How to Play Poker Tips

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Should I always play poker by the book?

Don't do Everything by the Book

A lot of poker beginners will seek guidance through books. As we all know, there is a wealth of knowledge at our fingertips. What we don't realize, however, is that doing everything by the book isn't always the best idea.

A common mistake that new poker players make is to study and memorize instructions and let this rule their poker games. More naïve players will religiously adhere to the how-to's spelled out in literature thus their methods of play will become mechanical and, often times, predictable.

It's a good idea to gain an understanding of the game as well as to pick up tips from poker books. The key to successful poker playing, however, is to use what you learn to build a solid foundation. Then, develop your own playing style that is more unique. Variation will help lead you to your share of winning hands.

What are some nicknames for hands?

Hand Nicknames

On top of knowing how to play poker, it's useful (and impressive) to know the poker lingo. Poker players have nicknames for a lot of hands, and it's good to know them. It's not a disaster to hear someone say “I have spare tire” and not know what it means, but you look cooler if you do.

Since we all know the purpose of poker is to look cool, here are some hand nicknames: - AA: probably has the most nicknames. “Bullets” and “pocket rockets” don't require a lot of explanation, and I've thought American Airlines intentionally planted their name as another AA nickname. - KK: the uncreative nickname is “cowboys.” Those in the know prefer “ace magnets” (as in, “Whenever I have KK, there's an A on the flop.”) - JJ: “Hooks.” - 99: “Phil Hellmuth.” Ordinarily, I wouldn't like to nickname a hand after someone who's so freakin' obnoxious, but 99 is the hand that Hellmuth had to win the 1989 World Series of Poker Main Event. We'll discuss more poker hand names in future tips. Learning poker strategy is nice and all, but what's it worth if you don't know that a spare tire is J4 (as in, “What's a jack for?”)

What are nicknames for non-pairs?

Hand Nicknames: Non-pairs

We're still not there with the hand nicknames – we discussed nicknames for paired hands already, and now we'll move on to the unpaired poker hands:

  • AK: ‘Big slick.” Probably the hand name most commonly used, especially by players who know a little about poker but are not serious players. It's a pretty safe bet that if you hear someone say it in a casino, they're not an expert player.
  • Ten 2: Doyle Brunson. Brunson won consecutive World Series of Poker championships, winning both final hands with just a ten and a two.
  • Ten 5: Woolworth's (five and dime).
  • Ten 4: Good buddy (as in “Ten four, good buddy”) Now you know the names. Just don't be one of those people who learns a little lingo and never say “ace king” again.

What’s the gap concept?

The Gap Concept: Calling Hands and Raising Hands

In a regular cash game, you need better poker hands to call a raise or to reraise than if you raise as the first person into the pot. This makes sense: someone has already announced (by raising) that they like their hand, so you're going to need more of a hand to get involved. In a tournament, regardless of what game and what betting structure you're playing, this effect is magnified. It's called the “gap concept,” and it was first described by David Sklansky, who most people agree is the top poker author.

In a tournament, you want to open-raising more pots than you would in a cash game, and defending your blind less. The reason is that there is value in a tournament to just staying alive, so you don't want to call raises. And everyone else realizes there's value to staying alive, so they don't want to call raises, so you should steal a lot.

Do novices players call too much?

Raise or Fold: It's the Way to Play

When learning how to play poker, there's no question that beginning players call too much. Calling stinks because it doesn't put any real pressure on your opponent. If they decide they probably have the best hand, they can keep betting. If they'd rather see a free card and try to improve, they can just check.

When you're figuring out what to do, your first question should be, “Is it time for me to fold?” If the answer is anywhere from “Yes” to “Well, maybe my hand is good enough” you should fold. If you have too much hand to fold, your question will be “Ok, should I raise?” If raising doesn't seem right, go back to thinking about folding. If that still doesn't seem right, consider a call. That one poker tip can help improve a novice into a growing player.

What’s a limp-reraise?

The Limp-Reraise

In the last tip on limping, I wrote, “Limping means that there's no chance you're going to win the pot without seeing a flop.” Well, this isn't completely true. If you're at a very aggressive table and you think someone will raise behind you, it's ok to limp with a big hand like AA or KK. Then when they raise, you spring the trap and reraise.

This can be an effective way to trap someone for a lot of chips. If you're going to play a lot of hands with someone, you can't only limp-reraise with a monster. You've got to throw in some other poker hands every once in a while as well so they don't catch on to what you're doing.

How can I practice my poker skills?

Practice Makes Perfect

Tired of losing your shirt at your friends' weekly poker match? Then you need to practice up!

The easiest way to improve your poker skills is through practice, and the most convenient way to practice in the 21st century is online. Any time of the day or night you can log in, play low stakes poker (though still with real money), and even chat with other players at the table and ask for advice on hands that you may have misplayed.

