Category: Beginner

The value of position in poker, especially in Texas Hold’em is huge.


Having position on someone means that you act after them.

You have probably heard terms like Early Position, Middle Position, Button, Under-the-gun (UTG) etc.
Early Position means that you are sitting close to the blinds and will act early in the hand, especially preflop, when the blinds are acting last.

The benefit with having position on someone is that they will act before you, so when it is your turn you will have gained information. And information is money in poker.

Preflop

If you are first to act at a Full Ring table you will have 8 or 9 people to act after you. It is natural that you need a very strong hand to be able to open the pot. To understand this fully let’s imagine you open the top-10 % best hands. If you do that it is more than 50 % likely that one of the following players will have a better hand, if you open with the worst hand in your range (1 – 0,1 to the power of 8 => 60 % chance). In other words, if you open with a 10 % range UTG at a Full Ring table you are not a favorite to have the best hand. Furthermore, it is also likely that someone with a stronger hand will get involved AND have position on you throughout the hand.

On the other hand, if you are on the Button and open with a 30 % range there will only be two players left to act and the chance that you have the best hand is almost 50 % (1 – 0,7*0,7). AND you know you will have position throughout the hand.

These are the reasons why poker players play very few hands from Early positions and a lot more from Late position (not as extreme when the game is shorthanded).

Think about this the next time you consider opening a decent, but not great hand UTG in a Full Ring game next time. Even if you believe you have a skill advantage over your opponents (make sure you have enough games at the level under your belt to be sure of this) you might well be playing a hand with a card disadvantage and a positional disadvantage. Have a clear reason for playing the hand if you do, for example that table is folding much too often, or for deception (occasionally) or since you are much stronger than the opponents. Otherwise fold!

An example of the value of position preflop is you hold a fairly strong hand in late position. A TAG (Tight-Agressive) UTG open raises and a TAG Middle Position reraises significantly. Now you can throw away a pair of 8′s in late position without having invested a single bet. On the other hand, if you had been UTG you would have open raised with this hand – without any information about how your opponents like their hands.

Postflop

The difference between acting before or after you opponent can often mean as much as saving a bet when you have the worst hand and winning an extra bet when you have the better hand. This may not sound like much, but it is. Sometimes the last bet is on the river, in a big pot.

Before you can even consider start playing poker you need to understand the poker hand ranking. The hand ranking determines who will win a pot if a hand is played to the end (betting and calling).
In Texas Hold’em you have two private cards that are your own. These are called hole cards.  You use your hole cards and combine them with the common cards (community cards) to make a 5 card poker hand.
You can combine your hole cards with the community cards  in any way that is possible using zero, one or two of your hole cards. If you are not using your hole cards at all you can never have a better hand than your opponent, the best you can hope for is a split pot.
In poker the suit does not count, that is spade is equal in worth as diamonds (the pot is split if hands are of equal ranking).
If you are not familiar with this or want to practice becoming really quick at determining poker hand raking and who has the best hand I recommend that you use the Poker Training Exercises.

Poker hand ranking starting with the best:

Royal flush

A straight from a ten to an ace with all five cards of the same suit.

Straight flush

Any straight with all five cards of the same suit.

Four of a kind

Any four cards of the same rank.

Full house

Any three cards of the same rank together with any two cards of the same rank. If several players have a full house the player with the highest rank of the three cards with same rank wins. Our example shows “Aces full of Kings” and it is a bigger full house than “Kings full of Aces.”

Flush

Any five cards of the same suit (not consecutive). The highest card of the five determines the rank of the flush. Our example shows an Ace-high flush.

Straight

Any five consecutive cards of different suits. Aces can count as either a high or a low card. Our example shows a five-high straight, which is the lowest possible straight.

Three of a kind

Any three cards of the same rank. Our example shows three-of-a-kind Aces, with a King and a Queen as side cards – the best possible three of a kind.

Two pair

Any two cards of the same rank together with another two cards of the same rank. The highest pair of the two determines the rank of the two-pair.

One pair

Any two cards of the same rank.

High card

Any hand not in the above-mentioned hands. A hand with for example a 9 as highest card is called a 9-high. Our example shows the best possible high-card hand.

Poker is essentially a game of betting and probabilities.

If the chance that you will win is better than the odds you are given on the bet – you should decide to take (or make) the bet.

A deep understanding of odds and probabilities is hugely helpful in becoming a better poker player.

Read this article and use the poker training exercises to practice and you will soon get the hang of it.

As an example imagine someone proposing you a bet were you will win $4 each time a 6 comes up on a dice and lose $1 every time anything between 1 and 5 comes up. Would you take this bet?

This bet is a bad proposition for you, because you are guaranteed to lose money in the long run (how long depends on something called variance, but that’s another topic).

You can see that this is a bad bet by calculating odds and probabilities.

The money odds you are getting on a 6 coming up is 4:1. You win $4 if it comes up and you lose $1 if it does not come up. This is written as 4:1.

