poker strategies and secrets

poker strategies and secrets
Raise your game with strategies from poker
pro and back-to-back World Series of Poker
ladies championship winner SUSIE ISAACS!
* Talk the talk with the help of the comprehensive
glossary of poker terms
* Learn how to make the most profit out of a big hand…
and when to make a big lay down
* Find out how home poker games and Internet poker
competitions can pave your way to the major league,
big money tournaments for minimal investment
* Learn how to use other players’ mistakes and
weaknesses to your advantage
* Study words of wisdom from some of today’s top
poker players
* Don’t look like an amateur—get to know the do’s and
don’ts of poker etiquette
$12.95 U.S.
Develop the skills that will help you win big!
$17.95 CAN
£6.99 UK
ISBN-13: 978-1-4022-0668-9
ISBN-10: 1-4022-0668-2
poker strategies
and secrets
* Learn the ins and outs of Texas hold’em (limit and nolimit), Omaha, seven-card stud, razz, lowball and more
and secrets
* Over 400 Texas hold’em tips
* Winning strategies for beginners, intermediate
players and seasoned competitors
* Learn some of the most popular varieties
of poker
* Cash in on the Internet poker craze
1000 Best
Susie Isaacs
Copyright © 2006 by Susie Isaacs
Cover and internal design © 2006 by Sourcebooks, Inc.
Sourcebooks and the colophon are registered trademarks of
Sourcebooks, Inc.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced
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in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or
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Sourcebooks, Inc.
This publication is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It
is sold with the understanding that the publisher is not
engaged in rendering legal, accounting, or other professional
service. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required,
the services of a competent professional person should be
sought.—From a Declaration of Principles Jointly Adopted by
a Committee of the American Bar Association and a Committee of Publishers and Associations
Published by Sourcebooks, Inc.
P.O. Box 4410, Naperville, Illinois 60567-4410
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Fax: (630) 961-2168
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Isaacs, Susie.
1000 best poker strategies and secrets / Susie Isaacs.
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references.
ISBN-13: 978-1-4022-2020-3
ISBN-10: 1-4022-2020-0
1. Poker. I. Title: One thousand poker strategies and secrets.
II. Title.
GV1251.I83 2006
Printed and bound in Canada.
WC 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Acknowledgments . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .vii
Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .xi
Poker Basics . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1
Glossary . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .7
1: Limit Texas Hold’em . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .23
2: No-Limit Texas Hold’em . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .83
3: Seven-Card Stud . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .143
4: Razz . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .175
5: Seven-Card Stud HighLow Split Eight-or-Better . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .189
6: Omaha . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .211
7: Omaha High-Low Split Eight-or-Better . . . . .225
8: Five-Card Draw Jacks-or-Better,
Jacks-Back, and Lowball Draw . . . . . . . . . . . . .245
9: Tells . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .263
10: Home Games . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .275
11: Internet Poker . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .287
12: Brick-and-Mortar Card Casinos
and Poker Rooms . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .311
13: Poker Table Protocol . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .329
14: My Friends Give Big Tips . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .345
Bibliography . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .376
About the Author . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .377
This book is dedicated to my mom, “Mimi.” She
never played a hand of poker in her life, but she was
my biggest fan.
Since I began this project, my list of appreciation for
certain individuals has grown almost daily. It isn’t
easy to write a book, even if writing and the subject
matter you are writing about is your passion,
especially if the information is sometimes technical.
It is so important to get the details correct if your
hope is to direct others in their passion or in their
pursuit to learn and excel in a multifaceted subject.
One misdirection—one “do” when you shouldn’t, or
one “don’t” when you should—could end in ultimate
confusion. I believe with the help, suggestions,
corrections, and directions of a bunch of good folks,
this work resulted in a great book.
If I have forgotten anyone, I’ll run down the Las
Vegas Strip naked (in my next life!).
Thank you Jessica Faust, my literary agent from
Book Ends, Inc., for finding me. You led me out of
the darkness of “What do I do now?” to the light of a
publisher, Sourcebooks, Inc.
Thank you Sourcebooks, Inc. for gambling on
me. Although lots of people, especially poker people, know me, I was a virtual unknown in the world
of publishing.
Maryann Guberman, my poker editor, thank you
for making me look totally literate. I know that time is
a precious commodity and I appreciate your making
enough of it to help me out with this project.
Ewurama Ewusi-Mensah, thank you for your
time and efforts in polishing this manuscript. If you
weren’t a poker player before, you are now!
Michelle Schoob, thank you for checking and
rechecking my poker terminology. I don’t know if
every writer needs multiple editors, but I sure did!
Thank you Herminia Mahealani Suzanna Sniffen
(that’s why we call her “Hermie”), my business
partner, for carrying the load and being so patient
while I buried myself in this project.
Thank you Darlene Wood, my friend and my
research assistant. If it weren’t for you, this would
have taken me twice as long.
Thank you Linda Johnson for believing in me
and pointing me in the right direction.
Thank you Jan Fisher for explaining the theory on
the calculations of odds, outs, and percentages in
terms a regular person can grasp.
Thank you June Field for your wisdom and for
opening the first poker publishing opportunity for
me through the pages of Card Player magazine and
Poker Digest.
Thank you: Dan Harrington, author of Harrington
on Hold’em; John Vorhaus, author of Killer Poker
Online; George Elias, author of Awesome Profits; Bill
Burton, author of Get the Edge at Low-Limit Texas
Hold’em and 1000 Best Casino Gambling Secrets;
Matthew Hilger, author of Internet Texas Hold’em;
and Shane Smith, author of Omaha Hi-Lo Poker
(Eight or Better) How to Win at the Lower Limits, for
your tips that made this book stronger.
Thank you Dana Smith for your unselfish cooperation and knowledge when I hit a weak link.
Thank you Rick Gianti, even though you’re not
working in poker any longer, you’ll always have
poker in your blood and your heart.
Thank you a “stack of black,” my poker champion
friends, for enhancing this work with your poker
wisdom: Doyle Brunson, Todd Brunson, Vince Burgio,
Mike Caro, Johnny Chan, T. J. Cloutier, Barbara
Enright, Barry Greenstein, Maureen Feduniak, Phil
Gordon, Russ Hamilton, Tom McEvoy, Howard
Lederer, Daniel Negreanu, Scotty Nguyen, Greg
Raymer, Mike Sexton, Dr. Max Stern, and Robert
Williamson—you’re all the “nuts”!
In the days of the Old West, fistfights or even gunfights
often settled disputes. A century later, folklore has it
that characters accused of unsavory poker conduct
could be found buried in the desert. Through it all,
home poker games have prevailed. Those who
participated were not part of the criminal element.
They were regular folks who enjoyed a great mindexercising game of cards. The poker renaissance that
began just a few years ago has evolved into the
greatest phenomenon in recent memory. Poker
tournaments, popular among an elite group of
competitors since the seventies, now draw thousands
of newcomers from all walks of life. The World Series
of Poker, the granddaddy of all poker competitions
and the biggest and most prestigious poker
tournament for over thirty years, grew slowly but
steadily every year. It was the single richest
competition the game ever saw. Today, multimilliondollar poker competitions are commonplace and are
being played all over the world. You might say that the
game of poker and its reputation have gone from the
outhouse to the penthouse in only a few hundred
years. What happened? A series of auspicious events
took place that culminated with poker competition
rising to become a “top of the ratings chart” new
spectator sport. First, a group of poker-loving poker
players had a vision in the jungle. Honest! While
Mike Sexton, Linda Johnson, and Steve Lipscomb
vacationed in Costa Rica in 2000, they discussed their
common interest and love of the game. Steve shared
his vision for a concept called the World Poker Tour.
All Steve needed was funding. Mike was associated
with Party Poker (one of the first and today one of the
largest online poker sites), which was a nice fit, and
this Internet giant ultimately became a charter member. Linda owned Card Player magazine and Card
Player Cruises. The trio, Sexton, Lipscomb, and Johnson, went to see Lyle Berman (poker player extraordinaire and owner of Lakes Entertainment) when they
returned to Las Vegas. Berman listened to their
fantasy and said that they would need six or eight
charter members—casinos or online poker sites
willing to participate. Before he committed to his part
in the big plan, Berman gave them a deadline of six
months to find six sponsors willing to bet on the
come, so to speak. They got their participating charter
members in six weeks and the deal was on!
The World Poker Tour was a success from the
first season it aired in 2002 on the Travel Channel.
The brainstorm that turned poker into a true
spectator sport was the tiny “lipstick” cameras built
into the poker table. Poker has been televised for
years, but it was about as exciting as watching a
dog sleep. Suddenly, the ability to know what cards
the players were holding and to watch how they
interacted with each other, bet, and bluffed,
opened a totally new frontier. Poker was downright
exciting, and its popularity exploded!
Three dedicated poker players really thought the
World Poker Tour would be a homerun, and it
turned out to be a grand slam! The poker world is
forever changed because of these three visionaries
in the jungle.
The next giant step in the unbelievable growth of
poker popularity came about on May 24, 2003, when
a young man from Nashville, Tennessee, named
Chris Moneymaker (his real name!) won the coveted
World Series of Poker title and an unbelievable $2.5
million. Prior to his first visit to Las Vegas and his
first “live” poker tournament, he was not a wealthy
man. He was an accountant and a family man, the
guy next door, and a breadwinner.
Through the years anyone in a financial position
to shell out $10,000 could have the privilege of
matching wits with the best poker players in the
world. Moneymaker, just a regular guy, won his seat
in an online poker competition that cost him a mere
$40. The popularity and acceptance of a game that
once was frowned upon by a large segment of the
population experienced a complete metamorphosis.
Moneymaker was a huge piece in this phenomenal
poker puzzle. Overnight he became to poker what
Tiger Woods is to golf and Bill Gates is to computers.
The following year, 2004, another everyman and
online qualifier, Greg Raymer, won the title and $5
million! This really put the icing on the poker cake.
It proved that Moneymaker’s feat wasn’t a fluke; it
could and did happen again. Long shots do come
in. It is now a matter of record that anyone with
some poker skill, luck at the right times, an ability to
bluff but avoid being bluffed, and a lot of patience
and heart can become a millionaire—or at least a
thousandaire—through poker.
Though it has reached a new pinnacle over the
last few years, poker is and always has been a sport
of skill that also happens to be fun, and a great
social activity for the masses. Learning how to play
poker properly is easy with the advent of Internet
poker to practice in private and televised poker
competitions to watch and enjoy. Online poker sites
and public casinos and cardrooms offer every
individual the opportunity to learn to play poker
correctly. However, in order to excel in your private
poker games or compete in the big time, you’ll need
certain tools. 1000 Best Poker Strategies and Secrets
will pave the way to acquiring the skills and
knowledge that will help you win.
Over the years there have been a wide variety of
poker games to incorporate into your poker repertoire from silly wild card and poker drinking games
(so you don’t care if you win or lose) to the real
poker games that can be mastered. In this book,
we’re going to concentrate on the most popular
games played in brick-and-mortar poker emporiums (casinos and cardrooms) and online poker
sites as well as some that are not easy to find in a
casino, cardroom, or online but are great games to
play at home. If you are a beginner who wants to
learn how to stop losing (at the very least) and learn
how to win, an intermediate player who wants to
improve his game and win more, or an advanced
player who wants to reinforce and define his game,
this book is for you. It also may introduce you to
some real poker games that you are not familiar
with but will enjoy playing. There is a lot more to
poker than the no-limit games you watch on TV.
We will cover the following games:
• Limit Texas hold’em: a flop game in which each
player receives two hole (private) cards to go
with five community cards. Each player makes
the best five-card hand out of the seven cards.
• No-limit Texas hold’em: the basics are the
same as limit hold’em except you can bet any
amount at any time. It’s the same as limit Texas
hold’em, only different! Sounds simple, but it
• Omaha: another flop game where each player
receives four hole cards to work with.
• Omaha high-low split: begins like Omaha but
with a twist that lets you play for the highest
hand, the lowest hand, or both. (To win both
ways is to “scoop” the pot.)
• Seven-card stud: a favorite and a staple for
most who know poker. In seven-card stud players receive two downcards, four upcards, and
one more down. (There are no community
cards in stud games. Each player receives his
own seven cards to make the best five-card
• Razz: like seven-card stud, except you play for
the best low hand rather than the best high.
• Seven-card stud high-low split: similar to
seven-card stud, but with the same two-way
twist as Omaha high-low. Stud high-low is sort
of a combination of seven-card stud and razz, a
real thinking (wo)man’s game.
• I also will give you the ins and outs of a few California cardroom games that were once very
popular: five-card draw with a joker, jacksback, and lowball.
With the exception of draw poker, jacks-back,
and lowball, each chapter on each of the aforementioned games will be divided into subsections: tips
for the beginner, tips for the intermediate, and tips
for the advanced player.
For those of you who want to go a little deeper
and get more information on the psychological
aspects of poker, the chapter on tells will take you to
the next step in becoming a winning player. Poker is
as much about playing the people as it is about
playing your cards.
We will discuss home games. If you already host
a home game, you may pick up some fresh ideas for
fun and profit within the pages of this chapter. We’ll
also discuss playing poker on the Internet for fun,
practice, and profit and how to make a smooth transition from your home to real brick-and-mortar
poker emporiums.
The majority of you who decided to purchase
this book will have a basic understanding of the language of poker. You know at least the most common
terms, the flop (the first three community cards),
the turn (the fourth card), and the river (the fifth).
There is so much more poker jargon that you will
have a much easier time gaining a full understanding of the upcoming tips if you familiarize yourself
up front with the glossary. If you come across a
word in the tips that causes you to scratch your
head and say, “Huh?” just check out the glossary for
a full understanding. I’m not only going to teach
you how to become a better poker player, you’re
going to get a bonus; you’ll also be learning another
Keep one thing in mind as you develop your own
winning style; the best poker players in the world
will have losing days and the worst poker players in
the world will experience winning days. There is no
other sport in the world where this can happen so
dramatically. But keep in mind that the cream will
rise to the top.
If you have the desire, the patience, the drive, the
heart, and the determination, maybe—just maybe—
someday you’ll find yourself at the final table of a
major poker tournament, rubbing elbows with the
poker stars! Please tell them I sent you.
Last, but certainly not least, I’ll have a chapter of
tips, comments, and opinions from some of the
superstars in the wonderful world of poker who I
have had the privilege of meeting through the years.
The Goal
In poker, your goal is to make the right decisions—
whether to call, fold, check, raise, or reraise—so that
at the end of each hand you are either the holder of
the winning hand or the last (wo)man standing—or
if you lose the hand, you lose as little as possible.
Correct decisions (sometimes coupled with some
luck) will determine the overall winner. By overall
winner, I mean that although you may lose some
sessions or some tournaments, when you continually make the correct decisions, at the end of the
year, the cream—you!—will rise to the top.
Table Layout
Under the Gun
Button will move
around the table
Betting begins to the
left of the BB (big blind)
D: Dealer button
SB: Small blind
BB: Big blind
EP: Early position
MP: Middle position
LP: Late position
Hand Rankings
Remember, the winning hand is made up of the best
five cards (see below for rankings). You may use one
or two of your hole cards in conjunction with three or
four of the community cards in hold’em; in Omaha
you must use two of your hole cards.
Low Cards
Highest Card
Be gone
Be lucky
One Pair
Two Pair
Three of a Kind
Full House
Four of a Kind
Straight Flush
Royal Flush
Be careful
Be ready to bet your
ballpoint pen
Be ready to bet your
Be ready to bet your
Be ready to bet your
Be ready to bet your Geo
Be ready to bet your
Be ready to bet your
Bet the ranch and the
In some poker games such as razz and Omaha
high-low, players attempt to make low hands. See “A
Note about Low Hands” in chapter 4, “Razz,” for an
explanation of how low hands are ranked.
Nine Fundamentals Every Poker
Player Should Understandstand
Becoming a winning poker player takes a wealth of
knowledge and hundreds of hours of practice. There
is no shortcut to the destination, but these nine
fundamentals should form the basis of your play.
Take the time to read and understand this list and
the corresponding tips in the book; then incorporate
this knowledge into your game. Doing so will pay off
in spades.
1. Position: Your location at the table in relation
to the betting action will be a key factor in how
you play each hand.
2. Patience: So easy to understand, so difficult to
execute. To win consistently you must depend
on skill combined with a little luck, and that
takes the patience to wait on the proper starting hands.
3. Psychology: Poker is not just about playing the
cards you’re dealt; it is also about playing the
other players.
4. Changing Gears in Tournament Play: A good
poker player knows when to change his style
of play (aggressive versus conservative and
coasting, for example). This talent is critical to
tournament success.
5. Making Big Laydowns: The solid player knows
when to fold big hands.
6. Not Overbetting or Underbetting the Pot in
No-Limit: The biggest single mistake novice
no-limit hold’em players make is betting too
much or too little. They give no thought to the
strategy of the game—when to bet, how much
to bet, and why to bet it.
7. Knowing Your Opponents: I cannot stress
enough how important it is to know how your
opponents play. If a very good player, a player
you know to be solid, puts in an unusually
small raise, he probably wants a call or a
reraise. This should be a red flag warning to
you—don’t cooperate!
8. Keeping Up with What Cards Are Live or Dead:
You must remember what cards in your hand
or on the board could affect the strength of
your opponent’s hand or the strength of your
9. Scooping: In high-low split games your goal is
to win the whole pot every time. Never enter
the pot with the hope of going only high or
only low.
Action: The term used for checking, betting, or
raising. In a loose game there is a lot of action,
which means a lot of betting. The person whose
turn it is to bet is said to have the action on him.
Ace-X: An ace with any card lower than a 10 in your
hand. For example, A-3.
All In: When a player has put all of his chips into the
pot. If a bet, call, or raise takes all the chips in front
of a player, he is “all in.”
Ante: A required bet from every player at the beginning of a hand. The amount of this forced bet
increases at the start of each new level of a tournament. A dealer will often say, “Ante up.”
Baby or Babies: Small cards, 2, 3, 4, 5, and sometimes
a 6.
Baby Pair: Any pair lower than 6s.
Banana: A card that adds no value to your hand. In
particular, a high card that hurts a low hand, example:
a 9 or above. In poker terminology a banana is
synonymous with a “brick.”
Best All Round: In some poker tournaments, players
receive points for the order in which they finish the
tournament. Example: If a tournament has three
hundred players, the third player to bite the dust
would receive 3 points, the player who placed second
place would receive 299 points, the winner would get
300 points, and on down the line. Points from every
event are added up and the highest scoring player
wins a special prize, often a spiffy new car.
Bicycle: A perfect razz hand; A-2-3-4-5. See wheel.
Big Draw: A big potential hand in which you need
one card to complete your straight, flush, full house,
and so forth.
Big Slick: An ace and a king. A strong starting hand in
any hold’em game and even stronger when suited.
Blank: Cards that add no value to a player’s hand.
Blind Defender: A player who has a habit of calling
raises when he has either the big or the small blind
in a hold’em game. This is done to protect his initial
investment regardless of the strength of his hand,
but it is not good play.
Blinds: A forced bet that one or more players must
post in order to start the action on the first round of
betting. The blinds rotate clockwise around the
table. In most hold’em and Omaha games there are
two blinds: the big blind and the small blind.
Bluff: The art of betting or raising with a bad hand
and making your opponents think you have the
best hand.
Brick: See banana.
Brick-and-Mortar: Poker rooms located in a building versus poker played in cyberspace or on the
kitchen table.
Bring-In: A mandatory bet by the player dealt the
lowest upcard to start the first round of betting in
seven-card stud or seven-card stud high-low split. If
more than one player has the same rank of low card,
then the suits in alphabetical order—clubs, diamonds, hearts, and spades—determine who must
start the action. The lowest card in the deck is the
deuce of clubs.
Bubble: In a poker tournament, the player who is
the last to be eliminated before the prize money is
said to be on the “bubble.”
Button: A round white disk used to represent the
dealer position; also referred to as a dealer button.
This marker rotates clockwise around the table for
the purpose of indicating from what position the
cards are dealt. It also determines who is the first to
Bully: A player who repeatedly takes advantage of his
intimidation factor and/or chip lead by playing
overly aggressive no matter the strength of his hand.
Buy-In: The entry fee for a poker tournament or the
amount of chips one purchases for the purpose of
playing poker.
Cardroom: The area in a casino where poker is
played; also known as the poker room.
Call: The amount of money or chips put into the pot
that equals your opponent’s bet or raise.
Calling Station: A player who calls all the time with
or without a good hand or the potential of making a
good hand.
Change Gears: To go from playing tight to loose or
playing aggressively to passively or vice versa. This is
a very important technique in poker tournaments.
Check: To pass or decline to bet when the action is
on you.
Check-Call: To pass or decline to bet when the action
is on you but to call if someone behind you bets.
Check-Raise: To pass or decline to bet when the
action is on you but to raise if someone behind you
Chip: A token that represents varied denominations
of money.
Connectors: Cards that are in consecutive order.
Example: 4-5, 8-9, Q-K, and so on. In Omaha you
would have four cards 10-J-Q-K or A-2-3-4, and so
Cold-Call: Calling an original bet and a raise.
Counterfeit: To be counterfeited in a poker game is
to have the best hand beaten by the cards on the
board. Example: You hold a pair of pocket 8s. Your
opponent holds Q-A. You have the best hand before
the flop. The flop is 9-9-3. You have the best hand
after the flop with 8s and 9s. The turn is a jack; you
still have the best hand with your two pair. The river
card is another jack. You lose to the Q-A because the
best hand now is two pair with an ace. The two pair
on the board is bigger than your pair. The river card
counterfeited your winning hand.
Cut-Off Seat: The position one seat to the right of the
button. The button is the best position in a hand of
poker. The cut-off seat is the second-best position.
Dealer Button: See button.
Deuce: Another way to refer to a 2 card. Example: A
2 of hearts is also called a deuce of hearts.
Door Card: The first upcard in a game of seven-card
stud, seven-card stud high-low split, or razz.
Double Through: A term used when you go all in,
someone matches your bet, and you win the pot.
You have doubled the amount of chips you had.
Drawing Dead: Playing a hand that has no possibility
of winning because the cards you need are either in
the muck or in the hands of other players. You
seldom know that you are drawing dead.
Established Pot: A pot with enough chips in it that
it is worth winning at any point.
Felt: The material used to cover poker tabletops.
When a player has very few chips, he is said to be
down to the felt.
Field: The players in a tournament.
Fifth Street: The third upcard in a hand of sevencard stud, stud high-low, or razz, which is the fifth
card in a player’s hand.
Fill Up: Making a full house when you have trips, a
set, or two pair.
Fish: A weak player, a sucker, a loser. If you can’t
identify the fish at the poker table, it probably is
Flop: The first three community cards in hold’em or
Omaha, which are dealt faceup simultaneously.
Flop Game: Any poker game where community
cards are used.
Flush: Five cards of the same suit. Example: If you
are playing seven-card stud and you are holding a
A-J-10-7-2 of hearts, you have an ace-high heart flush.
Fourth Street: The second upcard in a hand of
seven-card stud, stud high-low, or razz, which is the
fourth card in a player’s hand. See turn.
Free Card: A card that didn’t require calling a bet to
Full House: Three of a kind with a pair, such as three
kings and two 3s. That is called “kings full of 3s.”
Gutshot: A draw to an inside straight, where only
one card will complete the hand. Example: J-9-8-7
requires a 10 to complete the straight. For players
who go after a gutshot straight, see fish.
Heads-Up: A hand in which there are only two
Hole: Your first two downcards in seven-card stud,
stud high-low, razz, or your downcards in flop
Implied Pot Odds: The amount you believe will be
in the pot after the betting is done. Often the pot
odds will not justify a call, but when the implied
odds are considered, a call may be the correct play.
In the Pocket: Your downcards. See hole.
Juice: The amount the casino or cardroom takes
from the pot for its profit. It usually is 10 percent
with a $3 to $5 maximum. Also the amount tacked
onto a tournament buy-in to pay expenses.
Kicker: A side card. Not an important card unless
you are tied with a player on a hand, then the highest
kicker will win. Example: In hold’em, if the board is
two pairs and a jack, you will win if you have an ace
Limit: The amount any player may bet or raise on
any round of betting.
Limp In: To enter the pot by calling rather than
Limper: The player who enters the pot for the minimum bet.
Live Card: The cards that are still available and have
not yet been seen in any game of poker.
Lone Ace: An ace with another card of no significant
value, as in ace-blank or ace-rag.
Loose: Playing more hands than would be considered normal.
Loosey-Goosey: A player who plays almost every
hand with no regard to hand value, pot odds, or
what another player may be holding.
Muck: The pile of discarded cards in a game of poker.
Multiway Action or Multiway Pot: When several
players are involved in the same pot.
Move All In: In no-limit when you bet all the chips
(money) that you have in front of you in one action.
Make a Move: To try a bluff.
Maniac: A wild, unpredictable player who plays
unconventionally and superaggressively with no
respect for hand value and no respect for the solid,
conservative player.
Nut Flush: The highest possible flush.
Nut-Nut: In Omaha high-low, nut-nut means the
best possible high hand and the best possible low
Nut Straight: The highest possible straight.
Nuts: The best possible hand at any given point in a
hand of poker.
Offsuit: Not of the same suit. Example: You are
holding an ace of hearts and a king of clubs. You
have big slick offsuit.
Out-Kicked: When the next highest card determines the winning hand and your card is lower
than your opponent’s card. Example: In a game of
hold’em, if there is a jack on board and you hold
Q-J to your opponent’s A-J. You both have a pair of
jacks, but you are out-kicked, therefore you will
lose the pot.
Outs: The possibilities available to make your hand.
Overcard: Any card that is higher than your opponent’s card.
Overlay: The amount you can win versus the
amount you invest. The more you can win on a
small investment, the better the overlay.
Overpair: A pair of high cards in your hand; or in
flop games, one in your hand and another on the
board. Example: You have a pair of 10s in the pocket
in hold’em. The flop brings 9-7-3. You have an overpair.
Paint: Any face card: a king, queen, or jack.
Pass: To check or to fold.
Play Back: Raising or reraising in response to your
opponent’s bet or raise. Example: You have a bully at
your table who always raises when you have the big
blind. You pick up a marginal hand and reraise him.
You have played back at him.
Play Fast: Aggressively playing one’s hand.
Pocket: Another term for your downcards. Example:
If you have A-K down, you have big slick in the
Pocket Pair: A pair in the hole. Example: If you have
two 10s down, you have a pocket pair of 10s.
Position: Your location at the table in relation to the
betting action.
Pot: The chips in the center of the table.
Pot Committed: If you raise in no-limit and someone
reraises you all-in, if you have the majority of your
chips already in the pot, you are pot committed.
Pot Odds: Pot odds is the relationship between the
current pot to the current bet.
Preflop: Prior to the flop.
Preflop Raise: A raise before the flop.
Quads: Four of a kind.
Rag: A card that is of no value to a player’s hand.
Rainbow: A sequence of cards in different suits.
Example: If the flop comes 3♠-7♥-Q♣, you have a
rainbow flop.
Railbird: Viewers who watch poker competition
from the rail, which is actually a rail, a rope, or a half
wall surrounding a poker area.
Rake: The amount of money the house (casino, card
club, or home game) takes from each poker pot to
pay the expenses.
Raise: To bet an additional amount after someone
has bet.
Reraise: To raise someone who has raised in front of
Ring Game: A game of live poker in a casino or card
club. Players can buy in, go broke, and buy in again
and play for hours or days. Or they can buy in, play
for only a few minutes, and leave the game.
River: The last card dealt in most games.
Rock: An ultraconservative player who plays only
premium hands.
Rolled up: In stud games when a player is dealt
three of a kind in his first three cards.
Runner: When the next card drawn is the perfect
card to fit your hand.
Rush: When a player wins an unlikely number of
pots in a relatively short period of time.
Sandbag: To slow-play a hand.
Scare Card: A card that appears to hurt the strength
of your hand by making your opponent’s hand
Scoop: In games in which the pot can be won by
high and low hands, to scoop the pot is to win both
ways, with high and low, simultaneously. This is the
object of any high-low game.
Semibluff: To bluff a pot when you have multiple
outs, that is, you have the potential to make a winning hand.
Set: Three of a kind.
Short Stack: Having too few chips to make two full
Showdown: The point in a hand of poker on the
river when the players show their hands and the pot
is awarded to the winner.
Slow-Play: To deliberately check or call with the
best hand in hopes of winning more money in the
later rounds of betting. Showing no strength while
holding a strong hand.
Smooth Call: To call rather than raise an opponent’s
Split Pair: A pair with one card up and one card
down in seven-card games.
Steal: To aggressively bet with the worst hand with
the intention of causing your opponent to fold what
is probably the best hand so you can win the pot. To
steal a pot is another term for bluffing.
Stiff: A player who never leaves a tip is called a stiff
(among other derogatory names).
Straddle or Live Straddle: When a player under the
gun puts in a raise before the cards are dealt.
Straight: Five consecutive cards of mixed suits.
Example: K♠-Q♣-J♦-10♥-9♦. This is a king-high
Structure: The predetermined limits of a game,
including antes, blinds, forced bets, subsequent
bets, and raises.
Stud: Short for the poker game seven-card stud, in
which each player is dealt two downcards, four
upcards, and a final downcard. The best five cards
out of the seven make your hand.
Suited: Cards of the same suit.
Sweater: A friend or fan who usually sits behind a
player or watches from the rail and roots for him to
Tell: A habit or mannerism a player possesses that
conveys information in direct correlation to the
strength or weakness of his hand.
Three Flush: In stud games the first three cards dealt
being suited. Example: You are dealt a 3♥-5♥-A♥.
Tight: Playing fewer hands than would be normal.
Top Pair: Having paired the highest card on board
in hold’em and having the best pair in stud games.
Tournament: A competition in which poker players
vie for cash and prizes.
Trips: Three of a kind.
Turn: The second upcard (fourth street) in stud
games or the fourth community card in hold’em.
Two-Outer: When only two cards in the deck can
make your hand the winner. Not a good bet.
Under the Gun: The first person to act before the
flop in flop games.
Underpair: A small pair to the board. Example: If
the flop is K-7-3 and you have an A-3, you have an
underpair. See overpair.
Wheel: 5, 4, 3, 2, A. A baby straight. Also known as a
Win Rate: The amount of money you can or should
win in relation to the amount of money you invest.
Wraparound Hand: A hand that can make a straight
from either end. Example: K-Q-J-10 can make a
straight with a 9 or with an ace.
WSOP: World Series of Poker.
Limit Texas
Although no-limit Texas hold’em is growing
enormously in popularity (due largely to televised
competition), one must have a full understanding of
the game of limit hold’em before moving into the
arena of no-limit. The basics of both games are the
same: the deal, two cards are dealt to each player
beginning with the player to the right of the button
(see table layout on page 2), followed by a round of
betting, the flop, followed by a round of betting, the
turn, followed by a round of betting, and last but
definitely not least, the river, followed by a round of
betting, and then to determine the winner, the
showdown. This is where the similarities end.
Strategies for limit and no-limit hold’em are totally
different! The player who believes that the only
difference in these two games is the amount of
money you can bet at each betting round has a lot to
learn if he wants to become a winning player.
Limit hold’em is much more a game of playing
the cards. No-limit hold’em is a game of psychological warfare (playing the people). Not incidentally,
position is also a very important factor in either
Remember, to be continuously successful at any
poker game, one must be continually patient.
Limit Hold’em Tips for the Beginner
When you sit down at any poker table, your
first order of business is to wait. You want to
wait and watch. Try not to play a hand until you
have watched eight hands or more. This time of
observation will give you an opportunity to get a
feel for the table and how the players are playing.
Position is so very important. As you can see
from the positional tips later on, your position
can determine what you play and how you play it.
You will make two major decisions before
entering a pot. The first big decision you will
make is choosing which hands you will play. The
second big decision is deciding whether or not to
continue playing after you have seen the flop.
If you decide you have a good hand to play,
see the flop. If the flop is a nice fit to your
hand, continue. If it is off in left field compared to
your two cards, bid farewell to this hand unless it is
checked to you. Always take a free card!
Example: You are in middle position holding
ace♣-10♦. The flop brings 6♠-5♥-Q♥. That
flop missed your hand completely. If it is bet in front
of you, let your cards go. On the other hand, if the
flop is 10♥-6♠-5♥, you should either bet or raise
because you have top pair, top kicker.
The flop could also give you a good draw. Say
your hand is K♣-10♦. If the flop contains a
jack and a queen, you have an open-ended straight
draw. Now you want to continue with the hand if it
is a multiway pot. There is no need to draw at a
hand if there are only two other players in the hand
or if you are heads up, especially if your opponents
are playing aggressively. You are probably drawing
while their hands are made.
If you have nothing after the flop, fold, save
your money, and wait for the next good starting hand. Don’t continue a hand on wishes and
hopes; it’s a very expensive bad habit.
If other players at your table play eight or
nine hands out of ten, they are not good
players. They are there because they want action.
Playing properly means nothing to them.
One of the attractions about the game of
poker is that bad players can win. They can
make every decision incorrectly and still win
because of the luck factor.
As a good player, you will play far fewer
hands and occasionally, the yahoo (my
slang for bad player) will put a bad beat on you. It
hurts and it’s aggravating; but you have to look
forward, not back. In the long run, at the end of the
day or the week, the month, or even the year, the
good player will prevail. Eventually the cards will
break even and that is when the best player wins.
You also need to practice reading the
board. Ask yourself, what is the best
possible hand? For example, if the board is 2♥-7♥A♣-10♦-9♥, the nuts (the very best hand possible)
is an ace-high heart flush. The second nuts would
be a king-high heart flush.
The nuts can change from the flop to the
turn to the river. Just because you flop a
nut hand, it doesn’t mean that it will remain the nut
hand and you need to bet accordingly.
For example, if the flop is 5♥-Q♣-9♣,
the nuts at this point would be three
queens. If the turn brings the 3♣, now the best hand
is an ace-high club flush.
However, everything can change on the
river if the board pairs the 5. Now the
nuts is quad (four) 5s and the second nut is queens
Hand selection and which position you
enter the pot from are very important in
limit hold’em. Raising from any position with the top
three hands, A-A, K-K, and Q-Q is always a good bet.
A-A and K-K are worth a reraise if it has
been raised when the action is on you. If
you are in late position with A-A and the pot has
been raised and reraised when the action gets to
you, put in a third bet. At this point you have the
nuts and need to play it thusly.
Other big hands such as K-A (big slick), JJ, Q-A, or 10-10 need to be played a bit
more carefully. If you are playing at a tight table
(conservative), raise with these hands from early
position. If you are at a loose (aggressive) table, just
call from early position—but also call if someone
raises from a later position. Finally, if the pot is
raised before you, just call.
After entering the pot with K-A, J-J, Q-A,
or 10-10, the flop, the number of players
in the pot, and the action before you will determine
what your next action should be. If the flop is all
rags (small cards), you should bet if it is checked to
you. If the pot has already been opened, you should
raise with the J-J or the 10-10.
If the turn and the river are not scare
cards (a card that appears to make your
opponent’s hand stronger), then repeat your action
unless you were raised on the flop. If that is the case,
a check-call is okay.
As pretty as K-A or Q-A is, especially
from late position, don’t fall in love with
the hand. Keep in mind that the value of these big
hands declines as more players enter the pot.
Speaking of big hands, not all three-ofa-kind hands are equal. If you have a
pair in the pocket and a third one of your cards
appears on the board, you have a set. If the board
has a pair that matches one of your cards, you have
trips. A set is more powerful than trips—it is more
difficult for your opponents to put you on a set.
If you flop a beautiful set, hopefully there
will be a big card or two also. Your hand
is so well disguised that if you’re in early position you
should go ahead and bet. If you’re in late position
and the pot is opened before it gets to you, don’t
raise until the turn when the bet doubles. Maximize
the profitability of your set. Anytime you flop a set in
hold’em you will win 80 percent of the time!
It does not take a nut hand to win a pot.
As a matter of fact, it’s pretty rare for
someone to have the nuts. I know a player who
keeps two walnuts in his pocket. At showdown, if he
rolls his nuts into the pot, everyone knows he has
the nuts. He is a winning player, but he doesn’t get
to do his “walnut visual” often.
Many poker teachers preach, “Take one
look at your cards and memorize them;
never look back at them.” This poker teacher disagrees, especially for the new player. Look at your
cards as often as necessary.
If you are in a hand until the end, always
turn your cards up, even if you think you
have a losing hand. Occasionally, you may have
been going for one hand, and make another unbeknownst to you.
For example, if you were drawing to a
flush and missed, but the hand is
checked on the river, you may have made a hand
you weren’t thinking about, like a straight or a baby
pair, which could be a winner. Part of the many
responsibilities of a dealer is to read all hands that
are turned up. If you miss something, he should
catch it.
Along the same lines, never muck (discard) your cards if someone calls a hand
that will beat you until you and/or the dealer sees
that hand. Mistakes can be made, and they can be
Example: You start the hand with a
pocket pair of jacks. The board is safe
(no card over a jack) but there are three hearts. If at
the end of the hand your opponent calls out that he
has a flush, make sure you see it! He may have the
ace of hearts and a 10 of diamonds in his hand. He
recalls that he has two red cards and he may believe
he made a heart flush. He also may be one of those
who listened to the preaching about the command
to take only one look at your cards.
Always consider your position before
entering a pot. Some hands you will fold
if you are under the gun (first to act) but you may
raise from late position. To reiterate, decisions such
as this always depend on the caliber of players at
your table.
Example: If you are under the gun with a
Q-10 offsuit, I recommend you pass
(fold). The reason is you might have to call a raise in
order to see the flop and you cannot call a double
raise. If the flop brings a Q and you bet, what happens if you are raised? How do you like your 10
kicker now?
However, if you are on the button (best
position) with the same hand and no
one has entered the pot, you can consider putting
in a raise in hopes of picking up the blinds. Even if
you don’t and one or both of the blinds call and then
check the flop, your bet will probably win you the
Continuing with our Q-10 in late position, if a tight player raised in front of
you, you should fold. If a loose player raised, you
should call and see the flop and then proceed cautiously; if a 10 or a Q comes and the loosey-goosey
bets, you should raise!
When you are in middle position (see
page 2), you can lower your starting
hand requirements slightly. In addition to the topranked card combinations, you can add hands with
lesser value such as A-10, K-10, Q-10, J-10, K-J, Q-J,
A-X if suited, and middle pairs (7s, 8s, and 9s).
Whether or not you will call a raise with
these hands from middle position will
depend on who makes the raise. If it is a rock, say
good-bye. If it is a loosey-goosey, call the raise and
see the flop. If it is a maniac, call the raise and hold
your breath!
In late position you can really loosen up
and call with hands such as small pairs
and suited connectors (7-6, 5-4, 8-7, etc.). Enter the
pot with this type of weak hand only if the pot has
not been raised.
The exception to this rule is if a loose
player raises from early position and
there is multiway action (five or more callers). What
this most likely means is that there are a bunch of
high cards out so your little ol’ 7-6 or 5-4 just might
make a straight or two pair. (Careful if you flop one
pair and overcards.)
Don’t make the mistake so many beginners make; you get bored, see an ace,
and think—power! One ace is not a powerhouse. It’s
okay to play any ace suited in late position, but your
goal is a nut flush, not an ace! If your small kicker
flops, that’s okay; but if an ace comes…be careful!
You could have kicker problems.
To further drive home this point, let’s say
you are playing at a full table and have
an ace-little. You are in late position and all ten
players enter the pot. One of the other nine players
will have an ace 75 percent of the time. To reiterate,
be careful with that little kicker.
Defending your blinds—don’t! Some
players are known as blind defenders.
This is not good play. If your blind is raised, consider it the price of doing business and don’t call
with anything less than a pair, an ace with a 10 or
higher, or any two paints (face cards). If the raiser is
the rock at the table, let it go.
On the other hand, if the bully at the
table raises your blind every time, you
need to play back at him. You can do it with any two
cards but I would rather you wait for any pair or
medium strength cards (10-9, J-9, K-J, etc.). When
he raises your blind again, don’t call him—raise
him. He may call to see the flop. You should bet the
flop no matter what it is. If the flop didn’t hit his
hand, he will be gone and you will have the satisfaction not only of winning the pot, but also of punching the bully.
If you play in brick-and-mortar poker
rooms you eventually will encounter a
play called a live straddle. This happens when a
player under the gun puts in a raise before the cards
are dealt. Usually a player who will make this bet
wants a lot of action, feels invincible, is trying to
intimidate everyone, or is intoxicated.
In my professional opinion, anyone who
would make a live straddle raise is an
idiot. As a player, do not get involved in such a pot
without a strong hand with which you can reraise.