Though a great way to get some practice in during the week, you should be warned that online poker can be very addictive for some people, and gambling support groups have seen a surge in online poker addicts in recent years.

What if I keep forgetting the order of the hands?

The Value of a Cheat Sheet

When you're first learning how to play poker, it's very important to know the rank of the hands. If you're sitting there with two pair and you think the opponent has a flush and you're flinging chips in the middle as fast as you can, you're going to be in for a sore surprise when you learn the bad news. But at the same time, you can't really ask. So what should you do about it?

When I play with new players, I write down the list: high card, one pair, two pair, three of a kind, straight, flush, full house, four of a kind, straight flush. Then they can figure out how good their hand is without the awkward, “So, um, hypothetically, if I had two pair and Susie over here had a flush, would that be good or bad for me?”

Is it ever right to raise a garbage hand after someone calls before the flop?

The PVS – Phil Van Sexton

You're in a one table tournament. There are five players left. You have 800 chips with the blinds at 50/100, and the other players all have about 1,500. The first player, who plays way too many hands but can make folds, calls the big blind. The next player is aggressive, raising any time she has a strong hand. She also just calls the big blind. Now it's your turn to act. What should you do?

The best poker strategy here is to push all your chips in, no matter what your cards! You have a very good chance to steal 350 chips (150 for the blinds, 100 for each of the two calls) without seeing a flop. This is a great chance to pick up almost 50% of your stack. The play is called a Phil Van Sexton. It's a great play, but don't overuse it.

What are some more hand nicknames?

Hand Nicknames, part two

In a previous tip we talked about some of the nicknames of poker hands. Here are some more that are good to know around the table:

  • 88: “Snowmen”: an 8 looks, um, a little like a snowman.
  • 77: “Walking sticks”
  • 55: “Speed limit.” Thank goodness the federal government relaxed their constitutionally dubious nation speed limit (the feds weren't allowed to legislate it directly, so they tied a 55 speed limit to federal highway funding). Now, 55 should really be called “the number formerly known as the national speed limit” but that's a little clunky around the table.
  • 33: “Crabs.”
  • 22: “Ducks.”

Why is important to adapt?

Adapting to the Game

There's no set definition of how to play poker. Some players are aggressive players. Some players like to trap. Everyone has a bit of a personal style, but it's important to be able to change your game for the conditions you're currently in. For example, if you're usually aggressive and you're playing against players who love to call, you need to change your game.

Wait for strong poker hands, and bet them to death. If you're playing against a player who is very conservative and he bets, it's not the time to make a big bluff raise. Just think to yourself how angry he's going to be that you didn't pay him off as you throw your hand away. Poker requires constant adaptation, and that's why poker rules.

Why should you ever show your cards?

Showing Your Cards

There are a lot of excellent players who believe that you should never show your cards when you don't have to. Why give the opponents information that I don't have to, they ask. But for others, it is a valuable part of their poker strategy.

One time you might find it useful is if you've been stealing the blinds a lot. It looks like you're running over the table, probably because you are. Then you get dealt AA, you raise, and everyone folds. This is a good time to show your cards. By showing your cards, you hope to slightly delay the time when your opponents will figure out that you're stealing all the money and decide to make a stand. You're also reminding them that even maniacs get a hand now and then.

Should I play in every round of poker?

Sometimes You Should Keep Your Hands to Yourself

A common mistake that beginners make when playing poker is to play way too many hands from the get-go. It's easy to get lost in the thrill of the game and attempt to be in on every round. Realistically speaking, however, this isn't the best idea.

When starting out it's smarter not to depend on luck. In other words, stick to the high hands that are more of a sure bet. In fact, statistics show that leading players only play between 20-30% of their beginning hands. Additionally, when you're an outsider you can watch a game with a clear mind because you won't have anything invested in it.

If you're no longer in on a round sit back and observe—this is a great time to learn a thing or two. Take note of what the winners and the losers do and, if you gather enough information, you may get a leg up on your opponents in later rounds.

How can I find out if I played a hand the right way?

Get Free Advice on Poker

Wondering whether you played that last big hand of poker the right way? You can ask other poker aficionados online and get some very insightful responses to your poker queries.

Simply log into a public forum, such as, find the appropriate discussion topic in which to post your situation or question, post, and wait for responses. This is considered the best way to get your poker questions answered and strategies analyzed in the industry, as even the pros can be found answering questions and posting to the forums.

What should I do when I fold my hand in poker?

Don't Expose Yourself

A good rule of thumb when playing poker is not to reveal your cards unless absolutely necessary. While you are obviously not going to go around showing your hand while you are playing a round, you shouldn't let the rest of the table see your goods when you're out either. When you fold place your cards face down.

Why? First of all, many professionals have a knack for being able to better speculate what other players have in their hands by seeing what you had. No one is helping you win so why should you assist someone else?

