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No-Limit Texas Hold'em
A Complete Course
By Angel Largay
ECW PRESSCopyright © 2006 Angel Largay
All rights reserved.
Basics and Review
This chapter is designed primarily for those players who are new to poker in general or Texas Hold'em in particular. That said, a complete foundation is summarized in this chapter, and I would suggest that even experienced players take the time to review its contents. While some information will seem absurdly simple, even the experienced player may find some valuable tidbits in here. I have three reasons for believing so.
First, I regularly teach classes on Texas Hold'em in Las Vegas, and, while there is a charge for each of the eight 15-hour classes available, I have a four-hour introductory class that I teach free of charge. Many experienced players have come to the introductory class with the sound idea in mind of discovering whether I can teach them something before they invest any money in one of the more advanced classes. After all, you can be an expert in your field and an abysmal instructor in that field; proficiency in a field doesn't mean that you can teach it well. I have been pleased, and to be honest a little surprised, to hear from many of the experienced players, including some semi-pros, that they have learned things in my introductory class that somehow were missed in their prior poker education.
Second, I have found that many people fail to understand some of the most basic strategies, rules, and etiquette of our game even while playing in limit games as high as $40/$80 or in no-limit games as high as $10/$20. In many cases, these players began their poker careers at higher limits based on their economic status and failed to learn many of the basics that those who start at the bottom have picked up.
And third, much of the information I have included here would not have been my first choice if I had written this book many years ago. I have had about a thousand students pass through my school to date, and I have learned much more than I anticipated when I began. There are things I took for granted and subjects I glossed over, never expecting that students would struggle with them. This chapter addresses topics they have struggled with and questions I have answered, in some cases, hundreds of times. For that reason, I would suggest that even the advanced player take the time to go through this chapter, if for no other reason than to understand the difficulty new students of the game face and hence to make more sense of the often hard-to-understand plays they see at the table. In other words, careful study of this chapter will help you to get inside the beginner's head.
If you still believe that this chapter is too basic, then at least do the quizzes. If you ace the quizzes, then jump right ahead to the next chapter, but, if you find that you are answering some of the questions incorrectly, then review the chapter.
Reading the Board
Reading the five community cards (the board) quickly and accurately is a skill, and it takes time and practice to perfect it. Most players don't give the accomplishment of this skill much thought or effort, and if anything players are encouraged not to become accomplished at it. A number of students in my classes have told me they originally stopped by the poker room of their choice to get a free 20-minute lesson and were told, right after the lesson, on how much to tip the dealer: "Don't worry about it, just turn your cards up at the end, and the dealer will read your cards for you."
While it is true that the dealer will read your cards for you if you turn them up, it is also true that anyone can make a mistake. The dealer will misread your hand from time to time and even throw away a winning hand. If both you and the dealer are equally skilled at reading the board, I'd bet that you will make fewer errors than the dealer will make when it's your money at risk. Beyond this, how will you know whether to check, call, or raise if you can't read the board with proficiency? The dealer can't help you with that.
Let's say you can already read the board accurately. With the small amount of practice they get merely by sitting around the table playing, most players manage to do so with a reasonable amount of accuracy within a few weeks. Accuracy by itself is not enough; reading the board must be done quickly, at a glance.
Go to a card room and watch a low-limit game in progress. Before the flop, all players will look at their cards (if they don't, then put yourself on the list immediately!). Then the flop will come, and everyone will look at the flop. At least half the table will look back at their cards, often going back and forth between their cards and the flop trying to decide what they have. When the turn is delivered, the same players will check out this addition to the board and then go back to make sure their cards haven't changed and to discover how this addition has helped their hands, often glancing back and forth between the board and their cards to figure out what they now have. The same procedure is repeated on the river. This creates two problems for these players.
First, if you can't read the board quickly, then observant players who can read the board at a glance will have a great deal of time to pay attention to you as you try to figure out what you have. They will be watching you at the moment of recognition. If the board reads J[??]9[??]2[??], the turn brings a 4[??], and you are studying both your hand and the board, it's a safe bet you don't have the A[??] in your hand. Conversely, if you are constantly studying the board and suddenly you don't have to study it any longer when the fourth diamond falls on the turn, then you likely have a big diamond. You don't have to study the board because you're praying to the poker gods for a diamond, and as soon as that diamond falls you know your prayer has been answered.