Another poker oddity you may encounter
is a kill game. A kill game usually doubles
the blinds if one player wins two pots in a row. There
are also half-kill games.
Example: If you are playing a $5-$10
game and the same player wins two pots
in a row, he is forced to make a blind bet of $20 and
the blinds for the next hand become $10-$20. The
game literally goes from $5-$10 to $10-$20. If the
same player wins a third time, it remains the kill
limit. If you find yourself in a half kill game of $10$20 and win two pots in a row, your blinds will then
go up to $15-$30 rather than a full kill of $20-$40.
You can find kill games both in brickand-mortar poker rooms and Internet
poker rooms. If you are not comfortable with them,
do not take a seat in a kill game. If you like the idea
of the higher limit in the lower-limit game, just to
mix it up a bit, your seat is waiting.
Occasionally when you are in the big or
small blind all the other players at the
table will fold, leaving only you and the big blind. If
you both agree, you can “chop” and each take back
your blind bet. Some players chop; others never
chop. It is a personal decision. However, establish
up front whether or not your tablemate will chop. If
you agree to chop one time, you should do it every
time during the session.
Check-raising is often considered rather
rude in a home game, but in real poker
games it is a powerful tool. Check-raising is a
method used to get more money in the pot when
you have a powerhouse of a hand.
Bluffing and semibluffing in low-limit
games are usually exercises in futility.
You must be playing against very good players in
order to have a bluff respected, so save this strategy
for when you step up to intermediate play and
higher limits.
Remember: When playing ring games or
tournament poker, it isn’t how many
pots you play, it’s how many pots you win! Speaking
of poker tournaments…
Poker tournaments are fun and offer
great overlays. As a beginner, play only
low buy-in tournaments until you believe that you
are ready to graduate to higher-limit buy-in tournaments.
A great place to practice poker tournaments is on the Internet. (See chapter 11.)
Most brick-and-mortar poker rooms
offer daily poker tournaments ranging
in price from $5 up to top of the line at the Bellagio
in Las Vegas where the price tag is a hefty $1,000
plus the $60 juice (the money the casino takes for
the house). You can often see poker superstars honing their skills there.
All tournaments will have the juice built
in for the house. It will start at $1 and go
higher, depending on the event. This money goes to
pay the casino’s expenses for hosting the tournament.
The smaller buy-in tournaments are so
popular that they will often sell out. If
you have your heart set on participating, I suggest
you arrive at least an hour early to sign up. You can
also call the casino and ask them if they expect to
sell out and if so, how early you should arrive to
assure yourself a seat. Some casinos will allow you
to make a phone reservation for a tournament seat.
The basics of a poker tournament are as
follows: you show up, sign up, and pay
up. You then take a seat, usually chosen at random.
You will start with low-limit blinds, usually $5-$10 and play this level for fifteen
or twenty minutes after which the blinds will
increase, probably to $10-$20.
The blinds will continue to increase and
you will have a potty break every couple
of hours. If you are in a rebuy tournament (if you go
broke you can rebuy and get more chips), the
rebuys will end after a designated amount of time,
usually the first hour, which equates to the first
three or four rounds.
After the early stages (the first two or
three rounds) everything changes. I
mentioned earlier how vastly differently the games
limit and no-limit hold’em are. The same holds true
for the differences in a ring game and a poker tournament.
There are four stages to a poker tournament: the early stages, the middle
stages, the late stages, and the final table. (Yippee!
The final is your goal.)
As mentioned, in the early stages, play
very carefully and study your opponents. Knowing how your opponents play provides
valuable information for later in the tournament.
Remember this: You cannot win a poker
tournament in the first three rounds of
play, but you sure as heck can lose it. There is no
need to play fast and aggressively early on.
In the middle stages of the tournament,
you will need to change gears. During
these levels many players will be eliminated. You
will have to start playing more hands, always keeping in mind your position and how your opponents
are playing.
If you are short-stacked during the late
stages of the tournament, you’re going
to have to pick a hand and make a move. The
shorter your stack, the lower your starting hand
Try not to blind yourself out of a tournament. If your cards are cold and you just
can’t seem to pick up a decent starting hand, wait
for the right time and try to have enough money in
late position to raise the pot. Choose a time when
no one has entered the pot and raise with almost
any two cards, suited is better or connected (8-7 or
10-6 of the same suit and so forth).
Do not limp in a pot with a short stack.
If you go down, go down swinging!
On the other hand, if you have a big
stack, raise and try to steal the blinds as
often as the other players will let you. Lower your
starting hand requirements if a short stack raises
the pot. He is probably desperate and any ace or
any two paints is worth a call or a reraise if that will
put him all in.
If you have a medium stack, play cautiously but be aggressive at certain
times. As my friend Professor Tom McEvoy advises,
“Play selectively aggressive.” (This also is very good
advice for ring games.)
When you arrive at the final table, how
you play will depend on your goals. If
you will not be happy with anything less than first
place, you’re going to have to be superaggressive
and gamble more in an effort to get all the chips.
If your goal as a new player is simply to
step up in the pay table as much as you
can, you will play accordingly, laying down playable
hands if there are many short stacks being gobbled
up by the monster stacks. Every player who is eliminated means a larger payday for you!
Remember two things about tournament play. No one ever won a poker
tournament without getting lucky more than once!
And remember the old adage, all you need is a chip,
a chair, and a prayer.
Poker is not an exact science. If it were,
the good players would always win and
the bad players would always lose, then quit and
there goes our fish! There are many variables to
each and every hand.
Limit Hold’em Tips for the
Intermediate Player
When you go out or have people in your
home to play poker, what is your goal?
Most would answer to win or to make money. That
answer is ultimately correct but your primary goal
should be to make the right decisions because if you
make the correct decisions in poker, you will, in the
long run, win money.
If you’re reading the intermediate tips,
you have probably been playing limit
hold’em for a while and have confidence that you
know the ins and outs of the game.
But are you a winning player? Do you
play for fun or profit? Do you keep
records? Do you know whether you’re a winning or
a losing player, overall? If you don’t know, you
If you are in a rebuy tourney, decide
before the event how many rebuys you
will allow yourself and then play accordingly. Personally, I prefer a tournament with no rebuys; that
way no one can have an advantage.
A poker tournament is a process of elimination. When a player loses all of his
money, he leaves the table. The last soldiers left
standing win the money.
The payout for a tournament depends
on how many players enter the competition and the pay structure of that particular
casino. There is no absolute standard but first place
usually receives 35 to 40 percent of the prize pool
and they normally pay one place for every ten players (for example, the top twenty-five places will be
paid in a tournament with two hundred fifty
Playing a poker tournament is exactly
like playing a regular game in the early
stages of the tournament. You should play a conservative game and observe your opponents while
paying close attention to your position.
If you do not keep records and you want
to play poker for profit, now is the time
to start. Buy a pocket calendar and keep an honest
account of your wins and losses. Don’t be like the
horseplayer who came home from the track and
told his wife, “I won $1,600!” What he failed to tell
her was that his total output on bets that day was
$1,550, so his net win was only $50.
Your records can be as simple or as
detailed as you want. You can track
where you play, what days you play, and what time
of day you play in addition to your net for each
You may discover after a month of record
keeping that you play your best between
10 a.m. and 3 p.m. or after dinner, at a certain poker
room, and that you seem to win more on certain
days of the week. The most important information
you need to record is that of your wins and losses.
If you play both live and on the Internet,
keep two sets of records. You can add
them together at the end of the year for a grand
total, but you need to know where and when you
are winning the most money. Ultimately, this is
where you will want to invest most of your poker
time, money, and energy.
If you believe you just aren’t disciplined
enough to keep records, then I believe
that you aren’t disciplined enough to be a winning
poker player—so there! Remember, as you study
your records, the end of a session isn’t what you’re
concerned with, or even the end of a week or a
month. The bottom line is the end of the year.
Your goal, of course, is to have a winning
session every time you play, but let’s get
real—that isn’t going to happen. Anyone who tells
you that he wins every time he plays is either a liar
or he played twice in his life, booked two wins, and
retired from the poker arena forever.
A winning poker player does not play a
lot of hands unless he is on a rush. A
good poker player will recognize a rush, play it for
all it’s worth, but also recognize when it is over.
You know what your starting hand
requirements are and from what position
they should be played. When you have a long dry
spell and have seen nothing but 7-2, 8-3, K-7 for
hours, you can do three things: play anything from
late position because you are bored (I do not recommend this strategy), go home and come back
another day, or continue to be patient. The cards
will turn.
On some days, after that dry spell and
when the cards do turn, you may find
that your good cards are getting squished. If that is
the case, you’re running bad. Now you still have
three things you can do: beat your head against the
wall, pull out more money to invest in the game (I
do not recommend either of these), or go home and
come back another day—this is the best solution.
After an hour or so into a session, your
tablemates, if they are paying attention
as you have, will have you pegged as a solid player,
maybe even conservative. Now is the time for a bluff
or two.
If you’re in a $10-$20 game, the blinds
are probably $5 and $10, or in a $15-$30,
they are likely $10 and $15. That is costing you $15
or $35 a round. Every now and then when you are
on the button or in the cutoff seat (the position one
seat to the right of the button), you will need to raise
on a bluff or a semibluff just to try to pick up the
After some time at the table you should
have a feeling of how your opponents
are playing. You will know if you are playing against
blind defenders or not. So take a stab at it with a
cold bluff or a semibluff.
Before doing so from the cutoff seat, try
to have a read on the player on the
button. If a player is going to fold, many times you
can tell by his body language. Often, that language
practically screams, “I am going to fold,” because he
is holding his cards in a “muck position.”
If you have had a long dry spell, try
raising on a bluff or a semibluff with any
ace or maybe even any king or queen. Even if you
have a blind defender, your high card might be the
best hand or you could catch a good flop.
However, if you don’t get a good flop and
the blind check-raises you or calls your
bet, simply check the turn; or if he bets, abandon ship
and wait for another opportunity. Cut your losses.
Once you decide to play a hand after the
flop, you should become the aggressor
even from early position. Consider this: if you know
you will call a bet, why not take the lead and bet in
the first place? Checking is a sign of weakness;
betting or raising is a sign of strength.
This move helps you determine your
opponent’s strength. You can’t determine
the strength of anyone else’s hand by checking.
Example: You are in the big blind with a
K♥-3♥. The flop is A♥-7♥-3♣. You know
you will call a bet, so why not bet it? Even if your
opponents call, you might make a huge hand if
another heart comes. If your bet is raised, you may
be facing an ace, but your bet has gained information for you. You then can decide whether or not
you want to proceed with this hand.
If it is a multiway pot, I would continue
on that great big beautiful heart flush
hunt. However, if it is heads up and someone raised,
I’d not gamble on this one. The odds are not in your
If you have a marginal hand that you bet
in late position on both the flop and the
turn, do not bet it again on the river. Ask yourself
these two questions, “If he calls, will I lose?” and “If
he raises, can I call? ” If the answer is yes to the first
question and no to the second, then just check.
Take advantage of tight players in the
blind and raise often from late position.
However, don’t do it every time—you will lose your
Don’t even think about bluffing a
calling station (one who calls bets
all the time with or without a good hand or the
potential for a good hand) or inexperienced players
who are playing higher limit games because they
can. I was in a $15-$30 game one time when a bad
player made a bad call on the turn and caught his
two-outer (only two cards in the deck that can make
the hand a winner) on the river. His opponent
snarled, “How could you make that call on the
turn?” To which the inexperienced player replied,
“Because I’m rich!”
The time to semibluff is when your
hand probably is not strong enough
to win the pot on the flop but could improve by the
turn or the river. This means you have outs. If you
bet, the other players may fold, they may give you a
free card on the turn, or—in a perfect scenario—
you may actually make the hand you have been
Some examples of semibluffing: You
are holding the A♦ -4♦ . The flop
brings J♦-4♣-6♦. You have flopped bottom pair and
the nut-flush draw. If there is four-way action, you
are in late position, and it is bet, raise it. If it is
checked, bet it. If you are in early to middle position,
bet it.
Most semibluff situations arise
when you have a straight or a flush
draw. Another example: You are holding the J♦-10♠.
The flop is K♣-Q♠-3♥. You have an open-end
straight draw; unless there is a lot of raising and
reraising in front of you, go for the semibluff.
Be aware that other good players
will also be bluffing and semibluffing. If you believe that is the case, act accordingly.
Remember to give even less credibility to a bully.
There is nothing sweeter (besides maybe winning a
major tournament) than having the table bully feeling completely confident in his efforts to run over
the table until you pick up a big hand and trap the
Even without a big hand, if you have
a bully at the table and he is on the
button when you have the big blind, he probably is
stealing from you far too often. Now is the time to
defend your big blind with a marginal hand (two
paints, a small pair, or ace-X). Defend with a reraise.
He will probably fold, but if he doesn’t, then either
bet the flop or check-raise.
If you are on a drawing hand, a
straight, or a flush, you want more
players in the pot to make it worthwhile to invest in
your draw. This comes under the heading of pot
odds and outs, which will be discussed in the section for advanced players.
On the other hand, if you have top
pair, you want to try to limit the
number of players. If you don’t try to limit the players, one of them may be on a draw and make it.
Big pairs hold up much better with
fewer players in the pot. Heads-up is
Generally, play a conservative and
controlled game but on occasion
mix up your play. You don’t want to be predictable.
Good players will notice and hesitate when trying to
read how you play.
Example: Play big pairs in early
position with a raise 75 percent of
the time. Just call the other 25 percent. But if somebody in late position raises, jump back at him with
a reraise.
The 1995 World Poker Champion,
Dan Harrington, has a terrific formula for knowing when to raise with a big pair and
when to just call. This formula is based on raising 80
percent of the time. Look at your watch. Since 80
percent of 60 is 48, if the second hand is between 0
and 48, raise. If it is between 48 and 60, just call. You
can read more in his book Harrington on Hold’em.
Playing overcards can be costly if
you don’t hit on the flop. Players
who check and call with overcards to smaller cards
on the board are not winning players.
If one of your overcards does hit on
the flop, good for you, unless there is
a straight or a flush possibility—then you shouldn’t
like it so much. Tread lightly.
A tight player who begins to play
overly aggressive should set off an
alarm in your head. Remember, a baby set will
crush your big strong overpair (a pair of high cards
either in your hand or one in your hand and one on
the board).
Ace-king and ace-queen are overrated. Many people will play these
cards as if they are aces, kings, or queens. The fact of
the matter is a baby pair can beat them.
If you have big slick and raise from
any position, be careful if you don’t
catch either of your cards on the flop, especially if a
rock is staying with you. If that is the case, I would
check, and if he bets, fold.
If you are in early position with A-K
against just one or two players, bet
the flop to gain information. If you are raised, fold.
If you are called and don’t catch on the turn, check.
Keep in mind that ace-king and acequeen are just two big cards unless
you pair. You will hit that pair about 29 percent of
the time.
Get all the money in the pot you can
with your big hands. There will be
times you don’t want to run the other players off.
Example: You are holding K♠-J♥.
The flop is K♥ -J♣ -7♦ . You have
flopped the top two pair. If there was no preflop
raise, you should feel very confident with this hand,
so either check-call from early position against one
player, saving the check-raise for the turn when the
bet doubles, or check-raise if it is a multiway pot. If
it is bet or raised before you, you should reraise.
There is always an exception in
every hand of poker. Using the
above example, the rule would be: If a rock is swinging hard punches, beware of a set of 7s. In other
words, anytime an extremely tight player is playing
overly aggressive, beware of him having a set or any
hand that can beat you. Play back at him only if you
have the nuts.
If you flop the bottom two pair, you
probably have a good hand unless
there is a straight or a flush possibility. Bet
Example: You are in late position
with 9♦-8♦. The flop is A♦-9♠-8♣. If
someone bets, raise. If they check, bet. If there is an
ace-rag or an ace-big against you, you don’t want
him drawing to his kicker nor do you want someone
drawing to a straight.
If you have a straight draw or a flush
draw and make your hand on the
turn, good for you, bet accordingly. However, if the
board pairs, beware!
Anytime the board pairs you must
consider the possibility that someone else has a full house. They even could have
quads. Your hand just went from “yippee, I’ve got
the nuts” to “proceed with caution.”
Most of the time you will call a bet in
front of you if you were going to bet
it anyway. That does not mean you would call a
raise. It depends on who makes the raise and the
strength of your hand.
There is a win-rate formula that a
good hold’em player should win at
least one big bet an hour. If you’re playing $5-$10,
that isn’t a decent wage, so I hope you’re just playing
for fun. If you’re playing $30-$60, $60 an hour isn’t
too shabby, depending on how many hours you are
able to play.
If you want to make the big bucks
for your limit hold’em efforts for an
investment of $50, $100, $500, or more, tournament
poker is the way to go. So now for some tournament
It takes money to make money in
the real world or in the poker world.
However, the overlay in poker tournaments (major
or minor) can be breathtaking—even life changing.
With some skill, some luck, lots of stamina, and
patience, you too can learn to score in poker tournaments.
If you believe that the way to win a
major poker tournament is to play
the way you have seen the finalists play on TV, you
couldn’t be more wrong. Keep in mind that the TV
poker contests you watch began the competition
days earlier with hundreds, if not thousands, of
They have played anywhere from
twenty-four to forty hours over a
period of days to arrive at that coveted final table.
During those tedious hours of competing, the strategy of play has metamorphosed over and over
again. This is called changing gears and is one of the
biggest differences in ring games and tournament
During those three or four days of
play, they have survived through fifteen to twenty rounds of play. The rounds last anywhere from one to two hours and the blinds
increase with each round.
If you believe that if you are a good
limit hold’em player you will automatically be a good hold’em tournament player,
you are way off base. Becoming a winning tournament player requires a strategy all its own.
After studying the following tips and
giving tournament competition a
try, you will probably love it or hate it. You must
have stamina, patience, guts, and heart to compete
properly in tournaments. The strategies I am going
to share with you can be used in small buy-in tourneys or huge ones.
I can’t say enough about having
patience in a poker tournament.
You cannot win a tournament in the beginning
stages, but you sure as heck can lose it! The first two
or three rounds are the time to wait for only good
starting hands and watch your opponents. Study
them and play very few hands. The hands you select
to play should be big hands, which you should win;
however, if you lose them, never, ever give up.
Your goal for the beginning stages of
the tournament is to win a few
hands per level and study your opponents. Now you
are ready for the middle stages, which include
rounds five through eight.
The field begins to narrow in the
middle stage of a tournament. You
should change gears and begin to play more hands.
The limits are higher and it is now
worth a slight risk to get the blinds
from the middle of the table to your slowly building
empire, especially if you can pick up another bet or
two along with them. If you know a player has been
doing a lot of limping to see the flop but will fold if
the pot is raised, you should raise and try to steal
the blinds and the limper’s bet at the right time
when you are in late position.
After the flop you will know what
the nuts or second nuts can be.
There will be times to represent a hand that you do
not have.
For example, you are holding an A♦10♣ . The flop brings three diamonds. The nuts is an ace-high diamond flush. You
do not have that hand but you can sure represent it.
You have that beautiful ace of diamonds, therefore
nobody else can have the nuts. If a loosey-goosey
bets, raise to slow him down and give yourself an
inexpensive opportunity to make your nut flush or
catch an ace for top pair. If a rock bets, raise; he may
fold even if he has a flush. Now is the time to play
your players as well as your holdings.
The poor to average players will play
basically the same way as they go
through a tournament until they are eliminated. As
they are eliminated—and many will be in the middle stages because their chips will be finding a new
home in your chip stack—new players will take
their seats or your table will break as the tournament directors fill empty seats. When this happens,
change gears again and go back to the early stage
strategy until you familiarize yourself with your new
When you believe you have them
pegged, play them accordingly. For
example, in limit hold’em don’t go up against the
table maniac unless you have a powerhouse, and
then let him self-destruct.
If you’re first to act and flop two pair
or better, and you know your opponent will bet into any check, you should check-call.
Don’t raise until the bet doubles on the turn. If he is
first to act and bets into you and you believe you
have the best of it, don’t raise because you don’t
want to lose him. Maximize your big opportunities.
Realistically, you don’t have to win a
lot of hands as you proceed through
the middle stages because the pots are getting bigger and bigger with every level increase. The secret
is winning your fair share and not losing pots or getting involved in hands that could ultimately cost
you a big portion of your hard-earned chips.
Know when to get away from a hand
and know how to make the most of
a monster hand. Sadly, there will be times when the
best play is to lay down a monster hand.
Example: You have two beautiful
aces. It was called from two positions and raised from middle position. You, of
course, will reraise because you want to get it
heads-up and that is exactly what happens.
So far so good, everything is going
according to plan. But wait! The flop
comes Q-Q-7. If he check-raises you or even checkcalls, a big red flag should go up. If he is a solid
player, he knows you have a big hand because of
your preflop reraise, and he is hanging around with
a big hand. Now is the time—it is so difficult—but
you must fold. This is called making a big laydown.
It takes an excellent player to be able to do this.
The famous granddaddy of all poker
greats, Doyle Brunson, tells a story
of laying down pocket kings preflop in a major tournament. The reason? He had just won a huge pot
and knew that his stack of chips could take him far
in the tournament. If he called what was a hefty bet
and lost, he would be struggling to rebuild. Rather
than take the chance of losing to an ace, he made
the difficult decision to fold his kings. (Good move.
Are you a poker player? Could you do the same?)
When you enter the late stages of a
tournament you will be among the
remaining 20 to 25 percent of the original field.
Players will be dropping like flies and you will
almost smell the money because you will be getting
close to a payday. You had to play well to get to this
point, so stay focused.
Late in a tourney, when players are
focusing on making the money,
many will tighten up their play. This is a good
opportunity to pick up the blinds (which will be
huge by now).
Do your best to avoid a confrontation with another big stack but it is
okay to go against a short stack, even with a marginal hand. Never ever leave a short stack with even
one chip in front of him. If you have a playable
hand, put him all in. Even if a short stack draws out
on you, he cannot hurt you too badly, and if all goes
well, you will eliminate him and be one step closer
to the money.
If you are in middle-chip position
late in a tourney, wait for a good
hand but try to steal the antes or blinds at least once
a round just to stay even. If you are at a conservative
table you may be able to steal more.
If you find yourself short-stacked,
don’t panic, just change gears. Your
starting hand requirements must be lowered.
If you survive the late stages of the
tournament, good for you! You are
either in the money or very near the money. Stay
focused, be patient, and bluff when you can.
If you are the short stack at your
final table, you are going to need to
take a stand soon. However, if there is another short
stack that will be hit with their blinds before you,
wait. If they go belly up, you’ll move up a notch in
the standings. In a major tournament this could
mean thousands of dollars.
If you start final table play in
medium chip position, wait for
decent starting hands unless a short stack makes
his stand and you have average cards. Remember,
he is desperate so it is worth your risk and he cannot bust you.
Do your best to stay away from the
big stacks. They can bust you. You
must be selective about who you will go up against.
As the final table field is eliminated,
everyone will appear to be playing
faster because fewer players are dealt in and each
hand takes less time to play. If you’re staying
focused, playing by the book (this book!), and getting lucky, you just might find yourself heads-up!
When you get to heads-up play you
cannot show weakness. You will
have to defend your blinds with almost any two
cards. After all, any two cards can flop. I have won
many more heads-up competitions flopping good
to a bad hand than trapping with a good hand.
Vary your play but retain the aggressive, unafraid attitude. Limp often
enough so that when you have a monster hand you
can limp without making your opponent overly
After you win, don’t forget to tip the
dealers—2.5 percent to 5 percent of
your winnings is considered reasonable. All establishments take juice and some pay the dealers a percentage of the juice. It is okay to ask what percentage
if any the dealers have already gotten and then do
the math. Be sure to deduct your buy-in and then
calculate how much the proper tip would be. If you
are a generous person, 10 percent would be considered Christmas for the dealers! Any more and they
go home talking about you and blessing you.
Good energy from a bunch of happy
dealers never hurt anybody! There
are many dealers who root (on the inside) for certain players to win a tournament because those
players are so generous. Other players get reverse
sweat (negative energy) from the dealers because
they are stiffs (never leave a tip).
Whatever you decide to tip is divided
among dealers and floorpeople who
worked your tournament. If there is a special dealer
or two who seemed to deal you winners over and
over, it is okay to seek them out and press a little
something extra into their palm. Do so discreetly.
This also is a nice gesture to any floorpeople who
have gone out of their way to be nice to you.
Limit Hold’em Tips for the
Advanced Player
So you’re the advanced player.
You’re the best in your home poker
club? You’re the best poker player in your hometown? You’re so good you’re about ready to turn pro?
Here’s the best tip I will be giving you in the entirety
of this book: DON’T!
I have seen it happen over and over
again. The best hometown poker
player decides to take a shot at the big leagues. He
moves to Las Vegas with his pocket bulging with his
life savings. In a year or so, he is busted and
Absolutely come to Las Vegas for
the experience. Have a wonderful
poker-filled visit and then go home if that is where
you win continually. Keep in mind that the best
poker players in the world are in Las Vegas.
Come, if you must, with your savings and stars in your eyes but—and
here is the second best tip I am going to give you—
get a real job in addition to chasing that green-felt
dream. At the very least, get a real part-time job, just
in case of emergencies—like bad luck causing you
to go belly up at the poker table.
Whether you’re chasing a dream in
Las Vegas or beating your home
games, you absolutely must have good money
management. And you must have some money to
manage, hence the job.
I advocate a stop-loss on your wins
as well as your losses. If you’re on a
good win, say $900 in a $15-$30 game, put a stoploss at about $750. Seventy-five percent of your win
is a good measure to go by, or get as close as you can
In other words, if you’re sitting on a
$1,000 win and get involved in a
monster pot that you lose on the river—along with
$400 of your winnings—go home! If you chase a bigger win, you could get up a small loser rather than a
big winner.
Have a stop-loss on any losses that
you are comfortable with but be
reasonable. Don’t put yourself in a position of losing
so much that it would take three winning sessions
to make it up. A good rule of thumb is to put your
stop-loss at approximately what you might expect
to make up in one session.
Many top pros are former mathematicians, accountants, and CPAs,
while some actually have a photographic memory.
As we discuss pot odds, outs, and implied pot odds,
you will understand why.
The poker player who understands
pot odds and implied pot odds will
have a definite advantage at the poker table. Pot
odds refer to the relationship between the current
pot and the current bet. Implied pot odds are your
best guess as to what will be in the pot when the
betting is finished. Often the pot odds will not justify a call, but when the implied pot odds are considered, a call may be the correct play.
In order to calculate your pot odds,
you need to determine (your best
guesstimate) the number of “outs” you have (the
number of cards left in the deck that will make your
hand a winning hand). The payoff if you win the pot
compared to the odds against you winning determines if it is a good bet.
Simplistically, the fewer outs you
have, the bigger the pot has to be in
order for you to call a bet. The more outs you have,
the easier it gets to call a bet. In other words, how
much is in the pot and how much may be in the pot
when the betting is done (implied pot odds) versus
how much it will cost you to play should determine
your next moves.
Example: Let’s say you flop a nutflush draw. There are thirteen cards
of each suit. You have two and there are two on the
board. I always guesstimate that two more of my
suit are in other player’s hands or in the muck, so
that leaves seven cards in the deck that will make
your hand. Divide seven into the cards remaining in
the deck (forty-five) to get 6.4. This means that it is
6 to 1 against you making your hand. To have the
pot odds you need, the pot needs to be six times (or
more) what it will cost you to call a bet and try to
make your hand. (This guesstimate includes your
implied pot odds.)
To complicate things a bit further, if
you are holding an ace and you
believe that if an ace comes it also will give you the
winning hand, you can add three more cards to
your calculations. Now there are ten cards (instead
of just seven) that will make your hand. Divide ten
into the remaining forty-two cards and your odds
are closer to 4-to-1. That’s better.
Many professional players do the
math (in an instant) and know
whether they have good pot odds. They are analytical
Other players, myself included, look
at our approximate outs versus the
size of the pot versus what we think the players yet
to act will do, and then decide if we believe we
should gamble and try to make our hand. We are
called intuitive players.
We, who are not human calculators,
use our intuition or our best guess
to determine if a call is worth the risk. It’s quite simple, actually. Just ask yourself if the pot is big and if
it will get bigger versus how much investment it will
take to draw to your hand. Then make the decision
on whether or not to gamble on the next card.
There are two reasons to raise
before the flop: to get more money
in the pot because you think you have the best
hand, or to narrow the field. If the pot has been
raised when you are trying to narrow the field so
your big pair or big slick will hold up, reraise.
There are three reasons to raise after
the flop: to bluff because you don’t
think anybody made a hand, to get a free card, or to
gain information. If you believe you still have the
best hand after the flop, you again will want to raise
or reraise.
On the opposite end of that spectrum is the concept of slow-playing.
Some hands are just too big to bet. It’s a smart move
to play a strong hand weakly to keep as many players in the pot as possible, thus building the pot.
Your goal with slow-playing, in addition to building the pot, is to give
your opponent the opportunity to make a big hand
also. If you have the nuts and he has the second
nuts—beautiful! Mission accomplished. Your pot
will be huge.
As an advanced player, bluffing
should be in your repertoire, but use
it sparingly. Anyone who raises too many pots is
labeled a bully. You want to set yourself up as a solid
player so that your bluffs will be respected.
The most successful bluffs or semibluffs are those made by solid players. The reason is that the majority of the times
that there is a showdown, the solid player shows a
winning hand, so other players expect it of him.
Therefore, when he does bluff or semibluff
another good player, that player will have to have a
big hand to call.
Never forget: you cannot bluff a bad
player. They just don’t get it. Save
your bluffs for the more sophisticated opponent.
My personal favorite is the semibluff. You may win the pot then and
there or you may get action and then improve your
hand to become the legitimate winner.
I especially like to semibluff from
the big blind if there is a bully on the
button. Usually you can win it before the flop.
Bad beats and bad luck are often
synonymous. An advanced poker
player must take his beats like a man—not a crybaby, a real man (or woman!).
I’m not saying you need to pat the
table and say, “Nice hand,” to some
knucklehead who just played a two-outer against
your pocket kings and made it. I am saying don’t
fuss and cuss and stew over it. This will hurt no one
but you, and frankly, no one wants to hear it.
An old joke in the poker world goes
like this:
Q: Do you know the difference between a puppy
and a losing poker player?
A: The puppy will eventually stop whining!
An advanced player knows how to
let it go almost immediately and
look forward, not back. The good part is that the
knucklehead will continue to play badly, so look at
your loss simply as an investment, which he is holding and will return to you with great interest.
The fact is, hold’em is more than
just a card game. Whenever you’re
dealing with people, you are dealing with psychological influences. Not only theirs but also yours.
You must have terrific control over
your emotions, not only to play your
best game but also so as not to give off any tells. If
you think you have lost that control, then it’s time to
stop and play another day, or at the very least take a
walk and cool down.
Just as a bad player can get lucky, a
good player can get unlucky. As a
good player, you should always have a positive
expectation when you enter a game. However, if you
have been playing poker regularly for a year or more,
you have experienced one of those horrid freaks of
poker nature called a losing streak. It can wreak
psychological havoc on even the best of players.
The solution: take a good, long look
at your game. Have you changed
anything? Are you trying to make something good
happen by playing too many hands? You know that
isn’t going to work. Take a break, a long break, and
every time you start a new game, play your best.
Eventually it will stop, I promise—as long as you’re
doing your part by playing your A-game all the time.
As Bill Burton, poker player extraordinaire and poker author, says,
“Luck comes and goes. Knowledge stays forever.”
Bad players depend on luck; you can depend on
your knowledge.
The flip side of that coin is that you
too will get lucky and beat the best
hand many times in your poker career. The adage in
tournament poker is that if you win an event, you
will have gotten lucky at least five times; the longer
the competition, the more times you will have gotten lucky. You must combine this with good play.
Poker tournament expert Tom McEvoy says, “You
must be a skillful poker player in tournaments in
order to put yourself in a position to get lucky.”
Know your opponents but don’t let
them know you. Study their play,
have a feel for what they are doing and why. However, don’t let them figure you out. Play a solid
game, but not a predictable one. Mix your play up
just enough to keep them guessing.
Example: Don’t always raise with
your big hands up front. Don’t
always reraise with them in late position. Call a raise
occasionally with suited connectors. Surprise them
with your holdings. Don’t be predictable.
Play in your comfort zone. If you
were a winning $10-$20 player who
stepped up to a $15-$30 limit and did well for a couple months, you might decide to go up another level
to $20-$40. Let’s say at that level things changed for
you and you stopped winning. Whatever the reason,
if you are not comfortable in one level, don’t be
embarrassed to step back down. You want to play
where you win the most. For some that is $15-$30;
for others it may be $100-$200. It’s your money and
your choice.
Some good players believe that the
higher the level they can afford to
play, the more money they can win. That isn’t
always true. If you win more pots in $10-$20 versus
winning approximately an equal number of pots in
$30-$60 but you also are losing more, you have
accomplished an investment reversal.
Don’t call on the river when your
gut says no. Have the discipline to
make those difficult laydowns. Listen to yourself.
Example: You hold A♥ -A♣ . Of
course that is the perfect starting
hand, but not always the perfect ending hand. You
raise from middle position. A calling station calls
you plus you get a call from the big blind. The flop
comes 10♥-J♠-3♠. The big blind checks. You bet
and both of them call. The turn is A♠. (You have a
beautiful set, but did that ace make a straight for
someone or a spade flush?) The big blind checks.
You bet and the calling station raises. Could he have
a K-Q? Of course he could even though you don’t
want him to, and to make matters worse, the blind
calls his raise. You need to fill up or move out. The
river is the 7♠. The big blind checks. You check. The
calling station bets. The big blind raises. Now what?
This one isn’t even a difficult decision. In all likelihood you are up against a straight and a flush! At the
very least one of them has your set of aces beat.
Time to make a big laydown.
Another example: You are holding K♠ -Q♠ and the flop brings
K♥ -Q-♥ -3♥ . Initially I would like this hand…but
wait. You are in late position, thinking about
those chips coming to you when there is a bet and
a raise before the action gets to you. There certainly can be a flush out there, a flush draw, a
straight draw, or a set to beat you.
Whether or not you pay the price to
see the turn will depend on who
bet. If it is a rock betting or raising, I would not.
However, if the player betting or raising would do so
on the come, then give it a call. If the turn is a heart
or a 10, you should fold to any bet; if it is a blank the
same advice holds true for the river. Sometimes you
have to tiptoe through the minefield.
The movie star Mimi Rogers is a
poker player. She once told me that
the hardest poker lesson she ever learned was that
your aces and kings can be beaten. “Always think
about that set that could be out there,” she said. “I
learned the hard way!”
Now let’s talk about the limit
hold’em game played in poker
tournaments. Go back to the intermediate, even the
beginner tips for tournament play and then we’ll
add a few advanced plays for your portfolio.
Into the later rounds of the tournament, your chip count will determine what gear you need to shift to. As you near the
money, you should constantly be aware not only of
your chip count but also that of your opponents,
including those at the other remaining tables.
At these levels the antes and blinds
are going to be so expensive that
you won’t have the luxury of waiting for those premium hands unless you have a substantial chip
lead. You’re going to have to pick various favorable
spots and then hold your breath and jump in.
You will see many lucky flops or
lucky drawouts during a tournament, especially in the later stages. This is part of
the game. You too will be making some of these
lucky draws (hopefully).
Most major tournaments will have
a viewable time clock to let you
know how much time is left in each round. This is
very important information.
If there is not a time clock in your
line of view, have one with you. You
can get small timers at any store that carries small
appliances or kitchen aids.
Watch the time, especially if your
chips are dwindling. You will want
to make a move before a structure increase.
Let’s say you are playing $3,000$6,000. You have $25,000 in front of
you. The next level will be $4,000-$8,000. With your
$25,000, a preflop raise at the $3,000-$6,000 limit
will leave you with $19,000 to work with after the
flop. If you wait and the next level increase comes
into effect, your preflop raise to $16,000 leaves you
only with $9,000 after the flop. It is much more likely
that you will be called. Make your move early when
your chips can still be threatening.
When you get to heads-up (congratulations!) you cannot be the
least bit passive. You must take the lead with aggression. Any paint or ace is worth a preflop raise or
However, do not raise every time.
Do mix in a call now and then. That
way, when you pick up a big pair or big slick, you
can have the opportunity to trap your opponent.
Most tournament directors will
allow deal-making. If you and your
opponent are almost equal in chips, a deal might be
a good idea—even if you believe you are the superior player—because the blinds will be so big that
just a little bit of bad luck could land you in second
place rather than first.
The way I like to make a deal if the
chips are relatively evenly distributed is to divide about 80 to 90 percent of the
money (first and second place combined) and then
play for the remaining 10 or 20 percent, the title,
and the bragging rights.
Deals also can be made with three,
four, five, six or more players
remaining. The deciding factor is that everyone
must agree. Most of the time the director will stop
the clock to allow for negotiations and will have a
calculator if needed. They may even do the math for
Whenever any deal is made, notify
the tournament director. This is just
for insurance and he will be sure that everyone
agrees and that everyone understands what he or
she is agreeing on.
After winning, don’t forget to tip.
Many casinos and cardrooms will
have a percentage added in for the dealers and
other tournament employees. Ask what that
amount is and then add what you are comfortable
with. If it is a small buy-in tourney, a total of 7 to 10
percent is greatly appreciated. If you win a major
tournament, 2 to 5 percent is good! See the suggestions on the tip amount in this chapter under “Tips
for the Intermediate.”
Now go forth and multiply those chips. Just
remember, when you believe that you are good
enough to turn pro, have a real job for backup!
No-Limit Texas
Not too many years ago, no-limit Texas hold’em was
the big game played in the biggest poker tournament
in the world, the World Series of Poker. That was
about the extent of the game’s popularity. Back then
no-limit games were scarce except for big private
games or at big poker tournaments in general, the
World Series of Poker in particular. No-limit was a
poker game most players feared. Only the best competitors with the most money played. Years ago, in
1978 to be precise, Doyle Brunson coined the phase,
“No-limit hold’em is the Cadillac of poker games.” In
1978 a Cadillac was the premier, top-of-the-line
automobile. Brunson felt that way about the game of
no-limit. Poker just doesn’t get any better.
In the early seventies and eighties, the world
champions would make appearances on national
television shows but actual coverage of poker on TV
didn’t begin until years later and even at that, the
game lacked excitement for viewers. The only folks
with a real interest were the friends and loved ones
of the participants.
In the late eighties, a few poker rooms in Las
Vegas started hosting a few inexpensive weekly nolimit tournaments, just for fun. They were popular
as were the usual games of limit hold’em, Omaha,
and seven-card stud. Time has a way of changing
things and things have certainly changed, especially
in the world of poker. No-limit hold’em has captured
the imagination of the world, far surpassing other
games in popularity.
The explosion of interest in no-limit poker began
in 2002 when the World Poker Tour aired its first
season. The secret formula was the tiny “lipstick”
cameras built into the poker table so the audience
could see the players’ holdings. Suddenly, it was fun
and exciting to watch, and it became a spectator
Today no-limit hold’em is one of the most
popular games available, and it is the most misplayed game, all because TV allowed novices to get
a fuller picture of the game being played without
the all-important understanding of why professional players play the way they do. But read on, pay
attention, study, and you will learn how to properly
play this fascinating game that can literally change
your life.
To reiterate, the basics of the games of limit
hold’em and no-limit hold’em are the same. Two
cards are dealt to each player beginning with the
player to the right of the button (see table layout on
page 2), followed by a round of betting, the flop,
followed by a round of betting, the turn, followed by
a round of betting, and last and possibly most
importantly, the river, followed by a round of betting,
and then the showdown to determine the winner.
The similarities of the two games stop there.
Although the basics of no-limit hold’em are easy
to learn, the game is the most complicated version
of poker to play successfully. If you pay attention,
follow the instructions in this book, and practice,
practice, practice, you too can become a winning
no-limit player.
No-Limit Hold’em Tips for the
My friend Chris Ferguson, the 2000
World Poker Champion, known to
many as Jesus (because of his appearance), says this
about playing poker, “You must love the game. Take
your time and move up slowly. Playing poker can be
a humbling experience; you learn real fast how to
deal with failure. It’s what you do with that failure
that determines your future success.”
Never, ever play with money you
cannot afford to lose, especially
while you are learning. Whatever you take to the
poker table you should expect to double or more;
however, just in case of a reversal in luck, before
plopping money down to buy poker chips, ask yourself this question, “Can I afford to flush this money
down the toilet?”
The basic and most obvious difference in limit and no-limit is how
much you can bet. In limit games, you can bet
according to the structure you are playing, for
example $5-$10 or $30-$60. In no-limit you can bet
any amount up to the amount you have in front of
I cannot stress enough how important it is to know your players. An
unusually small raise from a good player should
send up a warning flag—he wants a call—don’t
In limit hold’em you can make a
mistake and survive. In no-limit, if
you make one mistake you could be dead and gone
(at least for that day or that tournament).
