How to Play
So you’ve got a good hand, but is it good enough? Here, we’ll show you how to decide if your cards are worth another bet, including:
- Drawing and winning hands
- Calculating your outs
- How big is the pot?
- Value is relative
- Table rules
- When to make a value call
Drawing and winning hands
In poker, there are only two types of hands – winning hands and draws. Regardless of your cards, any hand that’s not the top hand is technically a draw (because you’re hoping it’ll improve to the top hand later).
So if your hand isn’t a winner (yet), you’ll have to decide if the draw’s worth chasing and, if it is, how you’re going to bet. This comes down to two factors:
- How many outs do you have to get the probable winning hand?
- How big is the pot or, better yet, how big will the pot be?
You’ll also have to decide what your opponents have, or could have. This will give you the reverse implied odds – the chances that the card that makes your hand actually gives your opponent a better hand.
Calculating your outs
Let’s show how this works with a few example hands.
Hand example #1
Flop: J♥ 9♥ 2♣
Your hand: Q♦ 10♠
There’s not a lot to go on here. The pre-flop raiser has been aggressive, so you think he has an over-pair. Two other players have called his bet and raise, so they might be on a flush draw.
So how do you calculate your outs in this case? Out of the eight cards that could give you the straight, three are no good (any two that would make the callers’ flush and the overcard that might give the raiser the set). That leaves you with five outs in total.
Hand example #2
Flop: J♣ 6♦ 5♣
Your hand: A♣ K♣
Here we have nine clean outs (nine clubs) and two over-cards, so that’s six more outs. If an ace or a king comes, that should be enough to win the pot.
But if two players call your button raise, they could have a K-J or A-J. One of them could even have flopped a set.
Because the over-cards are doubtful, a good rule of thumb is to cut them in half. So that’s three outs instead of six – 12 outs in total.
As you can see, counting outs isn’t an exact science, but it’s the best way of working out whether to go ahead with a hand or not. We’d say that with eight or more outs, you can really bet hard on the flop. Your hand is strong enough to go all the way to the river. In fact if you’re in position, do everything possible to try and get yourself a free card on the turn.
How big is the pot?
One you know your outs, you need to work out the pot odds. Remember, we don’t care how big the pot is – we care about how big it will be. So you need to ask yourself, are your opponents going to carry on putting in chips? Will the player who calls you on the flop do the same on the turn (especially if you hit your hand)?
If the pot odds look good then you should play. In fact, if you don’t you’re costing yourself money. But always keep the reverse implied odds in mind.
Hand example #3
You raised pre-flop and four players call, so you decide to call from the big blind.
Your hand: 8♥ 9♥
Flop: 10♥ J♣ 4♠
Now, you may have just flopped an open-ended straight draw, but don’t get too excited. If the pre-flop raiser has A-K (which is not unlikely) a queen is going to be bad news. So play the hand as if you only had four outs.
Value is relative
Second-best hands tend to be expensive, so make sure that if you get your overcard, someone else doesn’t have two pair – or if you make two pair someone hasn’t just hit a straight and so on.
There’s also the possibility of getting outdrawn on further streets (when sets become full houses and flushes become bigger flushes). So if your hand looks strong enough, you need to think about whether to move now - or wait and potentially lose your edge.
A lot will also depend on the style of play at your table. For example:
- How loose or tight is the table after the flop?
The tighter your table, the more careful you need to be about chasing and vice versa.
- How passive or aggressive is the table after the flop?
An aggressive table makes chasing expensive. At a passive table, you’ll face fewer re-raises and get more free cards.
- If you chase and miss, can you bluff?
Of course you can – just don’t bluff a bad player or anyone who can’t be bluffed. Make sure the bluff makes sense. If you bluff and get caught, show your hand - it’s a good advertisement.
Usually, when you’re chasing it makes sense to be aggressive. If you’re going to call, why not raise? Semi-bluffing is quite a powerful play and will see down a lot of opponents.
When to make a value call
We know – calling is hard. While you’re building your confidence as a player, the last thing you want to do is go head-to-head and lose.
In fact, that’s exactly the kind of thing you should be doing. If people know you’re prepared to play marginal cards, they’ll pay you more when you do have a hand.
The most important thing is that your bet makes sense, based on your opponent’s playing style and range of hands in this situation. If they’re happy to bet with ace-high or fourth pair, you can work out what you’re up against. Generally, the more aggressive the bet, the more likely you should make that call. And if you have good reason to think your opponent’s bluffing – and the pot odds are right – you should definitely call.
You’re head-to-head on a flop of 9♠ 7♠ 4♣. Your opponent bets $4 and you call with 5♠ 6♠. The turn is 5♦ and you both check. The river is J♥ and your opponent bets $8.
Now there’s $68 in the pot, with $16 to make the call. So even if there’s a one in three chance you’ve got the best hand, it’s correct to make the call.