The chance that there will be a 6 on each roll of the dice is 1 in 6. This means that it is 5 times as likely that there will a number other than a 6 on each roll. This can be written as 5:1.

To determine if a bet is good or bad you compare the money odds that you are getting with the probability that you will win.

In this example you compare the money odds of 4:1 with the odds that you win which is 5:1. The money odds are smaller in this example which means it is a bad bet. If you were getting $5 for the 6 instead the money odds would be the same as the win odds an the bet would be neutral. In the long run you would neither lose nor win money on such a bet. And if you were offered more the $5 for each 6 it would be a good bet and you should take it.

All casino games (except Black Jack where card counting can be used), lotteries and such are based on giving worse odds to the players than to the bank. And the players will always lose in the long run.

But fortunately poker isn’t played against the bank. And in poker you can use better understanding of odds to give yourself an advantage over your opponents.

Odds

Usually two concepts are used for odds in poker, pot odds and implied odds (negative implied odds are sometimes called reverse implied odds).

Pot odds are the odds you are getting from the money in the pot right now and the money you need to pay to call.

Implied odds take into account money that you can win or loose later in the hand.

Pot odds are calculated  and Implied odds are an estimation based on things like probabilities for cards to come, opponent tendencies and such.

Example with Pot Odds

The pot is $12. Opponent bets $6. Your pot odds are calculated by looking at the money you can win ($18) and the money you will put in the pot ($6). The ratio is 3:1. You get this by dividing 18 with 6.

Example with Implied Odds

The pot is $12. Opponent bets $6. You have a fairly disguised open-ended straight draw. Your opponent is aggressive and by considering his tendencies you and likely hand range you estimate that you will win in average $30 more if you hit your draw on the turn (he will often bet and sometimes call a raise).

Your Implied Odds are calculated by dividing the money you expect to win when hitting with the money you are betting (12 + 6 + 30 / 6 = 8:1).

Outs

If you believe your opponent may have a better hand than you, but that some cards will improve your hand to become the best you call each of these cards an “out”.

Example using Outs

You believe you opponent has a top-pair (one of his hole cards make a pair with the highest card on the board) or an overpair (he has a pocket pair as hole cards and it is higher than the highest card on the board) and you have 4 cards in the same suit with your hole cards combined with the board.

In this case all cards that complete your flush draw are likely to give you the best hand. 4 cards are already out in the suit and 9 remains. The 9 remaining cards are called outs.

If you instead have an open-ended straight draw (can be completed upwards or downwards) you have 8 outs (if you believe the straight will give you the best hand).

Other examples:

  • 2 overcards – 6 outs
  • Gutshot straight draw (need a card in the middle to complete) – 4 outs
  • Gutshot straight draw + a flush draw – 12 outs
  • Backdoor draw (same for flush and open-ended straight) – 1 out (only relevant on flop looking to river)

There is a simple rule of thumb to estimate how likely it is that your hand will improve with the help of the outs.

It is called the rule of 4 and 2 and gives a good approximation.

With one card to come the probability that you will hit your hand is number of outs * 2

With two cards to come the probability that you will hit your hand is number of outs * 4

Example with Outs

The pot is $12. Opponent bets $6. You have a fairly disguised open-ended straight draw. Your opponent is aggressive and by considering his tendencies you and likely hand range you estimate that you will win in average $30 more if you hit your draw on the turn (he will often bet and sometimes call a raise).

Your Implied Odds are calculated by dividing the money you expect to win when hitting with the money you are betting (12 + 6 + 30 / 6 = 8:1).

Should you call (not considering raising now as this is an example of Implied Odds and Outs)?

You have an open-ended straight draw. This means 8 outs. 8 outs gives you 16 % chance with one card to come. 16 % chance is the same as 5:1 odds. Your Implied Odds are 8:1 and your odds for improving is 5:1. This is a clear call.

Discounted Outs

To complicate things a bit there is something called discounted outs. This is used for situations where you are uncertain if your hand will improve to be the best if these cards hit. For example if you two overcards but you believe that hitting either of them will only improve your hand to be best half of the time (for example if you believe your opponent will have a higher overpair half of the time). Then you compensate for that by changing the probability that you will hit a winning hand. If you estimate that the cards will help you to the best hand 50 % of the time, you have to half the probability. In this case you have 6 outs, but you discount half of them (the discounted outs) so your “real” outs are 3 and you have 6 % probability to get a winning hand on one card, and 12 % with two cards.

This is an introduction to the basics of No-limit Texas Holdem.

Texas Holdem can be learned in a few minutes and you can be playing ok  with just a few hours of practice.

But as the saying goes, a a minute to learn, a lifetime to master. Which is part of the fascination so many people around the world share for this beautiful game.