Don’t be a calling station. There are
players who seldom bet or raise, all
they ever do if they are going to enter a pot is call.
There is nothing wrong with calling occasionally,
and sometimes it is the proper play, but if you
always enter a pot with a call, you will never be a big
winner. Calling is not aggressive, and aggression is
important, especially in no-limit. Of course, you
should always be selectively aggressive.
A very important factor in limit or
no-limit is being able to read the
board. When you are not involved in a hand, practice reading the board.
Example: The flop is K♣-4♦-3♣.
What is the best possible hand? At
this point it is a set of kings. The turn is a 5♥. Now
the best possible hand is a seven high straight. The
river is a 10♣. Now everything has changed and the
nut hand is an ace-high flush!
Example: The flop is Q♦-J♣-4♥.
What is the best possible hand? It is
three queens. The turn brings a 2♦. The best hand
remains three queens. The river changes everything
because it is a 4♣. Now the best hand is quads. If
there is someone with pocket queens, that person
just made a full house for the second nut. If another
player has pocket 4s, the full house is in big trouble.
What you should ask yourself in a
game of no-limit is how much
should I bet, rather than how much can I bet. The
biggest mistake I see with new no-limit players is
how they overbet or underbet the pot.
Do not just pick up a stack of chips
and splash them in the pot. Think!
“How much should I bet?” Your goal should be to
maximize your wins but minimize your losses. This
takes some thought.
Example: You have pocket aces
under the gun. Now why on earth
would you make a huge bet, run off all your customers, and pick up only the blinds?
You do not want to waste the profitability of your big hands because
these hands normally are rare. Your goal should be
to get one or two callers. Raise approximately three
times the big blind. If someone raises you, reraise
about the size of the pot.
If you pick up a big hand in late
position and the pot has already
been raised, just call if you believe you will be
heads-up. Should you flop a monster like trip aces
just check-call for more profit and then raise on the
Example: You have pocket 6s in the
cutoff seat. Three players have
limped into the pot. Just call; do not raise. If the flop
does not have a 6, you’re finished with it. Even if the
flop is all baby cards, do not call a bet. Minimize
your losses.
Pairs from deuces to 10s should be
played for as little investment as
possible preflop. I wouldn’t even play deuces
through 6s from early position if there has been a lot
of action at the table. If you are at a conservative
table, go ahead and limp to see the flop, and then
remember: no set, no bet.
Never play ace-little (ace with a
card less than an 8) suited or
unsuited in front position. If you bet and someone
behind you raises, you’re between a rock and a hard
place. If they have an ace, their kicker is probably
bigger than yours. If you check and he bets, you
have the same dilemma.
It is okay to play ace-x (ace-little)
suited in late position if the pot has
not been raised. With everyone acting before it is
your turn, you have more information. If an ace
flops and it is checked to you, your ace is probably
good, but if it is check-raised, minimize your losses.
However, if there is a big bet you
can get away from the hand with a
minimal investment. If the flop brings two of your
suit, you can decide whether or not to take the
fourth card by the action in front of you. If checked,
good, you get a free card. If bet, it will depend on the
amount of the bet for you to make your decision
whether to call or fold.
Calling a bet with a drawing hand, a
flush draw, or a straight draw also
depends on pot odds. (We will get into pot odds in
the advanced study of this game.)
You can win pots much more often
before the flop in no-limit hold’em
than in limit hold’em. In limit, if a player in middle
position has a big hand and raises and you have a
big hand and reraise, he will call to see the flop. In
no-limit you can raise enough to make him fold and
possibly not see the flop that would have turned
into a winner for him.
Remember, if you bet, raise, or
reraise and do not get a caller, you
cannot lose the pot. That is a fine scenario if you
have medium to weak holdings or if you’re on a
draw. There will be times that you do want a caller,
so bet or check accordingly.
Example: You are on the button
with pocket queens. The blinds are
$2-$4 and a player from middle position puts in an
$8 raise. In limit you could reraise only to $12 and in
all likelihood you would get a call; but in no-limit
you can make it $35 to go. Unless your opponent
has aces or kings or is a yahoo, he is going to fold
and you will pick up the blinds plus his $8. This is
called protecting your hand.
You will have to fold many hands
from early position in no-limit as a
general rule, but you can raise with these very
hands from late position when no one has opened
the pot. Example: K-10, Q-J, A-X, K-J, J-10.
Drawing to make a hand in no-limit
is very different from drawing to the
same hands in limit. In limit you would rarely fold a
four straight or a four flush, especially if your draw
is to the nuts. But in no-limit drawing could cost
you all of your chips.
The time to consider such draws in
no-limit is in multiway pots where
you can draw relatively inexpensively—but only if
you are drawing to the nuts. It’s even sweeter when
you are drawing to the nuts and also have a pair.
Example: You are in late position
with a J-10. The flop comes K-Q-4,
rainbow (different suits.) You are drawing to an ace
for the nut straight or to a 9. The turn brings a 10 so
now you have a pair and a good draw. The odds
have turned more and more in your favor.
In no-limit do not commit half your
chips to the pot unless you are willing to go all the way and commit all of your chips. In
other words, don’t overbet your hand.
Example: You have $80 in front of
you. You are in middle position with
an A-Q; you raise the opening bet to $10. If someone
raises to $45, do not call unless you are willing to
invest your full $80. If you are willing, then reraise
all in. I don’t recommend this with an A-Q.
Try to never go all in on a call. You
want to be the one putting on the
pressure. If you go all in, it should be your bet, raise,
or a reraise.
This is a perfect example of how
important it is to know your players. If the player who raised you is a rock, you know
you must fold. If he is a bully you might decide to
When considering whether or not
to enter the pot from early to middle position, ask yourself a question, “If this pot is
raised, can I call the raise?” If the answer is no, then
do not enter the pot in the first place.
You will notice that many players
will raise every time they have the
button. They are not good players. They just think
that having the button is an automatic raise rule. It’s
not. Think before making a raise.
Above all else, no-limit is a game of
guts. Some men believe this means
women can’t play well. Many good female players
will stomp on these men. It doesn’t take a beer belly
or testosterone to have guts!
A hint for the men: beware of the
female player. There are a zillion
differences between men and women in life. There
is just one difference between men and women at
the poker table—women have breasts. But as is
always true in poker, there is an exception to every
rule. Some men also have breasts to go along with
their beer bellies.
Women are at the poker table for
the same reason men are there, to
win the money while having a good time. Men who
think women are weak at the poker table are giving
those women a huge advantage.
Always remember that it does not
take brawn to have brains. The
poker table is the only completely level playing
Beware of early position limpers.
They could have a hand too big to
bet and be setting a trap that you don’t want to step
Playing middle suited (8-7, 10-9, J10) from up front is a big no-no.
Play them from late position only if there has been
no raise, and personally I wouldn’t play them unless
I was well ahead of the game. If you do play them,
continue after the flop only if you flopped perfect.
If you never lay down a winning
hand, you’re playing too loose. If
you never lay down the winner you’re playing way
too many hands and you’ll be losing a lot too. The
idea is to win the ones you play. Be selective.
Don’t be afraid to try a bluff or a
semibluff now and then. How else
will you know what you can get away with? Just like
a naughty child, keep it up until you get caught and
punished and then back off.
On your bluffing excursions, don’t
be reckless. Pick and choose your
moments. Example: You’re in the cutoff seat and
have a fold tell on the button or you have an ace-rag
in the big blind and the button always raises, pop
him back!
Sometimes the bluff will be a mistake, but do not fret; let it go and
move on. The best player in the world will make a
mistake now and then. Your goal is to play as mistakefree as possible. He who makes the least mistakes will
win the most money.
Most people do not realize the
value of picking up the blinds with
a raise from late position. As previously mentioned,
you should not raise every time you are on the button, but you also should take advantage of good
position as often as possible. Done often enough, it
adds up for a minimal risk.
If you are playing with low funds
after a few losses, you need to
tighten up. If you have a nice stack of chips in front
of you after a few wins, you can loosen up—maybe
even throw in an occasional bluff or semibluff from
late position when the time is right.
This holds true for ring games or
tournament play. In tournament
competition, the higher the limit, the more chips
you can accumulate with blind stealing.
Speaking of tournament play, the
basics of the four stages in a poker
tournament discussed in limit hold’em hold true in
no-limit as well. The stages include the beginning,
the middle, and the late stages, and end with final
table success. I’ll advise you on the differences in
strategies in limit and no-limit tournaments.
My friend Dr. Max Stern holds several world titles. I have seen Max
raise all in after the flop with the nut flush draw in a
no-limit tournament. This is a semibluff. He picked
up the pot then and there. While he is the type of
player to make such a move at any stage of the tournament, I won’t risk all my chips on a draw early in
It is just as important, if not more
so, to wait and observe in the early
stages of a no-limit tournament as it is in limit. If
you get involved in any hand early in limit, you can
survive, but if you do the same in no-limit you have
the possibility of going broke or being severely
wounded. In tournament play, it’s best to start the
race in a low, slow gear.
True story: My friend Bill Fain from
Virginia City, Nevada, was coming
to Las Vegas some years back to play in the $10,000
main event of the World Series of Poker. This is an
exciting time for any poker player and even more so
when it is a maiden voyage. Bill was running just a
tad late. He rushed in, hurried up to his seat, and
picked up his two cards before he sat down. He was
looking at two red aces. The pot had been raised in
front of him and reraised all in. To call it would take
his entire stack of $10,000.
Not many people would lay that
hand down preflop in any situation,
but Bill said later, “I know aces can be beaten. I
couldn’t stand the thought of getting them cracked
and having to leave before I even took my coat off
and sat down. I hadn’t even had time to look around
and get the juices flowing with the excitement of
this wonderful tournament. I decided I had plenty
of time and I preferred to tell the story of laying
down those two aces than taking the chance of having to tell a horrible beat on the first hand I ever got
to play in my first opportunity to play the big one.”
In almost any poker tournament
you play, big buy-in or small, you
will most likely run into what I call the “young
guns.” These are the young aggressive players who
constantly mimic the type of poker player we see on
These novices often will wear sunglasses and a hat trying to be cool
and look tough. They move full speed ahead at all
times, but just wait; they eventually will shoot
themselves in the foot and limp away from the
table, leaving their chips in someone else’s stack.
Most of the time, people do not
realize that the poker competition
they are watching on TV is the end of a tournament.
Not only are they watching the end, but also the
final table that has been edited from about three or
four hours of play into approximately fifty-two minutes. The producers are showing only the exciting
hands. It is a mirage and not the way tournament
poker is actually played.
There also are the young guns who
know how to slow down. They are
often successful with their overly aggressive style
because they are smart enough to know when to
change gears. They know when they are pushing the
limit and they know when to back off. These guys
are dangerous players. Proceed with caution.
I do not advocate bowing down to a
bully. Rather, wait until the time is
right, when you are looking at a pair or a good draw,
and after he makes his usual raise, move all in. Now
the decision rests on him. You must be willing to go
broke in order to accumulate chips (and put a bully
in his place). This is called big-bet poker.
Once you make the decision, any
all-in bet is the easiest in no-limit.
You have no more decisions to make on the hand
and the pressure is on your opponent. Try not to call
all in, though. Whenever possible, make the all-in
play with a raise or a reraise.
Survival is the key to winning nolimit tournaments and that
requires knowing when to hold’em and when to
fold’em. Sometimes you will have to make difficult
laydowns in order to survive. You cannot win the
tournament if you’re not in the tournament.
Around the fifth or sixth level in nolimit tournaments, you will be
anteing in addition to putting in your blinds. This is
true of real tournaments, not necessarily small buyin weekly events or Internet competition. Your goal
should be to survive until that level and then start
Example: When the level reaches
$100-$200 blinds, the next level
should be $100-$200 with a $25 ante. The next level
will go to $150-$300 with a $50 ante and then $200$400 with a $75 ante and on up.
Now is the time to start some bluffing and semibluffing because
based on the blinds and antes, every hand is an
established pot (something worth winning). Hold
your breath and jump in.
It is scary to push all your chips into
the pot from late position with only
a marginal hand, but it is often necessary in order to
survive while waiting on “real” hands. Many pros
say that after so many years, it isn’t so scary. I’ve
been playing major tournaments since 1991, and
I’m still waiting.
If you can pick up one hand a
round, you can stay ahead of the
game. If that doesn’t happen, don’t panic; you might
pick up two the next round and then, boom, you
might pick up a monster. Play it just right to maximize your profit and suddenly you can breathe easy
for a while.
In the middle stages of a tournament, you should be building and
protecting your chip stack.
If something goes wrong on a hand
and you lose a chunk of your hardearned chips, do not panic. One thing I love about
no-limit is that you can be the shortest stack at the
table and within three hands become the chip
Many times I have seen players get
in a comfort zone with the amount
of chips they have been accumulating throughout
the tourney. Then they take a bad beat from a yahoo
and go on tilt. They blow the rest of their chips off in
disgust and go home in a huff. Do not make this
mistake. As long as you have a chip, you have a
One of the toughest hands for me to
play in a no-limit tourney is A-K.
Most players treat it as if it is a huge pair, but the fact
is that preflop, a baby pair is bigger.
Play big slick very gingerly early in
the tournament, a bit more
aggressively in the middle rounds, and much
more aggressively later in the tournament, especially in shorthanded play.
I would alternate raising and calling
with A-K from early or middle position in the middle rounds of a tourney. If you just
pick up the blinds, good. If you hit a flop, wonderful,
but if you raise and get a caller and the flop comes
with rags or paints that miss you, do not bet unless
your opponent is ultra-conservative. If you do bet,
put in a “test” bet, especially if he has checked to
If you decide to play A-K in shorthanded play, move all in. That way
you will get to see all five cards—or you’ll pick up
the pot preflop.
As noted in the limit hold’em section, don’t forget to watch the clock
as it gets later in the tournament. In the early stages
you’ve got plenty of time. In the later stages that
clock becomes of vital importance, especially if you
are short-stacked.
My Mama used to say that the
secret to a good sixty-five-year marriage was flexibility. I say that the secret to winning
poker tournaments is also flexibility.
No one who plays the same for the
entirety of a tournament will be a
winner. You must change your style to keep others
confused and to adjust to the style of your opponents.
As you near the money and then
the final table in a no-limit tournament, your goal is either to win it outright or to
move up in the ranks. My philosophy is to move up
in the rankings one step at a time.
With every hand you consider playing, stop and ask yourself: will I win
this hand or is this a bonehead play that will knock
me out of the competition?
If you have enough chips for survival then play just premium hands
or take advantage of late position bluffing in order
to keep moving up. If you are short-stacked, pick
your best opportunity and go for it—all in.
You will find that as you get near
the money, players will tighten up
in order to make the money; and once you make
the money, almost everyone will start playing
again. Watch them. Be very observant of how
everyone is playing.
If you know a player is interested
only in moving up one notch at a
time, you can attack his blinds. If you know a player
is interested only in making first place, he will be
playing looser so don’t be afraid to move in on him
with A-Q or any pair.
Don’t let a loose player bully you off
a hand. Take a stand. If you lose the
hand you will still win some money, and if you win
you will have more ammunition to go for the bigger
Once you get to the final table you
should seldom limp into a pot. As a
matter of fact, if a good player does limp into a pot,
beware! He probably has big holdings.
If there are short stacks at your final
table, try to wait until they are gone,
causing you to move up in the money. If you have
chips, you can attack the short stacks, and if you are
the short stack, jump in, all in with any ace or any
pair. Hopefully that will get you back in the game.
If you are low chipped, any paint is
playable, provided no one has
made a big move at the pot before the action gets to
you. The exception is if the bully has a huge stack
and is raising virtually every pot.
I personally believe making deals at
the final table of a poker tournament is a good idea. Deals are made in a number of
ways. If everyone is about even in chips, chop up
the money equally. If one player has a tremendous
chip lead, offer him more and the rest of you cut up
the remaining amount. If everyone is uneven in
chips but all want to deal, you can go by chip count.
The tournament director can tell
you the value of each chip and you
can calculate accordingly. Be sure you get more
than you would if you played it out.
Example: Let’s say there are six
players remaining and you have the
short stack when the deal is proposed. The other
players elect to go by chip count but when the figuring is finished you will win $700, but sixth place
would pay $720. That makes it a foolish deal for you,
so veto it. If they want to deal with you they need to
offer you at least 10 percent more than what you
normally would get.
When you get to heads up and a
deal has not yet been made, I suggest some wheeling and dealing if you are so
inclined. The levels can get so high that continuing
to play becomes more like a crapshoot than a poker
So lock up the best deal you can
and then continue to play your
heart out. Deal or no deal, you want to win first
You should note that the World
Poker Tour does not allow deals and
the World Series bracelet cannot be included in a
There is no greater thrill for a poker
player than winning a major tournament. I realize that the average player cannot
shell out $5,000 or $10,000 to even participate in a
major event, but there are a number of inexpensive
ways to get that buy-in. We’ll get into that shortly, so
read on, my friends.
No-Limit Hold’em Tips for the
Intermediate Player
Knowing your opponents and how
they play is critical in no-limit since
it is as much a game of playing the people as playing
the cards. Watch what is going on at your table and
size up your opponents. Remember: you cannot bluff
the unbluffable, so choose your moments wisely.
There is one ingredient for becoming a good player that cannot be
taught. That is a feeling or an intuition as to whether
someone is bluffing you or when it is time for you to
bluff. The great players just know.
The only way to know is to listen to
your inner voice, pay attention to
your gut feelings and act upon them. If you are right
most of the time, you have that edge, if you are not,
just practice playing good poker.
Bluffing is of greater importance in
no-limit than in limit because you
can’t bet enough in limit to make your opponent
stop, think, and possibly fold. In limit there are
many brainless calls when the pot is raised. In nolimit you can bet enough to get their attention.
1982 World Champion Jack Strauss
said, “Consider limit hold’em a science; you’re shooting at a target. Consider no-limit
hold’em an art; the target comes alive and shoots
back at you!”
As for the rocks, they don’t have the
heart to play true no-limit. They
wait for the nut hands and then, when they raise,
they don’t get any action because they are rocks.
A good no-limit poker player is not
afraid to play a pot. As a matter of
fact, there are more playable hands in no-limit than
in limit hold’em because of the pot odds. The pots
get so big in no-limit that often a jack-10 or even
small-suited connectors are worth calling a reasonable raise if you are in late position.
In a ring game of no-limit with a
buy-in of $200, if you get involved in
a big hand and go broke, rebuy to stay in the game
for another $200 only if the game is good. If there is
enough action that you can easily make $400 (your
original investment) or more, the rebuy is worth it.
If it is a very tight, slow game, try
again another day. Another alternative is to change tables. Look for greener pastures.
Do not check a big hand from early
position, unless you are sure an
aggressive player behind you will bet. Checking to
some players is like waving a red flag at a bull; they
will bet! If that happens, then check-raise those
At times you may bet not because
you think you have the best hand
but because you want to gain information. And
sometimes that bet will win the pot for you then
and there.
Example: You are in the big blind
with a Q♥-5♣. The pot is unraised
so you get to see a free flop. There are two players
and yourself. The flop comes 6♠-4♣-3♥. The flop
missed you completely, but did it hit anybody else?
A bet will gain that information—and you have an
open-ended straight in case someone just calls you.
This is a semibluff. You are bluffing but you have
Another example: You are in middle
position with K♣ -J♦ . The flop
comes A♦-J♥-5♠. There are three players in the pot.
The first one checks to you. You bet to see if either of
them has an ace.
Playing ace-X suited from early to
middle position depends on the
texture of your table. If players are allowing limping,
try to see a cheap flop (unraised). If it’s a really tight
table, put in a raise to steal the blinds. However, if
it’s a ramming, jamming game with a lot of preflop
raising, wait for a better hand and/or better position.
Calling a raise or reraising is
entirely different than opening the
pot with a raise. At a conservative table you likely
would raise with A-J from middle position, maybe
even from early position, but you wouldn’t
(absolutely shouldn’t) reraise or call a raise.
Whether in tournaments or ring
games, never soft-play anybody. If
you are at a table with your lifelong friend who is the
godmother of your children, you gotta do it—bust
The only exception to this rule is in
a penny ante home game. If your
great grandmother is in the game, it’s okay. You can
soft-play her—a little.
It’s useful to develop a conservative
image, but you should vary your
play—if you think you can bluff grandma and get
her to fold, do it!
There is no set mold that makes a
winning no-limit player. Some winning players have an aggressive style; some have a
more conservative style.
There is a set mold for losing players. These are the maniacs, the
rocks, and the calling stations.
The aggressive winning player
knows when to put on the brakes.
The conservative winning players know when to
speed things up. It’s called changing gears and is
much more prevalent (and necessary) in tournament competition.
The good player knows when to
change gears, based on information
he has gathered on how his opponents are playing,
their styles, tells, positions, and his own position. In
a tournament it also depends on what stage you are
in and the size of your opponent’s chip stacks.
Watch out for the rocks although
they are pretty easy to play. You
simply don’t go up against them unless you have a
On the flip side of that coin, you
should also watch out for the maniacs. They are much more difficult to play because it
is so difficult to “put them on” a hand, that is, determine what cards they may be playing.
Maniacs seem to be playing for fun
and action, not necessarily to win.
Depending on the limits they are playing, it can
seem as if they have a money tree somewhere or an
inheritance (a big one!).
I preach solid play; however, you
should mix it up a bit. Never
become predictable. Throw some zigs and zags into
your play. Keep them confused. Just when they
believe they have you pegged as a conservative
player who never gets out of line, get out of line.
Keep them off guard.
I have heard it said that the only
difference between a solid player
and a maniac is the frequency of their risky business. You have to take that risk now and then.
There have been a lot of young guns
over the last few years who have
been very successful playing like an out-of-control
Mack truck—full speed ahead with full force. Will
this style keep them in the winner’s circle for years
to come? I don’t know. Ask me in twenty years. I’m
Time will tell about the life
expectancy of the Mack trucks. I
have seen “my” style—solid play with an occasionally bold move—endure through the decades.
The bluff is a very important part of
the no-limit game, but the less you
bluff, the more effective your bluffs will be (against
good players). Timing is everything.
I harp about playing against good
players so much because most
often a strategy that will work against an experienced player will go unnoticed against a yahoo.
Sophisticated plays need to be made against
sophisticated players.
Doyle Brunson says, “When bluffing, always have an out. I prefer to
have many outs.”
Example: You call a small raise in a
four-way pot in late position with a
10♦ -9♣ . The flop comes 8♠ -7♦ -3♦ . Everyone
checks to you. Now is the time to bluff. Bet about
the size of the pot. You have many outs. You could
catch a 6 or a jack for a straight or a 9 or a 10 to pair
for top pair, but the idea is to take the pot then and
there. Consider your outs your insurance—just in
case someone calls your bluff.
Never show a bluff. Players who run
a successful bluff and then show
their nothing cards consider it “advertising” so they
can then set up a player with a good hand. I do not
agree with this strategy.
I not only advocate never showing a
bluff, I believe in never showing a
hand unless you have to. Why? Because you’re giving away too much information.
Many players take great pride in
showing their bluffs or showing
their hands, win or lose. Pay attention when this
happens. The more information you can get on how
your opponent plays, the better. The less you give
up about how you play, the better.
Limping in on the small blind is
fine if your opponent will allow it.
As a matter of fact, I limp as often as possible in the
blind or from late position for two reasons: 1) to see
as many flops as possible and 2) so I can limp when
I pick up a monster hand and set a trap.
Sometimes when attempting to set
a trap, you end up trapping yourself. Think it through and be careful. Be cautious
when slow-playing a big hand if there is a good
draw on the board.
Example: In a full ring game, if you
pick up two red aces in late position, you want to bet or raise just the right amount
to end up playing against no more than two opponents or, preferably, to be heads up (playing against
only one opponent).
Let’s say the flop comes A♣-9♦-3♣.
You want to trap with your huge set
of aces. However, be careful about those clubs,
especially if you are against two other players. Put in
a nice-size bet or raise about the size of the pot if
you are up against one player or make it a slightly
bigger bet if you’re against two or more players. If
anybody is going for clubs, make them pay for it.
Same hand only this time you’re
heads-up in a tournament. Slowplay until the river. If you can’t get your opponent to
bet then make a medium-size bet on the river (half
the size of the pot). Ideally, you will check the flop,
he will bet the turn, and you can raise a healthy
Any time you’re shorthanded or
heads up in a tournament, slowplay any big pair. Yes, you’re gambling, but you need
to try to maximize those opportunities.
Comparing ring game play to tournament play is like comparing golf
to football. Truly, there is that much difference and
if you understand the whys and wherefores, and
have the stamina, patience, guts, and heart to compete properly in tournament competition, you will
either love it or hate it.
I love poker tournaments because
of the tremendous overlay opportunities. If I take $200 into a ring game (live game
versus tournament) of no-limit Texas hold’em, play
for three hours, and double or triple my money, I
had a good session. However, for the same $200
investment, I can have the opportunity to win
much, much more in a poker tournament and if all
goes well, I will get to play for huge limits that I
would never be able to afford in a ring game.
The likelihood of winning tens of
thousands of dollars by putting
your poker prowess to the task in a poker tournament is a much longer shot than the likelihood of a
good player winning hundreds or even a thousand
or two in a ring game. However, somebody is going
to win that tournament! Why not you? If you don’t
buy the lottery ticket, you do not have a chance of
that miracle happening; winning a poker tournament is a much more likely bet, especially for a
skillful player.
Keep in mind, you do not have to
win first place to win a lot of money.
Most tournaments are now paying one spot for
every ten players, which means that in a tournament with three hundred fifty participants, thirtyfive players will have a payday. In a tournament
with one hundred twenty players, twelve will be
paid and so forth. In most small buy-in weekly tournaments ($100 or less) in Las Vegas, if the field tops
one hundred, they will pay two tables—eighteen or
twenty players.
Major tournaments need to be
played in four stages, the early
stages (rounds 1, 2, and 3), the middle stages (rounds
5, 6, and 7), the late stages (rounds 7, 8, 9, and up),
and the final table. With the exception of the early
stages, you will need to do a lot of changing gears.
Play the early stages of a no-limit
tournament just as you would a
ring game. Your early play should be solid, conservative, and selectively aggressive. There is no need
to take risks or gamble early in any tournament.
In the middle stages, rev it up a
notch while dodging any runaway
trains (maniacs). Pick up the blinds when you can
and proceed cautiously.
In fast-paced tournaments (small
buy-ins with shorter rounds), it’s
basically a game of raise or fold by the time you hit
the middle rounds. In tournaments with a slower
structure, you have time to play and plenty of time
to maneuver.
In the late stages you should be
speeding up, slowing down, speeding up, and slowing down. What you do when
depends on whom you are against and what they
will let you get away with.
Often when they are just one or two
places away from the money, many
players will slow way down in an effort just to make
the money. This is a good time to steal a lot of pots.
It can be very disheartening to play
your best for ten hours (there are
potty breaks and a break for meals, depending on
the length of the event) only to end up on the
dreaded bubble. It is terribly disappointing and can
bring a tear to a grown man’s eye.
However, when you do taste that
thrill of victory, the high can last for
days. If it is a major tournament, you’ll find yourself
floating around on that victory cloud for weeks.
Keep in mind: you don’t have to be
crowned the champion to go home
with a nice chunk of change. The big money is usually in the top three spots, but any score should be
considered a feather in your cap.
Late in a tournament, always know
the chip stacks of all your opponents. At the very least know how many players
have a smaller stack than yours.
You can have a sweater (one who is
watching and rooting for you) be
your look out and give you hand signals—holding
up the number of fingers of how many players
remain who have shorter stacks than you, for example. This is not cheating. It is getting as much information as possible to help in your decision-making.
It is smart play.
This information will help you
decide how you want to play at any
given time. If you are one away from a prize
increase and four players have shorter stacks than
you, you want to wait. If you are the shortest stack,
you have to make a move.
If you are interested in playing big
buy-in tournaments or the WSOP
or the World Poker Tour but your pocketbook says
no (remember the rule: play only with money you
can afford to flush), there are alternatives.
If you live in an area that has casinos,
the poker rooms probably run satellites for the larger tournaments. A satellite is a tournament with a smaller buy-in that parlays the win into
the buy-in for the major event.
I believe satellites are wonderful. So
many of us cannot afford the big
buy-in events, but we can get there through these
parlay opportunities.
Example: A supersatellite is a multitable satellite that will award the
number of seats that the prize pool allows. Let’s say
the buy-in is $230 ($200 goes to the prize pool and
$30 goes to the house to pay expenses). They allow
rebuys that cost $200 each for the first hour of play.
You are playing for a $10,000 seat to the WSOP. After
the first hour, the loot is counted and the prizes are
If there are two hundred twenty
players, then the basic prize pool is
$44,000. If there are 453 rebuys, another $90,600 is
added to the prize pool for a total of $134,600. They
would award thirteen seats, a $10,000 value each,
and divide the remaining $4,600 as prize money for
fourteenth, fifteenth, sixteenth, and on down the
line depending on their formula for prize fund distribution. They might divide the overage among the
winners for travel expenses if the supersatellite is
held somewhere besides Las Vegas.
Supersatellites are high-speed tournaments. Sit down, fasten your seat
belt, and pray. I prefer one-table satellites where the
field is much smaller.
A one-table satellite is another parlay opportunity. If you were playing
for a $1,000 seat, you would pay approximately $120
each and have to beat only nine players.
Deals are commonplace in onetable satellites. If it gets down to
two players and one has the majority of the chips,
he may offer his opponent a few hundred dollars to
go away. If they are relatively close in chip position,
one may pay the other $500 for the win. That way
they both win half their buy-in.
When it’s down to only two players,
you may agree on a deal that one of
you will play the tournament but give up a percentage of his action to his opponent. If this is the case
and you know that your opponent is a stronger
player than you, make the deal!
One-table satellites usually consist
of fifteen-minute rounds. Conservative play is okay, but only for the first round or
round and a half.
In the first few rounds players will
be eliminated. After that you will
have to play faster than normal and learn how to
stay out of the way in some pots.
One-table satellites involve playing
your players, a lot of zigging and
zagging, and more luck than in a normal tournament. After the fourth round you will probably be
moving all in if you enter a pot.
Don’t be totally reckless but
remember, as the field gets shorter,
your starting hand requirements are greatly reduced.
By the time you are heads up, you want to raise with
any ace, any paint, and any pair. Unless you pick up
aces or kings, then slow-play before the flop.
Whatever two cards you are holding, if you flop favorably, slow-play
and try to get your opponent to move in—you call—
you win! (Hopefully.)
If your opponent will allow it, call the
big blind with almost any two cards.
Anything can flop. I can’t tell you how many one-table
satellites I have won by just calling the big blind with
any two cards and catching a good flop. Trap City!
If you don’t live near a casino that
offers satellites, don’t fret. In chapter 10, I’ll give you detailed instructions so that you
can have your own, right at home.
No-Limit Hold’em Tips for the
Advanced Player
Let’s begin our advanced study of
my favorite game with Susie’s Five P
Theory. If you follow the Five P Theory to the letter,
you will be a winning player.
1. Patience: So easy to understand
but so difficult to execute. Remember, you cannot win a poker tournament in the first
few rounds, but you sure can lose it! Wait for the
proper starting hands.
2. Position: Not so easy for beginners to understand but such a
strong defensive tool once you get it. Knowing what
your opponents are going to do before the betting
gets to you is very valuable information. A hand you
may toss in early position you could just as easily
raise with in late position.
3. Psychology: The psychological
aspect of poker, playing the players
and your position rather than your cards, is a bit
more advanced. It’s the same with picking up tells
and using them as a defensive tool.
4. Perseverance: Never give up! The
beats are part of the game. Think
forward, not in reverse. You must have some luck to
go with your skill, but I guarantee you need more
skill to go with your luck to be a winning player. (Of
course, “never give up” doesn’t mean you don’t
know when to fold or call it a night. Play smart.)
5. Practice: Play, play, and play if
you want to be a student of the
game. Make notes and study them. The knowledge
you develop from situational play is ammunition
for the future.
Advanced poker playing is psychological warfare, especially in nolimit, because you can make such big bets that it
really puts the pressure on. Even if you don’t have
the biggest hand, your bet could dictate that you do.
You also can make bets big enough to get an opponent off a straight or a flush draw. You cannot do
that in limit hold’em.
No-limit is a game of trapping and
bluffing. Your goal is to set good
traps but avoid stepping into a trap. You should
bluff when the time is right, but avoid being bluffed.
You should seldom bluff in a ring
game. Seldom does not mean
never. If you are playing with good players, your
play will be respected and when you do decide to
make a move, your bluffs will have power.
Money management must be practiced both on and off the poker
table. I know poker players who have won millions
of dollars playing poker but have blown it all in the
sports book or at the craps table.
Skill, discipline, money management, and some luck will help get
you to the top. It also takes heart. That one is a bit
hard to explain. Think of those children’s rubber
dolls that won’t knock down. You hit them, they go
down, but come right back up. (You can’t let the bad
beats get you down.)
A talented ring game player does
not always make for a great tournament player and vice versa. In ring games you play
basically in the same solid gear, changing only occasionally when opportunity knocks. If you use this
strategy in a tournament, you will be gobbled up in
the later rounds. You must learn the talent of bobbing and weaving (changing gears) and when to do
what in order to be successful in poker tournaments.
Whether playing an intuitive or an
analytical game, the ins, outs, odds,
and probabilities are all very important. Just as
important, if not more so, is refining your ability to
read your opponents. The way to do this is to watch
and play, play and watch.
Unlike figuring pot odds, there is no
formula for figuring “people odds.”
Is the player betting big because he has a big hand,
or is he betting big because he doesn’t want a caller?
Watch to see if you can pick up the tiniest hint that
will answer that question and you will win most of
the confrontations against that player. More on this
subject in chapter 9, “Tells.”
When you have an opportunity to
play in a major tournament, you
need to prepare yourself in more than the knowledge of how to play tournament poker. The best of
cars will not run if they are not maintained or if they
run out of gas. Likewise, the best of poker players
cannot perform at their best if they are not prepared.
If you travel to participate in a big
poker tournament, arrive a few
days early to allow your body to adjust to the time
Do not play too many hours of
poker in the days prior to a big
Do not drink alcohol for a few days
before the event or during play!
Be well rested. Go into a tournament after a light, healthy breakfast. Bring nuts and protein bars with you. Eat a
light, healthy meal for dinner.
During competition, take the time
to think about a major decision
(like putting all your chips into the pot). Ask yourself if you are making a mistake or if it would be a
mistake to fold. Ask yourself how much you should
bet or raise and why.
Make no knee-jerk plays. Wait until
the time is right and make the cor-
rect decisions.
In a major tournament, you will get
away with what other players will
allow, so get to know how they play. If you have some
superaggressive players at your table, you will be
forced to “be good,” play in a low gear, and not get
out of line. If you pick up a big hand against one or
both of them, your goal will be to maximize your win.
Do not overplay your hand. Let
them believe that if they keep betting or raising you will go away. When the time is
right, reraise them—throw it into high gear.
Example: You are holding A♥-K♠.
An aggressive player has raised and
another has called. Just call. The flop is A♦-K♣-2♣.
The first player bets, the second folds, you should
just call. The turn is a 7♥. The lead player makes a
big bet. Now is the time to make your move; it is
very unlikely he has you beat. You know this by the
way he has been playing. He probably is holding
ace-rag. Now, go for the jugular. Hopefully he has an
ace-deuce and thinks he is gold. You get all the
money. This is a perfect example of not overplaying
your hand in order to maximize your profit.
Mix up your play, keep your opponents off-guard; don’t be predictable. Occasionally limp in and sometimes fold
when it is raised behind you. This gives you trapsetting potential.
Never over-commit yourself to the
pot with a marginal hand, a bluff, or
a semibluff. If you bet more than half your stack,
you are pot committed. If you plan to make a raise
on a marginal hand, a bluff, or a semibluff, you are
doing so because you think your opponent(s) will
fold. If you bet less than 50 percent of your stack,
you can get away from your hand if someone, particularly a solid player, plays back at you. If you have
60 or 70 percent of your chips in the pot, you are pot
committed. If you’re going to put that much into the
pot, go ahead and move all in.
The exception to this rule is if you
have a big hand and know you’ll
put all your chips in the pot on any reraise. Then it
is okay to put yourself in a pot-committed situation,
especially if you’re looking for a caller.
There is nothing sweeter than
being at the final table with a
medium stack, picking up a monster, and trapping
the big stack that has a good hand. Voila! You magically become the big stack, and he becomes a
medium stack.
My friend, poker guru Rick Gianti,
explains a poker tournament thusly:
“Consider the tournament big game hunting and
your chips are your ammunition. If you waste your
ammunition messing around and shooting at trees
and beer bottles, then when the big game comes
along you may not have enough ammunition to bag
your trophy.”
In tournament play you cannot buy
more chips (unless it’s a rebuy tourney). You can get more chips only by winning them.
With this in mind, treat your chips like precious and
irreplaceable gems. As the tournament progresses,
they become even more valuable.
In any stage of a tourney a rush is
wonderful, but you can never
depend on a rush. You need to recognize when
another player is on a rush and avoid getting
involved in pots with such a player. Also learn to
recognize when his rush is over.
If you are lucky enough to get on a
rush, milk it for all it’s worth. When
it is over, change gears accordingly. Never overplay
a rush. Hold on to those precious gems (chips).
Think! Unless it is an automatic
fold, each decision is crucial, particularly in tournament competition because you
cannot buy more chips if you go broke. In no-limit
you can go broke on any hand at any time, so think!
No matter how hard you try to
make the correct decisions every
time, there will be times that you will make the right
decision but the result will not be in your favor.
Some right moves are made at the wrong time, and
some wrong moves are made at the right time.
My poker professor Tom McEvoy
says, “Unlike limit poker, in which
you have to win a series of pots and show down lots
of hands, in no-limit hold’em you don’t have to win
lots of pots; you just have to win most of the ones
you play. And you don’t have to play very many
More McEvoy wisdom: “Don’t let
fear freeze your play. People who
don’t gamble enough usually are afraid of getting
knocked out of a tournament, but there is another
way to look at things. Whether you get knocked out
one place out of the money or first makes no difference. The result is the same.”
“Throughout the entire tournament, you must be playing to win
and trying to accumulate chips so that you can
make the money. Don’t worry about getting
knocked out. Play to win or don’t play at all.”
“Using position, chip power, and
good timing is often more important than getting good cards in no-limit. In other
words, you can win pots with no cards.” (Figuratively speaking!)
It is worth repeating that it may be
a tough decision to make but once
you make it, the easiest move in no-limit is when
you move all in. You have no more decisions to
make. You will win the pot then and there or you will
get to see all five-community cards. You have put
the decision on your opponent.
Your decision to move all in will
depend on several factors: you
think you have the winning hand and you do not
want your opponent to draw to a hand that can beat
you, you’re short-stacked and have to make a move,
or your odds of making a winning hand are good
enough to justify this risk.
To determine the odds of making
your hand, you must first know
your outs. Outs are the number of cards that you
believe will make your hand the winning hand.
You need to have a read on what
your opponent is holding in order
to determine if the hand you are trying to make will
be the winning hand. If you can make your hand
and your opponent still beats you, it is called drawing dead.
Each time you play a hand you
must consider the strength of your
hand in relation to the cards on the board and what
hand you believe your opponent is holding. If you
believe you must improve your hand to win (you
put him on a big pair and you have an open-ended
straight or a flush draw), you then must figure the
percentage for improving your hand based on the
number of outs you have.
To be precise in calculating your
odds of making a hand, you have
to be a quick mathematician or have a calculator
at the poker table. When you see the major league
players thinking and thinking about a decision on
television, they often are figuring their odds of
making a hand.
My friend, poker player and columnist Jan Fisher, offered her readers a
simple formula, which, though not exact, is very
close. With two cards to come after the flop you
multiply your number of outs by four. With one card
to come after the turn, you multiply your number of
outs by two.
Example: If you have a four-card
flush after the flop, you have nine
outs. With two cards to come, multiply the nine by
four and you get a 36 percent chance of making the
flush. With one card to come, you multiply nine by
two and you have an 18 percent chance.
This formula is not exact but it is
easy to do in your mind. The idea is
to try to make a mathematical estimation of the
likelihood of catching the card that will give you the
winning hand and determine whether it is worth
the risk.
Another thing to consider: If your
opponent has put himself all in
with his bet on the flop and no one else has entered
the pot, you know exactly how much it is going to
cost you to see the flop, the turn, and the river. This
greatly improves your odds.
