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Position is incredibly important in Texas hold ‘em. If you're playing in a nine- or 10-handed game, KJ is totally unplayable if you're first to act before the flop (called “under the gun.”) This is true whether you're playing limit or no limit. However, if you're on the button and everyone else folds (so only you and the blinds are left), you should raise KJ in either limit or no limit.
*There are a couple of reasons that position is so important. One is that someone behind you may raise. If you toss in a few poker chips for a call and then someone behind you raises, you're going to wish you had just held on to your money. The other is that you'll have bad position on the flop and beyond. KJ is not an easy hand to play, and it will help tremendously to be able to see what everyone else does before you have to decide what to do.
Sometimes you get all your money in with the best hand and you lose. This is often called a “bad beat” – and it's the most frustrating in the world when it happens to you. The key is to not let it affect you too much, both in terms of your play and your demeanor.
If you start spewing poker chips every time you take a beat, you're going to cost yourself a lot of money. Similarly, don't berate the player who got lucky to beat you. All it does is make you look like an amateur. If it's a profitable home game and your bellyaching causes you not to get invited back, it's a disaster. So keep your mouth shut!
If don't want to just play no limit Texas hold ‘em poker for fun and you want to take your game to the next level, you need to understand how stack sizes affect the game. Suppose everyone has about 40 big blinds in your stack. This game is going to be fast and loose. Stealing blinds at that point is a significant improvement to your stack. You're not going to have time to wait around for big hands after the flop – you just want to get the top pair with a good kicker and get your chips in the middle.
In these games, hands like KQ and AT are not too bad – they're good pair building hands. When the stacks are a lot deeper, say, 200 big blinds, you want hands that can make very strong hands. Small pocket pairs become more valuable as you can make a well-hidden three of a kind. An ace with another card of the same suit also goes up in value, because with deep stacks you have the potential to win a huge pot against a smaller flush. When you learn how stack sizes change the game, you'll dominate poker tables all over the map!
When you first sit down at a poker table, take a look around. Is someone doing fancy chip tricks? It may seem like it doesn't matter, but it's a valuable piece of information. A drunk tourist who wanders over from the roulette table to play his first ever hand of poker is not going to be the one riffling his chips.
If someone is doing chip tricks, you can be certain they've at least played poker before, and more likely than not, they've spent a lot of time at the tables. It's far from perfect – there are plenty of donkeys who know how to play with their chips – but every little bit of information helps.
Suppose you're playing no limit hold ‘em and you're dealt 45, both clubs. A player in middle position makes a moderate raise and you decide to call in the big blind. The flop is 3-6-J with two clubs. You've flopped a powerful drawing hand – a flush draw plus an open-ended straight draw. Your most likely course of action is to try to get all of the chips on the flop! If you don't have many more poker chips than the size of the pot, just go ahead and bet all-in. If you have too many chips for that to be a normal-looking play, consider check-raising all-in. If you have a lot of chips in front of you, you can bet and plan on reraising all-in when the villain raises.
These plays are great because it will force the opponent to fold a lot of hands. And if he does call with one pair, you're better than 50-50 to win the pot! Even if he has a huge hand like 3 of a kind, you're not in terrible shape. On the other hand, if you check and call a bet, you're going to be stuck with a lot of your money in the pot and having to act first – a very unenviable position.
Usually the value of a small pocket pair in no limit hold ‘em comes from the possibility of making three of a kind (called a set) on the flop and winning a big pot. So, if you're facing a raise before the flop and you're holding, say, 55, you need to think about the amount that you're going to get paid off if you flop a set. If the opponent is very tight before the flop, and only would raise QQ-AA and maybe AK, that's a great position for you, as long as the stacks are pretty deep compared to the blinds. Because then if you do flop a set, there will be a good chance the opponent has a big pair and will put a lot of chips in the pot.
On the other hand, if your opponent is going to be raising a wide range, you can't call with the intention to give up every time you don't flop a set, because you won't get paid off enough when you do. In no limit poker, sets will be what you use to win huge pots.
Even an excellent player can go broke if she doesn't have good bankroll management. This means playing in games that are not too high for the amount you have. For example, if you've decided you're going to play a lot of one-table tournaments and you have $250, you'd be crazy to play the $55's.
Even an excellent player has downswings of four buy-in very frequently. When you're playing one-table tournaments, a good rule of thumb is that you'd like to have 50 buy-ins. Thirty may be safe too, but it's more of a risk. In poker, cards can cause you to have a bad run even if you're a great player.
|Sheri Ann Richerson|