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No-Limit Hold'em is a dynamic, situational game. A number of factors influence your actions. What happened before the flop? What kind of board are you looking at? Who are your opponents?
After reading this article you will be able to answer the following questions: What is my goal? And how can I achieve this goal?
The follow-up articles, which you will be able to access after you receive the free poker money from PokerStrategy.com, will go into further detail on how to play texas hold'em and introduce you to the mathematics of poker. You will see how the strength of your hand, and the way you play it, can vary - sometimes radically - depending on the situation you are in.
But first, the basics: What can you hit on the flop?
Made hands are hands that could already be the best hand, like a pair or three-of-a-kind. These hands don't necessarily need to improve and sometimes they can only barely be improved, if at all.
The hands like two pair, three-of-a-kind, straights, flushes and even better hands are also called monsters, because they are generally very strong hands. When you have a monster, you will usually be well ahead, and can win a lot of money when you play it right.
You can also have pairs and weaker hands, but only two types of these hands are good, namely top pairs and overpairs, which we will explain below.
When you have a pair made up of one of your starting hand cards and the highest community card, you have a top-pair.
If you have a pocket pair that is higher than all community cards, you have an overpair. No opponent can have a top-pair better than your overpair.
NOTE: TWO-PAIR ISN'T ALWAYS TWO-PAIR
Your two-pair is only a monster when you pair the board with both of your starting hand cards.
In other words: If there is a pair on the board and you pair one of your starting hand cards, your two-pair isn't really a monster, since the pair on the board could give your opponent three-of-a-kind or even a full house.
Draws are hands that aren't complete yet, but could turn into a made (completed) hand if a helpful card shows up on the board.
There are strong draws and weak draws, depending on how many cards could help your hand. If you have the chance of making a flush, there are 9 cards that can help you. If you have a pocket pair, there are only 2 cards in the deck that can improve your hand to three-of-a-kind.
You will learn which cards can help you and how to easily determine whether or not it is profitable to play your draw after gaining access to the Bronze articles on the mathematics of poker. To gain access to these advanced articles, you simply need to pass the PokerStrategy.com poker quiz, and receive your free starting capital.
If your starting hand cards and the community cards give you four cards in sequential order, you have an OESD. OESD stands for open-ended straight draw.
This means you don't have a straight yet. You are missing the fifth card on either end of the sequence, hence the name open-ended. There are 8 cards that could complete your straight in the example below, namely any one of the 4 aces or the 4 nines remaining in the deck.
When you have four cards of the same suit you have a flush draw. One more card of that suit would give you a flush.
The monster draw is a combination of a flush draw and an OESD. This hand gives you the chance to make either a flush or a straight.
The next type of straight draw after the OESD is not always easy to recognise. It is called the double gutshot, which is based on a gutshot.
A gutshot is a straight in which there is a middle card missing. An example would be Ten, Jack, Queen, and Ace, where the king is missing. A double gutshot draw is a combination of two gutshot draws. Your starting hand and the cards on the board give you two different chances to complete a gutshot.
In the example below you have a gutshot draw with the ace, queen, jack and ten, and another gutshot draw with the queen, jack, ten and eight. As you can see, there are 8 cards that can help you (just like with an OESD), namely, any king or nine. A double gutshot draw is, in fact, just as strong as an OESD.
In the advanced articles, which you will gain access to once you've passed the PokerStrategy.com poker quiz, you'll learn about implied odds and why a double gutshot is actually more profitable than an OESD. The main reason is that it's much harder for your opponent to spot this draw.
If you don't hit any of the draws mentioned, and don't have a made hand either, but your two starting hand cards are both higher than all the cards on the board, then you have overcards. This isn't a particularly strong draw, but should you hit a pair on a later street you can be sure it'll be a top-pair.
n No-Limit Hold’em the aggressive, thinking player who carefully selects the spots to show aggression, wins. Every bet and every raise should have a purpose.
The primary purpose of betting is obvious: You have a strong hand and want to get money in the pot. You want opponents with weaker hands to call and stay in the hand. When this is the case, you are betting for value.
But be careful! It's not only a question of whether you think your hand is better than your opponent's, you also need to consider with which hands he will fold, and with which hands he will call, if you were to bet.
You can only bet for value when you know that your opponents will actually call your bet (thus putting money in the pot) with a weaker hand often enough.
The second possible purpose of betting: the bluff. You want to force opponents with better hands to fold so you can win the pot.
Always follow the following five rules when considering a bluff:
Whenever you raise before the flop and get called, you are the so-called aggressor in the following betting rounds. By raising pre-flop, you represented a strong hand, and can now more credibly make your opponents believe that you also have a strong hand on the flop. This means you now have the option of continuing your pre-flop aggression and making a so-called continuation bet.
The great thing about continuation bet bluffs is that you would play your strong hands the same way. Your opponents are left guessing and will often just take the safe route and fold. You can therefore attack a lot of pots with continuation bets when you are the aggressor – just don't try attacking them all.