Deal making at the final table is
probably more important in nolimit tournaments than in any other simply because
you can go broke on any given hand.
Example: You have arrived at the
final table and you are in average
chip position but there are two very short stacks at
the table. Wait until they either go out or one or
both of them begins to rebuild their chips, then
suggest a deal.
If one player says, “I’m not interested,” then you cannot take
negotiations any further. However, if that player is
then eliminated, you can once again ask about a
deal. Some players are against a deal under any circumstances while others are always willing.
Example: You are at the final table
and there are six of you remaining.
One player has a very large stack; the other five are
close to each other in their chip count. The remaining prize pool is $90,000. You could propose that the
big stack receive $25,000 and each of you remaining
receive $15,000 each. That would leave $5,000 to
play for.
Remember with a short field (five
or six players) at the final table you
have fewer combinations of cards competing
against you and fewer challengers. For instance, a
small pair at the final table with a short field is comparable to a big pair early in the tournament. Any
ace late in the tourney is comparable to big slick
early on.
The shorter the field, the lower your
starting-hand requirements should
be. It is high-gear time. Be aggressive unless you
think you are beat, and then save as many chips as
you can.
When you make the final table of a
major event you most likely will be
on TV. Lights, microphones, cameras, and a live
audience will surround you. It won’t be easy, but
you must get into a poker-playing zone, blocking
out all the excitement that is surrounding you.
After you win, it also isn’t easy to reenter the real world and let the
excitement flow. Take a deep breath, and think
about what you have accomplished. Then let her
I’ll end this no-limit section with
another quote from World Champion Chris Ferguson, “Skill, talent, and some luck
can get you the to the top, but it takes heart and discipline to keep you there.” That right there is a ton
of poker wisdom for you.
Seven-card stud, limit hold’em, and no-limit
hold’em are the three most popular poker games
played publicly today. These three games are alike
(they’re all poker) but very different.
While researching the history of poker, I learned
that during the Civil War soldiers played five-card
draw, which has two rounds of betting. Wanting
more action and another round of betting, the fellows developed a new poker game called stud
poker. The game was named after the stud horses
that often had to pull the heavy cannons and wagons out of the mire. I suppose the soldiers wanted to
get their poker game out of the mire. It is said that
during World War II, soldiers changed their nightly
game of five-card stud to seven-card stud so they
could have two more rounds of betting, which
added the extra action they craved.
Many players cut their poker teeth on sevencard stud. Although less popular in Las Vegas than it
was a decade ago, the game is still played in casinos,
in poker tournaments, and on millions of kitchen
tables across the nation. You can find hold’em
games in any casino or card club that offers poker,
but if you’re looking specifically for seven-card stud
you better make a phone call to be sure. Seven-card
stud seems to be more popular on the East Coast
than the West. Most casinos in Atlantic City offer
stud from low limit to middle limit. Trump Taj
Mahal offers a huge limit ($300-$600) on weekends.
Low-limit games can be found daily in casinos in
Arizona, Mississippi, Colorado, Washington, and
Nevada. Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut offers
seven-card stud with limits from $1-$2 for beginners all the way up to no-limit. No-limit seven-card
stud is rare in America but popular in Europe. If
you’re extremely wealthy and want the challenge of
seven-card stud, you’ll need to take your private jet
to Los Angeles for the $1,000-$2,000 game spread
on the weekends at the Hustler Casino. Larry Flynt
often plays in that game. It is rumored that Mr. Flynt
built his casino so he could find a high-limit game
of seven-card stud whenever he wanted.
To quote the 1982 Ladies Seven-card Stud World
Champion of Poker, June Field, “The game of poker
is like life…the amount of effort you put into it
determines the rewards you’ll receive from it. To
succeed in life takes knowledge, experience, determination, and hard work. Yes, you’ll make mistakes
and meet with failures along the way, but these too
serve a purpose. These same attributes apply to
poker. Add healthy doses of patience, self-discipline,
and a positive attitude and you’ll have what it takes
to be a winner in life and at poker. One more thing,
the most important…skill.”
Seven-card stud is definitely a game of skill and
memory. It is not a flop game with community
cards. To reiterate the basics: each player antes
(very low limits often have no ante), then all players
receive two cards down and one card up on the initial deal; this is followed by a round of betting. The
lowest card opens the betting with the minimum
bet (or the maximum) and the action rotates from
there in a clockwise pattern. The fourth card is dealt
faceup followed by a round of betting; this time the
highest card opens the betting, but this player also
has the option to check. Then comes the fifth card
also faceup, a round of betting, the sixth card
faceup and another round of betting, and then the
last card, dealt facedown, followed by the last round
of betting. After the last round of betting comes the
showdown. The player holding the best five-card
hand out of seven cards is the winner.
Seven-Card Stud Tips for the
In all flop games you will know
what the nuts or second nuts can
be. In seven-card stud, some hands can really surprise you because each player has three downcards;
they literally could turn over quads (four-of-a-kind)
at the showdown without showing a pair.
The first and most important point
to study in stud is hand selection—
which hands you will choose to play after the initial
deal of three cards.
The best starting hand is rolled up
trips. How sweet it is! But that
doesn’t happen too often. As a matter of fact the
odds against it are 424-to-1.
The next best hand to start with is a
high pair, followed by a medium
pair with a high kicker. A baby pair is dangerous;
enter the pot only if you have a big kicker. Small
pairs with small kickers could lead to problems.
Three high cards to a suit is a fine
hand if you don’t see your suit or
high cards all over the board. Beware of entering the
pot with one high card to a suit and two low cards.
Example: 2♠ -Q♠ -4♠ . This is a
tempting but dangerous hand. If
the pot isn’t raised, it is okay to call and see the
fourth card, provided you haven’t seen a herd of
spades on the board. If fourth street is not a club or
a queen, let the hand go if it is bet. If you pair the
deuce and continue, you could ultimately cost
yourself money.
The reason this type of hand can
cause problems is if you catch a two
or a four. That sucks you into continuing the hand
even if your clubs and queens are falling everywhere but in your hand. If this happens, fold unless
it is checked to you and you can see a free card
(which probably isn’t going to help).
Many new players, or even players
who have been playing stud for
eons but have never taken the time to study the
game, play any pair. They don’t look around the
board, they just know they have a pair, hold their
nose, and jump in.
The reason players do this is
because they have made bad plays
in the past and ended up making a hand and winning the pot. To them, this is a green light to play
As mentioned, the lowest card on
the board starts the action. If there
are two or three deuces on the board, the suits are
ranked alphabetically—clubs, diamonds, hearts
and spades—so the club would open. If there were
no deuce of clubs then it would be the deuce of diamonds.
Keep this in mind: successful stud
players look for a reason they
should not enter a pot after the deal. Losing stud
players look for any reason to stay and play.
Also, if a player enters more than 20
to 22 percent of the pots he is dealt
in, he is either getting great hands and on a rush or
he is ignoring starting hand criteria. The more
hands a player plays, the worse he plays.
Other good starting hands are three
to a straight (J-10-9) or three to a
flush. Again, having at least one big card is important (4♥-7♥-A♥ rather than 3♥-4♥-7♥). The reason
the big cards are important is that if your straight or
flush doesn’t come, you have an opportunity to pair
a big card. To repeat, small pairs with small kickers
can get you into trouble.
One of the best stud players I have
ever known used to say, “If I make a
straight or a flush it is because it just happened
when I started the hand with a big pair. The only
way I would take a fourth card to a straight or a flush
is if I have all high cards and none of my cards are
out. Pairs are what you want for starting hands in
stud, big pairs.”
The second most important decision is whether you will stay after
the fifth card. The bet doubles on fifth street, making your hand selection critically important.
Let’s get back to basics. Everyone
will ante before the deal. Some very
low-limit games have no ante, but as the limits go
up there is always an ante.
After you receive your first three
cards, two down (your secret) and
one up, you decide if you want to play the hand.
This decision, over the long haul, will determine
whether or not you are a winning player.
You have an option of whether or
not to play a hand unless you have
the low card. This (and the antes) will be the only
forced bet in stud.
When the fourth card is dealt, the
high card then opens the betting.
This player has the option also to check.
The bet on fourth street is the minimum unless the player has an
open pair. He then has the option to bet the maximum. This is the only circumstance that the bet on
fourth street can be the maximum and any player
can make it the highest bet.
Example: In a $3-$6 limit game,
three people decide to play after the
deal. The low card was a 4, with one player showing
a jack and another showing a 9. The fourth card
paired the 4. That player can bet $3, $6, or check.
If he checks, either of the other two
players can bet the $6; if he opens
the betting with the lower bet of $3, either of his
opponents can raise it to $9 (the $3 plus a $6 raise).
If the 4s checks and another player
bets the $6, he then has the option
of folding, calling, or if he was slow-playing three 4s,
he could check-raise and make the bet $12.
Remember, only when there is an open pair can the
fourth street bet be the maximum.
When you play a hand, keep your
cards in order. It is important for all
players to keep their cards in the order they receive
As a matter of fact, it is incorrect for
players to change the order in
which they received their cards. If you have an opponent who rearranges his cards, call a floorperson if
he continues. It is an unfair practice and a bad habit.
Why is it so important? An example:
If you bring it in with the low card
of a 4, and a 5 calls you, he may have split 5s. But, if
on fourth he catches a deuce and places it as his
door card, and then on fifth street he catches
another 5, at a glance (if you didn’t notice his door
card in the beginning), you might not put him on
three 5s. But if that 5 was where it belongs, where it
was dealt, you should beware of the possibility of
Many beginning players study their
cards and the possible hands they
could make, while looking only at their holdings.
These people are not good players. Overall they will
be losing players.
A good stud player will study the
board if he is contemplating entering a pot. Only then will he make that decision.
Example: You have a 3♦ and Q♦
down and a 3♠ up. A deuce opens
the betting. You do not automatically call because
you have a pair.
You look around the board. If you
see any 3s or queens your chances
of catching another 3 or a queen have been
reduced. If you see five diamonds on the board,
your chances of making a flush have been reduced.
However, unless you have three to a suit, you
shouldn’t even be considering trying to make a
flush. But, you also should be aware of the number
of diamonds that are out just in case you begin
catching one diamond after another.
On the other hand, if the pot has
not been raised and you see no 3s
or queens, call the bet. Your next decision is
whether to stay on fourth street. If you catch a 3,
your baby pair just grew into a big hand. If you
catch a queen you’re looking pretty good with two
If a card lower than a queen bets,
you should raise if you have the two
pair. If you have trips, you will want to slow-play
(just call) until fifth street when the bet doubles.
Always think, “How can I get the
most profit?” when you have a big
hand. It’s tricky. You don’t want to slow-play and let
them catch up, but you don’t want to run them out
of the pot either.
Remember: at low-limit stud, players usually have what they are representing. They seldom bluff. Example, if a player
showing a king bets, he probably has a pair of kings.
If a player catches a third club on fourth street and
bets or raises, he probably has a flush draw.
One of the best lessons you can
learn in the beginning is how to
read the board. This takes much more concentration in stud than in hold’em.
You will need to remember what
cards are out, not only in relation to
your hand but also in relation to your opponent’s
hand. If you have a pair of 7s in the pocket with a 10
up, you need to immediately look around the table
for 7s and 10s.
If you raised with your 10s and a jack
reraised, you need to look around
the board for jacks. If you see one, good. If you see
two, better. You will know he cannot make a set.
You have to constantly be thinking
and remembering. You need not
only think about what you need to make your hand
versus what cards you can see, but also what your
opponent might be trying to make and what cards
you can see that will help (or hurt) his hand.
I do not suggest going for a low
straight or flush. If you are dealt a
2♦-5♦-7♦, let it go unless you are the low card
bring-in, the pot is not raised, and you catch
another diamond. If you have been paying attention and you haven’t seen more than two diamonds,
take the next card. If you have seen three or more,
let it go.
The reason is that if you do pair, it
will be a baby pair. Baby pairs, even
two of them, are easily beaten. Why put yourself in
that position?
The same holds true for a 6-5-4 on
the deal. You would need a 3 or a 7
to continue if you want to go for a straight, but I do
not recommend this. You may make a baby pair,
but so what? It will almost always get you nothing
but trouble.
When considering going for a
straight in this situation, look
around the board not only for the cards you will
need, but also for any 5s or 10s. You cannot make a
straight without a 5 or a 10 in your hand.
The exception: If you are dealt a
2♣-J♣-A♣. Now that’s a whole new
ball game. Look quickly around the board. If you see
no jacks or aces and only one or two clubs, you have
the possibility of making a big pair or a big flush.
If you are dealt a K-Q-J, again it is a
whole new ballgame with much
greater potential than the baby cards to a straight.
Take a card on fourth street if you have not seen
your cards sprinkled around the table. If you get
help in any direction, a 10, a J, a Q, a K, or an ace,
continue with the hand—if your cards are live.
If you are dealt a pair with one card
up and one down, that is called a
split pair. If you are dealt a pair with both cards
down, this is called a pocket pair.
If you are dealt a split pair of 10s
and a player with an 8 bets, you
should raise (because you put him on a pair of 8s).
If an ace raises, that’s different; he could have split
aces, so just call. You should know if there are any 8s
or aces out, which will help you decide if you want
to continue the hand.
When making the decision of
whether or not to enter a pot or call
a raise, ask yourself, “Is this a mistake?” If you can
honestly answer, “No, this is correct,” then go for it.
Next card, do the same ritual. It will become second
nature. You won’t always be right, but it will pay off
in the long run.
In stud as in any poker game, you
can make mistakes or play badly
and win. That is the luck factor. But if you want to be
a consistent winner, you must play mistake-free or
as close to mistake-free as possible.
Remember also that other players
make mistakes. If you are at one
end of a table with two big pair and your opponent
is at the other end of the table and calls a straight or
a flush at the showdown, do not muck your hand. If
you cannot see his hand, ask to see it.
It is the dealer’s responsibility to
read all hands. Always turn your
hand up. If your opponent has a four flush and mistakenly called a flush, the dealer cannot award the
pot to the winner (you) unless you have a hand. To
reiterate, do not toss your hand until you have seen
a five-card hand that can beat yours, no matter
what your opponent announces.
Seven-Card Stud Tips for the
Intermediate Player
George Percy, a seven-card stud
expert from the 1970s and ’80s
wrote a poker primer in 1979 called Seven-Card
Stud: The Waiting Game. It was the primary source
for the beginning study of seven-card stud for ten
years. Stud is considered a waiting game because
you really need to wait for good starting hands.
Stud is also called the memory
game. If you have a photographic
memory, seven-card stud is a great game for you!
As mentioned, one of the best lessons you can learn early on is how
to read the board, but as you get more skilled at
seven-card stud you will need knowledge of your
Once you figure out how your
opponents play, you have a distinct
advantage in the game. If you know a player is a
rock, you should play only great big hands against
him, and you also can often make him lay down the
best hand.
Example: If you have pocket 3s with
a king up and the rock is the only
player to enter the pot and he has a queen (he very
well may have two queens), you can raise. He will
put you on split kings. If he doesn’t help his queens
by fifth street and you keep hammering, he will
probably fold.
If your opponents are playing only
their cards (that is, not paying
attention to what is being dealt to other players)
and playing only when they have a hand, you can
do some ante stealing. Ante stealing is raising on
third street with your goal being solely to steal the
antes and the low-card bring-in money.
You do not necessarily have to have
an opening hand to be a thief,
although a big upcard is good to have for the visual
effect. Most importantly you need position and
heart. The thought on this is simply to stay a bit
ahead of the game if you aren’t getting any hands.
The higher the limit game you play,
the more important ante stealing
becomes. It is of course of no importance in lowlimit games because there is no ante to steal. However, as you go up in limits, $15-$30, $20-$40,
$30-$60, and so forth, the higher the limit, the more
ante money is in the pot, often just waiting to be
Remember: poker is the one area in
your life where lying and stealing
are okay. In fact, these “traits” are not just okay; you
must have them to be a winning player!
Example: You are playing a $15-$30
game where the ante is $2 and the
bring-in is $5. Let’s figure conservatively that thirty
hands will be dealt in an hour. That is a cost to you
of at least $60 an hour to play and that isn’t adding
in any $5 forced bring-in bets.
So we’ll say it is costing you $75 an
hour. If you win some hands, that’s
good. But if you add in some ante stealing, that’s
another $21 (eight players plus the low card that
you can accumulate). Done three or four times an
hour, this can really add up.
Example: You have a jack up and
are the last to act. No one has
entered the pot. Raise it and you can probably take
If you are in late position to act and
can tell that the players that are
going to act after you plan to fold, raise it and you
can probably take it.
There will be exceptions to this of
course; that’s poker. Occasionally
the low card bring-in will wake up with a big hand,
but even if he calls, you could make a pair on fourth
street. You can’t get away with habitual ante stealing, but if you know how your opponents are playing, you’ll have a good feeling of when you can do it.
You also can steal antes from experienced players. If you act after they
do and they have folded, they simply can’t stop you.
When done correctly, ante stealing can be profitable.
As the levels increase, stealing antes
becomes a very important strategy
in a seven-card stud tournament. You must steal in
order to stay alive.
If you have decided to steal the
antes (and this should almost
always be from late position), and you get raised,
fold immediately if you don’t have a hand. Cut your
losses. As long as you win two out of three, you’re
Remember, you cannot steal if a
player has already entered the pot.
He came in with something. Just wait for a better
Always have the idea to steal the
antes in the back of your mind if
you are last or late to act. This is especially true in
seven-card stud tournaments. Get away with as
much as you can.
In tournaments, you can steal from
earlier positions if you have the
highest card on the board. If an aggressive player is
stealing a lot in front of you and not giving you the
opportunity to be the “thief of the hand,” wait for a
marginal starting hand and then reraise him. Try to
steal his steal. This is called a resteal.
Going after straights and flushes in
live play is one thing. Pot odds and
your outs will dictate whether or not you take the
gamble. However, in stud tournaments stay away
from those drawing hands if at all possible. You cannot replace those chips if you miss your draw. It
could easily mean elimination from the competition.
Example: In live play if the bully
raises every time he has the high
card on board, wait for a small pair or three to a
straight or three to a flush and then pop him back.
He should back off, but if he calls and then checks
to you on fourth street—you should bet it again.
The flip side of the bully coin is the
passive, tight, weak player. Anytime
he comes alive and jumps in with a raise you should
fold unless you have a huge, made hand. It is unlikely
that he would raise unless he had a big hand.
If you have to open with the low card
and you have a big pocket pair, do
not start pushing until fourth street. This will completely befuddle your opponents. Example: You have
kings in the pocket but have to bring it in with a 3.
There are two callers and a jack raises. Just call the
raise as the others will probably do. Let’s say you
catch a 10 on fourth street. The jack bets, and then
you raise. It will appear that the 10 helped your hand,
making either two pair or three 10s. If the hand is
played to the river, your kings will be a surprise.
Seven-Card Stud Tips for the
Advanced Player
Staying focused is important in any
poker game but staying focused
and paying attention is extremely important in
seven-card stud. Knowing what is going on and
what cards are out is an important weapon in your
Stud is very much a game of memory. You must try to remember what
is on the board in relation to your own hand and in
relation to others. Without a photographic memory,
this is not easy but becomes easier with practice.
Example: You are dealt a 10, a jack,
and a queen. You need a 9 or a king
to make a four-straight. You also could pair any of
your cards, so you need to look around the board
quickly and make a mental note of how many of
your needed cards are out. The cards you are looking for are 8s, 9s, 10s, jacks, queens, kings, and aces.
If you catch a 9, you’ll need to remember if the 8s
are alive. If you catch a king, what is the status of
aces? And of course, you could pair at any time, giving you another direction to take the hand.
You also need to remember cards
that could help or hurt your opponent. Did a 7♦ catch a 3♦ and raise into a bunch of
overcards on fourth street? If so, he may be going for
a diamond flush. Have you noticed how many diamonds are out?
To be a winning poker player you
must have confidence and trust
your own judgment. As situations arise in various
hands, analyze what you believe is happening, make
a judgment, and do not second-guess yourself.
Example: You are dealt split 10s. A 3
opens the betting, you call, and a
K♣ calls. He does not raise, so you don’t put him on
split kings. There are three other callers, so it is a
five-way pot. You have a king with your 10s and on
fourth street another king hits the board so you
know he is not slow-playing rolled up kings. You
catch a blank as does everyone else, but the K♣
catches a 3♣. An ace checks, you bet, the K-3 raises.
You have not seen many clubs out so you immediately put him on a club flush draw.
He catches a blank on fifth street, as
do you, but another player makes
an open pair of 3s. The 3s check, as do you with your
10s, and the K-3 also checks. He raised on fourth
street to try for a free draw on fifth street and it
worked. He catches a club on fifth street and you
catch a third 10. Now what?
You know he has a club flush. Everyone checks to him and he bets; now
it’s just you and him in the pot. Of course you go for a
full house, but you don’t fill up. This is where you listen to your original determination of his or her hand
and fold your trips. Do not—I repeat do not—now try
to talk yourself out of your original analogy of his
hand. It’s time to make one of those tough laydowns.
Remember the poker adage; money saved
spends as well as money won.
I have suggested you start with
good starting hands, but what do
you do if you don’t improve? Example: You start with
split aces and you play them tough. By the river, you
haven’t even made a second pair. What do you do?
This is where knowing your player
is so very important. First of all,
check if a conservative player bets because he probably has you beat. On the other hand, if you are
against only a skilled player who also has not
improved his hand, a check-call would be in order.
At the opposite end of this scenario
is the instance when you make a
huge hand. How do you get the most profit from
your opponent? It depends on many factors.
If you fill up on the river and have no
pair showing, you are most likely in
the lead. If you fill up and do have a pair showing, the
best circumstance will be if your opponent had been
drawing to a straight or a flush and made his hand.
If this is the case, whether or not
you bet depends on how your
opponent plays. If he is an inexperienced player,
you may be able to get a check-raise out of him.
If he is experienced he may raise
you, but he also will call a reraise
with his flush or straight, just in case he believes you
have two high pair or trips. He will want to believe
that you have a hand that he can beat. You may even
be able to induce a bluff bet from him if he missed
his flush but believes you are a strong enough
player to lay down two pair.
Bluffing is in the bag of tricks of any
good poker player, the seven-card
stud player included. You set up a bluff just as in a
hold’em game. You begin by representing yourself
as a solid player. You have raised or reraised with
nothing but what you were representing for hours.
When the time is right and you have
two small cards down and an ace or
a king up, raise it. The time will be right if you are
playing against no maniacs and you believe that the
other players will fold.
You can occasionally get a weak
player to fold the best hand. Don’t
try to get away with this too many times.
Example: You have a pair of 3s in
the pocket and a jack up. A tight
player enters the pot with a 10 for the minimum bet
because he has a queen and your jack to act behind
him. The queen folds, and you raise. Even if your
tight opponent has a pair of split 10s, if he calls and
checks on fourth street and you bet, in all likelihood
he is going to fold.
Sometimes you might have to carry
a bluff or a semibluff through fifth
street. In doing so, you may even make a hand.
However, if you bluff through fifth street and still
have nothing, but a player is calling you, it is time to
give up the bluff. He is in the pot with something.
Just check and hope he checks and gives you a free
card because if he bets, you need to fold.
There will be times to sacrifice
chips in order to save chips. One of
these times is a busted bluff.
Never, ever give a player a free card
on fifth street when running a bluff.
That is when the bet doubles and when he might
decide it’s time to give up because of the strength
you are showing (you sly fox).
It is different being the bluffer or
the bluffee. If you suspect someone
is doing a lot of bluffing, do not chase him without
some strength. The more he bluffs, the less strength
you need—but attack aggressively. Don’t be calling!
A good rule of thumb for bluffing is
to bluff more at the tighter tables
and bluff less at the looser tables. If you don’t like
your table, change tables!
If you’re in a tournament, you do
not have the option of changing
tables. Sit tight; eventually your tournament table
will break and you can start fresh at a new table. I
have been in major tournaments and literally
waited hours for a starting hand, surviving only on
a few stolen antes here and there. But suddenly with
a little rush and three or four winning hands, you
can be way ahead of the game. You’ll go from the
outhouse to the penthouse in a period of fifteen or
twenty minutes. Patience!
When a player bets or raises aggressively with a pair showing, give him
credit for his play unless he is a total loose canon.
Give him credit for at least two pair if not trips. Do
not stay unless you have two pair that you think is
higher than his two pair might be.
The exception to this rule is if you
are on a straight or a flush draw and
the cards you need are live. Take this into consideration: Go after straights and flushes in multiway
pots. This increases your pot odds. Going after a
drawing hand heads-up with only a small amount
in the pot is not worth the risk.
It often is a good idea to semibluffraise with a good draw rather than
to just call. This is especially true if your board looks
threatening (like high suited connectors). Example:
You have a 2♦-7♣, down and your board show is
A♦-J♦-Q♦. You do not have a made hand, but it
looks like you could have a huge made hand.
The exception is if it is seventh
street. Then you have waited too
long and you do not have the out of a draw. You
should have made the move on sixth street.
Keep in mind that seven-card stud
takes constant concentration not
only on your hand and the cards you need but also
on the changing strengths of your opponents’ hands.
Example: You put your opponent on a small pair and
you have a medium pair. If your opponent catches an
ace and check-raises, he probably made aces-up.
From another aspect of playing
winning poker: you can be a poker
superstar but if you are not in an emotional state to
play, you will not win. A quote from Daniel Negreanu, “You’ve got to realize that when you’re doing
poorly, it’s often based on your mental state. If
you’re having trouble in your life, it’s virtually
impossible to do well at poker.”
If you have a lot of money or have
built a good-sized bankroll from
playing seven-card stud and decide to venture to
the higher limits, proceed cautiously. You will be
tiptoeing through a minefield.
Keep this in mind: players in $50$100 games are usually very sophisticated and they will do a lot more bluffing than in
mid-range limit games. They often will try to use the
power of their money versus the power of their
cards, so be prepared.
If you are winning and comfortable
in your mid-level games, I suggest
you stay there. Step up only if you need that adrenaline rush, and can afford to pay for it.
There also is nothing wrong with
stepping up limits, giving it a try,
feeling uncomfortable, and stepping back down.
The level you do the best in is called your comfort
zone. If you are smart enough to recognize your
comfort zone, you’ll be a winning player.
For those who want that high-limit
adrenaline rush but really can’t
afford it, play a poker tournament. You could end
up playing $2,000-$4,000 and winning a lot of
money for a relatively small investment.
You can be the best stud player in
the world, but if you are not a good
money manager both on and off the poker table, you
eventually will have no money to manage. Some bad
habits to avoid include gambling (sports, craps, slot
machines, and so forth). You’ll have easy access to
these things at most casinos, but they’re a good way
to squander your hard-won poker earnings.
Razz is far from being one of the most popular
poker games in the world. As a matter of fact, you
will hardly ever find the game of razz in casinos or
in Internet poker emporiums. But some folks love it,
so it is often played in home games or some games
of dealer’s choice. In dealer’s choice, the deal rotates
around the table (clockwise) and each player who
has the deal calls the game. The dealer usually
selects poker favorites such as limit and no-limit
hold’em and seven-card stud, but it is possible in
one round that you could end up playing seven or
eight different games.
Razz is still played in some major poker tournaments that offer mixed games. As of this writing,
razz was still on the agenda of the World Series of
Poker, crowning a new world razz champion annually. Ironically, this makes razz a game that is by and
large found at two extreme ends of the poker community, home games and world championships!
In the simplest definition, razz is the opposite of
seven-card stud. In seven-card stud you are always
trying to make the best five-card hand out of seven
cards. In razz, you want to do the exact opposite;
you try to make the worst five-card hand out of
seven cards. The ante, the deal, the betting rounds,
and the showdown are the same as seven-card stud.
Razz truly is one of the easiest poker games to
learn. As with all poker games, learning the basics of
razz is a piece of cake, but the nuances can be difficult to learn and mastering them is what will determine if you are a winning or a losing razz player.
If you’re looking for a fun game to add to your
poker repertoire, razz may be the one. I believe it’s
important that you know the basic principals of
razz because it will help you grasp seven-card-stud
high-low eight-or-better, which is a popular game
that is something of a combination of seven-card
stud and razz.
A Note about Low Hands
You already know what a good high hand is, but
what about good low hands? The best low hand is a
wheel or bicycle, which is 5,4,3,2,A (1). You always
rank low hands from the highest card down—the
lower the highest card is, the better. For example:
7,6,5,3,2 (a “seven low”) would lose to 6,5,4,2,1 (a
“six low”). It also would lose to 7,6,5,4,2. The 7,6,5,3
is lower than the 7,6,5,4 because the 3 card is lower
than the 4 card. Get it? With practice, it becomes
A good low hand would be a six low or a good
seven low. Although an eight low can win the hand
or half the hand in split games, don’t go for an eight
low, it can too easily be beaten.
Razz Tips for the Beginner
Your goal in razz is the opposite of
your goal in seven-card stud.
Rather than making the best high hand, you want to
make the worst hand or the best low hand. Players
who are running bad in stud will often try razz to
see if their terrible hands will continue coming
because if they do, those same hands will be of
value to them in a razz game.
Going for low does not mean a low
pair. A pair, even a pair of deuces,
will seldom win in razz unless you are playing
heads-up in a tournament or shorthanded.
RAZZ 177
An ace is always low. The wheel, 54-3-2-1(ace) is the best razz hand
you can make. Straights and flushes do not impair
the low card value.
What will most often win in razz is a
six, seven, or eight low. Example: 65-3-2-1 (ace), or 7-6-5-4-2 or 8-7-5-3-1. There will
be times that a 10 or a jack low will win but that isn’t
the type of hand you will be trying to make.
A wheel is also known as a bicycle.
FYI: The Bicycle Casino in Bell Gardens is named after this perfect razz hand.
In razz you can make a baby
straight flush, and even though that
is a magnificent high hand in all forms of poker, it is
also a terrific low hand for razz. That is an exception
to the worst-hand-wins rule in razz.
In seven-card stud the lowest card
opens the betting after the deal. In
razz the highest card opens. A king is the highest
since the ace is considered low (a 1, so to speak) in
razz. On fourth, fifth, sixth streets and the river, the
lowest hand starts the action, which is also the
reverse from stud high.
If you are playing against a good
player who stays in on fifth street
after catching a brick (big card: 9 or above), he will
have a low door card, a low card on fourth street,
and you can bet he has two low hole cards. Example: He has a 3 for his door card, a 5 fourth-street
card, and he catches a king on fifth street but calls a
bet to see sixth street.
Watching the board is as important
in razz as in seven-card stud. You
should look for cards that you need or cards that
could hurt (or help) your opponents.
Example: You are dealt 7-5-3. If one
of your opponents catches a king,
that’s good because that hurt his hand, and if
another opponent is dealt a 7, that’s good for you too
because that is one 7 that you don’t have to worry
about hitting and hurting your hand by giving you a
pair. You do not want a pair of 7s or a pair of anything. You want low cards—the lower, the better.
If you are the one who catches a
king or another brick and your
opponents catch low, say good-bye and wait for the
next hand. If you chase cards in razz, you will be a
losing player.
RAZZ 179
Babies, babies, babies, that’s what
you want on the deal in razz. Do not
consider an 8 a baby. As a matter of fact, if you are
dealt 8, 7, and 6, as intriguing as it appears, if there
are two or more players left to act after you and they
are showing a sprinkling of aces, 2s, and 3s, again
say good-bye and muck that adolescent hand.
However, if you have that 8 high on
the deal and the players yet to act
have bigger cards, it is okay to take fourth street; you
might even consider raising if your 8 is down and
you have a baby up. If you catch another baby that
does not give you a pair, you should be in good
shape to continue with the hand.
If you catch a brick on fourth you
probably will be finished with this
hand. Remember, going to fifth street is the decision time in a seven-card game because that is
when the bet doubles. You should see the fifth card
only if it is checked to you.
Warning: razz can be hazardous to
your psychological well-being. If
you are not patient—extremely patient—and eventempered, don’t play razz. It will seem as if you will
catch babies over and over again through fourth
street and then brick, banana, brick. It’s enough to
make you pull your hair out!
As Linda Johnson, the 1997 World
Razz Champion says, “Whoever
stays calmest, is the most patient, and goes on tilt
the least will get the money in razz.” So wait and
watch and when those bananas and bricks come
flying at you, just muck, take a deep breath, wait,
and watch some more, and you can be a winning
razz player.
Razz Tips for the Intermediate
Chasing in razz can be just as
expensive (and as dumb) as chasing in stud. If you are playing an eight low and looking at two players, both with seven lows—don’t
chase. Wait for the next opportunity. Just as in any
other poker game, money saved is as important to
your bottom line as money won.
RAZZ 181
It is okay to call after the deal with a
8-7 low or even a 9-8 low provided
your opponents are high, 10-9 or J-10 and so forth.
Whether or not you call to see fourth street will
depend on how the board looks in relation to your
If you catch a baby on fourth—
great! As a matter of fact, a fourcard hand is so much better than a three-card hand
in razz, as opposed to stud that fourth street
becomes more important in razz than in stud. All
the better if there are not a lot of the babies you
need to complete your hand on the board.
Whereas you bluff or semibluff with
high cards and pairs in stud, the
scare cards in razz are the little cards. Again, bluff
only if your opponent is bluffable.
Example: You are dealt an ace and a
3 down and a 4 up. Naturally, you
call or maybe even raise the pot. On fourth street
you pair your 3 but your board looks great with a 3
and a 4. You are against two other players and one
catches a 10 and the other a king. Try a bluff; you
didn’t help your hand on fourth street but they don’t
know that. They didn’t help their hands and you do
know that.
While it is not unusual to see four,
five, even six–way pots in stud, it is
unusual in razz. Most often, razz hands are played
two or three-way from third street on. The reason:
when a big card hits, a good razz player releases.
Professor McEvoy says, “You never
should play on third street with a
bad card against more than one other player. If you
set that idea in stone, you’ll be far ahead of the
As is true in all poker games, know
how your opponents play. It can
win pots for you. In razz, if the high-card bring-in
player almost always throws his hand away to a
raise, remember that. Then, when opportunity
knocks, open the door. Example: If you have a baby
up, no one has entered the pot, and you are last to
act against this particular high-card bring-in, by all
means, raise.
Entering a pot with an 8 low is not a
good idea unless your 8 is the lowest card on the board. Even then, it is better if your
8 is down.
RAZZ 183
Seldom will you call a raise with a
high card. The exception is if a
player is continually raising when you have a high
card and you think he is stealing. In that case, you
need two extremely low cards to defend. If you don’t
catch a low fourth street, say goodbye. If you do
catch good, stick around for fifth street. If all goes
well, by sixth street you may actually have a hand.
At the very least you will slow the bully down when
he is playing against you.
If you have a four-card seven made
on fourth street, you probably will
be going to the river with the hand. The exception
would be if babies are falling all around and you are
catching a bunch of bananas (big cards). If there is
a lot of action, you may decide to wait for a better
opportunity. This is especially true in razz tournaments where you cannot buy more chips.
If you have limped into a pot with
an 8 down and two babies but you
catch a banana on fourth street, it should be an easy
decision to fold if your opponent caught good. It’s
an even easier decision if you’re against two players
and they both caught good.
Ante stealing is certainly a part of a
razz game but be selective. Late
position with two low cards (one being up, of
course) is a good time to become a thief. Never try
an ante steal with only one low card up (and two big
cards in the hole). It is too dangerous. An exception
to the rule is if everyone folds to your low card and
the bring-in has a paint.
A rough eight is like 8-7-6-5-3 while
a smooth eight is 8-4-3-2-1. If you
make a smooth eight but have some concern that
your opponent is making a seven low, don’t bet on
the river, just check and call.
Razz Tips for the Advanced Player
Don’t just raise but reraise as well
on third street if a low card raises
and you have three very good low cards. The only
exception is if the original raiser plays very tight.
Example: You have a 4 up, and a 3
raises. He could be bluffing and
with a reraise you could win it then and there or you
could be building the pot for yourself. If you are
called, this reraise also will give you pot odds to go
to fifth street if you catch a brick on fourth.
RAZZ 185
Some hands play themselves on
fourth street. In other words, a
fourth baby is easy to play—of course you see fifth
street. However, a good razz player will know what
cards can help or hinder his hand or his opponent’s
hand as well as his own. This must be taken into
consideration when deciding whether or not to
continue in a hand.
If you bet and are called on fourth
street, assume your opponent has a
good hand but not necessarily a great hand. However, if a rock calls, that is cause for concern
depending on what fifth street brings you both.
There will be times that a good
draw is better than a made hand.
For example, if you believe your opponent has a 109 or a J-10 made hand and you have 5-4-3-2, your
needed cards are live, but you catch a great big
brick, this is a good time to go for the draw.
If you are playing well, you know
how many of your cards are live. If
it’s a lot, go for it. When you catch, you’re in the driver’s seat. Although this situation is nerve wracking,
you will make more money if you catch your
needed card on the river. This will give your board a
look of deception. Your opponent could help his
hand but if you catch the perfect ace or 6 (maybe
even a 7 will do it), you’ll win a big pot.
If a good player enters a pot with a
call or a raise, you can conclude
that he has two smaller cards down. Example: He is
showing a 7; you can bet he has two cards lower
than a 7 down.
If you have a beautiful low draw
against one opponent after fourth
street but catch a brick on fifth street while he
catches perfect, it is okay to take the fifth card. This
scenario changes if you are against several players
who also show improvement or if you have seen
many of your needed cards hit the muck.
RAZZ 187
If you played a perfect draw to the
river against one opponent only to
end up with a nine low, it is okay to call if your
opponent’s board is non-threatening or if you
believe he is bluffing. If your board looks dangerous
(7-5-4-3), don’t just call if he bets—you should raise!
Don’t give him a chance to “win by accident.” This
means if he has a 9-8 low, he may fold to a raise but
if you just call his bet when he wouldn’t have called
your raise, at the showdown he will win the pot by
Razz is a great game for a change of pace but like
all poker games, patience is of utmost importance.
If you want action, visit a craps table!
Seven-Card Stud
High-Low Split
Seven-card stud high-low split eight-or-better definitely holds the distinction of having the longest
name for a game of poker. The shortcut names are
simply stud split, stud eight-or-better, or stud eight.
The game itself is sort of a combination of sevencard stud and razz; the highest hand wins half the
pot and the lowest hand wins half the pot. The
eight-or-better means that when playing for low, a
player must make a low with an 8 or less. This is
called a qualifier. There also is a game of seven-card
stud split with no qualifier, which means that any
low will win, as in razz. In eight-or-better the deal
and the betting rounds are the same as stud or razz.
One player will win with the highest hand and
one with the lowest. A player certainly can win both
ways; that’s called “scooping the pot” and this is the
whole idea of this game. You always want to start
out with the purpose of scooping the pot but it
won’t always work out. You will often make a high
hand when you started in the direction of a low
hand or a low when you started out headed for a
high hand. It’s sort of like getting lost on your way to
a destination when you thought you knew the
direction. You get totally misplaced but somehow
you end up right where you wanted to be. You got
there by an alternative route and everything worked
out okay.
Eight-or-better is not available in many poker
rooms in Vegas with the exception of higher limit
games. One reason is that any split game is slower
than non-split games; therefore, there are fewer
hands dealt in an hour and the house makes less
money. Generally, if poker rooms spread stud (short
for seven-card stud high) about 25 percent of the
time, they also will spread eight-or-better. You can
find many lower limit, mid-limit, and high-limit
eight-or-better games in California. In Washington,
the Muckleshoot Casino offers $1-$4-$8 stud split;
in Connecticut, Foxwoods offers limits from low to
high; Bally’s Park Place in Atlantic City offers a variety of limits; and the Apache Gold in San Carlos, Arizona, offers low-limit stud eight-or-better. To be
sure, if you are looking strictly to play seven-card
stud high-low split, you should call before making
much of a trip and be specific. If they say, “Yes, we’ll
spread any game that is requested,” be certain that
the game you want is spread on a regular basis, not
once every six months or only on weekends. It is a
fun game to play at home, and you can find the
game in many of the poker rooms on the Internet
for practice.
Study and practice the following tips and
become a winning seven-card stud high-low split
eight-or-better player.
Stud Eight-or-Better Tips for the
If you are new to the game, you
might think it sounds like fun simply because you can play more hands because you
have two win opportunities. Wrong! If you play correctly, you probably will play fewer hands than in
stud high.
As mentioned, your goal should be
to scoop the pot every time you get
involved in a hand. The way to do that is to start
with three low cards that have the possibility of a
low straight, a wheel, or a low flush. Scooper! (Most
of the time.)
