How to Play

Laying down a big hand

Skilled poker players know that sometimes you have to lay down big hand. This section will explain how and why:

One thing poker enthusiasts mostly agree on, regardless of how experienced they are, is that they hate having to fold. It's not so much being knocked out of the game with a weak hand of cards which is irritating, but rather giving up the strong hand of cards we know has potential.

To keep you up to speed, when a poker player refers to a 'laydown', they mean folding a hand which could have won. The thing is, though, a strong hand isn't invincible. You could have great potential up until the moment the flop, turn and river are revealed and the new cards create new ways to beat you.

With the shift towards aggressive and looser gameplay, laying down a big hand is an art that's dying out. Once upon a time poker players exercised more caution and were less likely to risk the call, because a marginal hand wasn't worth playing. The winning potential can occasionally cloud our judgement and distract us from the signs we ought to be reading so to improve your chances of one day being a winner, perhaps you should accomplish the art of the laydown.

The feeling

You know how you occasionally have premonitions that something isn't quite right? Poker players have this during games. You're sitting at the table and you feel that little twinge in your stomach and the niggle in the back of your brain telling you your hand of cards isn't a match for the others. Do you ignore it and try and forge ahead or fold early and eliminate all risk of losses?

Poker players refer to this as the 'feel', but in layman's terms it's your subconscious drawing from past experiences of the game, and reminding you of the potential consequences. What you do with that information is entirely up to you.

The best players are the ones who follow these instincts and quit while they're ahead.

Danger signs

If you're not good at reading the danger signs, you're not alone. They crop up in the simplest of moves, and can easily be your downfall if you're not quick enough to catch them.

What kinds of moves should you be looking out for? Well, to start you off, betting with the intention of raising (check raises) and mini-raises have a neon sign above them flashing the word 'warning'. A hand with potential to be the best hand (the nuts) shouldn't be taken lightly either. If in doubt about the potential for danger, perhaps you should think back to the moment before the flop. If they call when you expect them to raise (flat-call) and then check-raise on a small to middling flop, there's every possibility there's a pocket pair in their grasp.

You can determine a lot about the value of an opponent's cards, based on the amount of chips they put forward, cluing you in on whether or not your hand of cards is worth calling for.

By the time the river card appears a question you should ask yourself is: Have they really got a hand with that higher value, or are they bluffing? There's always the possibility your hand could be beaten.

Weird science

Deciding what to do during a game could be made easier if you combine your instincts with poker science.

It sounds trickier than it actually is. Let's take a closer look at some pre-flop decisions to start with. In no-limit Hold'em, a lot of the best laydowns are made pre-flop, despite the fact the player has been dealt a decent starting hand. Why? Because it stops them from losing a lot of chips all in one go.

You may be sceptical of this type of manoeuvre. Why not wait until after the flop if you are given a good starting hand? For the most part this type of decision is based on the amount of chips you possess. You see, problems can crop up when you're facing action pre-flop on a decent but not impressive hand. If you open for a rise with a hand like 10-10 or J-J and you end up being re-raised, it's a game changing decision.

And then, tempting as it may be to call the re-raise and see if the flop helps you out, it could be all too easy to end up trapped. For example, imagine you call a re-raise with a 10-10 and the flop comes up as 7-4-2, your chips are almost certainly going to be beaten by a better hand because the value is low. That's why you might thank yourself for folding pre-flop.

Odds, I call

Moving onto pot odds: How important would you say they are to the process of making a good laydown? The answer is, extremely important, although you'd be amazed how many players don't bother considering them. Or use them incorrectly

To explain, when the betting is ending, usually on the river or when the money is going all-in, that is the point you ought to work out your pot odds. The idea is that you would then compare the odds to the chances you have of your hand being good. Maybe comparing them against the range of hands other players could hold would also be advantageous. If the odds are good, you can decide to call. If they're not so good, laying the hand down would be best.

Still confused? Let's imagine you're playing against a predictable player who calls while you bet on a two-pair card combination:

  • On the river a flush card arrives, so you check while he bets
  • The pot is 7,000 and he bets 3,000, which gives you 3,000 to call. If you won you'd receive 10,000. Your pot odds are 3.333/1 aka 30 per cent.

You have to decide whether your two-pair has a 30% chance of being good or a 30% chance of being bad. If we were to advise you, your best solution in this situation is to laydown against the predictable player. Better safe than sorry.

Powers of reasoning

Every poker player understands how difficult it is to decide to laydown. What if you're folding the winning hand? That's why pot odds, instinct and hand-reading are so important in order to make the correct deduction. Remember to not let the table, the odds and the people intimidate you, because it will affect the decisions you make. There's no shame in a laydown, not if it saves you chips for later.