Once you know the rankings of hands and the betting structure for Texas Holdem and you are ready to play, you need to know which two cards (known as your hole cards) you should stay with or fold before the flop (the first three communal cards).
Before the flop
One reason people lose is simply because they play too many hands before the flop. Then before they know it they are sucked in with the second best pair and lose their money. Many hands should not be played.
In fact they say that you should be seeing roughly 10% of the flops. Obviously high pairs in any position (aces down to jacks) should be played, but you should be more cautious playing lower pairs in late position, especially if there is a raise before you. Even pocket jacks are not as great as you might think. Did you know that if you are holding Jack Jack, you will see at least one over card 50% of the time – on the flop! And this over card could be the one that beats you.
In a tournament even medium pairs should not always be played because you want to stay alive – yes, even in late position. And low pairs are not really playable either. I mean, what do you want to hit? If you have, say, pocket 3s, the only thing you really want to see on the flop is another 3 which you have roughly only a 1 in 7 chance of hitting. If you do not hit your 3 then it is more than likely you are beaten by a higher pair, especially if there was a raise pre-flop.
A – K you would want to play in any position, but other high cards can be dangerous, for example, A – J or A – Q. If there has been a raise before you, it is possible that the other player has AK and has you out-kicked, before you have even seen a pair.
In late position you might want to limp in (just call) with two suited connectors, for example, 8 and 9 of hearts. There can be exceptions where you could also play two low cards or low pairs, for example when there are a lot of callers and you are getting very good odds for your hand to hit.
Some people will play any ace as well. This is really bad news. If you hold A -2, the only flop you want to see is 2 -2 – x, because if you hit your ace, your kicker (other card) is the lowest you can get and you are left in a position of not knowing where you are. Your aces with a 2 kicker might be good but do you really want to spend money finding out?
No. It is best to pass a non-suited ace with a low card. Suited aces are good with a high card and with a low or medium card they can be played in late position or sometimes middle position. But do not forget that if your cards are suited it only increases their potential by roughly 2%.
So why do people say, any two will do? Is it true? Well, yes, sometimes it is, but for now, as a beginner, it is best to stick to high pairs and high cards in all positions and suited connectors and medium pairs in late position only or if you can get into the pot cheaply.
After the flop
Okay, so now you know what cards to play before the flop, but what do you do after the flop? Well, at this point there will be one of three outcomes.
They are; you hit the flop perfectly, you hit partly or you miss completely. For example:
FLOP ——– YOU HOLD
Perfect ——– 10-J-Q : A-K
Partly ——– 7-8-2 : 6-9
Miss ——– 9-9-K : 4-5
An important thing to remember is that you have seen 71per cent of your final poker hand at this point (5 out of 7 cards) so if you have not already hit something, you want good odds to hit a card and, with the correct pot odds. It is easy enough if you have missed completely – you just fold.
A lot of people are happy to play middle pair, middle kicker. For example, the flop is Q-J-6, and they have J-10. Personally I would not be calling with this hand and would maybe only consider with an ace kicker. But then again an ace comes and it gives someone else holding king 10 a straight! So what do you do? Top pair, top kicker is almost always a good flop for you, which is why I made the point before about playing high cards.
Draws are okay but best with over cards as well. You have almost 4 per cent on the flop for each out you have. So, if you have 4 to a straight, say, 4,5,6,7 and can hit either a 3 or an 8 then you have 8 outs, which is roughly 31.5 per cent or 2.2 to 1 at this point (with two cards to come, assuming you play until the end). If the pot is paying odds of over 2 to 1 then it is worth it. If not then it should really be folded. A flush draw is slightly better with 9 outs but if you also have over cards or a straight and a flush draw then you are odds on – 54 per cent for the former and 59 per cent with the latter. Having said that, if you are holding something like 8 -9 of clubs, you would rather make your straight than the flush as even though a flush beats a straight you are more likely to have the nuts with the straight.
As a rule, I would say never to play a gut shot straight (that is when you only have 4 cards to make your straight). It is a bad play. However, if you are playing a solid player it does not mean he will not call with a gut shot as he may also have 2 over cards to make it worth his while. For example the flop is 10-J-2 and he is holding A-K. That gives him 12 outs instead of just 4.
If you hit straight or flush, and it is unbeatable, you need to know how to exploit it to make as much money as possible.
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