The object of this game is to win the
whole pot every time, not just part
of it. I call it my golden rule. Todd Brunson is the son
of the world’s poker guru, Doyle Brunson. I guess
you might call him the Guru Jr. He has been winning
poker championships since he turned twenty-one,
and he is an expert seven-card stud eight-or-better
player, so much so that his father had him write the
chapter on the game in his book Super Systems 2.
Todd calls the scooping concept the platinum rule.
Young Brunson advises, “When you
are deciding whether or not to
enter a pot or proceed to the next street, you should
always ask yourself, ‘Can I scoop this whole pot? Or
am I playing for half?’ If you are only playing for
half, strongly consider folding.”
When evaluating your hand, keep
in mind that the value of a low hand
is determined from the top, not the bottom. Example: An 8-7-5-2-A will lose to an 8-6-5-3-A. If you
valued the hand from the bottom, the 2-A would
beat the 3-A, but that isn’t how it works. The 8-6
beats the 8-7. Get it?
The perfect low is 5-4-3-2-A. This
will usually win both the high and
the low but definitely the low. A perfect 6 is 6-4-3-2A and a perfect 7 is 7-4-3-2-A.
Now your turn: Which is the better
low hand? 8-7-3-2-A or 8-6-5-4-2?
Again the 8-6 beats the 8-7 every time.
One more time: Which is the best
low hand? 2-3-4-5-7 or A-2-4-6-7?
The 7-5 beats the 7-6. Once you get it, you’ll never
even consider counting from the bottom.
Although eight-or-better resembles
stud high in the way it is dealt and
the betting rounds, they are not related—not even
second cousins. You need to put stud high out of
your mind as far as starting hand requirements are
In stud eight, the low card brings it
in but on the remaining rounds the
high hand acts first with either a check or a bet. So
your first decision will be whether you will or you
won’t enter this pot. Ask yourself, “Do I have scoop
In a casino, cards speak. That means
you do not have to declare if you are
going high, low, or both. Simply turn your cards over
and the dealer will read them and then either split
the pot or push the whole thing to you (if you play
the way I tell you to).
You absolutely can use the same
card or cards to go high or low.
Example: After seven cards you have 7-5-4-2-A-5-A.
You have a low using the ace and the 5 and you have
a high using the aces and the 5s.
You should be on the lookout for
three small-connected cards (5-43), three baby flush cards (6♥-3♥-2♥) or three
babies with a gap to a straight (5-3-2, or 7-5-4 and
so forth). These are the ideal starting hands because
they can so easily turn into a high (baby straight or
baby flush) or a low.
As in stud or razz, study that board.
What cards do you need to complete your hand? What does it look like your opponents need?
Do not play a big pair as you would
in stud. Aces are the only exception,
as aces with a baby is a good starting hand, especially split aces because your opponents won’t know
which way you are going and hopefully you’ll win a
As your knowledge increases (and
in tournament play), you can add
queens and kings. But for now, consider them dangerous.
As a general rule, never enter a
hand with thoughts of going high,
especially with middle pair. Whether your kicker is a
baby or a biggie, these hands are taboo. How can
you possibly expect to scoop with a pair of 9s or 10s?
One exception on going high is with
a rolled up hand. Your goal will still
be to scoop the pot by putting pressure on the low
draws and building the pot. Hopefully you’ll either
get rid of the drawing hands before the river or they
will not make a low.
When you do have a big high hand
and you are against what you believe
to be a low, never assume and never stop raising.
Many beginning players will just call a bet or even
check because they are thinking the pot will be split
when in fact their opponent had started for low, made
two baby pair along the way, and didn’t make the low
at all. You’re going to scoop so don’t miss a bet.
Also if you believe you have the best
low, especially if you have a low
straight and you are against a low, bet or raise. He
may have a good low but not as good as yours.
Seldom will you start with a high
draw and end up with a low hand.
That is why you don’t start out to make a high hand.
It is much easier for the low hand to end up qualifying for high than it is for the high hand to end up
turning into a low.
Let’s say you start with 5-3-A and end
up catching a 2 and a 4 to make a
wheel. It takes five cards to make a low hand; a high
hand can win with ace high or any single pair. That is
why you can easily “back into” a high hand when you
started out with three pretty babies. You could have
your low hand made in five or six cards and then pair,
double pair, or even make trips to make a high also.
Each card can bring new possibilities or new disappointments. It can
make you crazy when your first four cards are little
bitty non-paired babies and then brick, brick, and
brick. As you have to do when getting aces cracked
in hold’em, take a deep breath and move on to the
next hand. (You gotta have heart, miles and miles
and miles of heart. I bet the fellow who wrote the
song with that phrase was a poker player!)
Do not consider any three low cards
playable. Don’t even start with three
lows if one is an 8. At best, this hand will be
marginal; it loses to all other lows, except an 8. There
are exceptions. (See Tips for the Intermediate.)
You may win some pots with an
eight low, but that should happen
accidentally. The problem with an 8 is that it is the
worst low. You may make an eight low with an 8-7-42-A, only to be beaten by an 8-6 low (e.g., 8-6-4-3-A).
Now that you know what it takes to
make low hands and how to read the
board, you will know if you have made a low and your
opponents are going high. In this case, raise until your
socks melt. It is a sweet position to be in if you have
two or three high hands battling it out, and you know
you’re going to get half the pot. Class dismissed.
Stud Eight-or-Better Tips for the
Intermediate Player
Many inexperienced stud high-low
players will play more hands than
they should because they are lured to chase either
end of that rainbow. You should look for reasons not
to enter a pot. You will be winning money from
those who find reasons to stay in a pot.
The single most important card in
this game is an ace. Try not to enter
a pot without one. As Professor Tom McEvoy, the
1983 World Champion says, “The ace in stud eight is
like my American Express card. I try not to leave
home without one.”
Of course, nothing in poker is set in
stone. You will enter many pots
without an ace, but you should be doing so with
babies. Examples: 4-3-2 and 5-3-2, and 6-4-3. These
are fine, especially suited or even two-suited.
While the ace is the most important
card to start with, the 5 is the second most important. Do you know why? Think
about it. Why wouldn’t it be a 2 since the goal is to
start with three babies?
You must have a 5 to make a small
straight or a wheel. Note: You cannot
make any straight without a 5 or a 10 in your hand.
Your thinking has to do a reverse
from stud high when you play
eight-or-better. Unless you are in a stud high-low
tournament, consider big pairs (that you would love
to play in stud high) a dog of a hand unless they are
aces, preferable with a baby.
The only time to consider playing a
big pair—kings or queens—is from
late position against a low draw. If you do, enter the
pot with a raise. You would prefer to take it then and
If you start a hand with three babies
and catch a fourth on fourth street
that doesn’t pair, you have almost an 80 percent
chance of winning the low end of the hand—provided
you have the lowest low. So go for the 6, maybe a 7,
and almost always avoid 8s in your starting hands.
That is why with four low cards,
especially if you have straight and
flush possibilities, you want to build the pot. Just be
sure your cards are live.
You will do less slow-playing in
high-low than in regular stud. You
will want to sandbag if you are rolled up or if you
have three baby suited connectors and all of your
cards are live. You want to encourage players, especially from early position, to put money in your pot.
If you help a rolled up hand, you
need to play it in such a way that
you have as many contributors as possible. This is a
case where you want the low to make a straight or a
flush. They will help you build the pot and you are
almost assured half the pot.
Of course any rolled up hand or
three or four suited babies can be
beaten, but you want to maximize your win rate
when you do have the opportunity. Those who don’t
maximize will win a lot of small pots and lose a lot
of big ones.
If you decide to play a pot whether
with a big hand or a nice baby
hand, you should believe that you are going to win
that pot. At the very least you should believe you
will win half of the pot.
Remember, you should seldom
enter a pot with an 8 in your hand.
The exception to the rule is ace, deuce, 8 suited, and
the cards needed to complete your hand are live. An
ace, deuce, or an ace-3 suited with an offsuit 8 is
okay. Again McEvoy says he will play that 8 all day
long as long as he has a baby and that powerful ace.
Stay in the hand only if fourth street helps you and
remember banking on an eight low is usually
Another time you can consider
playing an 8 is if you have connectors and a 5 with only one gap and your cards are
live. Example: 8-6-5. Even more inviting would be
an 8-6-5 that is suited.
You would not play this hand if your
suit was everywhere and you saw a
passel of 4s and 7s on the board. You must read the
board, not only for your needed cards but for what
your opponents might need.
Three big suited connectors is a
tempting hand to enter the pot
with. Examples: J♦-Q♦-K♦, or 10♠-J♠-Q♠. Do not
yield to temptation. You have nothing. Remember:
the idea is to scoop—that requires a low. (The only
way you could scoop the pot with only a high hand
is if the low doesn’t get there, but you can’t count on
that happening.)
Looks can be deceiving, but most
often you can tell whether a player
is going high or low by his door card. By fourth
street you should have an even better idea of the
direction your opponent is going.
If you have split aces with a little
card or a big buried pair with an ace
up, always bring it in with a raise. This is the most
confusing hand you can have in the eyes of your
opponents. They don’t know if you’re raising on a
high or a low.
If a queen or a king has raised
before you, reraise. This may run
low draws out.
It is easy to call a double raise if you
think you have the only low draw
and you have gobs of outs, but if it is an ace doing
the reraising, you should fold. If you don’t, you are
playing badly.
It is okay to enter an unraised pot
with a baby pair and a baby kicker.
Example: 2-4-2. Amazingly, unlike in stud high, a
baby pair or two pair will win the high end many
times. Of course your goal is always to scoop.
If you make two baby pair, be careful unless your two pair are acesup. It will take trips, a straight, or a flush to beat you.
Watch the board and put your opponents on hands
when deciding whether or not to proceed.
Remember, fifth street is decision
time. If you call on fifth street you
need a good hand or a great draw and your cards
should be live. Fifth street is when the bet doubles
and to continue is to commit yourself to the pot.
The inevitable exception to the rule
is if you catch bad on sixth and your
opponents catch good. Then it might be time to
rethink that commitment.
Stud Eight-or-Better Tips for the
Advanced Player
In the beginners section I mention
playing one-gapper starting hands.
As you advance and know how to read the board
and the other players, it is sometimes okay to enter
the pot with a two-gapper if your needed cards are
live. Example: 6-3-2 or 7-4-3. You must improve on
fourth street to continue.
If you are lucky enough to start out
with a great low draw like 3-2-A, or
4-3-2 suited and you see none of your needed cards,
play this hand aggressively from the get go. You’re
actually betting on the come but the odds are with
you. Just in case you make a low but someone has a
high and you have to split the pot, you want a
decent pot to split.
It is okay to play a big pair with a big
kicker against players who obviously are going low—but only if an ace is not looking back at you from their hands. These types of
hands can be trouble so proceed with caution.
With your goal always being to
scoop, if you do decide to play a big
pair against low draws, do so aggressively. Make the
players who are going for low pay a big price to see
all the cards. More often than not, if you are against
good players, they will fold sooner rather than later
(especially in tournament play). If they do stick
around, be on the lookout for little straights and
flushes. Ideally, one opponent will pick up a small
pair to encourage him to continue with the hand at
about the same time you trip up or double pair.
Avoid getting caught in the middle
but try to trap other players there if
you can. Example: You enter the pot with a 4-3-2.
You catch a jack on fourth and a low behind you
bets or raises. Let it go and wait.
Try to trap the players going low
with your great hands. If you
believe you have the best low made, raise until the
sun burns out. Example, you made an 6-4-3-2-A on
fifth and your opponent is showing a 7 and raising.
He may have a 7-5 made or a 7-4 but you are leading the pack with your 6-4. You need to feel confident that he hasn’t made a straight. That confidence
should come if you know that his straight cards are
There will also be times to allow
yourself to be trapped. Actually, you
will only appear to be trapped when really you are
holding a monster hand. Example: You have kings in
the pocket with a deuce up and you have to bring it in.
Four players limp in and you catch a king on fourth. A
queen bets and two lows call. Just call. If you fill up on
fifth, continue to slow-play. If you don’t make a full
house, throw it into high gear on fifth when the bet
doubles. The dream scenario is if you fill up on fifth,
the queen appears to be a flush or a flush draw and
one of the lows looks straight. Now you’re in the
driver’s seat for sure. Sit back and enjoy the ride. Don’t
raise until the river. This type of situation can make
your session—especially if the low doesn’t get there.
The only time to proceed to fifth
street if you started with a beautiful
low and caught a banana on fourth is if there is no
raise and your cards are live. Normally, three babies
and a brick means good-bye for this hand.
The exception is three babies and a
brick, four-suited. If you haven’t
seen your suit all over the place, you’ll want to continue with the hand. If you make four babies and a
four-flush, even with a brick, plan to take the path
that leads to the river. You have great potential for a
scooper—provided of course your needed cards
are live.
If you decide to take sixth street,
you should have at least four
babies. If you’re headed low or if you have decided
to take the high road, you should have at least two
pair, trips, or a four-flush. Three-of-a-kind should
have you way out front on the high end and you
have the potential of filling up if you need to.
Another fifth street concept: If you
have a made hand on fifth, whether
high or low, don’t raise. You don’t want to lose any
customers that want to give you money.
If it is checked to you on fifth and
you have your made hand, you may
even want to check along. Another McEvoy quote,
“The stronger your made hand on fifth street, the
slower you should play it.”
And another: “The weaker my
opponents, the more likely I am to
check in order to trap them. The more sophisticated
my opponents, the more likely I am to bet to make
them pay to try to draw out on me.” (If you are wondering why I quote Professor McEvoy so much, it is
because he was one of my very first poker teachers
and a very good one. I owe a lot of my success to this
one man.)
Get the most bang for your buck
when you make a nice low straight.
If you are against what appears to be one or two
high hands, and perhaps another low draw, just
check. Don’t raise—yet.
Usually in a seven-card game the
decision of whether or not you will
continue is made on fifth street when the bet doubles. In stud eight it is not so taboo to fold on sixth
street if you haven’t sufficiently improved. Example:
You started with 2♥-3♥-5♣, a strong low. You
caught a 6♥ on fourth. Looking good but now you
are seeing a lot of your needed cards out. You take
the fifth street card, hoping for an ace, a 7, or a
heart. Then boom, boom you catch brick, brick on
fifth and sixth. This is one of those times you should
fold on sixth. Sad but true.
As right as it is to build a pot when
you know you have a winner and to
slow-play with a monster, you also need to save bets
when you can. Example: You have two pair for high
against only a low. If his low cards look as if he could
make a straight, a check-call is the correct play. Save
a bet when you can.
Bluffing is certainly part of this
game. If you are last to act and you
have a high card, take it away. You will bluff less in
stud eight than stud high, but it is a tool of the trade.
Another good bluffing opportunity
is when you have an ace up with
middle cards behind you. Of course, as is true in any
poker game, you can’t bluff bad players. Your opponents have to at least be good enough to know that
in stud eight they shouldn’t play any middle cards.
Use deception to your advantage.
Example: You enter the pot with a 2,
and you have two 5s in the pocket. A queen raises, a
7 calls, and you decide to take one card because
your cards are live. Let’s say you catch an ace. The
bet is on you, you check, the queen bets, the 7
caught an 8 and calls; now you raise. This is a semibluff, but you might eliminate the queens because
he will probably think you paired aces, and you
might get rid of the rough low because he thinks
you’re lower.
Now let’s get complicated. If there is
a loose, aggressive player who you
believe is stealing a bit too much, wait for the right
opportunity and try a resteal. Example: The low
card opens and you are in late position with a hand
that generally requires you to call. If the thief raises
with a jack, don’t just call him, raise him. If he calls
but checks to you on fourth street, bet again. If he
bets on fourth and you still believe he’s just trying to
push you around, raise again. When the smoke
clears you could either make a hand or get him to
fold along the way. At the very least, you will slow
him down.
Stud high-low split eight-or-better
is a thinking (wo)man’s game. If you
want to drink and socialize, play low-limit hold’em.
I can’t say for sure whether the game of Omaha originated in Omaha, but I’ll take a good guess that
whoever developed the game is an action addict.
Even though you will have much more action in a
game of Omaha than hold’em, you’ll get even more
in Omaha high-low, which I’ll discuss in the next
chapter. For now, the subject is straight Omaha
Omaha is a flop game in which you are dealt four
hole cards. The flop, the turn, and the river are
played the same as in any hold’em game as is the
betting pattern. A round of betting follows the deal,
the flop, the turn, and the river, and then comes the
showdown. The big difference between Omaha and
hold’em is that you have a lot more combinations
with which to make your best five-card hand than
you do in hold’em. In hold’em you have seven cards
to work with and in Omaha you have nine cards to
make your best five-card hand. You must use two
cards out of your hand to make your best possible
high hand. If you believe you are a good hold’em
player do not think you automatically will be a good
Omaha player just because you have more ways to
make a hand. The strategy is very different. The
game is much more volatile than hold’em. True
Omaha players love to see an experienced hold’em
player arrive in their game for the first time.
Hold’em players often see Omaha as sort of double
hold’em because they have four cards to work with
rather than two. Not! Study the following tips before
your maiden voyage into Omaha territory. Otherwise, you will spend a lot of money (which will
make a lot of your new Omaha friends very happy)
while you discover just how different the games are.
The first big disappointment in Omaha is that if you
flop the nuts, they seldom will remain the nuts. That
can get very frustrating, but it’s just the beginning.
Omaha Tips for the Beginner
You will discover that there is more
preflop raising in Omaha than in
hold’em. If you generally would buy into a low-limit
hold’em game with $100, allow $200 in the same
limit Omaha game. You need more investment to
play, but your wins will be greater because it is such
an action-filled game.
You will notice many players getting into action almost every hand.
You must have the self-control to be conservative in
your hand selection. Wait on good solid starting
Many hands are unplayable. Example: Do not play if you pick up trips,
even aces. You would love to flop trips but you don’t
want to play with three of a kind in your hand. This
reduces your chances of flopping trips by 50 percent. Consider this hand a no-go-so-fold. If trips are
a no-go-so-fold, picking up quads is a double nogo-so-fold faster.
Other hands to avoid in Omaha
high are little straight draws and little flush draws. Example: 8-6-5-3, unsuited or 7♦5♦-4♠-2♠. These types of hands will be high risk
with low profit, so don’t even get involved.
Do not continue on a flush draw if
there is a pair on board. Full houses
are too likely. Example: You hold ace, 3 of hearts,
and an offsuit king and queen. The flop is 10♥-6♥10♠. Fold and wait for the next hand if the hand is
bet to you. Think about it. If the turn brings a jack♥,
yes, you have that beautiful nut flush. But what
good is it if someone is holding a 10 and a jack?
Now for the hands you can and
should play. Always play four cards
that can work together to make your hand. Example: A♦-J♦-Q♠-10♠. This example is a hand that is
double-suited, which makes it even stronger (preflop).
Another example of a doublesuited hand is A-10 suited with A-K
suited. This gives you a lot of outs for big hands; trip
aces or a full house, the nut straight, the nut flush,
even straight flushes and royals are possibilities.
Other good starting hands are high
double pairs. Examples: A-A-K-K
(raise preflop); K-K-Q-Q (raise from late position or
call a raise from any position); A-A-Q-Q (raise preflop or call all raises); K-K-J-J (raise or call raises); QQ-10-10 (raise preflop from late position or call a
raise from any position). Any combination of high
pairs is worth paying to see the flop. Being doublesuited adds strength to these hands. These examples have good potential for high straights, flushes,
trips, or full houses. These types of Omaha starting
hands make your heart smile, but be sure to keep a
poker face.
Lesser pairs such as J-J-10-10, Q-Q9-9, or 10-10-8-8 come further
down on the preference list but are okay hands with
which to see an unraised flop. Coming down the
starting hand ladder another rung are hands such
as 9-9-8-8, 8-8-7-7, or J-J-8-8. These could flop
playable hands, but they could just as easily flop
trouble hands. Enter the pot only from late position
and with no raise with such hands.
The hands that will win the most
money in Omaha are straights and
flushes. However, do not draw to these hands unless
you are drawing to the nut straight or flush and
there is no pair on the board.
When drawing to a straight, try to
have a “wraparound” hand. Example: Q-J-10-9 or K-Q-J-10. Wraparound hands are
hands that can make a straight from either end.
Example: With A-K-Q-J, only a 10 can make a
straight, but with K-Q-J-10, a 9 or an ace will make
the straight—that’s a wrap!
Two of the best starting hands in
Omaha are A-A-K-K, double-suited
and A-A-J-10, double-suited. Being double-suited
adds nut flush draw strength. Being single-suited is
okay too. Any of these starting hands are worth a
preflop raise. If you are not single or double-suited
with these hands, just call before the flop.
High cards are preferable but not
necessary. Small cards that are four
connectors (wraparound hands) or that are connectors with a pair are okay. Example: 7-6-5-4, or 10-98-7, or 8-7-7-6, or 9-9-8-7.
When playing these small or middle
cards that work together, don’t even
think about being suited. What are you going to do
if you flop an 8- or 9-high flush? No, you’re looking
for sets, full houses, or nut straights.
Remember Omaha is a game full of
busted hands and disappointments, so patience and perseverance are an
absolute part of your game plan if you are to be successful. Also keep in mind that when you do make a
hand stand up, you usually will win a big pot
because of all the action.
Omaha Tips for the Intermediate
Omaha is a game where you want
to be going after the nut hand, not
the second nuts, especially in low-limit. Why?
Because in low-limit most players want to see the
flop; therefore most hands are multiway and all the
action builds the big pots! In multiway pots, the nut
hand is going to show up and win most of the time.
Many new Omaha players will play
too loosely. They will occasionally
make a hand with loose calls, but overall, their win
rate will be disastrous. As is true for the winning
player in any poker game, be wise when making
your hand selection.
Notice if a player is looking at the
board and back and forth to his
hand. This most likely indicates a straight or a
straight draw.
Stay away from the small and middle pairs. Sets don’t win very often
and even if you flop a set, someone may have
flopped a bigger set.
Playing big pairs is different. Example: K-K-Q-Q is a good starting
hand because you have big set or full house possibilities. Additionally, you have straight possibilities.
To reiterate, J-Q-K-A is a good
starting hand, especially if you are
double-suited. However, ace-little suited is not
such a good hand in Omaha high because you are
limiting yourself to the nut flush draw.
Consider this: your hand needs to be
coordinated. Example: A-J-A-10,
double-suited. This type of hand gives you a lot of
outs (a straight, a flush, or a full house, for example)
and the more outs you have the stronger your hand is.
Small coordinated cards are
playable in multiway unraised pots.
Examples: 6-6-5-4, or 7-7-6-5. If you do not hit
immediately, let it go like the cards are on fire!
Likewise, hands such as 10-9-8-7 or
6-5-4-3 are playable from late position. Again, if you don’t catch a perfect flop or draw
to the nuts, the hand is too hot to hold on to, so
dump it!
Do not draw to a straight if there are
flush cards on the board. Example:
You hold A-K-J-10, rainbow. The flop comes 9♠- 8♠3♠. Even though you hold an open-ended straight
draw, if there is a flush possibility, someone most
likely will have the spades.
Do not draw to a straight or a flush
if the flop brings any pair. If you
make a straight or a flush, somebody easily could
have you beat with a full house.
If you flop the nuts and a scare card
comes on the turn, proceed cautiously. If you find yourself in the middle of a raising
war, let it go, as you are most likely beat. Example:
You hold A♠-K♥-Q♦-10♠. The flop brings J♠-7♠-2♠.
Beautiful, you have flopped the nut flush. However,
if the turn brings the J♣ and it is bet and raised
before the action gets to you, it’s time to take a deep
breath and muck your hand because your beautiful
nut flush just turned to dust.
Among his many other titles, Tom
McEvoy is the 1992 Omaha High
World Champion. He says about the game, “Omaha
high can be brutal! It’s a cold, cruel world and it’s a
cold, cruel game.” (But it’s not as cold and cruel as
Omaha split, which is even more aggravating!)
Your disappointment and aggravation are soon forgotten when you
flop the nuts but hold your breath for the turn and
the river and hope that no scare cards come. If you
have bet the hand, as you should have, you will rake
in a nice-sized pot. All your enemies who were drawing at their hands either drop out or call your bet
with the second-best hand and you win this one!
Raising hands in Omaha high such
as A-K-Q-J, single or double-suited,
are preferable to a big pair with connectors like QQ-J-10. If you’re in late position, you may even want
to put in a raise or a reraise with these hands.
Omaha Tips for the Advanced Player
If you know that a player raises with
aces and paints or aces doublesuited only, and another player with the same criteria enters the pot, you may want to call that raise
with middle cards because you know where the aces
are. If you call with a hand like 7-6-5-4 or 7-7-5-4,
and flop a set or a small straight, you’ll probably
snap those aces right off.
Flopping top two pair in Omaha,
and sometimes only top pair when
against just one opponent, is often a good hand (top
two is of course, better). However, if there is action
before you, be very cautious if you flop bottom pair
or even bottom two pair.
Be prepared to dump bottom set
whether playing against one opponent or a whole herd of opposition. Remember,
there are a lot more sets made during one hand of
Omaha than in other games.
You should be bluffing less in
Omaha than the hold’em venues.
However, if you are last to act and you enter the pot
and flop top pair, and then a higher card comes on
the turn but it is checked to you, bet. If any straight
or flush possibilities died on the river and it is
checked to you again, bet it again, but only against
one or maybe two players. Don’t even consider
bluffing against three or more players. McEvoy calls
such a foolish move “Omaha suicide.”
T. J. Cloutier, a world champion
Omaha player and author (in conjunction with Tom McEvoy) of Championship
Omaha coined the word “dangler.” It means a card
that is of no use to your hand. Example: If you are
holding K-J-10-4, the four is a dangler. The other
three cards can work together to make a straight but
the four is useless, the dangler. Even if that four is
suited to the king, you don’t want to be drawing to
the second nuts.
T. J. advises, “Always play four cards
that work together. Try to avoid
having even one dangler.” He calls it “the danger of
the dangler.”
You want to see your opponents
entering pots with their danglers.
They may try to slip in with such hands, but as
McEvoy says, then they slip right out of the game
Position is less important in Omaha
high than in hold’em because there
are so many more playable hands. Forget about
stealing the blinds. This is just not part of the strategy of a good Omaha player because most of the
time you will have a showdown.
When you hit a flop with top set, a
nut straight, or flush, your question
to yourself should be, “How do I maximize my
profit?” Bet it out unless you are absolutely certain
one of your opponents will bet it if you check it to
him—and then check-raise.
Seldom will you check a big hand in
Omaha because your opponents
will probably call since Omaha is such a drawing
game. Another exception is if you flop a monster
like quads. Then you want to check or check and
call and try to let your opponents catch up a bit in
order to maximize your profit.
Omaha is an action game. Have the
self-control to wait for premium
starting hands and then if they fit the flop, play them
aggressively. You also must have the self-control to
muck a good starting hand before the turn card if the
flop doesn’t help your hand. If you can follow these
guidelines you will be a winning Omaha player.
High-Low Split
If Omaha is not fast-paced or action-filled enough
for you, you may enjoy the rip roaring pace of
Omaha high-low split. I suggested you fasten your
seatbelt when you enter a game of Omaha high. If
you want to join the Omaha high-low thrill ride, I
suggest you buckle up, use a double harness
shoulder strap, and have a roll bar!
“Omaha high-low was invented by a sadist and is
played by masochists,” is the way Shane Smith
humorously described the game. I guess this
description originated because of the horrible bad
beats that you must endure when playing Omaha
high-low. Of course, if you become an Omaha highlow player, you also will be distributing the bad
beats on a regular basis.
One of the addictive factors of playing Omaha
high-low eight-or-better, also known as Omaha
high-low, Omaha eight, and eight-or-better, are the
humongous pots that are more unusual than usual
in a game of low-limit poker. The pots can get so big
that you can literally take five or six beats in a row,
scoop one pot, and be back to even if not winners.
As in Omaha, each player receives four cards
from the dealer. As you find in hold’em and Omaha,
there is a flop, the turn, and the river with betting
rounds after the initial deal, the flop, the fourth
card, and the fifth card, followed by the showdown.
This is the point where the fun begins. You can use
two cards out of your hand to make a high hand and
two cards out of your hand to make a low hand. You
must use two cards out of your hand and three
board cards when going either way. (You cannot use
four board cards or play the board.) However, you
can use the same card to go one way or another.
Example: You may use an ace for your high hand
and then use that same ace again for the low, as long
as you use another card in your hand to go with it.
Omaha high-low is no different from Omaha in
that experienced players love to see the novice enter
their game. They may be ever so nice and polite, but
they are licking their chops and waiting for the kill.
If you believe that your experience in stud high-low
split has prepared you for the low end of Omaha
high-low and that your hold’em practice has you
ready for the high end, you are ever so wrong. Don’t
be the fish; be the fisherman. Read and study the
following tips and prepare yourself for an emotional
roller coaster before entering the murky waters in
the raging sea of Omaha high-low split. You might
get aggravated. You might win the biggest pot in
your poker career. One thing is for sure—you won’t
get bored!
Omaha High-Low Tips for the
The single most important tip to
remember about playing Omaha
high-low is that it is a game of the nuts. The second
nuts is a terrific hand in a lot of poker games, but
not this one!
You will be playing for the best high
hand and the best low hand. As
with seven-card stud eight-or-better your goal is to
scoop the pot. You want to play hands that have
high and low possibilities or high possibilities when
the low does not get there.
You will have two important decisions to make with each deal—
whether or not to play the hand before the flop and
then whether or not to continue after the flop. Making the correct decisions will determine whether
you will be a winning player or a contributing
player. Keep reading for the criteria for these decisions.
Remember, you must use two cards
out of your hand and three cards on
the board to make your best five-card hand. You
want all four of your cards to be able to work
together. Example 3-2-A-A double-suited such as
Raise and reraise with the nut high
hand but do not raise or reraise
with the nut low in a multiway pot because you
could get quartered. This means that if you hold the
2-A and that is the nut low and another player holds
another 2-A, you both win half of the low end of the
pot, which equals one quarter of the total pot. With
the nut low, you will be better off just checking and
calling. By being quartered you literally can lose
money even though you win part of the pot. There’s
a story about an Omaha high-low player who kept
making the nut low and stated, “If I keep winning
with my ace-deuces, I’ll go broke!” This is a player
who is being “quartered to death.”
World-class poker player Barbara
Enright has said, “The sweetest two
words I love to say in a game of Omaha high-low at
the showdown is, ‘Nut-nut.’” Nut-nut means the
nut high and the nut low. Even if a player is quartered on the low of a nut-nut hand, he will win
three-fourths of the pot.
In Omaha high-low, if three of your
four cards are 5 through 9, let the
hand go! Do not play three middle cards, whether
connectors or pairs.
As in Omaha high, the small and
middle pairs can be trouble hands.
Sets don’t win very often and even if you flop a set,
someone probably has flopped a bigger set or a full
Always look for reasons not to play a
hand rather than looking for any
excuse to play a hand. Playing too many hands is the
biggest mistake beginner Omaha eight players make.
Shane Smith, Omaha high-low
expert and author of Omaha Hi-Lo
Poker (Eight or Better) How to Win at the Lower Limits
preaches, “If it’s possible, it’s probable!” If it’s possible
for someone to have a higher high or a lower low than
you do, it is probable that he does. The moral? Play or
draw to the nuts only.
Smith also stresses the “Fit or Fold”
rule. When your hand doesn’t fit the
flop, fold. This is your cardinal rule: No matter how
pretty your starting hand is—fit or fold. If you hold
clubs and diamonds come, fold—it doesn’t fit. If you
hold high cards and low cards come, it doesn’t fit, so
The second biggest mistake beginner Omaha eight players make is
falling in love with their preflop hands and continuing to play them when they shouldn’t. If you play
correctly and patiently, you will be dealt another
beautiful four-card combination that will fit the
When going low remember that
your highest low card, as in stud
high-low, rates your hand. Example: 8-6-4-3-A will
lose to 7-6-5-2-A. The 7-6 is lower than the 8-6.
Another nerve-wracking, handwringing, head-banging situation
you will run into when playing Omaha high-low is
being counterfeited. Example: You have an A-3
suited and a K-J suited in your hand, and the flop
brings 8, 6, 2. You have the nut low. A beautiful
sight…unless the turn or the river brings a 3.
Because you must use two cards out of your hand,
your nut low just went down the toilet.
Keep in mind, if the flop brings
three cards higher than 8 (example:
Q-J-9 or K-J-10), there can be no low. Therefore a
high hand will be scooping the pot. If that is you,
play the hand aggressively unless there are fewer
than four players. With fewer than four players you
don’t want to lose a customer, so call if it is bet to
you or bet if it is checked, but don’t raise or reraise
until the river (and then only if your nuts are still the
Also note that straights and flushes
do not count against a low hand.
Example: If you hold the ace and deuce of clubs and
the board is 3♣-K♦-7♣-6♣-10♦, you have the nut
low with the 7-6-3-2-A and the nut high with an acehigh club flush. Nut-nut!
An ace is the most important card
in this game. It will serve the beginning player well to not play a hand without one.
Super Systems 2 refers to the ace as the “top of the
food chain” in Omaha high-low.
Double or single-suited aces with
small cards are great starting hands.
Examples: A♠-A♦-2♠-3♦, and A♦-A♣-2♠-4♦. Hands
such as these also help you to avoid getting counterfeited when going low, and they both have low
straight possibilities in addition to nut flush possibilities. (As beautiful as these starting hands are,
remember: if the flop doesn’t fit, fold!)
If the flop brings only one low card
when you are holding babies do not
stick around for the turn. Chasing a low with a twohigh-card flop is an absolute no-no.
Hands such as A-A-2-K and A-2-3K are also good starting hands.
They become more valuable if suited or doublesuited. These types of hands give you high and low
The advantage in Omaha high-low
is that there is a lot of action, creating big pots. The disadvantage is that you can have
the biggest nut-nut draw on the flop, miss it on the
turn, miss it on the river, and your scrumptious “top
of the food chain” starting hand needs to go down
the garbage disposal. If you can’t handle the heat,
stay out of the kitchen!
Reading Omaha high-low hands
takes practice. No other poker game
has more misread hands at the showdown (even by
some dealers). Before playing, try this: deal out six
four-card hands and five board cards. Read the best
high and the best low for all hands. Shuffle, deal, and
repeat. When you can see the best high and the best
low in each hand within about five seconds, you’re
ready for the Omaha high-low battlefield.
Omaha High-Low Tips for the
Intermediate Player
Your goal, of course, is to scoop the
pot when you play a hand. Keep this
in mind; a player who has decided to go both ways
after the deal does not win most pots that are
scooped. The scoopers will come either by a little ol’
wheel or by a high hand when the low does not get
there. Make sure this tip is burned into your mind
and select your starting hands accordingly.
All Omaha eight experts are
adamant about staying away from
middle cards—5s through 9s. Example: You hold 8-76-5. Yes, you may flop a straight or a straight draw but
know this, for this straight to be possible, there are
also low possibilities: which means that if you play
such cards and make your hand, you will win only
half the pot. (Remember the goal…scooper!) Terrible
odds if you intend to become a winning Omaha eight
player, therefore consider such hands taboo.
Most of the time it takes the nuts to
win in Omaha high-low. To reiterate, always draw to the nuts, particularly in lowlimit games. The exception to the rule occurs as you
go higher in the limits you play, or if you play
Omaha eight tournaments (in the late stages of the
event); you often will find a game where there are
fewer people involved in every pot simply because
of the cost to play. In this situation it won’t always
take a nut or a nut-nut hand to win. You will need to
adjust to the texture of the game, the limit you have
chosen, and how your opponents are playing.
In theory, you will see looser play
before the flop in lower limit
games, but you should play tighter after the flop.
In higher-limit games usually you should play
tighter before the flop and loosen up after the flop.
Your solid, waiting-on-the-proper-starting-hands
strategy does not change; you are changing
according to how your opponents are playing.
More often than not they are looser in low-limit
and more solid in higher limit. You have to make a
judgment call and play accordingly. I have heard of
$100-$200 limit games being as loose as $1-$2
games, but not often.
Keep in mind that scooping the pot
is the goal. An ace with two or three
babies is a great starting hand because of the little
straight possibilities in addition to the low hand
value. An ace with two babies and a paint is also
good because then you can go low and high.
There is an adage in hold’em: “If
you study long, you study wrong.”
Carry this thought over into your Omaha high-low
starting hands. If you are uncertain and have to
contemplate whether to play your hand or fold
before the flop, it’s best to just fold.
Many times a hold’em hand will
win without improvement. Example: aces, queens, and kings will often win with no
board help. In Omaha eight-or-better, hands almost
always need to improve to win.
This statistic does not mean you
shouldn’t raise before the flop. As a
matter of fact, you should raise with your premium
starting hands so that when you do hit, you win a
bigger pot.
Playing high-only hands is okay if
you can enter an unraised multiway
pot and be ready to jump ship if the flop does not
help your hand. Examples: A-K-J-J, or K-J-Q-Q, or
wraparound hands like K-Q-J-10, or a wrap with
one gap like A-Q-J-10; you get the picture. The flop
will determine if your holdings are beautiful or so
ugly it hurts your eyes.
Speaking of wraps, beware the baby
wraparounds. Example: 5-4-3-2, or
6-5-4-3. This type of hand will most often trap you
rather than send the pot your direction. It is best to
avoid such hands unless you are in a late position in
an unraised pot.
Playing big cards with pairs is an
acceptable approach (preferably
from late position with no raise) but playing three
big cards with one dangler (a card that doesn’t coordinate with the rest of your cards) is unacceptable.
Example: K-K-J-Q or Q-Q-J-10 are okay but playing
K-K-Q-7 or Q-Q-J-6 is not.
If the flop brings three cards higher
than an 8, consider that the game
just changed to Omaha high because there will be
no low. If the flop brings two high cards that fit your
hand, you need to bet or raise to try to chase out the
backdoor low draws (players who will gamble with
a low draw when only one low card comes on the
flop). Do not give them a free card!
You should seldom if ever raise
from up front, even with a strong
hand such as 3-2-A-A double-suited. Two reasons:
this is a strong hand and you want to create deception, and you don’t want to run off any potential
Conversely, if you are holding this
starting hand in late position, you
will almost always want to put in a raise or a reraise,
especially if it is a multiway pot. Most of the players
already in the pot will come along for the ride no
matter the strength of their hand.
If you flop the nuts, bet or raise to
try to discourage the long shots but
don’t go nuts with your nuts until after you see the
river card. Then and only then should you raise
until the moon turns purple.
Omaha High-Low Tips for the
Advanced Player
In hold’em you often will raise to
try to narrow the field. In Omaha
high-low that strategy isn’t going to work. When you
raise preflop, you will do so to build a bigger pot,
not to limit the field. Many good Omaha players will
do a lot of preflop raising and after-flop folding, but
when they do hit their hands, they will rake in a pot
so big a small dog couldn’t jump over it.
If you are in the cutoff seat or on the
button and everyone seems to be
entering the pot, there are probably a lot of low
cards out making low cards on the flop improbable.
If you are holding big cards, raise and build the pot
in the hopes that you will scoop and keep that small
dog running around in circles. (Metaphorically
speaking, of course. Please don’t put your poochie
on the poker table!)
As mentioned, an ace in your hand
is preferable. With a wraparound
hand such as K-Q-J-10, it is okay to limp into a multiway pot if you are in late position. If you catch
good on the flop, preferably with a straight or a
straight draw and no low cards, good. If not, muck.
Such high-only hands have value
when it is multiway and you can get
in for only one bet. This situation means that you
will receive a good price on your investment.
Because playing an ace (or doubleaces) is so important, if you are
playing in a game with knowledgeable players they
know this too. Therefore, if few enter the pot, you
can consider that the deck contains some aces
(should you need one to make your hand). On the
flip side, if it is a multiway pot, the deck is more than
likely void of aces.
Play your players. Example: If the
blinds are solid players and you are
on the button and had planned to limp into the pot,
but no other players have entered the hand, raise
rather than call. Why give the blinds a free flop
when, if they bet as solid players, you know you are
beat? Raise and hope to take it before the flop.
Know your players. Example: If a
very tight player raises, he probably has double ace suited with a deuce. So if you’re
in late position with a 5-4-3-A unsuited that you
planned to play, let it go and wait for the next
inviting opportunity.
Be very careful about defending
your blinds in Omaha eight.
Remember, starting with the worst hand from the
worst position is a lot to overcome, so try to have
the best of it if you defend your blind. Be less defensive if a lot of players have entered the pot.
Consider your pot odds when you
are on a drawing hand. If you are
drawing to a nut flush and there is a low hand possibility, check to see how many people are in the
pot. When drawing to the nut flush, if you make the
hand, you will end up with the winning hand
approximately one in three times. So if there is a
small pot, wait for the next time before investing too
much money. When you win your one out of three,
you want to win a huge pot.
