Poker Strategy


POSITION: Position is one of the most basic rudimentary concepts in all of poker; and it is a very important concept to understand as a beginning poker player. Poker is played around a table usually with 9-10 other players (Stud games are played 8-handed). The dealer button is ground zero for the deal for the hand in question. That is the perspective from which the hand is dealt. If you are to the immediate left of the button, you are the small blind and the ’first to act’ in subsequent betting rounds to the pre-flop betting. In the first round, since you have posted a blind, you act second to last and can opt to call or raise, for the fact that you have but one-half of the big blind committed to the pot. The big blind is to your immediate left. The big blind acts last in the pre-flop betting action, but the big blind (hereinafter SB and BB respectively) has an option to raise in the pre-flop action, if no one other player has raised his big blind.

Think of the button again as the focal point of the action and remember that it rotates clockwise (changes or progresses) every hand. This POSITION gets to act last in each betting round. This is a very powerful advantage in the game of poker. The action starts with the player to the left of the button. As players decide to bet, call, raise, or fold, the player on the button has the advantage of seeing the action of all the other players before he is required to make any decisions. (EXAMPLE: You have a pair of sevens (7-7) in your hand. There has been a bet, a raise, and two calls when it gets around to you. It is safe to say that your sevens have shrunk up a bit and right now you probably do not have the best hand. If the raise was a large one, you should likely fold. This is not information that the person to your left, in the SB position had when they originally opened the betting. When the action gets back to that person, they have the choice of folding their investment in the pot, or calling (or re-raising) the raise. You do not have that burden. Your decision can be made with zero investment in the pot at this point. Compared to the player in the small blind, you are buying a stock today knowing exactly what the price is tomorrow. You have insider information and a big advantage because of your position at the table.

As the last player to act, you can also opt to close the betting by calling. No one can raise or re-raise unless you re-open the betting by raising the bet when the action comes to you. Other players have the ability to raise and re-raise, but when it gets to you, you can close the betting.

RELATIVE HAND STRENGTH: With position in mind, consider your relative hand strength. How strong is your hand are as starting cards? The best two cards that you can look down to see obviously are a pair of aces. But, that is only going to happen once every 220 hands you play, on average. The worst two cards you can look down and see pre-flop are 7-2 off-suit. So if A-A and 7-2 off-suit are the extremes, what hands should you play? The answer is most often ‘that depends’. Should you play a middle pair from early position? That is up to you and depends on your unique style of play. Having that same middle pair in late position with a number of players having folded, is a much better situation than having that hand as ‘the first to act.’ A pair of aces against a full table of players wins just under half of the time (assuming that everyone kept their cards for the purpose of this example), but against only one other player it wins better than 4 out of 5 times, on average. So, if you end up with A-A or a strong hand, the odds of winning the pot with that hand increase relative to the number of opponents you play it against. Therefore, it is always better to ‘thin the field’ and ‘protect your hand.’

Understanding the concept of ‘less is more’ in terms of number of opponents is an important concept to grasp. When you have a good hand, isolate. Isolating your opponents and paring down the field improves your chances of dragging the pot your way – more often than not.

OUTS:Three strikes and you’re out’ is a common baseball term. Three outs and an inning is over in a baseball game. In poker, an ‘out’ is used to refer to the remaining number of cards in the deck that will make or complete your hand. For example, let’s say you have KsQs in your hand and the board is Ts-4s-Ad. You need another spade to hit a flush. How many spades are there left? Well, there are 13 of every suit, right? You have two spades in your hand with two of them on the board. So of the known cards, (your pocket cards and the community cards) four of them are spades. That means there are 9 more spades available. Now, people could have folded their pocket spades making them unavailable to hit on the turn card or river card, but ….. we do not know that. So let’s just keep it simple and say there are 9 spades ‘somewhere’ in the deck. (we could get complicated and say there were probably 3 discarded in the 16 cards that the other players discarded and make an allowance for that in our calculation, but let’s not for the purpose of the exercise) Knowing there are nine spades left, those spades are what we refer to as our ‘outs’. Our opponent is betting and we are calling, hoping that we hit one of those remaining spades. We do not know what our opponent’s hand is of course, but through his actions we will put him on a hand, that is to say, we will mentally assume he has a specific hand. Based on what he has done, let’s say we deduce that he likely has at least an ace in his hand. So he has got at least a pair of aces as his hand. We are drawing here and need to hit one of our spade outs to beat him. We could hit running queens, sure, but we are just going to think about our chances of getting that flush. How many cards are in the deck in total? 52. And again, we know what 5 of them are after the flop. After the turn, we will know what 6 of them are (our two in the pocket and the board four cards). So, before the turn card, what are our chances of hitting a spade? Well, on the turn it would be 9 of the 46 unknowns. 9/46 is .1956. So our chances are 9 in 46, or roughly just under 20%. If we stuck around to the river, we would have an additional shot of 9/45. It might get costly to call though as our opponent will bet to get rid of us and try to scoop that pot right then and there. Unless you have ‘the nuts’ (the best possible hand) then you do not want to give opponents a chance to draw out on you. In this case, the opponent would not want us to hit one of those 9 spades.