Second, if you aren't able to read the board quickly, then you won't be able to focus on other players who are giving away valuable information about the strengths of their hands; you're too busy looking back at your own cards.
An excellent way to practice this skill and to give yourself an underrated edge over your opponents is to keep a deck of cards handy while you are watching television. It's a safe bet you already know that Bounty is the "quicker picker-upper" or that you can save a bunch of money on your car insurance by switching to Geico. Don't watch the commercials! When they come on, grab your deck and turn five cards simultaneously on the couch. What is the best hand possible? In other words, if you could choose two cards to have in your hand with that board, which two would you choose? Which would be your second choice? Your third? Keep going. How far you go is up to you, but I suggest that you keep going until you can read the board as fast as you read this paragraph. If you are getting stuck along the way, then you should keep going. If you practice this simple exercise during the commercials of a one-hour show once a day for a week, you'll be amazed how far you've come.
While the cards don't arrive five at a time during actual game conditions, this is still excellent practice, much like a batter in a baseball game swinging two bats to warm up. If you can read five cards at a glance, then three will be a snap.
Take the following quiz and see how you do. Examine each board and determine which the best two cards to be holding are, and then move on to the second best, the third best, all the way to the 20th best. To make it more interesting, time yourself. An accomplished player should be able to list the 20 best hands in about 30 seconds.
Frequently you will get a favorable flop or turn for your hand, but there is a draw present that makes your hand particularly vulnerable. For this reason, it is critical to recognize the draws present on the flop. Too many players notice that a draw was present on the flop only after they have been raised when that draw has been completed. If they had noted the draw earlier, they might have refrained from betting when it arrived and could have chosen between folding or putting less money in the pot.
There are two main types of draws: the flush draw and the straight draw.
If two cards of the same suit appear on the flop, then a flush draw is present. If your opponent has two cards in his hand of that suit, then one more will give him a flush.
Any time two straight-flush cards appear on the flop, a straight-flush draw may be present. While straight-flushes are rare, this situation remains doubly dangerous since it also means that a straight draw is present. Straight draws will be covered in more detail shortly.
Often beginning players believe that, if they have two cards of a suit and a single card of that suit arrives on the flop, then they have a flush draw. In actuality, they have what is called a backdoor flush draw, but backdoor draws are usually discounted by winning players unless they are coupled with another strong draw or already made hand. I will address backdoor draws presently.
Straight draws are more difficult to see for most players because there are so many variations, unlike flush draws that are straightforward. With a flush draw, either there are two of a suit on board or there are not. However, there are many different types of straight draws, and you must be aware of all of them.
There are straight draws in which you need a single card to make your straight, such as if you are holding the K[??]Q[??] and the flop brings a T[??]9[??]2[??]. In this case, a jack and only a jack will make the straight. This type of straight draw has many names. You may hear it referred to as a gutshot straight draw, an inside straight draw, or a belly-buster straight draw. This type of draw is much more difficult to make than the next two types.
Some straight draws allow a player to make his straight with two cards. For example, let's say you are holding the J[??]T[??] and the flop brings a K[??]Q[??]2[??]. In this case, you can make a straight with either an ace or a nine. This type of draw is referred to as an open-ended straight draw.
One of the most difficult straight draws to recognize quickly is the double gutshot or double belly-buster straight draw. As the name implies, this type of draw refers to a situation in which you can make one of two different straights, both of which require a single card. For instance, if you are holding the J[??]T[??] and the flop brings an A[??]Q[??]8[??], you could make a queen high straight with a nine, and you could also make an ace high straight with a king.
Draws of lesser strength also exist that are worth little by themselves; however, in conjunction with other strengths in your hand, they can often tip the balance from a fold to a call. Among them are draws to overcards and backdoor draws.