Many Omaha eight players will
automatically raise the pot from
any position with double aces regardless of their
other two cards. This is not good play. Actually double aces with middle cards are best folded from
early position. However, if you are in late position
and are single or double-suited with middle cards, a
limp is okay. Examples: A-A-10-8 single-suited or AA-J-7 double-suited.
Mix up your play with double aces.
Raise from late position sometimes;
at other times, just call with them. When your hand
does hit, it will probably be the nuts and if you
haven’t raised, first of all your hand will have a surprise effect and secondly there will be more players
in the pot, making a bigger pot for you to win. When
you miss, which will be more often than not, you
can easily get away from the hand and you got to
see the flop for a minimal investment.
Know when to speed up; know
when to slow down. Example: If you
flop the nut flush draw and the nut low, get as much
money into the pot as possible. If your opportunity
turns into only the low half (or quarter), slow down,
just check and call. If you then hit your nut flush
card and there is action before you, full speed ahead!
There are times to lay down a nut
low draw on the flop. Example: You
hold A-K-Q-3, single-suited. The flop brings 9-8-2
rainbow. Without runner-runner perfect (when the
perfect cards to fit your hand come twice in a row—
in other words a very long shot!) you are drawing to
win only half and maybe one quarter of the pot. With
three overcards, see the turn if you can do so inexpensively. If you get no help, fold and wait for the
next opportunity. Being able to fold in this type of
situation versus being unable to do so makes the difference in the overall winners and the overall losers.
Follow your gut instincts. After the
flop, if it isn’t just right for your
hand, remember the above-mentioned adage, “If
you study long, you study wrong.” Or, put another
way, “If you’re in doubt, dump it.”
By listening to your gut you will,
more often than not, save bets.
Saved bets in any poker game are as good as money
earned; they go into the profit margin.
Another way to save bets is to play
in such a way that you will get a free
card now and then. Example: You are in late position and flop a good draw. If it is bet before you;
raise it. The message you are giving is that you have
flopped a very good hand. You very possibly will get
a free card (meaning no one will bet) on the turn.
Slow-playing is often a way to make
more money in hold’em. In Omaha
eight, slow-playing is never a good idea for a multitude of reasons. One reason is that the majority of
hands can be drawn out on. Another is that players
will tend to call you down anyway (so go ahead and
bet your big hands). Even when you are looking at
quads, go ahead and bet. Make any low draws or full
houses pay to play with you. If you do end up having to split the pot, there’s more to share.
Although bluffing is an intricate
part of all poker games, especially
late in tournament play, bluffing in Omaha highlow, low-limit ring games is fruitless. George Elias
states, “Bluffing in Omaha high-low is as smart as
facing a rushing rhino!” In higher limits this tip may
not apply, but bluffing in low-limit Omaha high-low
eight-or-better is definitely risky business.
Five-Card Draw
Jacks-Back, and
Lowball Draw
In the late 1880s in California, long before the
large, elegant card casinos became prominent in
Los Angeles County and before Native American
casinos sprinkled the Golden State, all forms of
gambling were outlawed, except poker. California
lawmakers found gambling to be unacceptable but
made an exception for certain games of poker. This
legal loophole resulted in a multi-million-dollar
poker industry in Gardena, California, which began
in the late 1930s.
Gardena became home to six luxurious, successful card casinos from the 1960s and remained so for
over twenty years. In the 1980s the Gardena monopoly on card gaming in LA County crumbled when
legislation passed to allow other Southern California cities the right to open and operate public card
clubs. Still, only the games of five-card draw (jacksor-better to open), jacks-back, and lowball were
allowed. There were no house dealers prior to 1981;
players rotated the deal (just like at home). It was
not until 1987 that a variety of popular games of
poker such as seven-card stud and hold’em were
legalized in Southern California.
Five-card draw jacks-or-better (to open) and
jacks-back begin the game with an ante. Example: If
you are playing $5-$10, the ante would be 50¢. In a
$10-$20 game, each player would ante $1. Lowball
does not have antes; the action begins with blinds.
Example: In a $15-$30 game of lowball, the big blind
would be $15, and the small blind would be $10. A
small limit game such as $2 and $4 would have $1
and $2 blinds. Five-card draw and jacks-back are
both played with a joker, but the joker really isn’t
considered a wild card—it’s part of the strategy. I
guess you could call it partially wild. The joker can
be used only as aces or to complete straights and
flushes. For example, it cannot be used to make a
full house if you are holding two pair, but if you are
holding an 8-9-10-joker and your fifth card is a
banana, you could draw one card and if it is a 7 or a
jack, then the joker can be used as the jack or queen
to complete the straight.
There are only three parts to the games of draw
poker, jacks-back, and lowball. They are the deal,
the draw, and the showdown. Each game has only
two betting rounds. Each player receives five cards
facedown, and then there is a round of betting. The
betting begins with the player to the left of the button in lowball (just as in flop games); the player who
opened the betting will act first after the draw in
draw poker. With just two rounds of betting, there’s
a decided lack of action in these two games so you
seldom find them in casinos these days. But they
are fun home games for something different.
The object in lowball is to make the lowest hand
and the object in draw poker is to make the best high
hand. In all three games, the player has three options
for his action: he can pass, he can open the betting, or
he can raise if someone else has opened the betting.
Example: If you are playing 25¢ ante, $1 and $2 limit
draw poker, or jacks-back, the opening bettor can bet
$1 before the draw and $2 after the draw. The
remaining active players who called the bet (or
raised) can then discard one, two, three, four, or all
five of their cards and draw new cards. The second
and last round of betting follows the draw. Most often
five-card draw requires a qualifier of a pair of jacksor-better to open. If this is the case and there are “no
openers,” everyone antes again. If, on the second
deal, no one can qualify, everyone antes a third time.
The antes stops after a third time if no one has drawn
jacks-or-better to qualify to open the betting.
You can play five-card draw with no qualifier;
this is considered to be “guts to open.” This game of
draw poker with no qualifier is widely known as California draw.
Jacks-back always requires an opening qualifier
of jacks-or-better on the first deal. If no one can
open, there is no re-ante or re-deal and the game
then reverts to lowball.
If you end up loving the five-card poker games,
maybe you enjoy living in the past (or maybe you
lived in the past)! Five-card games were the most
popular in the Old West.
Tips on Playing Five-Card Draw,
Jacks-or Better, and Jacks-Back
In draw poker, after anteing and
receiving five cards down, the
action starts to the left of the dealer; if a player has
a pair of jacks-or-better he can open the betting.
If no one has jacks-or-better, everyone antes again and you have
another deal. This can happen a third time with a
third ante, but then the antes stop but you continue
to deal until someone has openers. After the pot is
opened, the betting begins with the opener and
goes clockwise before and after the draw.
In home games if you prefer, the
dealer can ante for everyone. Example: The ante is 25¢ and there are eight players. The
dealer can ante $2 for the table. This eliminates the
“who didn’t ante” problem but in order to be fair,
you should agree to play six, seven, or eight games
(how ever many games it would take for the antes to
come out even among your players). With this
understanding, everyone will have an equal
amount invested in antes.
If this is the case and no one has
qualifiers, the deal passes and the
next dealer adds $2 to the pot for antes until someone can open or until there are three rounds of
antes in the pot. This would be rare, but the deal
would stay on the third dealer.
You can check on the first round of
betting even if you have openers of
jacks-or-better. You may want to do this if you have
a huge hand, in order to check-raise and win more
If you check your openers, you are
taking a risk. If no one else has
openers, then everyone will re-ante and re-deal and
there goes your big hand right into the muck. You
would check your openers if you had a strong “tell”
that someone else was going to open.
Jacks or queens can be vulnerable
hands. If you do not improve you
can lose to two little pair or better. If you are holding a hand like K-Q-J-J-10 in a multiway pot, you
may want to unload one jack and draw to the
straight, which would be a powerful hand if you
make it. This is called splitting openers. If you do
this, you must keep one of the cards facedown and
close to you to prove you had openers at the end of
the hand.
It is not bad to have aces for openers even if you are against two baby
pair. Aces can become aces-up while the two baby
pair must improve to a full house in order to beat
The odds of improving your hand if
you have to draw five cards are terrible, and four-card draws are almost as bad. Don’t
do it! (Unless you hate your money and your goal is
to get rid of it.)
If you open and no one calls, you are
obligated to show your openers. In
other words you cannot bluff that you have openers.
If you are against one opponent,
you may decide to stand pat on a
weak hand, representing a big hand. If he draws and
misses and then you bet, he should fold. Watch his
body language.
If someone has openers and you
have an open-ended straight draw,
dump it if it appears that you and the player with
the openers will be the only two in the pot. You
know your opponent has, at the very least, a high
pair and you have eight outs to make your straight
plus the outs to make a pair, but will your pair be
better than the openers?
The time to draw to a four-flush or a
four-straight is in a multiway pot. If
there are, or you believe there will be, four or more
players in the hand, you then will have the pot odds
for this type of draw.
If someone opens and you have two
small pair, do not raise. This is a
vulnerable hand unless you fill up on the draw. Or,
you can stand pat (take no cards) and represent a
made hand. This is draw poker semibluffing, as
your two pair may end up being the best hand anyway.
Draw poker can be played with or
without a joker. If it is played without a joker, usually anybody can open with any
hand. (Guts to open.)
A hand with the joker is sometimes
worth a raise or a reraise depending
on what cards you have to go with it. Remember, the
joker is good as an ace or to complete straights or
flushes. Often, catching the joker is opportunity
knocking. However, if you have a hand such as 9-74-2 rainbow and the joker, dump it. What are you
trying to make?
If a player has a “pat hand” (they do
not want any cards on the draw) proceed with caution. Even if you have trips, a pat hand
could easily mean a straight, a flush, or a full house
already made. It also can mean a stone cold bluff.
On the subject of bluffing, if a
player stands pat, knowing how
your opponents play and being aware of any body
language that will give you a tell to the strength (or
lack thereof) of their hand will help you determine
if he actually has a monster hand made or just
wants you to believe he does. (See chapter 9,
“Tells”.) To reiterate, knowing your opponents is
almost as important as the cards you hold.
Remember, bluffing is an intricate
strategy in any game of poker. In
this game you must have jacks or better to open the
betting. A good time to bluff would be if a shy, tight
player opens the pot and there are several rounds of
antes to be won. Raise him on a bluff or a semi-bluff.
Do not raise the opener with twopair unless it is aces-up. The opener
must have openers; therefore, he has one big pair
(minimum) and could draw the second pair or
three-of-a-kind to beat most two pair hands.
When playing jacks-back, the tips
for playing five-card draw jacks-orbetter apply unless no one can make openers. At
that point the game reverts to lowball. (See the following tips on lowball.)
If you have a wheel or a baby
straight in jacks-back, you have a
monster hand in either five-card draw or lowball so
you should check and try to induce action to build
the pot. Whether you end up playing for the high or
the low, you have an excellent hand to stand pat on,
and you have deceived your opponents regarding
the strength of your hand.
Tips on Playing Lowball
As previously discussed, razz and
seven-card stud are dealt identically (seven cards and five rounds of betting); the
difference is in seven-card stud you are playing for
the best high hand and in razz you are going for the
low. Five-card draw and lowball work the same way
as far as making the best high hand and the best low
hand, but you have only five cards to work with and
two rounds of betting, which makes the games very
Do not play five-card draw or lowball with more than eight players.
The probability is that you will run out of cards, but
if you must and you do run out of cards, shuffle the
discards and deal them for the draw.
Lowball played with the joker is
considered by many to be “California style” lowball because that is the way it was
played on the West Coast for many decades. If you
are dealt the one and only joker, you are leading the
race—if you have small cards—which is not to say
you cannot be beaten. If you are dealt the joker with
a handful of paints, muck it.
Pairs of course are a handicap. If
you end up with a pair after the
draw and your opponent also pairs, the lowest pair
will win the pot.
Aces are considered the lowest pair.
In the case of a tie, which would be
unusual (but not impossible) for lowball, the lowest
five cards would win. Example 8-3-2-A-A would lose
to 7-6-5-A-A.
The best hand in lowball is the
wheel or bicycle (5-4-3-2-A). Second best is 6-4-3-2-A, then 6-5-3-2-A, and so forth.
Remember you rank the hands from the top down,
just as you do in razz. Example: You have 7-5-4-3-2,
while your opponent has 7-6-5-3-A. The low A-3
does not win. The winner is your 7-5, which beats
the 7-6.
It does not take hands this low to
win at lowball. Often a player will
draw one card to a 4-3-2-A and end up with a king
while his opponent takes two cards to his 7-2-A and
ends up drawing a 4 and a jack. The jack would win.
Straights and flushes do not count
as high, but pairs do. You could
have a baby straight flush and win the pot.
After the draw, the second and last
round of betting takes place. The
action begins with the player under the gun (to the
left of the button).
Check-and-raise normally is not
allowed in lowball. If you want to
allow check-and-raise in your home game, have it
understood up front.
Because there are only two betting
rounds in lowball some will want to
play with a kill pot to add action. All players must
agree if a game is to be a kill game.
Any player can “kill the pot” by
announcing, “I kill the pot,” and
double the normal bet. This must be done after he
looks at his second card but before he looks at his
third. (Kill games are for those who like to gamble.)
Another example of a kill game: You are playing $2$4 lowball with a $1 and $2 blind. If one player wins
two pots in a row, he then has to post a $4 blind (if
he is a blind he must add $4 to the blind) and the
game goes to $4-$8 limit.
If the kill player wins a third hand in
a row the kill feature remains in
effect. If not, the game reverts to $2-$4 until another
player wins two pots in a row.
Position is as important in lowball
as in any other poker game. Your
position should help you determine whether you
stay, draw, or fold.
In draw games you have no
exposed cards to help you decide
whether or not you should continue after the deal.
Your position and your cards, plus any tells or body
language from your opponents, are all you have to
work with.
You can start with a beautiful low
draw and catch a brick. Also, if
there are a lot of players in the pot that means there
are a lot of low cards out and your chances of catching a baby are lowered.
Having the joker in your hand
allows you to enter the pot with a
poorer hand than you normally would. However,
having the joker doesn’t always mean you have a
winner. It’s certainly an advantage to pick up the
joker but the best low hand wins, with or without
the joker.
The fact that a player stands pat
does not necessarily mean he has a
6 or 7 low. The following are approximate odds of
being dealt a pat hand: a pat 6 or better = 1 out of
290 deals; a pat 7 or better = 1 out of 95 hands; a pat
8 or better = 1 out of 35 deals.
To quote the poker scholar George
“Profit” Elias, “All pat hands are not
created equal.” Example: Two players have a pat 8.
One has 8-7-6-4-3, called a rough 8, and the other
player has 8-4-3-2-A, or a smooth 8 because it is the
best 8 possible.
Your turn: Which is the smooth 9
and which is a rough 9? Hand #1 is
9-4-3-2-A or hand #2 which is 9-5-4-3-2? It’s a close
call, but hand #1 is the smooth 9.
In lowball you need a good hand or
a good draw to enter the pot from
early position. You can raise from late position with
a weak hand if no one has entered the pot.
Standing pat on an 8 or 9 is usually
the thing to do if the pot has not
been raised. In other words, don’t discard an 8 to
draw to a 7 or a 9 to draw to a 7 or an 8.
If you have a rough 9 on the deal
and the pot is bet and raised before
it gets to you, let it go. Wait for the next hand.
A pat 9 is often playable from middle
position as is a pat 10 from late position. Lower hands can be raised or even reraised
from late position.
Some rules to live by if you want to
be a winning lowball player: Never
call a raise if you need to draw more than one card.
Do not defend your blind. Another Elias tip, “Learn
to think of your blind as a rental payment for your
Slow-playing is not profitable in
lowball. If you have a good (little)
hand, bet or raise the heck out of it.
If you enter the pot from early position, be prepared to call a raise. If you
cannot take the heat of a raise, do not enter the pot.
If you have a wheel or a pat 6 on the
deal, don’t be aggressive from early
position. You definitely have the winning hand with
a wheel and you probably have the winner with any
6. You don’t want to run off any paying customers.
Maximize your big (little) hands. But if someone
raises, reraise!
Bluffing before the draw is seldom
correct unless you’re playing from
late position and no one has entered the pot.
Some bluffing don’ts: Beware of trying to bluff a short stack. Also
beware of trying to bluff into a herd of players who
have checked to you. Beware of bluffing too often;
you will get the reputation of being the bully. In
order for bluffing to be effective, it needs to be done
If you believe a player is bluffing too
much, pick a time to raise him with
a rough hand, maybe even a baby pair. Let the bully
know that he can’t continually get away with it.
According to popular belief, the poker term “tell” is
short for a telltale sign. While a poker “tell” would
come under the heading of psychology in the
advanced study of poker, some tells can be so blatant that an observant amateur can pick up on them
and put them in his poker arsenal.
Simply put, a poker tell is involuntary or purposeful body language that gives information about
you to your opponent on the strength or weakness
of your hand. This is the same type of information
you can get from your opponent to help you evaluate his hand—a mannerism, a breathing pattern, an
eye twitch, a finger movement, a toe tap, an ear pull,
or as in the movie, Rounders, licking the filling from
an Oreo cookie when you have weak holdings!
Advanced poker players will set up a tell when they
are bluffing and then use it in reverse to confuse
their opponents when they have the nuts.
Back in the days when I smoked, a confidant
called my attention to a tell I had. When I made a big
bet and lit a cigarette, it meant that I had a big hand.
I lit up in celebration, so to speak. When I didn’t
touch my package of cigarettes or my lighter, I didn’t
have the goods. That was my only tell that anyone
ever told me about. I quit smoking (thankfully) and
put an end to that particular tell.
If you believe you have picked up a tell on an
opponent, watch his play closely. When you are certain you have this tell and know what it means, use
it to your advantage. Let’s say the player to your
immediate left holds his cards slightly off the table
until the action is on him when he is going to fold. If
he is going to play, he leaves them laying flat on the
table. If he is on your left, he has the button when
you are on the cut-off seat. If you know he is going
to fold, consider the button yours and play your
hand accordingly.
Some players refuse to try playing poker on the
Internet because they insist that poker is mostly
about tells—living, breathing, looking into an opponent’s eyeballs tells. They claim they cannot play the
game properly if they cannot see the breathing patterns, the faces, the eyes, the hands, and so forth, of
their opponents. I say hogwash to that theory. There
is so much to the game of poker that tells alone
should not make or break a player. There is an
exception to every rule and perhaps there are some
top notch players who are huge consistent winners
because of their talent to use tells to their advantage—never mind the cards, the position, or the
luck. If you are one of those rare players, I apologize
for the washing of the hogs if I offended you and
your best poker talent. According to John Vorhaus,
there are even tells on the Internet—so there!
I do not deny that tells are a part of poker. I have
picked up on tells before; however, it is not a huge
part of my game I get very busy thinking about
everything else that is going on in a poker game. If a
tell is obvious, I use it, and I do my best not to give
off any tells of my own.
I hope the following tips will help you with
understanding tells, using them to your advantage,
and making even more money.
As you study the tells below, ask yourself if you
are guilty of having any of them. If yes, stop!
Tips on Tells
Poker tells from others can be voluntary and used against you as a
tool of deception or they can be totally involuntary.
People whose hands shake when they handle their
chips or cards when they have a huge hand are giving an involuntary tell. Someone who performs an
act to try to convince you that he has either a strong
hand or a weak hand is giving a voluntary tell. You
must study your opponents in order to read their
individual tells.
I believe the easiest tells to recognize are hand tells. If a player puts
his hands on his chips, he probably is going to bet,
call, or raise. Some inexperienced players will even
count out their chips for a bet, call, or raise before
it’s their turn. That tells you all you need to know in
order to decide how to play your hand.
Another obvious hand tell is the
“muck position.” If the player holds
his cards off the table, ready to release, you certainly
know his intentions. I have seen pros do this. They
are ready to get on with the next hand. This is a terrible habit, but don’t tell them.
Here’s how to use such a tell to your
advantage: If you are in late position with a medium-strength hand like an ace-jack
and if you know by the hand tells that the players
who will act after you are going to fold, you can raise
the pot. However, if a player yet to act is a rock and
has a hand tell that he is going to enter the pot, you
may decide to only call or even fold.
If you have a monster hand, you
could hold your cards in a muck
position only to raise the pot when the action is on
you. That is called a reverse tell. You can’t get away
with it often (especially in the same poker session or
if you play with the same people regularly) but an
occasional reverse muck-tell will add more value to
your big hands.
Beware if a player has a pattern to
his play and that pattern changes.
Often when a player bets aggressively and
announces in a clear, loud, and meaningful voice, “I
raise,” he has a weak hand and is bluffing or semibluffing. On the other hand, be leery of the player
who tries to sneak quietly into the pot without
being noticed. He probably has a monster hand.
If a player habitually looks away
from the action when he is uninterested, and then he folds, you can assume he isn’t a
very good player because he isn’t paying attention
to the game. Beware of the player who doesn’t do
this usually but then suddenly he does. This will
usually mean he has a big hand and wants to
appear to be disinterested in hopes that many will
enter the pot.
The flipside of that tell coin belongs
to the player who looks directly into
your eyes, especially if he is trying to look mean or
intimidating. It’s as if his eyes are saying, “Go ahead,
call me if you don’t like money; I dare you.” His
heart is probably saying, “Please don’t call, please
don’t call.” Staring you down is usually a sign of
Another involuntary tell is the
breathing pattern. If your opponent starts breathing rapidly after looking at his
hole cards, he has probably just looked at a very
good starting hand. However, if he has limped into
the pot and starts the rapid breathing after seeing
the flop, he probably just made his hand. Proceed
with caution.
When a player sighs or gives a little
negative moan when entering a
pot, again, it could be a big-hand tell. Another bighand tell is if he says in a meek voice, “OK, I’ll call.”
Listen to your opponents. If an
inexperienced player labors over
calling an unraised pot and says under his breath,
“Well, I’ll see the flop,” that is most likely exactly
what he means; he will call and take a look at the
flop. If the flop helped his hand or made his hand,
he will act accordingly. If he is acting before you and
checks, the flop didn’t help him. If you are heads up
or one other player has checked to you, you should
bet no matter what.
Likewise, in seven-card stud, if a
player says, “I’ll see one more card,”
that is his intention. If he helped his hand, he will
stick around; if not, he will fold. Do not check and
give him a free card.
If you are in a hold’em game and
the flop brings three to a flush and
your opponent looks back at his cards, he probably
did not make the hand. He is looking to see if he has
one card of the suit that flopped and how big it is.
If a player glances at his chips after
receiving his first two (or four)
cards in hold’em or Omaha, or his first three cards
in a seven-card game, he probably is going to enter
the pot. Play your hand accordingly. If he does this
after the flop or after fourth street, he probably has
helped his hand.
A shaking hand from a normally
calm hand at a crucial time is usually a sign of a monstrous hand. The experts explain
that this involuntary action is a release of tension
because this person knows he is going to win the
pot. The flip side: if a player raises or reraises with
an almost rigid hand he probably is bluffing, especially if he is holding his breath or is breathing
unnaturally slowly and steadily.
Discovering a tell on an opponent
is a wonderful event and you
should be proud. Just as important for you is to
avoid giving any tells. As for the possibility of your
having any tells, put some thought into it. Have a
friend watch you play and see if he notices any.
Make it a point not to have any.
With practice you can control your
breathing, your emotions, and your
mannerisms. Try playing each hand like a programmed robot, doing the same movements
repeatedly, whether betting, raising, reraising, or
simply folding. Between hands, come off the robot
routine. You’re there to have fun in addition to making money. If you cannot control the shakes, use it
to your advantage and bluff with it now and then.
Pick up a hand in late position, any hand will do,
fake shake, and raise that pot! Keep them confused
if you have an involuntary tell.
If a player lifts his sunglasses to get
a better look at his cards or the flop,
he probably has a big hand and wants to be sure of
what he is seeing. Like, “Wow, I can’t believe I
flopped a set.” Then he will go back to being coy
behind his sunglasses.
Introducing Mike Caro
In 1984, Mike Caro, a tremendous poker scholar and
teacher, had his book Caro’s Book of Tells published.
Believe me, yesteryear’s tells are still alive, well, and
on the mark in today’s poker world. His poker seminars are profound, he is unconventional, but his
teaching is distinct and clear. I learned the following
tells direct from the genius. I’m constantly amazed
at just how factual his studies are.
Players often stack chips in a manner directly indicative of their style
of play. Neatly stacked and organized chips mean a
conservative player; sloppy means a sloppy player.
Chips haphazardly stacked usually mean a careless
In the absence of indications to the
contrary, call any bettor whose
hand covers his mouth. This is not 100 percent foolproof, but often a player will put his hand to his
mouth (as in real life) if he isn’t telling the whole
Generally, a genuine smile means a
genuine hand and a forced smile is
a bluff. The friendlier a bettor is, the more apt he is
to be bluffing.
If a player acts weak, he probably
has a strong hand. If he acts strong,
his hand is most likely weak. Don’t fall for it and you
will save money.
Two other signs of weakness: Players staring at their chips are usually
holding a weak hand; players reaching for their
chips out of turn are usually weak.
If a player bets and then looks back
at his hand as you reach for your
chips, he is probably bluffing. A forceful or exaggerated bet usually means weakness and a gentle bet
usually means strength.
If a player looks and then checks
instantly, it’s unlikely that he
improved his hand. If a player looks and then bets
instantly, it’s unlikely that he is bluffing.
Players staring at you are usually
less of a threat than players staring
away. Beware of sights and sounds of sorrow.
Last, but certainly not the end from
the mad genius: players are either
acting or they aren’t. If they are acting, decide what
they want you to do and then disappoint them.
Home Games
I was born, raised, and educated in Nashville,
Tennessee. As an adult, I lived in Atlanta, Georgia,
for fifteen years prior to my move to Las Vegas to
pursue a career in playing poker and writing about
it. Of those years my fondest memories are
Christmas, family reunions, and home poker
games. As a child I had to sneak to play poker along
with my male cousins. We lived in the Bible Belt.
Our parents believed poker was gambling, gambling was sinful, and if you sinned you would go to
hell! We would have weekend poker marathons in
the garage. Our parents thought we were playing
monopoly, a reasonable assumption since we
played poker on a monopoly board using monopoly
money as a camouflage.
I was all grown up and married when I moved to
Atlanta where my husband and I played in a poker
club twice a month. How I looked forward to those
games! Our poker nights were a wonderful social
outlet. Poker was something I was good at, a pastime my husband and I could enjoy together and an
activity I loved to do and could make money doing.
We played dealer’s choice (the deal rotates around
the table clockwise and the dealer gets to choose
the game). I was never fond of goofy games—spit in
the ocean, baseball, crisscross, or zigzag. I wanted
to play real poker games like seven-card stud, fivecard draw, and Texas hold’em. I couldn’t win consistently with the silly games or the wild card games.
There was too much luck involved.
It seemed I had a natural ability when it came to
the ins and the outs of “real” poker. I loved the competition. I loved knowing what some friends were
holding because I knew exactly how they played,
and I loved seeing my poker stash grow month after
month. Still, even all grown up, I didn’t want my
folks to know about my sinful ways.
In 1975 I was thrilled to find out that a private
club in our area held regular poker games. I was
devastated to discover that no women were
allowed. I eventually brought my stash (which I
found out was called a bankroll) to Las Vegas only to
learn how little I knew about playing “real” poker.
For a year I had a ball playing, and my spouse
pressed $50 a week into my palm for my poker
entertainment money. It was only after I lost my
husband that I was forced to face reality—I had
some choices to make when it came to my poker
playing. I either had to learn how to win (I knew it
could be done because I had watched others win
consistently) or at the very least I had to learn how
to stop losing. When I faced that realization, I began
a serious study of the games.
In my Atlanta days I had never heard of poker
tournaments or no-limit hold’em. After my move to
Vegas, I discovered poker tournament competition
and appreciated the idea of the tremendous overlay.
I could take $15 into a weekly tournament and
occasionally, when I got lucky, come home with
$500 or more. It didn’t take many weekly wins to
stay ahead.
At this time, the mid-eighties, there weren’t
many major tournaments around, and of the few
that existed, the buy-in was often out of reach. To
overcome this, I started a home poker club, and we
would play satellites for seats in some of these
events. Our winner played as a partner for all of us
and if that person finished in the money, 50 percent
went to the winner and 50 percent went to the rest
of the club members to be divided equally. The first
time I won our home competition and got to play in
a “real” poker tournament, I won $8,000 for us! I was
thrilled—and I have been hooked on poker tournaments ever since.
Here are some tips for running a good home
poker club. Have a ball!
Tips on Home Games
First, you need to organize a poker
club—couples, singles, or mixed. In
this day and age, finding eight or nine friends who
love to play poker should not be difficult.
Second, if you don’t have clay poker
chips, good cards, and a felt table
cover, get online and go shopping. No old-time
plastic chips, please. If you ultimately decide to
hold one-table tournaments or satellites you also
will need a good timer clock. You can find them at
any electronics store.
In establishing a poker club, you can
move your gatherings from home to
home, or elect one player who may have the best
environment (like a game room with a real poker
table) to host the poker gathering. If that is the case,
a different club member should supply the drinks
and snacks each time you meet. It isn’t fair to put this
responsibility on one individual or on one couple.
If you are so inclined, give your
poker club a name, and nicknames
are always fun. Prior to your first game, have a poker
discussion and talk about what games you want to
play and what games you don’t want to play. Everyone should have a general understanding of how to
play your chosen games.
Host a poker seminar prior to your
first poker party. Have everyone
buy 1,000 Best Poker Strategies and Secrets for their
reference book.
In home games you can play any
poker game; however I recommend
only “real” poker games. This book tells you how to
play a variety of games. One game that does not
have its own chapter is HORSE. This is a combination of the games hold’em, Omaha, razz, stud
(seven-card stud high), and eight-or-better Omaha.
They are played in the order listed.
Another popular multiple game is
HOSE, which combines hold’em,
Omaha, stud, and eight-or-better (stud). Although
you seldom find HORSE and HOSE in casinos, you
can request them at the major tournaments, and
they usually are played at high limits. It is fun to
play a variety of games if everyone agrees to play all
four or five of them.
Someone will need to act as the
banker before your game starts.
The banker will sell chips for money. Be prepared
with change for $100 or silver change if you are
going to play nickel, dime, quarter. At the end of the
evening, the banker will then buy the chips back.
If you want to take your poker club
one step further, you can offer
satellites for major tournaments. Elect a president
and the most important officer of your club, the
Take a vote on which tournament
you would like to send a representative to. Next, figure the buy-in you will need to
achieve this goal. Be sure to include reasonable
travel expenses.
If you live in Memphis, Tennessee,
for example, go online and check
the major poker tournament schedule in nearby
Tunica, Mississippi, rather than someplace far off
like Las Vegas. You might pick Jack Binion’s annual
World Poker Open, the $10,000 championship event.
If you’re all rich, you can have a single one-table satellite with ten players and charge your players $1,000 each. The winner
will not need travel expense money since Memphis
is just a hop, skip, and a jump from Tunica.
If you’re not rolling in dough, break it
up into weekly or monthly satellites.
This is where your treasurer will be so important.
Let’s say yours is a monthly club
with ten members. Each month,
each member will pay $100 towards the tournament buy-in. (You can begin these evenings with
the continuing contest and end them with real
money games, or play the real money games as part
of the contest.) You will keep a big score board.
Using a point system, one point will be awarded to
the first player eliminated, two points to the second,
on up to ten points for the winner. You accumulate
your points and at the end of ten months, the player
with the most points wins the $10,000 seat.
If you want to play for the $10,000
buy-in for the WSOP in Las Vegas
but don’t live nearby, figure in an amount for transportation and accommodations for the winner.
With that in mind, your buy-in could be $110 per
game, or if you play every other week it would be
I am familiar with a poker club in
Kokomo, Indiana, called the “Top
Ten Club.” They have a logo, jackets, shirts, and
hats—the works. They play weekly and accumulate
enough money during the course of a year to send
their biggest winning player to Las Vegas for a week
to play in the big event of the WSOP and have every
member of the club come along as the cheering
Another good idea is to have your
winner play for 50 percent of the
prize pool of your chosen major tournament with
the other 50 percent being divided among the
remaining players. That way, if your club has a winner, everyone wins!
The division of any win should be up
for discussion. Your players may
prefer 60-40 or 70-30; they may even vote for winnertake-all but it sure is fun to have partners. At many
major tournaments I will see a player on a cell reporting to the poker club back home how he/she is doing.
Great, positive, long-distance energy.
You may prefer to send several
players to a major tournament to
play some of the preliminary events with buy-ins
ranging from $500 to $5,000. Be creative. This could
ultimately be a moneymaking proposition for your
When playing satellite poker at
home, the only problem is that
when one or two players are eliminated, their
evening of poker is over. Have two poker tables set
up for just this instance. Eliminated players can
play together outside the confines of your tournament.
When the first player is eliminated,
have him be the dealer. After three
or more are out, start your second game for real
money. You might win your buy-in back!
If you have a passel of poker-playing
friends and are energetic, enthusiastic, and motivated, start a poker league. For a
poker project of this magnitude, you will need several leaders.
Mirror a bowling league. Local
businesses can sponsor a team of
poker players. The cream will rise to the top to play
in a playoff with other league winners. It can stop
there or go further, sending the top players to a
major tournament. Imagine the excitement if the
front page of your hometown newspaper screamed,
“Nuts McGraw of the Squirrel Creek Hardware Store
Poker Team Wins the World Series of Poker!”
Here are some other poker club
ideas. Have a potluck dinner and
poker night. Hire one or two baby-sitters (paid for
out of poker money, of course) and have all the kids
stay together in one home. That way the kids also
get to have a special night of fun.
If there are teenagers available (in
addition to the baby-sitters) and
interested, teach them to deal (they may already
know how as so many young people are playing
poker these days). All players should put a set
amount of money ($3 to $5 each or more depending
on how many hours the kids work and how many
players belong to your club) into the dealer/babysitter fund. Like baby-sitting, a teen can make some
spending money with his “part-time gig.”
If you send a member of your club
to a major event and he does well,
be sure to let me know…it will look good on my
résumé! Good luck!
The following is a good no-limit
hold’em structure for a poker satellite or tournament. If you use this structure and
have twenty-minute rounds, your satellite should
last a total of approximately four hours.
The faster a tournament or satellite
goes the more the luck factor
comes into play. The longer it lasts, the more important the skill factor. If you need to shorten the time
period, cut the rounds to fifteen minutes and eliminate a few of the rounds. Add your potty breaks at
will; usually every third round is often enough. Stop
the clock and take five.
Start each player with $1,000 in
chips. (You can start with more but
it will lengthen the time of your competition.)
Satellite Tournament Structure
Small Blind
Big Blind
The first Internet poker (IP) emporium opened in
1999, experienced great success, and the concept
has grown beyond belief in popularity. As the poker
phenomenon spread across the world, so did IP.
Anyone with the desire, a computer (or access to
one), and a love for the game can be playing in
cyberspace within minutes. They can play for free,
for pennies, dollars, or millions of dollars via
satellite tournaments. If Internet poker had been
around in 1985, I might still be living in Atlanta,
Georgia, rather than Las Vegas where I visited
regularly and eventually moved to in order to play
poker. Internet poker is the absolute nuts for anyone interested in learning poker, playing poker,
practicing poker, teaching poker, or for those who
love the challenge of playing poker but do not live
in an area where they can easily get to their local
casino or public cardroom to participate. That’s the
good news. The bad news is that many things
people enjoy safely in reasonable quantities can
become addictive, and Internet poker is now on
that danger list. In all fairness, folks with addictive
personalities can get addicted to all sorts of
things—activities, exercise, food, drink, drugs, even
religion. Any addiction can wreak havoc on families
and relationships, so it’s important to keep IP
playing to a safe and fun level.
For more information or for help with problem
gambling, you can contact the National Council on
Problem Gambling (confidential 24-hour hotline:
800-522-4700) or Gamblers Anonymous (213-3868789;
There are, of course, plenty of good things about
Internet poker. You don’t have to shower and get
fixed up to go out in public; you can play in your
pajamas or naked if you so desire, unless you live in
a glass house. You don’t have to drive, park, walk, or
tip. If you’re a smoker, you can smoke! If you’re not
a smoker, you don’t have to put up with the smell or
the secondhand smoke.
The games are much faster than casino games
and you can play more than one game at a time if
you desire. You can parlay a little bitty bit of money
in online play to humongous land-based poker
tournaments where you can win mega-millions if
you are one of the lucky ones!
I know a man who was rendered a quadriplegic
due to an accident in 1997. He was a strong, energetic, motivated, active young man before the accident. Understandably, he became withdrawn and
depressed after. He told me he had wanted to kill
himself but found it impossible without the use of
at least one limb or even one hand and with no one
who would agree to assist him. In 1999, his church
took up a collection and bought him a computer.
He learned to operate it by using a point stick held
between his teeth. This was the beginning of a new
life for him. He now has a voice-operated computer.
He can write, correspond with friends, and travel
the world via cyberspace. Anything he is interested
in, he can research and learn more about. He discovered a new passion when he found poker on the
Internet. One of the activities he most missed after
his accident was his weekly poker game with his
buddies, even though his friends brought the game
to him now and then. He now has access to poker
anytime he takes a notion to play and no one has to
hold his cards or handle his chips for him. I’m sure
there are many stories about Internet poker being a
God-sent activity for shut-ins.
Unfortunately, there is a possibility of collusion
between two players or a whole herd of players
online, but this doesn’t bother me much at all. I
know too many people who are good poker players
who win fair and square regularly and I personally
know folks who are involved on the “inside” of
Internet poker and they have explained to me the
systems that are in place to monitor players. If they
believe there is any collusion going on, or any monkey business at all, they take immediate steps to put
a stop to it. The Internet poker rooms are making
way too much money to allow any bad press or negative gossip. They want their sites to be as clean as a
whistle with immaculate reputations so players will
want to keep playing there.
Now back to the good stuff! There is a tremendous selection of games and limits to choose from
online. If you can’t find what you’re looking for at
one site, you can jump to another with the click of a
mouse. And with the anonymity of playing online,
your opponents won’t know who the donkey is
when you make a bonehead play, so you can’t
embarrass yourself.
Respected poker genius and elder statesman of
poker Doyle Brunson, author of Doyle Brunson’s
Super System and Doyle Brunson’s Super System 2
has said, “What took me decades to learn, these kids
can get on the Internet. What I learned by brute
force, dealing out hands, they learn on computers.
It tends to make for fairly technical players, but they
make up for it with aggression, the kind that comes
when you learn things fast.”
Fast indeed, consider this: an online site can
generate ten thousand hands a week. By contrast a
pro playing in a casino gets in about thirty thousand
hands a year. In a game where experience is so
important, this speed teaches new players quickly
what the old pros had to work for years to learn.
As you can see, I am a big fan of Internet poker
and I believe the good far outweighs the bad. With
that in mind, do yourself a favor. If you have not yet
discovered playing real poker online in the comfort
of your own home, don’t waste another minute.
First read this chapter, which will make your first
visit much easier. We won’t go into much game
strategy as we have already covered that in preceding chapters. How to play winning poker online is
the same as how to play winning poker in brickand-mortar poker rooms or in your home games.
Playing winning poker is playing winning poker
wherever you choose to play.
If after reading this chapter you would like more
great online poker information, pick up a copy of
Killer Poker Online by John Vorhaus and Internet
Texas Hold’em by Matthew Hilger, both of which I
highly recommend. You’ll LOL (laugh out loud)
while reading Vorhaus and learn all there is to know
about the mechanics of online poker as well as gobs
of great strategy. Hilger will instruct you on how to
win at Texas hold’em online (or you can choose to
use his theories in brick-and-mortar rooms).
Welcome to the wonderful world of Internet
Tips for Playing Poker on the
Before deciding to play poker on the
Internet, take a good long, look at
yourself. If you have an anger management problem
or are highly emotional, don’t play. Computers are
expensive and if you throw one out the window or
take a sledgehammer to it after a series of bad beats,
Internet poker may not be for you. I actually know a
young man who buys mice (or is that mouses?) by
the dozen. His frustration comes out in the form of
slamming his mouse down so hard that he breaks it.
He also has thrown a few of them against the wall so
hard that they dent the wall and fall to the floor in
pieces (like it was the poor little mouse’s fault). He
fusses and cusses, fumes and spews—and then goes
right back for more. Of course, he does one hell of a
happy dance when he wins. I’m not sure which he
does the most, abuses his mouse or dances.
One more warning: if you get hooked
on Internet play, the day will come
when, at a key moment, in a key hand, your computer
will crash and burn. It may be something simple or
something major, but the timing will suck and you will
get upset. If you can handle the infrequent hazards of
cyberspace poker then please proceed. (Get good and
you could have a standby laptop, paid for with winnings, at the ready for just such a wretched mess.)