There is actually a simple way to calculate a reasonable approximation of your odds of making that flush, or whatever hand the case may be. It is called ‘the rule of 2 and 4’.

THE RULE OF 2 AND 4: Now that you understand how to count your outs, we can further explore ‘the rule of 2 and 4.’ In the case of our flush draw, we have 9 outs.

The rule of 2 and 4’ works like this:

With the turn and river still to come, you have 2 chances to hit one of your 9 outs. Recall that we calculated that it was just under 20% or so that we had in terms of a chance to hit that flush with one attempt. With two attempts it is about a 35% chance. With nine outs, on the turn we take our outs and multiply by 4. 4 x 9 = 36. That is pretty close to the actual chance of 35% chance of hitting that flush with the turn and river to come. With just the river to come, we multiply by 2. 9 x 2 which is 18%. Those are close approximations to the actual probability figures. This is a quick and easy way to come up with your odds and decide if it is worth paying to see the cards to come. The remaining part of the decision making process that we must consider is, ‘How much money is in the pot?’ Why is this important you ask? It is important because if you do not have reasonable pot odds, you should not be calling the bet.

POT ODDS: Now that we know how to calculate outs and figure out the chances of hitting the required cards to make or complete our hand, we shift our focus to examining the size of the pot itself. For example, if there is $100 in the pot, we are faced with the flush draw situation that we just explored and we figure our opponent has a straight. Therefore, we need to hit our flush in order to win the pot. Our opponent bets $50. That means there is $150 in the pot now and we have to call $50 to get that. $50 to win $150 is 3-to-1 odds. Again, what are the chances of hitting our flush in terms of percentage? About 19%, based upon our gouge rule of 2 and 4 calculations for a single draw. However, if we remained in the hand all the way to the river and had yet another shot at hitting or completing our hand – that would be roughly 36%. 36% is slightly better than 2-to-1 odds (33.333% being 2:1 of course). So we can deduce that we are getting paid 3-to-1 on a 2-to-1 draw. Good? Yes. But as we deduced above, the answer to anything in poker is often ‘it depends’. It is good if our opponent has all of his money committed to the pot and we are not on-the-hook for another round of betting (which would make it more expensive for us to call on the river). Before acting on your calculations, consider how situations like this may play out before you commit yourself to getting onboard the process. Think it all the way through.

There is another way to look at odds which makes it even more interesting. With pot odds we are assuming no more money is going into that pot when we calculate the percentages. What if we had some disguised hand that our opponent was not likely to put us on? We might call a long-odds draw in a situation where we figure that we will get the pot, AND ALL OF THE OTHER PLAYERS CHIPS IN HIS STACK – if we hit that draw. These are what are called ‘implied odds.

IMPLIED ODDS: In our example above, we were getting paid 3-to-1 on a 2-to-1 draw chance. We concluded that was good. But what if our opponent had $8,500 additional chips in his stack? What if the situation was a straight flush draw and not just a flush draw and we think our opponent has trips or something strong that he would call with? Maybe we think he has the Ace high or nut flush. We would win if we hit our draw and the straight flush. The pot may have insufficient odds in it to make us think about calling assuming he has the best hand right now. However, in some situations, we have to consider the possibility that if we hit our miracle card, we would also get a call from the player for an all-in bet we would make thereafter. That makes the odds a lot bigger than just what is just in the pot. Whereas above we had a situation where we had to call $50 to win $150, if we hit an open ended straight flush draw and we concluded that we would get an all-in call from our opponent because he has hit his ace high or nut flush. We would have to take our opponents $8,500 remaining chips into account as we calculate our odds. Now we would be getting a lot more than just 3-to-1 if we hit our miracle card. These are what are referred to as ‘implied odds.’