How do you know if your hand is worth playing? So often in poker, we're dealt cards that seem to be on the cusp of being good or bad. Should you go for it? Or maybe you should fold and wait for the next turn? Applying a bit of strategy can help you decide!
Hold'em hand selection and position before the flop
Playing profitable poker is not just about maximizing profits. You are not going to win every hand. Therefore, avoiding situations that are nearly always unfavorable will improve your expectation from your overall play. Professionals call these situations 'leaks.' By that they mean fixing bad decisions made by your playing habits that contribute to the loss of too many chips in losing hands. These are chips leaking from your stack!
This starting hands chart is a widely available guide to decide which are worth playing before the flop in Texas Hold'em in certain positions at the table. Some guides have slightly different evaluations of hands. It is impossible to perfectly pigeon-hole every hand in every position. Your position is the place you are seated in the current round of betting. Pre-flop, first or early position is the first player to call the Big Blind. Late position refers to the players who will be last to act. The last player to act will be the Small Blind if no other player raises.
Different game dynamics might make it more reasonable to play a weaker hand, if you do not believe the players after you raise very often. The basic rule of thumb is: If you spend chips calling and then have to fold because there is a raise, you wasted some chips without seeing any more cards. Make sure you have something which you would realistically continue with if facing another raise when you make an initial call.
Just because the guide says it is reasonable to play a certain hand in a certain position, it is important to realize that the value of your hand may change depending on what other players do. You may need to make adjustments to your hand selection. For example, if someone has raised before your turn, your hand may not be worth playing. This will make folding a better play than calling.
Post-flop play: ABC Strategy and deciding if I am pot committed
Once you have seen the flop, you will have a much better idea if your hand is going to have a chance to win. If you have made a pair or have a chance to fill a straight or a flush, it might be worth sticking around.
Deciding whether to bet or call with your hands comes with experience. Betting might reduce the number of opponents in the hand, or even win the pot for you, but beware betting too frequently or bluffing too often. This will win pots when other players have weak cards, but expect to get called eventually. You risk frequently losing a significant percentage of your stack if you don't have a good enough hand.
Checking your hand or just calling when you have a good flop for your cards might give another player a chance to make a better hand on the next street (Turn) with a hand they may not have called a bet or raise with. Charging opponents something to out draw you makes the pot bigger and increases your pay off when you win.
Sometimes you will find yourself in a position where you don't think you have the best hand but the size of the pot compared with the bet makes calling worthwhile. This is calculating 'pot odds.' Experienced players can evaluate most situations quickly and make informed decisions. Newer players often make mistakes by folding hands that are much better than they appear or calling with hands that are simply not worth anything.
If you have ambitions to be a winning player, it is crucial for you to learn to calculate the number of 'outs' you have (cards that will improve your hand) and also calculate with a fair amount of accuracy when you should risk more chips.
One important thing to remember is that if you have bet almost all of your chips and have any sort of chance of winning, even if you have just a bottom pair, it may be advisable to call with the rest of your chips. This is known as being 'pot committed.' Avoid situations where you invest a large percentage of your stack and then fold unless you get a really good flop. This is because it will make you become too predictable to other players. Recognize situations where despite only having a small chance to win the hand after the flop, you have so few chips left, and the size of the pot makes a call mandatory.
Hand evaluation and reading showdowns
Poker is a five card game and even though two players have an ace or made the same pair on the board, the rest of their cards will determine which hand is the winner. Cards in your hand (after a made hand, such as a pair or two pairs) are called 'kickers' and very often your kicker(s) will be used to break a tie.
The pot will be split when two or more players have EXACTLY the same hand, counting ALL five of the cards in their poker hand. All of the players involved with the same hand will split the pot evenly.
Some Texas Hold'em examples:
Community cards are A-K-Q-6-4: Player A has AJ, and Player B has A 9. Player A's five-card hand is A-A-K-Q-J, whereas Player B has A-A-K-Q-9. This means that Player A with AJ wins the pot.
Community cards are A-Q-9-6-3, all of the same suit: Player A has the 8 of the suit, and Player B has the 7. Even though both players have an ace high flush, Player A wins because they have A-Q-9-8-6 compared to A-Q-9-7-6.
Community Cards are Q-9-9-6-2: Player A has Q6, and B has Q2. Although both players have paired both their hole cards, this situation is a split pot. Both have Q-Q-9-9-6 as their best five card hand. If either player were to have a card higher than 6 with their queen, this would count in their hand instead of the 6.