A computer glitch is one of the
biggest differences in Internet and
live poker. The only way such an unforeseen incident could happen in a B&M room is if you dropped
dead at the table. If this happened, I assure you that
some smart-ass player would ask if your hand were
also considered dead, especially if you had a death
grip on the winning hand.
Visit several (or dozens) of the
Internet poker sites before starting
to play. They come in all sizes: super-size, large,
medium, and small. Once you are on the site, click
around, look at the games, and check out the
options. Just like with other sites, the more you
click, the more you will learn.
All of the rooms will have hold’em
and no-limit hold’em. If you are
looking specifically for Omaha, seven-card stud, stud
high-low, or other games, you’ll need to visit some of
the larger rooms. The largest sites are,, and For medium
and small Internet poker rooms, jump on a search
engine and see what you find. There are passels of
them, and you may find your comfort level there.
I often will visit one of the smaller
rooms if I want to play a tournament with one hundred or fewer players. There are
Internet poker tournaments with one thousand,
even two thousand-plus players. I played in one
with five thousand players, which was the maximum number of players they could accommodate.
The reason for the multitude of players was the
price…it was free!
There is a wide array of options
available to you at most IP sites—
from sound effects (some dealers actually speak
while some sites will beep when it is your turn),
backgrounds, the chat feature, (yes, you can chat
with your fellow players), avatars (a character you
may choose on some sites to represent you on
screen), to the color of the deck of cards. If you have
a question and you can’t find the answer, go to “contact us,” email them, and they will respond. Do this
with a variety of sites and then decide where you will
first play Internet poker and get ready for a treat.
Once you choose a site where you
want to play, download the software. To best play poker on the Internet, you will
need Windows 95 or above, 100-MHz Pentium or
faster CPU with at least 32 MB of RAM, screen resolution of at least 800 by 600 pixels with 256 colors,
and 6 MB of free disk space. A PC is much better for
poker play than a Mac and this is stated with no
offense meant to Apple products. It’s just a fact of
life. (Thank you, John Vorhaus, for this information.)
If you don’t understand the last tip
(frankly, neither do I except the PC
versus Mac part), just pick a site that looks interesting and follow the directions for downloading.
Believe me, if I can do it, you can do it!
Having a cable or a satellite modem
is the best set up. The higher the
speed the better; however, you can use dial-up. I
have known many players who started out playing
poker online with their dial-up connection. It works,
but you have to be patient when making the initial
connection. Once these individuals got hooked on
playing online they switched to the highest speed
cable they could find, paid for with winnings!
Make the decision about which
room your premier online poker
experience will take place in and then register there,
and choose an online identity and password. The
site will ask for some information through a minimal sign-in procedure, which will allow you to participate with play money. This is a great teaching
and learning tool.
I strongly suggest that once you
decide that you want to play poker
online you keep a file or an index card in your safe or
in a safe place with information on each site where
you play. Keep your screen name and password for
that location on each site’s card or file. You probably
won’t stay on just one site and your screen name and
passwords will in all likelihood change. I am
registered on a dozen sites and if I don’t visit one for
weeks or even months at a time, I’ll often go back
only to go blank on who I am at that particular site.
When you choose a screen name,
many of the names like TheNuts,
Champ, Kissmyace, RiverRat, and so forth will be
taken. Come up with your own. You may or may not
want to be gender specific: MsWildCard or MilwaukeeStud. You may or may not want to be age specific
like, Soccermom, CollegePkrGenius, PrettyGirl23 or
aces4Grandpa. I know a gruff seventy-eight-yearold male pro player whose screen name is Daffodil.
Once you have registered you are ready to play.
Begin in the free games. I don’t care
if you are an advanced poker player
and the best player in your hometown. You need to
begin in the free games to get the feel for how to
play poker in cyberspace. The speed with which the
hands are dealt will be a surprise to you. Learn what
to click to call, raise, reraise, fold, or be dealt out
while you go potty, put the laundry in the dryer, or
grab a quick snack.
The free game is also the place to
test out all the options you will have
to chose from. You may find you prefer a purple
table top to red or the blue deck to the green. Try all
the options just to see what is available. You may
want to chat or chatting might annoy you, so you
will want to know how to turn it off.
Once you’re finally ready to play for
real money, you need to open an
account. Go to the cashier and again follow the
instructions. At this point you will be asked for more
pertinent information. There are a number of ways
to fund an account. This process can take from minutes to a week or more, depending on how you
choose to go about it. You can use a credit card. You
can also send a bank draft, a cashier’s check, or a
money order to the site, but these methods all take
time. If you choose one of these methods, that’s
fine. You can continue to play, practice, and learn in
the “Monopoly money” games while you wait for
your real money to be received.
There is a service offered on the
Internet that is sort of a cyberspace
bank. It’s an online holding house for your money,
which allows you to have cash at hand for when and
where you might need it in an instant, sort of an
online ATM. If you shop online, you may have
already discovered Firepay or NETeller, the funding
routes that I recommend. Again, the cashier will
direct you on how to open this type of account.
It will take a few days to get these
options set up, but it will be worth
the wait over the long run. Once they are set up,
depositing or withdrawing money is quick as a snap.
Be sure to look for deposit bonus
promotions before depositing any
money. There is almost always a promotion for a
new player or any player who needs to “reload” his
account. No need to miss out on free money or free
Even though you have had practice
in the “play money” games, be
careful and pay attention now that you’re ready to
join the game for real money. Watch where your
arrow is located and remember how easy it is to
click…the wrong button.
True story: I have a friend who was
playing in one of the bigger online
tournaments. She had played a flawless game for
four hours and was delighted to be on the final table
with a healthy chip stack. Her cat ran across her laptop, which clicked on the “Call” button (this could
have been avoided if she had the arrow away from
any of the action buttons). She called an all-in bet
with a 3-9 offsuit and lost all her money. She won
money for her seventh place finish, but she was on
her way to a much greater win. The chat went wild,
players and observers couldn’t imagine what had
gotten into her. She meekly typed, “The cat did it.”
(Personally, I might have been scrapping cat guts off
the wall. I’m joking, cat lovers! But if it happened
with my beloved poochie, losing thousands, maybe
even tens of thousands, would have given me
puppy-throwing thoughts.) The moral to this sad
story: pay attention and watch that action arrow!
Begin your real money play in the
low limits and remember, just as in
brick-and-mortar poker rooms, play only with money
you could afford to flush. As you gain experience and
build your bankroll, you can move up in limits.
Mathew Hilger, a professional
Internet poker player and author of
Internet Texas Hold’em, suggests the following recommended bankrolls if you plan to play a lot (this
scale is based on playing one hundred hours or
more). For $.50-$1 limit games, a $500 bankroll; for
$1-$2 games, an $800 bankroll; for $2-$4 games, a
$1,200 bankroll; for $3-$6 games, a $1,800 bankroll;
for $5-$10 games, a $2,500 bankroll; for $10-$20
games, a $5,000 bankroll; for $15-$30 games, a
$7,500 bankroll; and for $20-$40 games, a $10,000
bankroll. The ideal scenario is to begin play at the
low limits (there are games that can be played for
pennies if you desire) and move on up as your
bankroll grows from your poker prowess.
Remember, just as in B&M poker
establishments, you can change
tables. If you are not comfortable in your game or
the limit you are playing, bow out with a click, go to
the lobby, and find another game. Likewise, if you
don’t see a game that tickles your fancy, go to
another site.
One of the beautiful things about
playing poker online is the ability to
“hit and run” (play one or two hands and leave). It
can be done in B&M, but it’s a bit embarrassing to
sit down, win two big pots, then get up and leave—
and in home games, forget about it! After word of
your hit and run tactics spread, you could be blacklisted from any future invitations anywhere in your
hometown or state!
Another beauty is your multitasking ability. You can play poker while
you check your email, pay your bills, watch
Casablanca, or talk on the phone. If you’re lucky
enough to have wireless, the options are almost limitless—cooking, eating, having a manicure, having a
pedicure, clipping your nose hair, your ear hair.
Need to go potty? Take your laptop with you!
Nobody has to know…
However, while you’re multitasking,
make sure you pay attention to
your game. Act when it is your turn. Don’t make
your tablemates wait for you over and over again.
Though it actually is only seconds, it can drag on if
you are a repeat offender and those seconds seem
like minutes.
Multi-tasking can help you to be
patient while waiting on the proper
starting hands. Almost everything you have learned
about playing winning poker can and should be
used in Internet play, including hand selection.
Patience remains a virtue in any poker game anywhere.
Another positive aspect of playing
on the Internet is that you can
always find a game to your liking no matter what
time of the day or night. Like the old saying goes, “It
must be the cocktail hour somewhere in the world.”
Likewise, folks from all parts of the world are playing twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, and
on holidays.
You also can play multiple games. I
personally believe that if you really
want to play poker properly, one game at a time is
plenty but two isn’t totally unreasonable. I may play
two games if, while I am running really well in a ring
game, a tournament I signed up for has started. I
know hyper kids (of legal age, of course) and adults
who seem to be “action addicts” who play three or
more games at one time. Some sites have a minimize button to make the table small so you can
have four tables on your screen at one time. I think
this is ridiculous and can’t imagine how anyone
could win doing such a thing.
If you do play multiple tables, do
not add multi-tasking on top of
that. You need to be totally focused on your games
so you don’t leave your tablemates continually waiting. That is rude and unfair. You will see chat postings that read, “zzz,” meaning, “We’re going to sleep
because you’re making us wait so long, you donkey!”
Keep this in mind: if you are not a
winning player, don’t even consider
playing more than one table at a time. Why lose two
or three times faster? The idea is to win more in a
limit within your comfort zone.
With so many hands being dealt per
hour, your good starting hands will
come more often—and so will the bad beats. It will
seem as if you see more aces getting crushed online
simply because you’re seeing so many more hands
being dealt.
Your position is just as important in
your strategy on the Internet as in a
brick-and-mortar environment. Hands you will fold
up front, you can play from late position, and if no
one has entered the pot you can raise with them.
Winning strategy is very much the
same on the Internet as in B&M; the
only difference is the speed and the lack of tells in IP.
You simply cannot see the breathing patterns or
nervousness of your opponents and other such
hints about the strength of their hands. However, as
you get more advanced in Internet play, you will
want to read what John Vorhaus writes at length
about cyberspace poker tells in his book.
Keeping records of your play is easy;
you know how much you deposited
and you know what your balance is. In a click, you
know how much you are winning or losing.
If you play a lot you should keep
more detailed records. I keep
records of ring games and tournaments, what limit
I play, whether it was a satellite, a one-table or a
multi-table tournament, what game I was playing,
and where I was playing. Study your records to discover your strengths and weaknesses. Then adjust
your play to what is most profitable for you.
As in casino games, I recommend
you do not show your hands unless
you have to. Why give out information?
If anything happens online that
upsets you (besides bad beats),
contact your customer support and they will look
into it. Legitimate complaints include foul language, a screen name that you find offensive, or
your suspicion that there is some collusion going
on. Jot down the day, the time, your game number,
the name of the offensive player, and the table
number. This is the information that will expedite a
solution to your problem. I know from experience
that complaints are taken care of.
One difference in Internet play and
B&M is that you don’t need to vary
your play so much. Your opponents also are multitasking or playing multiple tables and not paying
great attention to your style. Also, sessions are often
shorter than in casinos or cardrooms.
The exception to this is in a big
tournament online. When you are
in the running for a potentially big win or to win an
expensive prize package to a big land-based tournament with all expenses paid, stop any activities that
will take your mind off the task at hand and totally
concentrate on the game and your opponents.
Online tournaments are a hoot and
can be such an adrenaline rush.
They can give you the opportunity to play levels you
could never play in a ring game ($2,000 and $4,000
and higher!) and the best part is the overlay. In the
“old days” of live tournaments, if I couldn’t make
ten times my investment with a win, I didn’t think it
was a good overlay. Today, you can make a hundred
times your investment and sometimes more!
You can find online tournaments
for as little as a dollar for practice
up to $100, $200, $300, and $500 and all price ranges
in between. The higher prices may sound unaffordable but you can play $10, $20, and $30 satellites to
win a seat in the more expensive competitions. You
can even play a $2 or $3 tournament to win a seat in
the $20 or $30 tournaments in which you can win a
seat to play in the $200 or $300 tournaments where
you can win a great gob of cash, or you might win a
$10,000 entry into a mega-tournament in a casino
where you can win millions! I’m telling you, it has
happened before, and it will happen again.
Never forget the “regular guys” who
paid less than $100 online, won a
prize package worth $11,000 that included a trip to
Las Vegas, accommodations, expense money, and a
buy-in to the main event of the World Series of
Poker in 2003 and 2004. Chris Moneymaker and
Greg “Fossilman” Raymer made poker history and
became millionaires and Internet folk heroes, all for
a very small initial investment.
When you do decide to play a tournament online, be sure you have
enough time. Big multi-table events with a thousand
plus players can last four or five hours or longer.
Is bluffing possible online? The
answer is yes and no. I would not
attempt bluffing in low stake games, $3-$6 and less,
especially in limit games. The players simply will
call to “keep you honest.” On the other hand, in
one-table sit-n-goes (a one-table tournament that
usually pays the top three players out of ten) as the
limits go up you may have to bluff a hand or semibluff to survive. Again, the higher the cost of the
event, the better a bluff will work. Don’t even think
about it early in the competition. In the early
rounds you should be playing as slow as molasses in
the winter. It’s later, when it’s time to start moving
and shaking, that you will consider a well-timed
bluff. Never try to bluff a player who has already
entered the pot, and never try to bluff more than
one or two players at one time.
An example: (I will admit, I never
thought about this one; it’s another
Hilger Internet tip) You will find yourself in small
blind versus big blind situations a lot more on the
Internet than you would in a live game since in a live
game you often “chop” the blinds) bluffing with trash
hands in these situations can often be profitable. If
neither player raised preflop, you have to win just
once every three hands for your bluffs to break even;
therefore betting out the flop from either the small
blind or the big blind can often be successful.
The bottom line is this: solid,
straightforward good play will ultimately win the money for you. To be successful over
the long haul you also need discipline, patience,
and good money management skills.
Most Internet players are social
players. There is no reason your
online poker hobby cannot be profitable, but you
must practice and use what you have learned about
playing winning poker. You may find that you can
supplement your income while enjoying poker in
cyberspace. This is a reasonable and achievable
Last, and quite possibly the best
part of IP, is the cashing out
process. First, win a chunk of money and then cash
some out and do something special. Again, for your
first cash out, just follow the directions. They will
send you a check (that’s the long way) but if you
took my advice and opened a FirePay or a NETeller
account, they make an immediate transaction from
the Internet account to your cyberspace bank and
in a few business days it’ll be in your bank account
waiting for you.
Now go forth to your computer, play poker, have
fun, and make money.
Card Casinos and
Poker Rooms
Millions of people all over the world love to play poker
at home with friends and family, on the Internet, or
both. In all probabilities they eventually will have the
opportunity to play in a “real” poker arena. If they live
in an area near a casino, their opportunity is practically in their own backyard. Although it is an experience they desire, nine times out of ten the thoughts of
first entering a poker casino or cardroom will cause
some anxiety and intimidation. It reminds me of
when I was a kid on summer vacation from school.
Once a week one of the moms would take a bunch of
us kids to one of the local swimming pools. There
were two huge public pools in our neck of the woods
and several smaller ones. When “pool day” arrived it
didn’t matter whether we were headed to the big
facilities or the smaller ones, we always were so
excited and happy at the thought of spending the day
enjoying the water. I vividly remember the first few
times I got to go. Everyone was so delighted and
excited at the thought of our day of fun in the sun as
we gathered our necessities—picnic lunches, suntan
lotion, goggles, beach towels, floats, and pool toys. I
didn’t know about the rest of the kids, but although I
was excited and looking forward to the experience, I
also was scared to death. I knew in my heart it was
going to be a day of great fun but that first plunge
haunted me. Would I sink? Would I freeze from the
cold water? Would my bathing suit come off, leaving
me buck-naked and embarrassed to death? The
other kids never knew of my fears, and once I eased
into the water, my apprehension quickly faded and I
had a blast.
It isn’t easy for most to take that first plunge into
live poker, but once your body crosses the cardroom threshold and you get used to the environment, you’ll have a wonderful time because you will
be prepared. By the time you leave, you will look
forward to your next visit.
Tips for Your Maiden Visit to a Brickand-Mortar Poker Emporium
Like the public swimming pools in
the days of my youthful excursions,
poker establishments come in all sizes. They all
have one thing in common: management and owners want you to have a good experience so you will
When you enter a poker room or
poker casino initially, the first person you should encounter will be an employee who
will greet you and make you feel welcome. This
might be a floorperson, a dealer on “front of the
room” duty, or in the case of some of the huge poker
casinos in Southern California, the concierge.
Advise this person that you are a new player
because his job is to make you feel comfortable and
show you the ropes.
Your greeter will answer any and all
of your questions. If you are visiting
a small room, the employee can give you a short
tour or simply point out the different games, and
explain what limits are being played at what tables.
If you are in one of the larger poker casinos, the
greeter or concierge will answer your questions
then direct you to the area of the casino where the
games and limits you are interested in are being
played. There, another floorperson will take over
and find you a seat or put you on the list for a seat
and show you where you can wait.
When you are seated, if the dealer
has not been advised that you are a
new player, then you should tell him. He should
watch you, guide you, and be very patient while you
tip your toe in the poker pool for the first time and
then ease on in for a good time. Poker is known as a
social game of great camaraderie in addition to a
fun means to make a little money and maybe even
to supplement your income.
Even though I loved to play poker at
home, it took me three visits to Las
Vegas before I finally worked up the nerve to sit
down at a poker table . I finally consumed some liquid courage and took the plunge. When the very
friendly brush (person who greets you at the front of
the poker room) took me to my seat, he asked me if
seat three was okay. Because he led me to my seat, I
didn’t have to worry about which way to count
around the table to know where seat three was. The
seats are numbered, beginning with seat one to the
dealer’s left, in a clockwise formation. See the chart
on page 2 for a visual.
The tables are also numbered. A
floorperson may tell you table
eleven, seat seven. However, if he knows this is your
first visit, 99 percent of the time he will take you under
his wing and guide you to the correct table and seat.
The Bicycle Casino in Bell Gardens,
California, even has a poker college
you can attend. In addition to teaching whatever
game you are interested in, part of the “course” is to
introduce you to the nuances of playing public
poker. Integrated in the poker school course is a
complete tour of the facility including a look behind
the scenes. (The kitchens are huge!)
Before beginning play, you will
have to buy chips. Normally, there
will be a chip runner whose job it is to take your bills
and bring you chips. Often the chip runner will have
a wide belt-type apparatus on his waist with chips
in huge pockets. He is like a human cash register. It
is nice to tip this person a buck, but not an absolute.
Normally, casinos or card clubs do
not want you to play with cash or to
have cash on the table. There are exceptions of
course. Some poker establishments will allow you to
keep extra money under your chips but it must be in
plain view. (Beware of the player who asks, “Can I
buy more chips?” in the middle of a hand of poker!)
Poker is a service business. I advise
tipping everyone. If you plan to
allow yourself $200 for your first buy-in, make it
$210 and have tips for all, including the cashier,
when you cash out. As previously mentioned, tip
the dealer when you win a decent sized pot. A toke
is not expected if you take a tiny pot. I believe generosity will come back to you ten-fold. Good karma.
Each game will have a “minimum
buy-in.” I suggest you buy at least
double the amount of the suggested minimum.
Example: The buy-in is $40 for a $1-$2 limit game.
Buy in for $80 or $100. In bigger games if the minimum buy-in is $100, buy-in for $200 or $250. It gives
you a better table image, but do not buy in for more
than you can afford to lose—just in case. And do not
buy-in for ten times the minimum even if you can
afford it. It isn’t necessary and it makes you look like
you either have gotten into the wrong game or are
trying to be a show-off.
If your first live poker experience is
going to be traveling to a casino to
play in a poker tournament, go a few days early to
acclimate yourself. Play in a few ring games to get
the feel of playing at a “real” poker table. In major
tournaments, nobody will take the time to show the
new players the ropes; there are just too many of
them to try.
Go to the tournament area the day
before your event and get the feel of
the room. Sign up and find your table so you’ll know
exactly where you need to be when the “cards are in
the air.”
If you win an entry to a major live
tournament by playing online, be
sure to play a few small buy-in tournaments in a live
poker environment prior to your big event. Also be
sure that your online poker site has purchased your
seat. Do this well before the beginning of your event
just in case you need time to get any oversight taken
care of. Playing tournaments online is very different
from playing tournaments live and in person with
other real people, and you need to be prepared for
those differences.
There is a story of a player who was
surprised at the slow speed of the
first live tournament he played. Living, breathing
human poker dealers simply cannot deal as fast as
the dealing online. The player kept getting preoccupied because there was so much time between
hands (compared to Internet play). The dealer kept
having to tell him when it was his turn. At one point
it was his turn and the dealer said, “Sir.” No
response. The dealer knocked on the table, “Sir, sir,
the action is on you.” The player was not even looking at the dealer. Finally the dealer mimicked a
computer and said, “Beep! Beep!” The player then
acted and the other players at the table broke up.
Don’t play when you are tired or
hungry. Most poker rooms serve
drinks and many serve liquor but you should play
smart; don’t drink alcohol when you are playing
serious poker.
If you’re partying, it is a social
evening, or you do not care if you
win or lose because you’re just there to have a good
time, that’s another story. If this is how you play
serious poker, however, you will be ensuring that
the other players at your table are having a good
time because they will be winning your money.
Many poker rooms serve food. Some
charge (usually very reasonable
prices), and they will roll a little side-table right up to
you. You can order a snack or a full steak dinner.
If you decide to eat at the poker
table, it is okay to sit out for a few
hands. Just tell the dealer and he will not deal you in
until you advise him that you are ready. (This is not
true during tournament play—you will be dealt in
no matter what.) If you decide to continue to play
while you eat, pay attention and don’t slow up the
game while you butter your roll. Do not get crumbs
or grease on the cards.
Many casinos will offer food
comps. “Comp” is short for complimentary. The way to know if you can get a comp is
to ask. Some rooms may require a certain number
of hours of play in order to offer a comp. If this is the
case, ask to be tracked or request a player’s card.
If you have not been playing long
enough for a comp but you want to
grab a quick bite, ask about a line pass. This will allow
you to go to the front of the buffet or restaurant line.
On TV you often see players wait
until the action is on them to look at
their cards. The reason, or so it goes, is so no one can
pick up a tell on them when they peek at their holdings. I disagree! In waiting until the action is on you,
you are losing some thinking time. Granted some
hands are no-brainers (you know you’re going to
fold) but if you look at your cards immediately as
you receive them, you can then start looking around
the board for needed cards or watch as other players
look at their cards. It also speeds up the game.
Don’t be an actor or actress. If
you’re going to fold, fold! If you’re
going to play, make your bet, call, raise, or reraise. If
you need time to contemplate, that’s okay, but it is
not necessary every hand.
The exception to the rule: it is okay
to “go Hollywood” if you have a
monster hand and are figuring how to get the most
money in the pot you are going to win. You can “act”
as if you are going to fold and then change your
mind and so forth. I have seen some performances
that deserve an Academy Award. Don’t fall for it. See
the chapter on tells for more on this subject.
If you play a hand to the river,
always turn your cards faceup for
the dealer to read. There will be occasions where
you are going after one hand and make another
without realizing it. Example: Let’s say you went
after a four flush but didn’t make it. The hand is
checked on the river. Betting ends, and it is time for
the showdown. Some players will just muck their
cards because they missed their draw. But don’t you
do it! Turn your cards faceup; you may have a winner with a baby pair or an ace or even a king high.
Until you have had twenty years of experience playing live poker, always let the dealer read your hand.
Over the long haul, this will make money for you.
When you do have the winning
hand, hold onto your cards until
the pot is awarded to you. Mistakes can be made
and if your cards happen to end up in the muck, you
will not receive the pot. You don’t need to have a
death grip on your cards, just a finger or two on
them to protect them is fine.
When you decide to play a hand,
listen to what the other players are
saying. You may hear some valuable information.
Example: In a game of seven-card stud if a player
says, “I’m going to take one more card,” he probably
means it. If he doesn’t help his hand and he checks,
you should bet no matter what because if he had
decided to take “one more card” and got no help; he
likely will fold. If he took one more card, and
helped, he’ll be sticking around.
In a split game, Omaha high-low in
particular, never assume you will
be splitting the same pot. Example: If you have an
ace-deuce for low and also made a pair of 4s, don’t
assume that your opponent also has an ace-deuce
because he has a bunch of low cards and that he
also made a high hand. He may have an ace-3 and
no pair for high and think he has the best low when,
in fact, you’re going to scoop this pot!
If you have the nut high in a split
game, raise ’til the cows come home
or you run out of money, whichever comes first. You
don’t want to do a bunch of raising with the nut low
(for reasons explained in the Omaha high-low split
chapter), but when you’re heads-up and have the
nut low against what you believe to be another nut
low, keep raising.
Another example: You are heads up
in Omaha high-low and you’re
holding A-K-Q-2. The flop comes J-7-3 rainbow, the
turn is a 5 and the river is a 10. You have the nut low.
It is certainly possible that your opponent is going
high and you will split the pot but what if he has
only an ace and a 3 and he is going low? Do not
assume! He could have misread his hand and
believe he made a high. You could have a scooper
and you just checked because of your assumption
that you will be splitting the pot. Remember the fitting cliché: to assume is to make an “ass out of u and
Once you are comfortable in your
new poker environment and have
begun to converse with your tablemates, never ever
ridicule another player’s play. If he is playing badly,
why on earth would you want to embarrass him and
risk losing him? He is a fish. We love fish! Even if you
hate all seafood, you gotta love the fish!
If you are at a table and you can’t
identify the fish after fifteen or
twenty minutes of play, be careful, you may be it!
Time to change tables. Look for greener pastures (or
cooler waters). If for any reason you are not comfortable, ask for a table change.
There is a famous player nicknamed “Tuna.” He acquired the
name when he first began playing poker in a small
public cardroom in northern Nevada because he
was the biggest fish they had ever seen. Some fish
study their game and become sharks; Tuna is one of
If you are not comfortable because
you are crowded and squished
between two other players at one end of the table,
while the players at the other end of the table seem
to have plenty of elbow room, ask the dealer to
“square the table.” This means in a ten-handed
game, players four and five should be sitting
directly in front of the right and left point of the
dealer’s tray. If it is a nine-handed table, player five
should be directly in front of the dealer. Don’t take it
upon yourself to get the players in their proper
spots. That is part of the dealer’s job. Just quietly ask
the dealer to square the table. He will know exactly
what you mean.
If you find yourself in a game with a
player who is continually putting in
a straddle, doing anything that upsets you, or just
plain getting on your last nerve, change tables. You
do not go out to play poker to be aggravated. Quietly ask the floorperson for a table change.
All cardrooms in America request
that only English be spoken at the
poker table. This is to prevent any collusion in a foreign language.
Speaking of foreign languages, if
you are visiting a European country
where you will be playing your first public poker
game, check out the situation before appearing at
the poker club. Some clubs in Europe are private,
but all you have to do is join the club prior to showing up. Some require a certain dress code that isn’t
as casual as is allowed in America.
You often will see a player show his
cards when he doesn’t have to. It is
usually with either a big hand or a bluff. My advice
is to never show a hand unless you have to. Anytime
you show a hand you are giving information. The
less information your opponents have on your play,
the better.
Always play in turn. It is your turn
when the player to your right has
acted. If you act before it is your turn, it isn’t the end
of the world, but if your action is a raise because you
have a big hand, you might lose a player who would
have been in the pot if you had waited until it was
your turn.
You may not be familiar with the
term “chopping the blinds” that can
come up in ring games but not in tournaments or
online. This means that if all players fold and only
the blinds remain, they can agree to “chop.” When
agreed, players will take back their blind money.
Some players will almost always agree to chop while
others never chop. If you agree to a chop, you need
to chop every time during your session. To chop one
time but discover you have a big playable hand at
another and raise is considered unethical. If you
chop, you chop, and if you don’t, you don’t.
When you are in the big blind of an
unraised pot, do not fold because
you have a crappy hand. You get to see a free flop,
and it just might be a crappy flop that matches your
crappy hand. I have won some huge pots just
because my big blind wasn’t raised.
This is a case in point of raising if
you’re going to enter the pot from
late position. You don’t want those blinds catching
a flop.
When you want to raise a pot, say, “I
raise.” Don’t whisper or mumble;
be audible. In no-limit, this allows you to call the
bet and raise whatever amount you want to in order
to get the job done; in limit games it gives you the
time (and lets others know your intentions) to raise
the proper amount.
String betting is not allowed. If you
put money out and go back to your
stack for more, you’ve made a string bet. This is why
it is so important to announce your raise. Do not
give a thumbs-up sign for your raise. Say it, unless
you cannot speak and then hand motions are
Do not “splash the pot.” This means
don’t throw chips directly into the
pot. Put your call, bet, raise, or reraise in front of you.
Each player’s chips will be in front of him until the
action of the particular round of betting is complete
and then the dealer will pull the bets into the pot.
Do not expose yourself at the poker
table. If you expose your cards
before the action is complete, your hand is considered dead whether you showed your hand accidentally or intentionally.
Most serious players begin a poker
session playing their absolute best.
After thirty minutes or an hour of waiting patiently
for a playable hand, they begin to revert to old
habits of playing too many hands and ultimately
losing. Play your A-game each and every time you
play. If you find yourself playing anything other
than your best, it’s time to call it a day or night and
go home.
Class dismissed. Now go play poker and have
fun winning money!
Table Protocol
If you are an invited guest to someone’s home for
dinner or invited as a guest to a public restaurant,
you know what to do and what not to do. You
wouldn’t eat your soup with a fork, or pick up the
bowl and slurp it. You wouldn’t rinse your fingers in
your water glass or pick at your toes or your nose.
You know what is proper and what is not. You know
what is polite and what is rude, what is acceptable
or unacceptable.
Whereas slurping soup in America is frowned
on, in Japan it’s not only okay, it’s considered complimentary to slurp one’s noodles and broth.
Lithuanian dining customs are unique and rigid.
The head of the household sits in the place of honor
at the end of the table along the wall. The other men
sit along the wall with the women sitting across
from them. Another Lithuanian dining custom
involves the slicing of the bread. It is something of a
ritual. It is considered a sacred duty done only by
the head of the household. On the subject of slicing:
for anyone to put a knife down with the sharp edge
facing up is to invite misfortune.
Did you know that when served hot tea in a
restaurant or teahouse in China, it is customary to
tap two bent fingers on the table as an expression of
thanks? Not to do so is considered rude.
In Brazil you are never to touch any food with
your fingers. Using the hands in direct contact with
your food is considered ill mannered and
unhygienic. Brazilians use utensils for pizza,
sandwiches, fruit, and chicken. If food is to be
picked up and eaten with the hands, it is carefully
wrapped in a napkin. Brazilians wipe their mouths
after every sip of liquid taken. They keep both
hands above the table while eating. The American
habit of keeping one hand on the lap is considered
odd. To use the fork to cut anything is considered
In Arabic countries and India you are to eat or
pass food only with your right hand. Even if you’re a
leftie, you must manage. There is a reason. It is for
sanitary purposes. What they do with their left hand
leads them to avoid eating with that hand. And
that’s all I am going to say about that.
In some Middle Eastern and European countries
it is considered impolite to eat everything on your
plate. Leaving food is a symbol of abundance and
serves to compliment the host. To clean your plate
is to suggest that you were not served enough food.
It is an insult.
Many of you have not had the opportunity to
visit any or many of these countries. I hope those of
you who have been guests in other countries have
taken some etiquette lessons beforehand so as not
to embarrass yourself.
My point is that what we do in our country, in
our own homes, or as visitors in our friends’ homes,
may not be the right thing to do elsewhere. We may
even make gargantuan mistakes while trying to be
polite and do our best, just because we don’t know
any better. The same is true at the poker table. If you
have been a home player for fifty years or if you
have played regularly on the Internet for fifty hours
a week, when you enter a brick-and-mortar poker
room, the rules, the rights, the wrongs, and the
manners are different. After reading and committing to memory the following rules of protocol at
the poker table, you can make your very first visit to
a live poker emporium and feel right at home. You
will not accidentally make a donkey out of yourself,
or worse, do anything that will inadvertently affect
your win rate (or someone else’s) at the poker table.
Tips for Proper Poker Table Protocol
Handle your hole cards in such a
way that only you can see them.
Cup your left hand around your cards and lift the
corners with your right thumbnail—unless of
course you’re left handed, in which case you would
do it backwards.
It actually is against the rules to
“break the rail” with your cards.
This means to pick up your cards, take them toward
you, and move them over the rail of the poker table.
You shouldn’t pick up your cards at all. Practice at
home; cup your hand around your cards, make a little cave that only you can peek into. It is okay if you
have to bend your head down a bit to see your
cards. The point is that you and only you see your
hole cards.
If you feel clumsy and have always
picked up your cards to see them
clearly, practice more. It is unfair to the majority of the
table and to you to expose yourself (your cards, that
is) at the poker table. Of course the players to your
immediate left and right won’t mind; they will have an
advantage in the game because they will know what
your cards are. It’s rather easy to win at poker if you
know exactly what your opponent is holding!
On the subject of looking at your
hole cards, some poker professors
preach to take a quick look at your cards, memorize
them, and then do not look back. Your poker
teacher (me) says it is okay to look back at your
cards as often as is necessary. As you get started in
poker, you are going to have a lot to think about so
if you need to take a second or third peek, it is okay.
I have often seen new players make mistakes
because they thought it was a bad habit to take a repeek at their cards. Why risk thinking you have a nut
flush when in fact you have one heart and one diamond? You would be even more embarrassed if you
announce a heart flush and turn over the losing
hand…all because you were trying to be cool and
look superexperienced by not looking at your cards
again when the three hearts showed up on the flop.
If you are going to enter a pot, never
touch your chips before the action
gets to you. This is a tell. It is revealing to the other
players at the table about what you are going to do.
For example, a player who acts before you plans to
raise with a marginal hand, but if he knows that you
intend to enter the pot or raise any bet (and he
already knows that you are a good solid player), he
may decide to just call, or he may even fold because
he already knows what you plan to do.
If you watch poker on TV you probably have seen Chris “Jesus” Furgerson play. He is a stone face when he is involved in a
hand, and he acts exactly the same with every hand
whether he is going to call, raise, fold, or reraise. He
doesn’t move a muscle until the action is on him. He
sits with his hands under his chin. He thinks a
moment and then acts. No one has any idea what
he is going to do.
You can create your own style but
do it the same every time you are
dealt in a hand. I sit with my hands in front of me
just over my cards but leaving the cards visible.
When it is my turn, I react.
This brings up another subject.
Don’t hide your cards. If you have
gorilla hands, be sure you do not completely conceal your cards during the play of a hand. The dealer
needs to be able to see them as do your opponents.
When you are going to fold, don’t
throw your cards at the dealer as if
you’re throwing a softball. Don’t get fancy with your
mucking. I have seen the twister muck, the underhanded-flip-twist muck, and the ho-hum-sigh-it’sso-hard-to-release muck where the dealer has to
reach for the cards. Don’t toss your cards on top of
the flop. Gently move them toward the center of the
table within easy reach of the dealer. A light flick of
the cards with your fingertip in the direction of the
dealer is fine. Even picking your cards up and delicately flipping them with two fingers toward the
muck is fine but remember, keep them facedown.
If you play correctly you will have
plenty of folding practice and you
will develop your own style. Just be sure your style
does not expose your cards.
Do not hold your cards in a “muck”
position (making it obvious that
you are going to fold) before the action is to you.
This is another tell that lets everyone know you are
not going to play this hand. Your opponents should
have no read on what your action is going to be
until it is your turn to act.
If you need to leave the table, do
not do so until the action is on you.
If you are in late position and decide to run to the
restroom, do not receive your cards and leave the
table when the action is up front. This goes beyond
a tell, it is a scream! This bad habit is rude and
unfair because it is announcing your action before
it is your turn—it can affect another player’s play.
On the flip side of the mucking coin
is the protection of your cards when
you are going to play a hand. This is especially
important if you are sitting to the right or the left of
the dealer. He is like a machine as he runs the game
and if you aren’t protecting your cards he easily
could scoop them into the muck. I have actually
seen a player in seat one raise a pot and he had no
cards! What’s even funnier is, he won the pot!
You can simply keep your hand or a
couple of fingers on your cards.
(Remember to leave a part of your cards exposed so
everyone knows you have a hand.) You can also put
a chip or two on top of them or use a card capper.
Whether folding, betting, raising, or
reraising, always act in turn. Your
turn is immediately after the player to your right has
acted. If you are in seat one and you do not have a
clear view of the player to your right because he is in
seat ten with the dealer between you, the dealer will
look at you when the action is on you. Whichever
seat you are in, the dealer will look at you when the
action is on you. He sometimes will point to you. He
will never embarrass you, but if you are not paying
attention, he will do what is necessary to let you
know the action is on you. Example: He may pat the
table and say, “Sir (or ma’am), it is your turn.”
If you are in a tournament, always
have your big chips visible. Do not
stack your $5, $25, and $100 chips in a row and
place your $500 and $1,000 chips behind them
where they cannot be seen. Every player at the table
should easily be able to see your “society” chips, as
I call them. This also is true in a ring game. The reason is so that a player cannot eye your chips and
believe that he has more than you and make a hefty
bet to try to get you to fold, when in fact you have
several thousand more than he does. He should be
able to see at a glance your approximate chip count.
This tip is very important, so please
read it over and over until you are
sure you get it. In limit games, if the player to your
right announces, “Raise,” it is okay to go ahead and
muck, even if he is fumbling with his chips. However, if you are playing a no-limit game this is not
okay. You need to wait until the player who is raising
has completely finished his action. The reason is
that in no-limit a raise can constitute any amount
from twice the amount of the big blind to everything in front of you. If the player to your right says,
“Raise,” and you immediately fold before he has
said how much he raises or before he had completed his action, you could cause a chain reaction.
If the raiser knows that three or four people are
going to fold to any raise, he can increase his raise
amount to insure the remaining one or two players
also will fold. Or, if he has a huge hand, he will raise
less to try to entice a call.
If a player is being verbally abusive
or upsetting you in any way, do not
argue with him. Between hands, get up from the
table, find a floorperson, and quietly explain the
problem. It will be taken care of and the offender
never has to know who squealed.
Please, no cell phone calls at the
poker table. Some poker establishments have this as a hard-and-fast rule, but even if
they don’t, be polite enough to stand up and walk a
few feet away from the table to take or make a call.
Be even more polite by turning your cell phone off
when you are at the poker table.
It is okay to converse with your
tablemates at the poker table. It is
known as a social game; however, don’t talk or laugh
loudly. Although your partner in conversation is
interested in chatting, some players at the table
have no interest and it disturbs them. It depends on
the makeup of the players in the game. In some
cases everyone might listen and laugh at jokes; in
some cases only one end of the table may be interested in such and such a football game and so forth.
Get a feel for the terrain.
If someone makes a bonehead play,
don’t call his attention to it. You will
embarrass him and frankly, why would you want to
give poker lessons at the table? If your opponents are
making long-shot donkey calls, good for you. They
may get lucky and suck out once in awhile but that
too is okay. In the long run, bad players will lose.
In a brick-and-mortar poker room,
do not help the dealer by moving
the button, making change, or putting two antes
together. Helping the dealer will, more often than
not, confuse him and end up taking more time, not
There are a few exceptions to the
“don’t help the dealer” rule. When
you fold in the game of seven-card stud, turn your
upcards facedown and muck all your cards
together. Some people just push their cards away
from them with the downcards down and the
upcards up and the dealer must separate and turn
the upcards down. Good stud players fold with all
cards facedown automatically. If you are disgusted
with the way the hand is developing, be disgusted
with your cards facedown as you disgustedly fold.
Don’t do as some moody players do by just pushing
their mishmash of cards away from them as if the
cards had cooties.
Another “help the dealer” tip is to
push your blinds or antes far
enough in front of you that the dealer can easily
reach them without stretching—or in some cases,
short-armed dealers actually have to stand up in
order to reach far enough to retrieve your blinds or
antes. The dealer pushes the pot to within easy
reach for you; show him the same courtesy.
If you have to put an oversized chip
out for a blind or ante, the dealer
will make the change. You are not allowed to do this
yourself. There is a story that goes like this: A poker
player showed up one day at his regular brick-andmortar poker emporium. He had a cast from his
shoulder to his fingertips. An acquaintance asked
what happened to him. “I tried to make my own
change from the pot,” the wounded man replied.
