low limit NL article
FROM STARCRAFT TO POKER - HOW TO START PLAYING AT THE 01 02 CENT TABLES
by Jelle Van den Eynde
CHAPTER 1: ABOUT ME AND THIS GUIDE
CHAPTER 2: WHAT MATTERS IN NO-LIMIT TEXAS
CHAPTER 3: THE FIRST TWO CARDS
CHAPTER 4: PLAYING ON THE FLOP
CHAPTER 5: A FINAL WORD
CHAPTER 1: ABOUT ME AND THIS GUIDE
Hey, I'm Jelle (GroT was my starcraft ID) and I've been playing poker for about a year. There's obviously a lot of players out there who are much better than me, and some great players have even written helpful books about hold'em. Recently, some excellent books have become available. Since books are most helpful when you are a beginner, I think Ed Miller's excellent book "Getting started in Hold'em" may be the most valuable book on poker available today. If you decide to purchase it, there's no further need to read this guide. I would like to add that the chapter about luck, which is towards the end of the book, should be considered the most important chapter in the book.
What follows is intended for players who learned the rules of no-limit texas hold'em but understand very few or none of the strategy in the game, and haven't spent much time playing yet. I will not talk about how you need patience or bankroll management, or what kind of table you should sit down at. I'll be talking about what to do when your cards are dealt. Because no-limit hold'em is such a complex game that features so many possibilities, it's impossible for me to give you advice on how to play each specific hand. Like I said, I'll only be getting you started. If you'd like to start playing but don't know the rules yet, I think you should study the rules first and then play a few play money hands to see if you understand the rules a little bit. Then come back and read the rest of this article.
I'll offer advice only for no-limit hold'em with 9 players. (this is called 9-handed)
If you follow all the advice in this guide strictly, you will be a favourite to win money at the lowest stakes tables ($0.01/0.02) on pokerstars
. If you stick with it for a long time, you will win. However, the luck factor in poker is much bigger than you may realise. Some players (who I think are stronger than me at poker, I hate to admit it) have had losing streaks as long as 80,000 hands. If you play in a home game with your friends, you will probably play about 150 hands in an evening. At the end of the evening, the guy who won will think he is the best player. Silly, right? Anyway, You will take many unbelievable bad beats. You will take frustrating losses against terrible players, because they get lucky. You will feel as if you are the unluckiest player in the world, and no one can possibly run as bad as you. You will feel an urge to post hands where you got unlucky on this forum, just to seek sympathy. Sadly, no one will care.
The problem with this guide is that I can only give you knowledge. If you get emotionally involved after a big loss and start playing badly, you will be doomed. You may think that staying calm is easy, but if it is, then why can no one do it? I have been off my feet plenty of times, and sadly, you will be too. Make it your goal to prove me wrong! If you can retain your emotional control at all times, you will have the ultimate advantage in poker. You will be stronger than me.
CHAPTER 2: WHAT MATTERS IN NO-LIMIT TEXAS HOLD'EM?
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 4d8d9h, 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 AhQh - 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 Kh 7h 2c. 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 AhQh. 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 Kh 7h 2c 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.
CHAPTER 3: THE FIRST TWO 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 9-8 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 - Ac2c, 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 A-2 suited.. 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 8-9, 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 8 4 3, 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 Ace-Queen 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 Ace-Queen pretty fast in that spot. If someone raises to 4 blinds, especially on the micro tables, they often have Aces, Kings, Queens, or Ace-King. Your Ace-Queen is trash against all of those hands, and you might lose a big pot against an Ace-King when an ace flops. Since it's so cheap to wait for good cards and Ace-Queen is so expendable, folding here is really a good idea, and the same goes for Ace-Jack suited and King-Queen suited. (I don't want you to play an Ace-Jack or King-Queen if it's not suited) But when you have an Ace-King, you can definetly call a raise in front of you. Don't reraise though.
When you manage to pick up a pair of aces before the flop, you should raise to 4 blinds just like you would if you had an Ace-King. 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..
AA (0 players)
KK (0 players)
QQ (0 players)
JJ-22 (0 players)
AKs and AKo (0 players)
AQs and AQo (0 players)
(Don't play an offsuit Ace-Queen in any one of the first three positions)
KQs and AJs (0 players)
(Play these hands only in the best position (button) and the second best position)
89s, T9s and JTs (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!)
ATs-A2s (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 Ace-King 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 - two aces or maybe two kings - 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 King-Jack suited and Queen-Jack suited 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.