An overcard draw is when one or both of your cards are higher than the highest card on board. For instance, if you are holding the Q[??]J[??] and the board is T[??]4[??]2[??], then you have two overcards. If a queen or a jack falls on the turn, then you will have top pair. Of course, there is no guarantee that making top pair will be good if you hit it; your opponent may have a hand that beats one pair already. Hence, overcard draws are not as powerful as many new players seem to believe. There is one other point of interest regarding overcard draws that we should consider. When you are holding a hand such as A[??]J[??] with a board such as T[??]4[??]2[??], you need to be wary of an ace falling since your opponent is much more likely to have entered the pot with an A2, A4, or AT than he is to have entered with a hand such as J2 or J4. As a result, if an ace falls, he is much more likely to have hit two pair.
Backdoor draws refer to any draw in which you must hit both the turn and the river to make your hand. An example of a backdoor flush draw would be a board of T[??]4[??]2[??] while you are holding the A[??]J[??]. You can make a flush if a diamond falls on both the turn and the river. The likelihood of this happening is very slim, just about 4% compared with a 35% chance if you had flopped four to a flush. Using the same cards as above, you also have a backdoor straight draw. You can make a straight if a queen comes on the turn and a king comes on the river. The likelihood of this occurrence is very slight, and a backdoor straight draw, like its cousin the backdoor flush draw, is almost never enough to call on its own.
There is no substitute for practice in finding these draws. The following quiz concentrates on the two main types of draws and disregards lesser draws such as backdoor draws and overcard draws. If an example has more than one type of draw present, list them all.
If you have a draw, you must be able to determine how many cards will complete your hand. A card that completes your hand is called an "out." For practical purposes, an exception would be a card that completes your hand yet gives your opponent a better hand. If that card gives your opponent a superior hand, then it would not be considered an out.
I have discovered through the classes I teach that most players have great difficulty in determining how many outs they have. This is a crucial skill to have because the number of outs you have in relation to the size of the pot will be a major factor in determining whether or not to call a bet when you are on a draw. Let's take a look at a few common examples.
Example 1: If you have the J[??]T[??] and the flop brings an A[??]7[??]2[??], then you have a spade draw. In other words, if one more spade falls, you will have a flush. If your opponent bets, then it is probably safe to say that you do not have the best hand now with merely a jack-high, but you do have a very good chance to improve to the best hand if a spade comes. You have two spades in your hand, and there are two more on the board. Since there are 13 spades in the deck, you have 13, minus the four spades present, or nine spades out of the 47 unknown cards remaining. We then say that you have nine outs.
Example 2: If you have the J[??]T[??] and the flop brings a K[??]Q[??]2[??], you have an openended straight draw. If either an ace or a nine falls on the turn, you will complete a straight. Since no aces or nines are present in either your hand or the board, you have four aces and four nines remaining to complete a straight, giving you eight outs.
Example 3: If you have the J[??]T[??] and the flop brings an A[??]Q[??]8[??], you have a double gutshot and a spade draw. Any one of four nines or four kings will complete a straight, and any one of nine spades will complete a flush. In this example, you have 15 outs. Most new players accidentally count 17 outs, which is completely understandable. They simply add eight outs for a straight and nine outs for a flush, forgetting that they are counting the nine of spades and the king of spades twice.
Often students make the mistake of thinking too far ahead when trying to determine how many outs they have. For instance, in Example 1 above, they might say, "If a nine comes on the turn, then an eight will be an out; therefore, I have a straight draw too." While this is true, it is a backdoor straight draw, and while it adds value to the hand, when we determine outs, we count on the basis of what is present on the board at that moment, not on what may come.
As with any situation in poker, you must endeavor to put your opponent on a hand. In each of the following cases, I ask you to assume that your opponent has a certain hand. While putting someone on a hand is usually only guesswork, it is educated guesswork based on his actions prior to and on the flop as well as on knowledge accrued from observing his betting patterns throughout the game. We will work on this skill later in the text; for now, I've put them on a hand for you. The following quiz will test your ability to determine your outs.
Excerpted from No-Limit Texas Hold'em by Angel Largay. Copyright © 2006 Angel Largay. Excerpted by permission of ECW PRESS.
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