This is the second part in our series "Become a winner", we advice you to read Chapter 1: The Introduction first.
Become a winner - Chapter 2: What matters
The very first thing I want to clarify is your goal. Your goal is not to win pots. You can win twenty pots in a row, and still be playing terribly. (In fact if you win twenty pots in a row in a game with 9 players, you probably ARE playing terribly!) The game's goal is to make money. You might lose fifty pots in a row and then win a single one that makes up for all your losses and then some.
Each player gets good cards once in a while.. but the good player earns more money when he does.
Let's take our first step at analysing the game ahead of us. No-limit hold'em is a game where so many different factors affect your every decision that many beginning players overlook important information. Here are just some of the things that could affect your decision in a hand:
- What you have
- What you think your opponent has
- What you might get if you stay in the hand*
- How much chips you have
- How much chips your opponent has
- Wether or not you have position on your opponent²
- Wether or not you think your opponent is a good player
- How your opponent has played so far³
- The texture of the flop
*this is called a "draw". For example, when you hold AdKd and the flop comes , you have four diamonds and a fifth one will give you a flush. This is also called a flush draw.
²you have position on someone if he has to act before you on every betting round after the flop is dealt.
³for example, if your adversary has been playing ridiculously aggressive, betting and raising every hand, it would be logic to give him less credit for a big hand.
I'd like to take this opportunity to talk about position, because it's so incredibly important and so many beginners greatly underestimate its impact on the game. When you're on the dealer button you start the hand knowing that if you see the flop, everyone will have to act before you. If you see the turn, everyone will have to act before you again. Finally if you see the river, everyone will have to act before you again. That's a triple advantage before you even looked at your cards! Every time someone acts before you, they are giving away information, and improving the quality of your decisions. You will make more money when you are in position and you have a hand. You will often pay less money to make a hand when you are in position. An example or two will best show what I mean:
Let's say you were on the button in a pokerstars $0.01/0.02 game with - a suited ace-queen. Two players call the big blind ahead of you and you raise it to five blinds: $0.10. (The standard raise is four times the big blind, but when there are limpers you should make it five blinds) Both these players are very bad and call. (this is a realistic scenario, on such low stakes most players are terrible and will readily call your raises) The flop comes . You didn't make a pair, but you did get a flush draw. The bad players still fear you because you raised it before the flop and might have a big pair, such as aces or kings, in the pocket. Since they have to act before you.. they'll probably check if they didn't make anything or make only a small bet. (very bad players bet a small amount when they have absolutely nothing sometimes - don't ask me why - I guess they just want to put chips into the pot for fun) In fact, some players might check even when they do make the top pair on the board. Best of all, almost everyone will check to you when they have a very good hand such as three of a kind. This means you can check behind them and see if the next card is a heart for free! What a huge advantage.
Let's look at that same situation, but this time you are out of position. You are in a middle position in that same game and you pick up that same . You raise it to four blinds: $0.08. This time, that same player, who is now behind you, knows straight away that it will cost him $0.08 at least to see the flop.. so this time he folds. The second caller from before is terrible at poker and hates folding and he still decides to call, even though it's less attractive for him this time. You've only got one caller now and the flop comes again. There will be no free cards this time. You will have to bet with your ace high flush draw + overcard and hope for the best. If he raises, you will be disgusted.
So, what matters in no-limit hold'em? A lot of things.. but most of all position.
Become a winner - Chapter 3: The first 2 cards