top 10 Tips for Beginners

Ok – today my friend asked me for some poker tips before a charity tournament he was playing in this evening.

Of course, I went way overboard with the advice.  However, it turned into a good exercise for me and could really turn into something useful for those who have a tourney with the boys on Saturday and on Friday find themselves in a panic because they don’t know the first thing about poker!

 Leave your suggestions for #10 in the comments if you don’t mind!

Before doing anything, take a look at the starting hand chart on the website referenced below and do your best to observe patterns regarding the hands, their ranking, their suit, etc and the relationship to profitability.

1)  Tell yourself you’re playing No Limit FOLD ‘Em…it’s not as “fun” as gambling, but it’s more profitable.  See the flop LESS than anyone else at the table, and raise MORE than anyone else.  This is considered Tight/Aggressive poker – and is the most profitable.  Another way to look at this is to play as if you want to win money, not pots…just good risk management.
2)  If you’re early to act, your 2 hole cards should be on the higher end of that chart.
3)  The later you are to act, the more liberal you can be/further down that chart you can go.
4)  Pay attention to your chipstack and other people’s chipstack.  Any time someone commits 10% or more of their chips before the community cards are shown, there’s a possibility that as the hand progresses they’ll end up all-in simply because of the way bet sizes typically progress throughout the hand.  10% is what’s called a “committment threshold”.  Have a plan if you or an opponent are about to cross it.  In general, you’ll want to apply pressure and force your opponent to make a decision for all of his/your chips if you like the community cards or simply back down and fold if you don’t.  (For more, See #5 below).
5)  If your chips get low (10 Big Blinds or less) you want to consider a double-up or bust-out philosophy (you don’t want to be “limping” in or calling).  ****If nobody’s raised ahead of you****, pick a better than average hand and shove your chips in and hope that either everyone folds and you steal the blinds or that you get called and double-up.  If you double up, resume normal poker.  If everyone folds, you’ve relieved some pressure and just bought yourself 1 whole orbit around the table to wait for another good hand.  If you get called and lose, go have a drink!   ****If somebody’s raised ahead of you****, you’d better have a monster if you’re gonna committ any chips to this pot (see #6 below).
6)  Obey the “Gap Concept” which says you need a better hand to call a raise with than you do to make a raise with.  Example:  You might raise with A-8 before the community cards are shown, but shouldn’t call someone else’s raise when you are holding A-8 before the community cards are shown.  Your A-8 is likely to be dominated by AK, AQ, AJ, AT, or a pocket pair of some kind.  Whether you call with it or are called with it, you’ll probably be behind and be relying solely on one of your 2 cards to pair up in order to even have a chance to win the hand.  Simply put, the 8 decreases the A’s value too much and can leave you with tough/unprofitable decision making as the hand progresses.
7)  Suited hole cards (J of spades, 4 of spades) are over-rated.   Connected cards (5 of clubs, 6 of diamonds) are over-rated.  They make flushes and straights (respectively).  However, they’re ranked higher for a reason…the odds of achieving them are low and you almost always find yourself “needing to improve” throughout the hand in order to win.  Suited AND Connected cards do have some value (J of diamonds, Q of diamonds) because you have both possibilities.  See that chart for proof.  They still require some caution in terms of committment as a hand progresses.
8)  If you really want to get tecnical you can make your post-flop decisions based purely on math. Say after the flop you have 4 cards to a spade flush.  There’s 13 spades in the deck and 4 are exposed to you (say 2 in your hand and 2 on the table).  So you assume there’s 9 left out there somewhere.  With 2 cards to come, multiply the 9 X 4 for a 36% chance to hit your flush.  With 1 card to come multiply the 9 X 2 for an 18% chance to make your hand.  If it’s a straight or a flush it doesn’t matter.  The rule is that with two cards to come you multiply the # of outs X 4.  With one card to come you multiply the # of outs X 2.  If there’s $200 in the pot and someone bets $100 you’re getting great odds to call with 2 cards to come on a flush draw since you’re being asked to commit $100 to win $300 (25% of the total or 3:1 odds with a 36% chance to win).  No brainer.  As part of an aggressive strategy, you might even raise to build a bigger pot so you get paid more when/if you make your hand. 
9)  I’d urge you not to bluff…at all.  To do it successfully you have to be aware of the “story” you’ve told via your betting patterns and know if the other person is paying attention or not.  Better players will be more in tuned with the story line and catch you if the story doesn’t add up.  Beginner players are too dumb to back down and will just call with any pair.  So it’s not a profitable strategy for a beginner to try to execute.
10)  See comments for other reader’s input!

2 Responses

  1. Great stuff!

    Great read!

  2. Nice tips.

    By the way, I compiled that EV chart you linked to into a few simple rules that capture ALL the profitable hands (i.e. EV>0):

    If unsuited, play:
    1. Any pair 55 or higher.
    2. Any Queen with Jack or higher
    3. Any King or Ace with 10 or higher

    If suited, play:
    1. Any Ten, Jack or Queen with 9 or higher
    2. Any King with 8 or higher
    3. Any Ace with 3 or higher

    Also, if we consider EV of 1 or higher as very profitable hands, then we should raise them. The rule is, raise any

    1. pair QQ or higher or AK suited.

    By the way, I featured some insights from Poker author Alan Schoonmaker on my blog about Poker and Critical Thinking.

    Check it out. Cheers!

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