This is the third part in our series "Become a winner", we advice you to read Chapter 2: What matters first.
Become a winner - #3: First 2 cards
Like a lot of beginners, the first thing I noticed when I observed a game of hold'em for the first time is that any two cards can win. That's something beginners love to say, and it really is true, too. You can call the blind with a five-deuce and flop a full house or a straight, and maybe even win a big pot. So why am I about to recommend you fold the overwhelming majority of your hands even before the first three community cards are dealt? It's really pretty simple..
If you are not getting any cards you like and folding all the time, it will cost you $0.03 ($0.01 for the small blind and $0.02 for the big blind) per round to simply stay in your seat. That means you can see 9 hands for the price of 3 cents. If you win two dollars in one big pot you can fold the next 550 hands and still be up. That's a mighty lot of hands, and you wouldn't even have to wait that long if you folded everything but a wired pair of aces! Most of the other beginners at the $0.01/0.02 tables aren't waiting for a decent hand.. when they are dealt a queen-jack, they see two cards with an illustration, and you can be sure that they will call the big blind. They'll probably call your preflop raise with that hand, too. So when you are coming in the pot, you'll probably have an ace-king or even a big pair while they are playing their queen-jack.. You've already got an advantage, and you never even paid any price for that. 3 cents per 9 hands, remember?
I honestly believe that many bad players realise that they should be folding their offsuit, but they play them anyway. I believe they don't have enough patience or discipline. Don't be one of those players.
There's another thing that makes people make bad decisions: the strength of your starting hand is not what it appears to be. For example, Queen Jack looks good because it has two picture cards. If you had a deck where the Jack was an "11" and the Queen was a "12" (no pictures), then the Queen Jack (the 11-12) would look much less good, but it wouldn't win less often. The same is true for suited cards: they are not nearly as powerful as they look. Don't allow yourself to be misguided!
Another thing about the first two cards is that you will need a hand that's a lot stronger to play in an early seat, than when you're in a late seat. Since we already discovered how important position is, I hope you'll believe me when I say that you should be playing more hands on the button than in an early seat, and by coming in for a raise with some hands - like a wired pair of jacks - that you might have just called the blind with in an early seat.
Some hands are only worth playing when a couple of people are in there with you.. let's say three people have called the blind before me already, but none of them raised. Now, i'm ready to play my suited ace - , for example - even though it's a weak hand.. I'm trying to flop a miracle flush or the top and bottom pair or a flush draw with an overcard. When I get my flush in that spot, and there's so many people in the pot with me, it's not so unlikely anymore that one of them will call me. You won't flop a playable hand often with an .. I mean.. even if you pair your ace your hand is pretty worthless. But you'll get that two pair you're looking for maybe once in fifty times, and when you do.. you can win a big pot. These hands are called drawing hands. Small suited connectors, such as the suited , are also drawing hands.
But the real drawing hands, the ones I want you to be playing even when somebody has made a reasonable raise already, are the pairs smaller than queens. When you're playing a pair of jacks or lower, you've got about a one in eight chance that you will flop a set, and that's really a big hand. If your novice opponent raises to $0.08 with a pair of kings and you've got two eights and call, and the flop comes , you can probably win everything he has. In fact, I think even a pair of deuces is such a nice hand that you should go ahead and call with it even if no one else has yet entered the pot. Once you call the blind with a small pair, you can call again and stay in the pot even when someone makes a reasonable raise. Remember.. you're only playing because you want to flop a set. To give you a basic idea, you will flop a set about 11.5% of the time and if someone's in there with a pair of aces, he'll have only about a 10% chance left to beat your set. Whereas with a suited connector, say the 8-9 suited, you'll only flop a made hand about 5% of the time and those hands, often, will leave your opponent with a 20% or even 25% chance of winning the pot. So you can see the power of the pairs right there, they're easy to play and incredibly profitable.. all it takes is patience to wait for that set. When you do finally get that set, don't fold it! You will occasionally lose with a set, but they are big money winners. So put your money in there when you have one!
One hand that deserves some attention is an in the hole. I want you to play this hand, and in fact i want you to raise with it, but only if no one has yet raised before you. It might seem like if you wanted to raise with it, and somebody else already raised it for you, you should call and take a flop.. but I'd fold an pretty fast in that spot. If someone raises to 4 blinds, especially on the micro tables, they often have , , , or . Your is trash against all of those hands, and you might lose a big pot against an when an flops. Since it's so cheap to wait for good cards and is so expendable, folding here is really a good idea, and the same goes for suited and suited. (I don't want you to play an or if it's not suited) But when you have an , you can definetly call a raise in front of you. Don't reraise though.
When you manage to pick up before the flop, you should raise to 4 blinds just like you would if you had an . But if someone reraises.. you can go ahead and re-reraise now. Don't try to "lure" your opponent by just calling or betting weakly with your pair of aces before the flop.
So which hands do I want you to play? I've made a small list below. I want you to play some hands only when you have a better position, because I think this "rule" will force you to pay attention to when you have position or not - and maybe after a while, whenever you're dealt a hand.. you'll be considering your position. That's my goal. I also typed a number behind each hand, and this number signifies the MINIMUM amount of people that should be in before you before you can play your hand. Again, I'm mostly hoping to force you to pay attention to these things. If nothing is mentioned about position and no callers before you are required, you can play the hand from any position. My recommendations will be really tight (play few hands) because it's a good counter to the looseness of bad players on micro or low stakes, and because new players often do much better when they play few hands..
- (0 players)
and (0 players)
and (0 players)
(Don't play in any one of the first three positions)
and (0 players)
(Play these hands only in the best position (button) and the second best position)
, and (2 players)
(Most strong players believe it's impossible for a beginner to make money with these hands. Play extra carefully and prove them wrong!)
- (3 players)
I want you to play any of the above mentioned hands from the small blind, even when you have a suited ace and only one players has called the blind so far. However, I don't want you to get involved with weaker hands when everyone folds to you, you are the small blind and only you and the other blind are left. In this situation, a "war" is often seen with both players getting ridiculously aggressive in an effort to bluff the other player out of the pot. Your best counter strategy to this is to try and make a big hand (such as making a pair with on the flop) and hoping that your opponent will consider you as the usual bluffer in that spot.
I also want you to call a raise to 2 blinds when you are in the big blind and have any of the above hands. You'll only be paying half as much to see the flop and it'll be worth it even if you have a suited ace and only one person is in so far. A lot of terrible, losing players make a small raise like this when they have a huge starting hand - or maybe - because they want to "lure" you into the pot. As I'll mention time and time again in this text, that's the wrong way to play it. So I want you to capitalise on his mistake and take a cheap flop. You might get a miracle and win a big pot.
Try never to sin against these "rules". Every time you get a suited ace and only two people are in before you, consider it a test to you patience and fold. If you don't succeed here, you don't have any patience. And if you don't have any patience.. you're probably becoming a sucker already. If you really feel that you can't play this strictly, create your own preflop scheme just like the one I made, but whatever hands you choose to play, make sure you "stick to the plan". For example, you could include and to your list of playable hands when someone has entered the pot already. My advice however, is to fold them if you can muster the discipline.
Become a winner - Chapter 4: Flop play