Not every made hand is a monster. You will often see yourself ahead with your hand, but at the same time know that your hand is vulnerable and that your opponents are just waiting for the right card to show up on the board to beat you.
Your opponents can only beat you if they hit on the turn or the river. The greater the likelihood of them hitting good community cards, the more strongly you should protect your hand.
Protection means making the next community card expensive to look at. If your opponent has a hand that can still improve to beat yours, he is going to have to pay a high price to see the next card.
When put to practice this means: When you have a made hand and the board is offering a number of draws, protect your hand by making the next community card expensive.
The concept of protection touches on the fundamental mathematics of Texas Hold'em, which you will learn about in the articles after you've passed the PokerStrategy.com poker quiz and received your free starting capital. These advanced articles will teach you everything you need to know to master No-Limit Texas Hold’em.
There are a lot of good reasons not to bet or raise, for example, when you have absolutely nothing at all. Three other good reasons not to bet are: pot control, bluff induce, and slowplay.
Once you see the flop you should more or less know what kind of pot you want to play for. If you have a monster, you want to play for a big pot and go all-in if possible. If you have a weak hand, you don't want to see any big bets and would prefer to play for a small pot.
The saying goes: Big pots are for big hands, small pots are for small hands. When you don't have a really strong hand (top-pair is seldom a very strong hand), you don't want the pot size to get out of control.
This is what we refer to as pot control.
Whenever you play your hand as though it were much weaker than it actually is, you are slowplaying. Instead of playing as if you had a strong hand, you feign weakness and play the hand “slowly” and wait for later streets to bet or raise.
By under-representing your hand you can animate your opponent to overplay a weak hand or give your opponent the chance to pick up a playable hand.
Let's say you hit a full house on the flop. There aren't many hands your opponent could have that he would continue to play if you show aggression. By not betting, you give him the chance to either pick up something playable on the turn, or go right ahead and do something stupid on the flop itself.
Don't slowplay against too many opponents and don't slowplay on draw-heavy boards. Don't slowplay against passive opponents, either. You should only slowplay when you are certain that your opponent will take the bait and overplay his hand.
For most normal scenarios slowplay is the worst route to take. The reason is that there is a simple rule of thumb on the lower limits that you should never forget: your opponents are more likely to call a bet than to bet themselves. The reason for this was already mentioned: The average player in the lower limits is too loose and too passive.
When making your post-flop decisions you should try to find a balance between ...
The weaker your hand, the more you should focus on pot control. The stronger your hand, the more you should focus on maximizing value. The more vulnerable your hand, the more you should focus on protection.
Playing with made hands is relatively simple. If you have the best hand, you bet or raise. The weaker your hand, the more you need to pay attention to controlling the size of the pot. Try to keep the pot small with weak hands, and if your opponents offer too much resistance or make too much action, fold.
The more opponents you are facing, the stronger your hand needs to be. If there was no raise before the flop or if you called a pre-flop raise, you should have a really good hand before you get involved in any large post-flop pots.
Only slowplay with very strong hands. The more draw-heavy the board, and the more vulnerable your hand, the more important it is to focus on protection. Don’t let your opponents see the next community cards too cheaply.
Always try to find a balance between pot control and protection. You don't have to protect a marginal hand that could already be far behind.
In order to play draws perfectly you need an understanding of the mathematical concepts of outs, odds, and pot odds. You will learn more about them in the advanced articles that you will have access to once you've passed the poker quiz and received your free starting capital.
In general, you should always play draws passively when no-one raised before the flop or when you called a raise before the flop. You can call moderate flop bets with strong draws like flush draws and OESDs and can usually just fold weak draws (like gutshots).
Don't chase draws! If you have a flush draw on the turn, you will complete your flush on the river less than 20% of the time. You're wasting money when you call big bets on the turn.
If you raised before the flop, you can continue to play aggressively with a lot of draws, as long as you are only facing one or two opponents. You will, for example, almost always place a continuation bet on the flop when you have a strong draw.
When you are facing several opponents, or opponents who call every bet on principle, you can't bluff. The same counts when it comes to playing draws aggressively. You should only play a draw aggressively when you know your opponent(s) can fold.
This article introduced you to the most important concepts of post-flop play. Of course, we can't fit everything into one article. You will gain access to more articles, videos, and even live coaching sessions on this subject matter right after you pass the PokerStrategy.com quiz.
Understanding the concepts of pot control and protection is very important. You don't want to play for a big pot with a mediocre hand. At the same time, you don't want to let your opponents see the next card for a cheap price when you have a vulnerable hand.
You should by now know that betting is only profitable when weaker made hands call, or when you protect your hand against draws. If you don't have the greatest hand and your opponent is giving you the chance to get to the river cheaply, take him up on it.
In general, the same rules you learned for pre-flop play can be applied to your play on the flop, turn and river:
If you play by these principles you'll already have a considerable advantage over other players who you encounter at the low stakes. There is however a lot more to learn! As you move up in stakes, the games get more challenging. More advanced knowledge is needed to develop into a truly fearsome player.
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