Additionally, if you win a hand by bluffing, don't reveal your cards. Instead, lay them face down and allow the cards to be shuffled for the next round. This way, other players will not be able to see what you had up your sleeve. If they become aware that you were bluffing they may become hip to your game and take note of your mannerisms. A good poker player never reveals his tricks.

Is there a good system to use in poker?

Super System

If you're looking to improve your poker performance, then you should look to the best of the best for advice, and though many champions of poker have written tip guides of varying quality, Doyle Brunson's Super System is considered to be the most comprehensive and influential book in the history of poker.

Brunson explains the pros and cons of various strategies, points out need-to-know statistics, and covers today's most popular games, including Texas Hold ‘Em and seven card stud. Once you read up on the strategies employed by poker's greats, be sure to bring your new-found knowledge to the table. At the end of the day, there is no substitute for practice.

What’s fancy play syndrome?

Fancy Play Syndrome

When beginning players start learning some poker tips, they sometimes develop what's called “fancy play syndrome.” They've read that it's better to raise all-in with an inside straight draw than to do with it nothing at all, so when they get bet into they fling all the chips in the middle. They know that a bluff check-raise against an aggressive player is one way to punish his aggressiveness, so they fire those chips out there.

The key to all of these plays is to use them sparingly. Usually, if an aggressive player bets and you have nothing at all, just let your hand go. Once in a while you can try to force them off a hand, but if you do it just because, you're going to wind up bleeding chips quickly.

How do you make a legal raise in a casino?

Avoiding the Dreaded String Bet

Rules on how to play poker in a casino differ from how to play in other environments. When you play in a casino, you have to know how to raise legally. In your home and in movies, it's legit to say something like “I'll call your 20, and I'll raise you 20 more!” It adds a certain dramatic flair, a touch of WWF that many people can't resist. However, in the casino, it doesn't fly.

In a casino, as soon as you say “I'll call,” you'll do just that: call the bet without raising. An opponent can call you for a “string bet” if you say “call and raise,” and the dealer will force you to just call. The same rule applies if you call a bet and then reach back into your stack for more chips. The proper way to do it is to either put chips in with one motion or announce “raise.” Knowing the poker rules can save you a lot of money.

Is winning everything in poker?

Winning Isn't Everything

A great deal of new poker players believe that if they lose a hand they've gained nothing—this is a fallacy. While it's nice to claim the pot, just because you didn't come out on top doesn't mean that you have nothing to take away from the game. Remember when your mom told you, “Winning isn't everything, it's how you play the game”? She wasn't lying. Do you think that every successful poker player started out on a winning streak? No one is born an expert and it is important to learn from your mistakes, practice makes perfect after all. And, while you will never become a perfect poker player, you can become a very skilled one.

Next time you lose a hand don't curse under your breath and convince yourself that you were cheated. Instead, think about what led to your loss.

  • What did you do wrong?
  • What should you have done differently?
  • What did the winner do that helped him or her to win?

Analyze every round you play, whether you are victorious or not. It's useful to keep a journal of this information and add to and refer to it regularly. Don't get down in the dumps—learn from your losses.

How do I choose a table at which to play poker?

Know How to Pick ‘Em

So, you're ready to settle down, play some poker, and win some dough…now what? Well, you better decide on a table at which to sit down for starters. If you're new to the game, picking a table might be tricky; here are a few pointers to help you make a more educated decision:

  • Pick a table with less skilled players than you.
  • If you find yourself seated at a table where the competition is to stiff, move on to a new table—you're not obligated to stay anywhere.
  • If you find that your attention span is dwindling and you are continually making poor decisions, you are probably not only at a bad table but not on top of your game—finish up and call it a night.
  • If you've invested a good bit of time in a table (over an hour) and haven't won a round, move on, honey.

How do you play anaconda?


If you're looking for a great home game you can play with your friends, think about playing anaconda. In anaconda, each player is dealt seven cards. There's a round of betting. Then, everyone passes three cards to their left, and there's another round of betting. That means that even if you're dealt a straight flush, you have to pass one of the cards away, them's the poker rules! After that you pass two cards back to the right, and there's a final round of betting.

A lot of the strategy is guessing which cards your opponent will pass back, and also guessing which cards your other opponent doesn't want back. So teach your friends how to play poker like a real snake – anaconda!

What does it mean to mix it up?

Mixing it Up

If you play a lot of hands against the same person or the same group of people, you have to start mixing up your play. Usually you want to only raise in early position with a very strong hand, and if you're not going to play a lot of hands against your current opponents, that's a fine rule of thumb. But if you are playing tons of hands against the same opponents, you have to switch it up.

If every time you raise in first position they instantly know that you have QQ-AA or AK, that's a disaster. You'll be taken apart if they know your hand so well. So once in a long while, raise with a junk hand like 57 of the same suit in early position. If you show down your hand and win a big pot, they'll always remember that raising small cards in early position is part of your poker strategy.

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