This is the structure for Texas Holdem poker:

  1. Depending on the limit and betting structure, players will place something called blinds. These bets are mandatory and are mad so there is an initial amount to get things started. There is a small blind and a big blind. The big blind is twice as big as the small blind.
  2. The deck is a standard 52 cards deck.
  3. Each player is dealt two private cards face down. These are called your hole cards or pocket cards.
  4. There is a round of betting starting with the player to the left of the blinds. This is the preflop betting round. Like most games of poker, players can call, raise, or fold.
  5. After the betting round ends, the dealer discards the top card of the deck. This is called a burn card. This is done to prevent cheating.
  6. The dealer then deals the next three cards face up on the table. This is called the flop. These are communal cards that anyone can use in combination with their two pocket cards to form a poker hand.
  7. The player to the left of the dealer starts another betting round.
  8. After the betting concludes, the dealer burns again then flips another communal card onto the table. This is called the turn.
  9. The player to the left of the dealer begins another round of betting. In many types of games (but not in No-limit games) the bet size doubles here.
  10. Again, the dealer burns a card and places a final card face up on the table. This is called the river. Players can now use any of the five cards on the table in any combination with  the two cards in their pocket to form a five card poker hand.
  11. There is one final round of betting starting with the player to the left of the dealer.
  12. After that, there is a showdown. All of the players who haven’t folded show their hands. This begins with the player to the left of the last player to call.
  13. The player who shows the best hand wins. Sometimes players with the same hand split the pot.

All Online poker rooms offer the possibility to play for play money so you may practice for free until you are ready to move up to the fun at real money tables.

There are many good choices, but we strongly recommend Full Tilt which has huge amounts of players and the best software in the industry. When you are ready to start gambling for real money, you can begin with depositing as little as $10.

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Most players who play poker are unfortunately losing money (about 95 %).
To become a winning player you have to make some effort to improve your game.
This article describes some of the main elements of winning poker.

Image: Maggie Smith / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

  • Play worse players
  • Use odds to your advantage
  • Have Rakeback deals
  • Avoid mistakes and take advantage of your opponent’s
  • Play a lot (or be lucky)
  • Be disciplined!

Play worse players

This may seem obvious, but many players underestimate the importance of this. Unless you are playing for fun or for temporary learning, you should always strive to play players who are worse than yourself.

If you play with players who are equally or more skilled than your are, you will loose in the long run. Even if you play players who are slightly worse than you, you might be losing – because of the rake that you play to the poker room.

If you are playing at a table and you can’t identify at least one or two persons who are playing significantly worse than you, you should normally move to another table or take a break.

See our advanced article on Table Selection for more info on how to select the good tables.

Use odds to your advantage

Poker is at it’s core a game of odds and probabilities. It is  of course a lot of other things also – and you need a lot of people- and analytical skills to estimate what the odds and probabilities are in a given situation.

But you need to understand (either intuitively or analytically) if the odds for something to happen is favorable compared to the  probability that it will happen.

Read the article on Odds and Outs for more information on how to use Odds to your advantage.

Use rakeback deals

The rake is the fee poker rooms are charging for the privilege to play there. Rakeback is a percentage of that fee that is paid back to the players, usually about 30 % of the rake.

In order to get rakeback you need to sign up with a partner (affiliate) to the poker rooms, and not with the poker room directly. Many sites are offering rakeback, and this is one of them.

Rakeback might not be necessary to be a winning poker player – but it sure makes it a whole lot easier.

Avoid mistakes and take advantage of opponent’s

Essentially you gain something in poker when an opponent is making a mistake and you lose something when you make a mistake  – over the long run.

Example:

You are drawing to a flush and the pot is $30 on the turn. Opponent bets $5. You call and on the river you complete your flush. Opponent check, you bet $20 and he calls.

In this example opponent made a mistake (at least if he had reason to believe you might be on a flush draw) by betting to small and giving you correct odds to call.

In this example you got lucky and completed your flush which you will only do about 18 % of the time. But over the long run you will gain by the opponent’s mistake, and he will lose.

So essentially  poker is about trying to make as few mistakes as possible and take advantage of opponents mistakes.

But since poker is so complex (which makes it very interesting) no one plays without mistakes, not even the world-class players!

Play a lot (or be lucky)

Over the long run the best players will always earn money.

But in the short run anyone can lose, no matter how much better than the opponents they are.

Most beginners (and many experienced players) underestimate how much you need to play for skill to significantly factor out luck.

There is nothing strange or uncommon for a highly profitable player to have a losing streak of 10 000 hands.

In live games that translates to about 300 hours.

So don’t become to cocky just because you have won the last three sessions of you local home game!

Disappointed? Well, so am I. This is the main reason why I mostly play live games for fun. But when you play online – if you play multiple tables I think it is ok.

If you for example play three 6-max tables you can manage 10 000 hands in about 30 hours.

See Realistic Win rates 2010 for more info.

Be disciplined

Ah, but I just want to have fun!

Sorry, I believe there are few winning players at  decent levels who do not have a lot of discipline – at least in some areas.

You need discipline to:

  • Avoid playing poorly when you lose a lot (tilt)
  • Quit playing when you are playing poorly
  • Practice poker – not just play
  • Analyze poker
  • Avoid making a call when you know you don’t have the odds for it
  • Not play at higher levels than your bankroll admits
  • If you’re a professional – sometimes play when you are fed up with it