Do not slow roll. To slow roll is to
have the best hand and tease the
loser by very slowly showing your hand or making a
joke. It is not funny; it is rude and unappreciated.
Example: The board is 4♥-Q♣-4♦-7♣-10♥. A man
holding a pair of 7s has a full house, 7s full of 4s and
feels confident that he will win the pot. Another man
has made quad 4s on the flop. The full house proudly
shows his hand and waits for the pot to be pushed to
him. The man with quads takes his time and then
says, “I just have two pair. Two pair of 4s!” Not
funny—rude! If you took a survey among regular
poker players about the things they hate to see at the
poker table, slow rolling would probably top the list.
Do not tell bad-beat stories. I hate
to tell you this, but nobody cares. If
any player has played much at all he too has experienced the bad beat you want to tell him about. Let
it go. Move on.
Don’t be a crybaby or throw fits.
Phil Hellmuth can’t seem to help it;
just don’t mimic him. It isn’t cute or entertaining,
and people will simply laugh at you and make jokes
about you.
It is okay to stand up, talk a walk, or
visit another table to chat with a
friend between hands. There is a “one player to a
hand” rule, so if you try to have a conversation with
your buddy while he is in the play of a hand you will
be politely reprimanded. It is okay to leave the table
to go to the restroom or even to grab a bite to eat if
you don’t plan to take too long. They simply will
hold your seat for a certain amount of time. However, do not leave if you know you are going to be
gone for an hour or more, especially if there is a
waiting list for the game. Pick your chips up and get
back into a game when you return.
It isn’t a good idea to leave cash on
the poker table. If you need to go to
the bathroom or leave the table for any reason, leaving your chips is fine, but if you have bills under or
beside your chips, pick them up when you leave the
table. It would be nice if everyone were honest, but
that just isn’t the case in the real—or the poker—
The exception to this rule is if you
have just ordered a drink when
nature calls. Always tip the waitresses, whether
you’re physically at the table or not. If you must go
before your drink arrives, leave a dollar in your cup
holder or lying on the rail of the poker table in front
of your seat. This practice is common, and the waitress will know that the dollar is intended for her.
If a flop comes with two or even
three of a kind and you were holding one of the cards, do not display any dramatics.
Example: The flop brings two or three jacks and you
folded a jack preflop. Do not say, “Oh, no,” or slap
the table or your forehead, or groan, or moan. All of
these “tells” let the entire table know that you folded
a jack. That could destroy the strategy of a player in
late position who had decided to represent that he
was holding a jack.
Do not get angry with the dealer
when you have a bad beat. He is
just the delivery person. It is not his fault if you are
having a bad day. If he could control what cards
were dealt to what person, he and his special someone would be very wealthy, and somebody else
would be dealing your cards.
Last but not least, almost
always tip the dealers. They are
paid a minimum wage and their income depends
on tokes. I say almost always because if you just win
the blinds or antes in a small-limit game, you would
be giving them half your profit with a dollar tip.
They don’t expect that, but when you do take a
decent pot, take care of the delivery person.
My Friends
Give Big Tips
Since 1986, I have been blessed with a career that I
love. That is the year I moved to Las Vegas and found
my place in the poker world. That is the year I had
my first article published in the one and only poker
publication available at that time. Today there is an
abundance of poker publications and I am honored
to write for many of them.
I was a poker junkie before poker was popular.
As I traveled from state to state (Nevada to California back in those days) to play poker and interview
poker players, I never dreamed what poker would
become. As I wrote poker columns, mostly human
interest stories, I had the privilege of meeting many
famous or soon-to-be-famous poker players. Some
of today’s superstars were literally in kindergarten
or even diapers when I discovered the unique world
of poker. To watch some of these young men and
women (some not so young) progress from struggling (even broke on occasion) pro players to
tremendous successes in the poker arena constantly gives me goose bumps of pride. Some are
multimillionaires today, and some are so popular
and busy with their poker careers and requests to
make personal appearances and endorse products
that they have had to hire entertainment agents or
managers. Even with their extremely busy schedules, they made time to chat with me (often through
email) about my big project, 1000 Best Poker Strategies and Secrets.
The following are tips, suggestions, hints, and
comments about poker, or quotes from my friends,
the famous poker players, most of whom were honing their poker skills long before the “poker renaissance.” These wonderful poker pros are generous
folks who are willing to share some of their knowledge and wisdom with you, through me.
Doyle Brunson
Doyle Brunson is poker’s living legend. From
Longworth, Texas, he began his poker career as a
true Texas rounder. He has gained great wealth not
only with a long string of tournament wins but also
by playing the highest-limit cash games in the
world. He has won ten World Series of Poker
(WSOP) gold bracelets, tying with Johnny Chan for
the most won as of 2005. He also has won the world
title twice, 1976 and 1977, also tying with Chan.
Ironically, he won both world championships holding the same hand, 10-2, and making the same
hand, a full house (10s full of deuces), giving the
poker hand 10-2 the nickname “the Doyle Brunson.” He was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame
in 1988 and into the Poker Walk of Fame in 2004. In
1977, he published the first famous how-to poker
instructional book, Super System, which rapidly
became known as the poker bible, and updated that
work in his Super System 2 in 2004. He is often
quoted as saying, “No-limit hold’em is hours of
boredom and moments of sheer terror.”
Read on for Doyle’s tips on final-table play of a
major tournament:
“If you are lucky enough to make the final table,
you need to evaluate your position. For example, if
you have second-place chips and there are several
short stacks, you might try to avoid any major confrontations until several players are eliminated.
This depends on your financial situation and your
desire to win the tournament. If you really need the
money and you have a comfortable chip position,
you can often assure yourself of a second- or thirdplace finish by playing carefully. That will result in
a very nice payday for you in these ever-increasing
large tournaments.
“However, if your main interest is winning the
tournament, this is a prime situation to really play
aggressively and try to get closer to the leader or
even overtake him. The difference [in money]
between fifth place and first place is so huge that
most players are just trying to hang on so they can
be pushed around in most pots.
“My main objective has always been to win the
tournament. Even before I was financially secure I
always did what I thought was best to achieve my
goal of winning first place. You need to think about
these things before you start a tournament and
decide what is best for you. So if you are lucky
enough to get to the last table, you’ll be ready.”
Todd Brunson
Todd Brunson must have poker in his blood. His
famous father, Doyle Brunson, writes in his book
Doyle Brunson’s Super System 2, “‘The apple doesn’t
fall far from the tree’ is certainly true when it comes
to my son, Todd Brunson. In 1989, after three years
of college where he was studying to be a lawyer,
Todd stunned me by announcing that he wasn’t
going back to school for his senior year; rather, he
was going to become a professional poker player. I
didn’t even know he knew how to play poker! So at
the age of twenty, Todd started his career as a pro.”
It didn’t take long for young Brunson to hone his
skills. At age twenty-one, he won his first major
tournament, the main event in the Diamond Jim
Brady tournament at the Bicycle Casino in Los
Angeles. That was the first of ten major career wins,
including his first WSOP bracelet in 2005, which he
earned by winning the Omaha high-low split event.
With that tremendous achievement, Doyle and
Todd Brunson became the first ever father and son
to capture coveted WSOP gold.
Many saw the heartwarming sight of Doyle
Brunson chanting his son’s name. When Todd
looked at his dad, Doyle removed his trademark
Stetson hat and bowed to his son after his victory.
Todd Brunson excels in all games of poker but is
a master at high-low split games, so much so that
his father asked him to write the detailed chapter of
seven-card stud high-low eight-or-better in his
Super System 2 book.
Todd preaches his “Platinum Rule” for any split
“The object of split games is winning the whole
pot, also known as scooping. This is the most
important concept. I can’t emphasize this point
strongly enough. You’ve heard of the Golden Rule?
Well since this is twice as important, I call it my Platinum Rule. When you are deciding whether or not
to enter a pot or proceed to the next street, you
should always ask yourself, ‘Can I scoop this whole
pot? Or am I playing for half?’ If you are playing for
only half, strongly consider folding. Just like the
Continental Divide separates the eastern and the
western United States, this concept separates
mediocre players from great ones.
“If you have any aspirations of rising to the top
in poker, you must learn all the games, especially
eight-or-better. These games are almost always
included in the mixed games.”
Vince Burgio
Vince Burgio is a familiar name and face in the world
of poker. He has been a professional poker player for
decades, and he also is a regular columnist for Card
Player magazine. Vince has a wonderful demeanor at
the table, always a gentleman and a true sportsman
whether he wins or loses. He is known as being one of
the gentlemen of the game. One of Vince’s proudest
poker moments occurred when he won Best All
Round Player at the 1992 Four Queens Classic. (At the
time, the Queens Tournament was one of the biggest
on the tour.) In addition to the title and bragging
rights for a year, he also was featured on the cover of
Card Player, and won an additional $10,222 and a diamond ring. More recently, he won three consecutive
tournaments at the World Poker Classic in April of
2005 at the Plaza in Las Vegas and followed that up
with two first-place finishes at the Ultimate Poker
Challenge in July of 2005, again at the Plaza. This
prompted him to adopt the nickname “Plaza Vince.”
Vince’s list of money finishes in major tournaments is a lengthy one. He has been in the winners’
circle of the WSOP ten times over the years and won
his first gold bracelet (I’m sure it won’t be his last) in
1994 (winning in the seven-card stud high-low split
competition), and coming in fourth in the main
event that same year.
Here’s Burgio’s advice on limit hold’em:
“Don’t try to get too fancy. If you only play the
premium hands it will be enough to win. If you’re
new to the game don’t worry about position and
number of players in the pot, just playing those
types of hands will almost always be correct. Once
you begin to understand why it is correct to play
premium hands you can graduate to more hands.
Some hands will become playable because you will
have three-, four-, or five-way action. Other lesser
hands become playable because you have good
position. By and large, play your good starting
hands with some aggression. Once you master and
understand these ideas you should be able to see
other opportunities where it will be correct to play
lesser hands. These hands may involve more risk
but because of the circumstance—number of players, your position, or the weakness of a player—you
can make winning plays with lesser hands.”
Mike Caro
Mike Caro was called “Crazy Mike” in the early days
of his poker career. In 1977, when Doyle Brunson
first met Caro, he labeled him the best draw poker
player in the world. Since then he has evolved into
the world’s foremost authority on poker strategy,
psychology, and statistics, and his nickname has
changed to the “Mad Genius of Poker.” He has
numerous books, videos, and audiotapes available
for those interested in a higher education in the
study of poker, in addition to the Mike Caro University of Poker, Gaming, and Life Strategy, which he
founded with an online campus.
I first attended a “Mad Genius Mike Caro”
seminar in the mid-eighties. As this rather wildlooking man in a green corduroy suit walked back
and forth from one end of the stage to the other,
arms flailing, he preached specific points of poker,
life in general, and lots of psychology directly related
to playing winning poker. He kept repeating himself.
At first I thought, “No wonder he is called mad.” But
as I listened, it all became crystal clear. He repeated
his most important points to be sure everyone got it.
He was smart enough to know that everyone else’s
mind didn’t work as quickly as his did.
The following tips are from the Mike Caro
• Money you don’t lose…buys just as many
things as money you win.
• What you already have invested in the
pot…doesn’t matter.
• You don’t get paid to win pots. You get paid to
make the right decisions.
• Tables with laughter are the most profitable.
• In poker…the profit comes from your right.
• Sit to the left of loose players. You want them to
act first.
• Beating strong foes wins much respect and little
money. Beating weak foes wins little respect
and much money.
• Don’t bet a medium-strong hand into a frequent
bluffer. Checking and calling earns more.
• When a frequent bluffer checks to you…don’t
• You should sandbag powerful hands…when
the player to your left is the most likely bettor.
• Never criticize weak opponents for bad plays. It
makes them uncomfortable and motivates
them to play better.
• Never compliment weak opponents for good
plays. It makes them proud and motivates
them to play better.
• Players staring away…are almost always more
dangerous than players staring at you!
• A player who isn’t breathing…is probably
• Don’t watch the flop…watch your opponents
watch the flop.
Johnny Chan
Johnny Chan is one of the most recognized individuals in poker today. He won back-to-back world
titles in 1987 and 1988. Amazingly, he almost made
it a Triple Crown but placed second to Phil
Hellmuth in 1989. He holds the record (tied with
Doyle Brunson) with ten WSOP gold bracelets in a
variety of events. He was inducted into the Poker
Hall of Fame in 2002. Chan was immortalized in the
movie Rounders, playing himself as the greatest
poker player in the world.
Chan’s tip is on money management:
“In any poker game, money management is the
most important thing. You can be a great player and
win, win, win, but if you can’t manage your money,
it’s all no good.”
Take it from someone who knows.
T. J. Cloutier
T. J. Cloutier has been a professional poker player
since 1956 when, as a very young man, he traveled
the Texas poker circuit looking for the biggest
games. Since then he has won more than fifty major
tournaments. Some highlights in his career include
winning six (as of this writing) World Series of Poker
bracelets. Although the world title has eluded him,
he has been “close enough to smell it” on four occasions, placing fifth, third, and second (twice). However, he has won many other $10,000 championship
events. He is the only man ever to win the Diamond
Jim Brady main event three years in a row—1990,
1991, and 1992. He is the only man ever to win a
world title in all three Omaha events—Omaha high,
Omaha high-low, and pot-limit Omaha. He played
his way into two Tournament Player of the Year
awards—in 1998 and 2002. He is coauthor of three
popular poker books, Championship No-Limit and
Pot-Limit Hold’em, Championship Omaha, and
Championship Hold’em.
T. J.’s advice covers limit and no-limit hold’em:
“In no-limit hold’em the strategy is not where a
lot of people think, which is moving all in all the
time. You can maneuver your opponents in no-limit
by how you bet the hand. The whole idea is to get as
much money as you can out of any given hand that
you play. It is very much a game of position. Limit
hold’em is so different. It is a game of big cards. Play
big cards and don’t make frivolous calls. Actually, in
limit, you need to play tighter than in no-limit.
Watch and learn how everybody on your table is
playing and play them individually.”
Barbara Enright
Barbara Enright started playing cards with her older
brother when she was four years old. They played
old maid, war, and her favorite, five-card draw. As a
young adult, she was a professional hair stylist.
Between haircuts, she rushed to the back room to
join in on the private poker game that was usually
in progress. In 1976, a friend told her about “real”
poker that was available in a place called Gardena.
Daily, she would get off work and rush to one of the
clubs in Gardena. By 1978, after starting at the
lowest limits and working her way up as she learned
the nuances of the games, she had thoughts of
becoming a professional poker player. “I just
seemed to have a knack,” she explained.
For years Barbara played poker but she also kept
her job as a safety net. She soon admitted that she
made much more money playing poker full time.
She discovered tournament poker in 1986 when a
friend suggested she go to Las Vegas and play in the
ladies event of the World Series of Poker. “What’s the
World Series of Poker?” she asked. She soon found
out when she went to Las Vegas and made the
biggest parlay of her life. She bet $11 on a horse
because she liked its name, Victory. She won $75 on
that race and played in a $75 satellite to the ladies
event of the WSOP. She went on to win that event
and $16,400 (from her initial $11 investment). After
discovering tournament poker, she set the poker
world on its ear, burning up the tournament trail.
She is the only woman ever to win three World Series
bracelets and the only woman to make it to the final
table of the main event, placing fifth in 1995. She
also was the first woman to win the best all-round
award at the Legends of Poker at the Bicycle Casino
in 2000, which paid her a wheelbarrow full of cash
and a brand new candy-apple red PT Cruiser. Today,
Barbara continues to play poker professionally.
Barbara’s tips are on playing position both in
limit and no-limit hold’em:
“In limit hold’em, playing position is very
important. You can see more flops in limit especially if it’s inexpensive. You also can play more
hands under the gun or from middle position. You
can play hands such as A-J, K-Q, and small pair in
addition to stronger hands because you know that
someone can’t force you out before the flop (normally). In no-limit, position—especially late position—becomes even more important. You can’t play
such hands up front that you can in limit. You can’t
call hands on speculation like you can in limit
hold’em because they can force you off the hand
and then you have wasted money by making early
position calls.”
Maureen Feduniak
Maureen Feduniak, originally from England, is the
grandmother of four and is often respectfully
referred to as the Grand Dame of Poker. Her interest
in the game developed when she met her soul mate,
Bob Feduniak, in New York in 1992. He was a social
poker player and she was intrigued when she sat
behind him and watched him play.
She and Bob sat on the floor and dealt out
poker hands as he explained the nuances of the
game. She eventually started playing low-limit and
tried her first competition poker in the WSOP
ladies event in 1997, where she placed fifth. She
states, “At that point I got the bug!” For her higher
education, she hired her friend T. J. Cloutier to
coach her. She has placed at many major tournament final tables but her proudest moment came
when she beat Howard Lederer at the Bellagio’s
2003 Festa al Lago $2,500 no-limit event. When
heads-up play began, Lederer had her outchipped five-to-one. This victory would be a
tremendous accomplishment for any poker player.
Most people recognize Maureen from the 2004 WPT
Ladies’ Night episode and other major tournament
final table appearances.
Maureen is also a champion ballroom dancer.
Her poker tip is:
“I think the principal difference in the strategy of
limit and no-limit hold’em is that limit is a game of
chase and defense and no-limit is a game of attack.
In limit there are more gray areas while no-limit is
more black and white!”
Phil Gordon
Phil Gordon was a child prodigy who began college
at age fifteen and got his degree at age twenty. At age
seven he started playing poker with his great-aunt
Lib for pennies. He tells a poignant story of love and
respect for his aunt, Marie Elizabeth Lacus, the
woman who taught him how to play poker. He lost
her to cancer in the fall of 2002.
Phil began donating to the Cancer Research and
Prevention Foundation every time he won money
in poker competition. He is the man behind the
World Series promotion “Put a Bad Beat on Cancer,” in which he solicits poker players to pledge 1
percent of their tournament wins to cancer
research. In the first year of the event, Chris Moneymaker made his pledge for Gordon and his charity program then went on to win the main event
and $2.5 million. The Cancer Research and Prevention Foundation promptly received $25,000 from
that single donation. Every year, Gordon has a
booth set up for any and all players to make their 1
percent pledge. He is known as one of the nicest
guys in the poker world.
Today Phil is known not only as a great poker
player, having won millions of dollars during his relatively short poker career and coming within three
men of winning the world championship in the
2000 WSOP, but also as an expert poker analyst and
the cohost of the popular TV show on Bravo, The
Celebrity Poker Showdown. He authored a book,
Poker: The Real Deal, which is dedicated to his Aunt
He considers his tip simple but important in any
poker game or tournament:
“The goal of poker is simple: when you have the
best hand, get your opponent to put as much money
as possible into the pot. When you have the worst
hand, put as little money as possible into the pot.”
Barry Greenstein
Barry Greenstein is another generous, charityminded poker player. He is famous for his poker
achievements, and he also has achieved a lot of
notoriety for his philanthropy. He donates his poker
tournament winnings to charity to help underprivileged children.
Like many in the inner workings of the poker
world, I thought Greenstein was a gazillionaire, having made his fortune in the stock market, through
an inheritance, or as one story circulated, because
he had begun a software company, sold it at a young
age, and retired to spend his fortune playing poker.
Like those many other misinformed poker players, I
discovered through Barry’s book Ace on the River
that none of that is true. He is a hardworking professional poker player who makes a very good living
and donates his tournament winnings to needy
children because he believes it is a good thing to do
and wants to inspire others to consider such generous acts.
He did work at a software company, but he never
owned it or sold it. He took the job in 1984. It was
close to a poker club in Palo Alto, California, where
he spent a great deal of time supplementing his
software income playing poker. He moved up in
limits through the years, and now he plays the
biggest games in the world, along with his friends
the Brunsons. Doyle Brunson has stated that Barry
Greenstein is in his top-ten list of all-time best
poker players in the world.
He is a WSOP bracelet winner and a World Poker
Tour Champion. He has many tournament wins
under his belt and is known as the modern-day
Robin Hood of poker. He is most definitely the most
respected man in poker.
In 2004 he published his first book, Ace on the
River. Even for those who haven’t mastered the art of
reading, his book is worth the price for the awesome full-color photos on almost every single page.
Greenstein is a shy man, but he relishes the
national publicity his charities receive when he
wins money in a poker tournament. In his book he
explains his decision to donate all of his tournament winnings. He states, “I have felt a need to justify my role in society. I like to think of myself as a
modern-day Robin Hood. By using my wits, I take
money from rich people for the benefit of others.”
Greenstein’s comment on poker is the answer to
the age-old question, “Who is the best poker player
in the world?” Barry Greenstein’s answer is, “No one.
Nobody plays his or her best every day. No player is
the best in all forms of poker, against all groups of
opponents, on an everyday basis. Even in your
poker circle, you are not going to be the best all the
time. Just try to play well and manage well.”
His advice is:
“Overconfidence can lead to carelessness in
decision-making. [Author’s note: Remember, poker
is about making the correct decisions.] The poker
gods can provide a run of bad cards that will make
anyone look foolish.”
Russ Hamilton
Russ Hamilton won the world championship in
1994. Winning the World Series main event is the
dream of any poker player, but in 1994 the honor
was made even more special because it was
Binion’s Horseshoe Casino’s twenty-fifth anniversary. For the silver anniversary owner, Jack Binion
announced that the winner would be playing not
only for the $1 million prize and the gold bracelet,
but also, in celebration of Binion’s twenty-fifth year,
the new world champion would also win his weight
in sterling silver bars. Russ tells the story. “Every
year when the main event got to heads up, the
tournament director would call Jack Binion so he
could make the arrangements to bring the money
in and watch the heads-up action. That year when
he received the call, his first question was, ‘How
much do they weigh?’” Hamilton continues, “The
tournament director told him, ‘One hundred forty
pounds and three hundred thirty pounds!’ I’m
pretty sure that year that Jack Binion was rooting
for the man who weighed only one hundred forty
pounds. They never expected the winner to weigh
over three hundred pounds.” (Since 1994 Hamilton
has lost over one hundred seventy pounds!) “After I
won, I had my choice if I wanted the silver bars or
cash. I chose the ten-pound silver bars. They had to
order three more! They had only thirty on hand! To
tell the truth, I actually weighed three hundred
seventy but their scales didn’t go that high, and I
was embarrassed to tell them. So, Binion’s still owes
me four silver bars!”
In addition to Hamilton’s success at the poker
tables, he was a professional blackjack player prior
to 1990. He turned to poker after he was invited not
to return to many casinos to play blackjack. He has
been called one of the best all-around card players
in the world.
Russ Hamilton discusses a few of the differences
in playing limit hold’em and no-limit. “The biggest
difference to me is the starting hands. I can play a
lot more hands in no-limit because after the flop I
can win a lot of money with a hand like J-9 suited,
more than I can win in limit hold’em with the same
hand. You have to start with only good quality
hands in limit because you are limited to what you
can win after the flop. You won’t flop enough hands
in limit poker with the J-9 to make it a worthwhile
hand to play. In limit, start only with good quality
starting hands and play them aggressively. In nolimit you can start with a lot of different hands as
long as you play good after the flop, and this only
comes with a lot of playing time and experience.
You have to be able to steal in no-limit and that
means having a lot of heart. It’s not for the weakhearted!”
Linda Johnson
Linda Johnson went to work at the post office in
1975 and by 1980 had climbed the ladder of success
to a very high-paying job. She was next in line to
become a postmaster, a unique position for a
woman. There was only one obstacle—she was
absolutely enthralled and passionate about the
game of poker. She gave herself some challenges,
passed them, and decided to become a professional
poker player. She has been a trailblazer for other
female professional poker players ever since.
In 1992, due to a series of circumstances and
what Linda deems fate, she along with two partners
bought Card Player magazine and Card Player
Cruises. She spearheaded the World Poker Conferences, the World Poker Player’s Conferences, and
was a cofounder of the Tournament Director’s
In 1997, Johnson became only the second
woman to win an open-field event at the World
Series of Poker. She was a strong driving force
behind the original idea for the World Poker Tour
and today serves as the color commentator for the
nationally televised show. Due to her many contributions to the world of poker, her peers have hailed
her as the “First Lady of Poker.”
Her best advice in no-limit is:
“Don’t bet more than you have to to get the job
done. For example, if the blinds are $50-$100 and
you are trying to steal the blinds, you can attempt it
by raising somewhere between $300 and $400. There
is no need to move all in for $2,000 and risk having
someone wake up with two aces and bust you.”
Howard Lederer
Howard Lederer discovered poker at age eighteen
when he found the poker game in the back room of
his favorite chess club. His passion quickly changed
from chess to poker. He was hooked; however, in
those early days, he admits to going home broke
nine times out of ten. In the mid-eighties, he honed
his no-limit skill playing at the Mayfair Club in New
York with some of today’s top players. To continue
his poker progression he moved to Las Vegas in
1993. He considers no-limit hold’em both exciting
and terrifying. He is quoted as saying, “There is
nothing like the thrill of playing at a big-money final
He makes many appearances at final tables on
the tournament circuit, claiming in recent years two
World Poker Tour titles, one Bellagio Five Star Classic
Championship, and two World Series titles along
with the coveted gold bracelets, the ultimate goal of
all serious tournament poker players.
He is considered to be one of the most respected
and consistently winning professional poker players in the world today. Because his winning poker
style is often called “intellectual” and he is a great
teacher, he has been labeled the “Poker Professor.”
Professor Lederer’s tips are on tells and razz:
“When you are trying to read opponents, study
their hands. Players are always conscious of their
face, but they actually will give more away with their
hands. If you closely study how a player puts chips
in the pot when he has a big hand as opposed to
when he is bluffing, you will have a huge edge. You
will be able get a great read while ignoring a lot of
unreliable information that might come from
studying their faces.
“Good drawing hands are actually the favorite
in razz on fifth street. With two cards to come, if
you have the better four-card hand, you can raise
against even a better five-card hand if you are
drawing smoother. An example would be if your
opponent bets with 9-8-6 (X-X) on board. You can
raise with K-6-5-3-2. Your 6 low draw is the favorite
against the made 9 low and the possible 8 low
Tom McEvoy
Tom McEvoy hails from Grand Rapids, Michigan, giving him the nickname in the poker world of “Grand
Rapids Tom.” He married there and had a family
while working as an accountant. He found this
normal life boring and stifling. He had learned to play
poker at his grandmother’s knee when he was only
five years old, and after several visits to Las Vegas to
play poker (once he was all grown up) he decided he
had enough talent to become a professional poker
player. He made that decision in 1979 and never
looked back. He won the world championship in 1983
and was the first player ever to play and win the main
event from a satellite victory (satellite play was just
getting started in the early eighties.) He has a total of
four WSOP bracelets. He considers himself a
tournament specialist. His list of wins, places, and
shows is so long he probably can’t remember them all.
Most notably he has been in the winner’s circle of the
WSOP eighteen other times. Over the years as he
educated himself on the best way to win at poker, he
began to share this information with his friends and
fans. This resulted in a series of poker books almost as
long as his tournament record. As of this writing, Tom
has twelve poker books out. I personally call him the
Professor because he has taught me so much.
Many have used his original quote on the luck
factor in tournament competition:
“In tournament play you have to have developed
the skill to survive long enough in order to give
yourself the opportunity to get lucky. If you win a
tournament, you will have gotten lucky…more than
Daniel Negreanu
This young Canadian, born in 1974, started playing poker at the age of fifteen and moved to Las
Vegas to play poker full time as soon as he was of
legal age. In 1998, at age twenty-three, he won the
first World Series event that he’d ever played—the
Pot-Limit Hold’em Tournament. Early in his poker
career, between 1997 and 1999, he won more than
any other player on the circuit during that time
span. Daniel is considered one of the top tournament players in the world who also excels in cash
games. He has been known to be one of the more
outspoken players in the world, often tackling
complicated poker issues and showing no fear of
rocking the boat. Daniel Negreanu is one of the
most familiar people in poker and rightfully so. His
success is enormous, his talent is unrivaled, and
his personality is unforgettable. In 2004, Daniel
won the Card Player magazine’s Tournament
Player of the Year award and the World Series of
Poker’s Player of the Year award. Daniel started
2005 as second on the World Poker Tours all-time
money list with his winnings topping $4 million in
that series of events only. His total final table
appearances and championships are too numerous to list.
His tips and suggestions are:
“There is one key difference that is often overlooked. Optimal play on the flop differs greatly
between limit and no-limit hold’em. In limit, it’s
important to pound, pound, pound with top pair
while in no-limit you need to proceed cautiously on
the flop. Top pair is a strong hand worth multiple
bets in limit hold’em, but in no-limit if all of your
money goes in and you are called—you usually are
dead. So, with that bit of information, you should
adjust your strategy and try to take the lead as often
as possible in limit hold’em while looking to trap a
little more often in no-limit.
“Bring back the limp!” Daniel declares. “Everyone believes that to play no-limit correctly you must
always be raising or reraising.” He suggests, “In
shorthanded or heads-up play, bring back the limp
because you never know what that flop might
Scotty Nguyen
Scotty Nguyen (pronounced “win,” how appropriate!)
arrived in the United States in 1979, a refugee from
South Vietnam, one of the original “boat people.” He
has always said that becoming a professional poker
player was his dream, his goal, and that it was in his
blood. He began as a poker dealer and learned many
of the skills necessary to become a great poker player.
He is a lady’s man and known to call everyone “baby,”
the word he ends most of his sentences with.
In 1998, when he won the world championship,
he is quoted as saying to his opponent Kevin
McBride, “You call this one and it’s all over, baby.”
McBride called and it was all over. McBride had
called thinking that playing the full house on the
board was going to get him half the pot, but Scotty
had a 9 in his hand, giving him a larger full house.
Scotty earned the title and a million dollars. He is
also among the highest-earning tournament players
of all time. Scotty’s list of titles is lengthy, including
three other WSOP bracelets in addition to his world
championship. He is one of the most aggressive
poker players playing today and always plays to win,
which is why he has one of the highest total tournament winnings of all time. Although his superconfident and aggressive style sometimes gets him into
trouble, it also is the reason he has so many titles.
Scotty’s tip was surprisingly on table manners
rather than strategy. The subject is obviously important to him. “Play nice. No need to be mean to anybody, baby; no need to be rude. Everybody should
just play nice and never be ugly to each other. Play
poker with class, baby.”
Greg “Fossilman” Raymer
Greg Raymer seemed to come out of nowhere
and has taken the poker world by storm. His nickname “Fossilman” comes from the fossils he collects, some of which he uses as card cappers at the
table. In 2000, Raymer burst onto the poker scene,
a virtual unknown, by making the final table at the
World Poker Finals and finishing in third place. In
2004, on the heels of the unbelievable WSOP victory of Chris Moneymaker, who won his seat
online for $40 and went on to become the world
champion, Greg also won his seat at the same
online poker site, Poker Stars. Two amateur players
winning the world championship changed the
face of competitive poker forever. It was now
proven that an everyday man, a regular guy, could
win the gold. It was Raymer’s third time to play the
main event and he proceeded to defeat a field of
2,576 players. He won over $5 million for his firstplace finish, which was the single largest cash
prize for a poker tournament ever. The win put
him at the top of the most all-time money won list
for the WSOP. He followed up in 2005 by almost
doing the impossible, when he came in twentyfifth out of a field of over fifty-six hundred in the
WSOP main event. Greg has a well-deserved reputation as a nice guy both on and off the poker
table. He is a family man who has put his full-time
job as a patent attorney for a large pharmaceutical
company on hold while he pursues his career as a
professional poker player.
The famous Fossilman has several tips:
“My number one tip: Never gamble with money
you can’t afford to lose. If you do this, nothing else is
really that big of a deal.
“Don’t just buy and zip through a poker book.
Buy the best poker books, and really study them.
Spend lots of time on each page, and really think
about all the aspects of what the author is saying.
There is no cheaper way to learn how to play better.
“In limit poker, you need to play tight early and
loose late. Early in a hand, unless you’re sure you
should be playing the given hand, be heavily inclined
to fold. Late in the hand, unless you’re sure that
folding is correct, be heavily inclined to call or raise.”
Mike Sexton
Mike Sexton has been involved in the poker industry
for more than twenty-five years. Before he became a
professional player, Mike attended Ohio State
University on a gymnastics scholarship. After
graduation and a stint in the army, he stayed in North
Carolina, got married, and worked real jobs for four
years, including teaching ballroom dancing (Mike’s
hobby is dancing, and he is as smooth on the dance
floor as he is at a poker table). At that time he began
playing in home games and in late 1977 decided to
quit his job and try playing poker for a living, which
he did for over twenty years. He moved to Las Vegas
in 1985. Mike was in on the ground floor of the World
Poker Tour (see the introduction). He has gained
celebrity status by cohosting the WPT with Vince Van
Pattern on the Travel Channel. He writes regularly for
Card Player magazine and Gambling Times, and
served as a host and consultant for the largest online
poker cardroom, Party Poker. It was some of Mike’s
promotional ideas that skyrocketed Party Poker to its
top two poker site status.
Mike is known by many from the “old poker
world” for being the founder (and the developer) of
the Tournament of Champions. This unique event,
held once a year, allowed any player from anywhere
in the world who won a sizable tournament during
the previous year to compete. This field of champion players produced the “best of the best” (and a
pretty hefty prize pool). Unfortunately, this terrific
event lasted only three years, but it was very well
received. Mike says, “It could be back.”
With the Tournament of Champions, the grand
success of Party Poker under the direction of Sexton, and the change in the world that resulted from
the World Poker Tour, Mike Sexton is known as one
of the greatest promoters of poker in history.
Mike was also successful in his days as a professional poker player. An excellent tournament player
since 1989, he won or found himself in the winner’s
circle on a multitude of occasions. Most notably, he
was in the money a total of thirty-two times at the
WSOP and won his first bracelet in the seven-card
stud high-low split event.
Mike’s advice is to new players and to anyone
considering playing poker for a living:
“In poker and life, winning takes effort. I recommend you read and study poker books prior to playing for serious money. Get the fundamentals down
and then practice, practice, practice. Of course, I
would recommend my book, Shuffle Up and Deal.
“The biggest mistake amateurs make is that they
play too many hands and call their money off too
much. Good players know when to ‘get away from a
hand’ and bad players don’t. Remember, the most
profitable play in poker is to fold. If you have any
aspirations of becoming a professional player, you
better love the game. I don’t mean ‘like’ to play
poker, I mean ‘love’ to play.”
Dr. Max Stern
Dr. Max Stern practiced medicine in Costa Rica and
played poker in private clubs and weekly home
games for many years. During this time, Stern, his
wife Maria, and many of their Costa Rican poker
pals visited Las Vegas regularly and always during
the World Series of Poker. He eventually retired to
Las Vegas where he continues to play poker professionally. He has numerous wins, places, and shows
on the poker circuit to his credit. Most notably are
three WSOP bracelets and the most special of the
three bracelets is the one he won in 1997, which
happened to be the same year his wife won her first
WSOP championship, making them the first and
only husband and wife couple ever to win world
titles in the same year. Max won in seven-card stud
eight-or-better and Maria in seven-card stud. Stern
collaborated with Linda Johnson and Tom McEvoy
on the book Championship Stud.
Dr. Stern is also a world champion no-limit player.
His advice to you is famous and has been claimed by
many. It is simple and to the point. “Sometimes in nolimit hold’em, in order to live, you have to be willing
to die.”
Robert Williamson
Robert Williamson enjoys traveling all over the
world to play poker. His words to live by are “carpe
diem”—seize the day! He literally is half the man he
was when he first started playing professional
poker, having lost more than two hundred pounds.
He states, “I am much, much more vibrant these
days. I used to need ten to twelve hours of sleep a
day. Now, I sleep about six hours, so it has given me
more hours in the day. My energy level is incredible.
I was missing control in that one area of my life, but
now I have control of all areas. I can play longer
hours because I have more stamina. I am happier
with my life and confident that I will be around for
a long time.”
Williamson’s list of money finishes in major
tournaments is almost as long as the Mississippi
River. He has made a dozen in the money finishes in
the World Series of Poker, including two secondplace and two third-place wins as of this writing. He
notes that he was thrilled to take home the gold by
winning his first gold bracelet in the $5,000 PotLimit Omaha event in 2002. His goal is to win many
more World Series bracelets.
His poker tip brings up a great point that is often
“Don’t play over your head. Whether it is the limits you play or the competition you play against,
don’t play over your head. Pick and choose carefully
for your best results.”
Another Williamson tip is on tipping:
“If you want to make sure that the cocktail waitress or important other waiter (person) in your life
pays close attention to your every need, make sure
your first tip (gratuity) of the night is extra (very)
generous. Don’t worry, if they are making a living at
waiting on people, they will realize real quickly that
you do not mind paying generously for good service
(and it will normally continue throughout the
night—sometimes the whole weekend—and if you
are really fortunate, the entire week!!!). This is a
proven principle because I love great service!”
One last note: If you are interested in researching
the history of any poker player’s tournament results,
go to for in-depth player
statistics on all major poker competitions.
Ace on the River: An Advanced Poker Guide, Barry
Awesome Profits: From Kitchen Poker Table to Tournament Final Table, George Elias.
Caro’s Book of Poker Tells, Mike Caro.
Championship Hold’em, T. J. Cloutier and Tom
Championship No-Limit and Pot-Limit Hold’em, T.
J. Cloutier and Tom McEvoy.
Championship Omaha, T. J. Cloutier and Tom
Championship Stud: 7-Card Stud, Stud/8, Razz, Max
Stern, Tom McEvoy, and Linda Johnson
Doyle Brunson’s Super System, Doyle Brunson.
Doyle Brunson’s Super System 2, Doyle Brunson.
Get the Edge at Low-Limit Texas Hold’em, Bill Burton.
Internet Texas Hold’em: Winning Strategies from an
Internet Pro, Matthew Hilger.
Harrington on Hold’em Expert Strategy for NoLimit Tournaments: Strategic Play (Vol. 1), Dan
Killer Poker Online: Crushing the Internet Game,
John Vorhaus.
MsPoker: Up Close and Personal, Susie Isaacs.
Omaha Hi-Lo Poker (Eight or Better) How to Win at
the Lower Limits, Shane Smith.
Poker: The Real Deal, Phil Gordon.
Shuffle Up and Deal, Mike Sexton.
About the Author
Susie Isaacs is best known
for being the first woman to
win the World Series of
Poker ladies’ championship
back-to-back in 1996 and
1997. In 1998, she placed
tenth in the World Series of
Poker $10,000 event, vying
for the $1 million first prize.
Isaacs became the second
woman in history to accomplish such an outstanding finish. She is a professional
tournament poker player who has won various titles
and placed in the money numerous times over the
past fifteen years, including winning the first Queen
of Hearts Tournament at the Bicycle Casino in Los
Angeles, winning the Best All Round award at the
Ladies Crystal Open in Reno, and winning first place
at the Orleans Open in Las Vegas. Isaacs was voted in
to play on the 2005 Pro Poker Tour of the World Poker
In addition to her career as a professional poker
player, Isaacs has written a regular column and feature stories for Casino Journal, Strictly Slots, Poker
Digest, Poker Player newspaper, and Card Player
magazines. Currently she is a regular columnist for
Women’s Poker Player magazine, Top Pair magazine,
and the American Poker Player magazine, which
features her popular column “Chip Chatter.”
Isaacs is a recognized expert on the subject of
poker. Nationally, Isaacs has appeared in Card
Player magazine, “Geraldo Rivera Reports from Las
Vegas: The American Fantasy,” and “Behind the
Scene at the World Series of Poker” on the Discovery
She made a guest appearance on the World
Poker Tour and was seen on ESPN’s “Ladies’ Night”
segment at the World Series of Poker, having made
the final table of the ladies’ world championship
In 2005, she played on Jim Woods’s team on the
GSN poker series, Poker Royale, when the James
Woods Gang faced off with the Unabombers.
In Las Vegas, Isaacs has received media coverage
in the Review Journal Business Section, “Nevadan at
Work,” Larry Grossman’s radio talk show, You Can
Bet On It, and Las Vegas Channel 13 news, Inside Las
Vegas, in a segment titled “Winning Over Women.”
In 1999, Isaacs published her first book,
MsPoker: Up Close and Personal. She is presently
working on a new book: Queens Can Beat Kings: A
Woman’s Guide to Poker. She has also written
MsPoker: I’m Not Bluffing, a two-book series, and an
autobiography titled Me and My Mama. She has a
novel entitled Poker Is Skill, Life Is the Gamble in the
Susie also has a line of poker jewelry
Raise your game with strategies from poker
pro and back-to-back World Series of Poker
ladies championship winner SUSIE ISAACS!
* Talk the talk with the help of the comprehensive
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