Preparation - Beginner's Poker

Poker Jargon

This is a shortened glossary that explains the basic poker terms that are frequently used in the strategy articles at this site. It is assumed that you know the basic rules of Texas Hold'em. For a more complete glossary, visit our Full Glossary Page.

Blinds: The forced bets that take the place of an ante. The person to the left of the dealer must pay the small blind, and the person after him must pay the big blind.

Board Cards: The cards in the middle of the table that are shared by everyone.

Draw: Drawing means hoping to improve your hand with the cards that will come on the board. You are on a draw when you want other cards to come out on the board to complete your hand. If you have [[cards 10c 9h]] and the flop is [[cards Qh Js 2d]], you are trying to draw an eight or a king on the turn or river.

Flop: The first three board cards in Texas Hold'em.

Implied Odds: The same as pot odds, but taking into account making bets in the future. Thus, you may call a bet at the flop, but have implied odds of making bigger bets on later rounds if you hit your draw. So, if you have [[cards Ad Kd]] and the flop comes [[cards Qs 7d 6d]], your implied odds are what you have to call at the flop compared to how large the pot will be at the end of the hand.

Limit Poker: Poker with fixed-size bets. In a $2-4 limit game, all bets and raises are $2 in the first two rounds (preflop and flop), and all bets and raises are $4 in the last two rounds (turn and river).

Longhand: A poker game with seven or more people.

Outs: Cards that can improve your hand. If the flop is [[cards Qh Js 2d]] and you have [[cards 10c 9h]], you want a king or an eight to complete your straight. There are four kings and four eights in the deck, so you have eight total outs.

Position: Where you sit at the poker table. The dealer has the best position because he bets last and therefore has a better understanding of what other people have in their hand. The small blind has the worst position because he acts first.

Pot Odds: The odds you are getting when you are drawing. For example, say you have [[cards Ad 2d]] and the board is [[cards Ks 7d 6d]]. You are sure that someone else has the king. There are nine more diamonds out there (thirteen total minus two from your hand and the two on the board), so you have a roughly 18% chance of hitting a flush on the next card. Thus, if the pot is $100, and the bet is $10, even though you are losing, you have odds with your flush draw. However, let's say the pot is $100 on the turn (there is one card left) and your opponent bets $300. The pot is $400 and you must put in $300 to see the river. You are getting pot odds of 4:3 which is not enough, because the odds are about 4:1 (12:3) against hitting your flush. Another way to look at it is that you have only a 1 in 5 chance of hitting your flush, but you have to put in 3 of 7 dollars in the total pot.

Preflop: The betting round after you are dealt your two hole cards and there are no cards on the board yet.

River: The fifth and final card that comes on the board in Hold'em, after the turn.

Shorthand: A poker game with six or fewer people.

Turn: The fourth board card that comes out in Hold'em, the card after the flop.

Why Play Poker?

Why play poker? It seems like a simple question, but the answer is both complex and personal. There are many different reasons to play or not to play poker. Often, the reasons a person has for playing poker will shed light on what type of player that person is and what limits and games he should play.

Reasons to Play Poker

Social rewards. This is a major reason behind the traditional home game. Many friends like to hang out and play cards, and many people become friends over the card table. If this is one of the major reasons you wish to play, stick with low stakes, where the games are more fun and friendly.

Entertainment. Poker is a competitive game. To win, one needs the skills and the bit of luck the game necessitates. Many find this enjoyable and compare poker to playing a sport. Make sure you don't get swept up in the 'entertainment' nature of poker, because it is possible to lose a lot of money at the game.

Education. The skills necessary to become a good poker player apply well to other aspects of life. Poker will help you to improve your judgment skills (reading people) and sharpen your logical and strategic skills (how to play your hand).

To make money. Most people play poker for fun, but some make considerable money at it. Of course, these people are few and far between. Not everyone can make a lot of money from poker. Nevertheless, the desire to win more is definitely a reason to improve your poker skills.

Poker is one of the few forms of wagering where you can actually win. Casino-style betting is rigged against you (it is impossible to win in the long run at craps, roulette, etc., no matter what anyone says. The only exception is blackjack if you count cards, which is extremely difficult). Sports betting is also nearly impossible to beat without insider information. Thus, poker is one of the few forms of gambling where one can actually win money in the long run simply by being good at the game.

Reasons NOT to Play Poker

You have a gambling problem. When anyone plays poker, he or she risks losing money. One should never play poker with money that he or she cannot afford to lose. Poker winnings should not be viewed as a method to 'strike it rich,' and losses should not be viewed as money that needs to be 'won back.' If you are prone to a gambling problem, do not play poker.

Disclaimer: Most jurisdictions view poker as gambling; in some jurisdictions, playing poker for money is illegal. The information contained here should not be construed as legal advice. Many people have become addicted to poker and lost considerable sums of money. Full Disclaimer.

4 Key Poker Skills

Poker sharks are commonly described as tight and aggressive: "These poker pros do not play many hands, but when they play them, they play them like they have the nuts."

That's a nice general description, but it doesn't say much. In my opinion, a solid poker player is one who has mastered the four key skills of poker.

Skill #1: Mathematics

A solid poker player knows the general probabilities of the game. For example, they know that you have about 1 in 8.5 chance of hitting a set when holding a pocket pair, and that you have about a 1 in 3 chance of completing a flopped flush draw by the river.

Good players understand the importance of outs. Outs are simply the number of cards that will improve your hand. Count your outs, multiply them by two, and add one, and that's roughly the percentage shot you have at hitting.

Good players can figure out the pot odds. Knowing outs is meaningless unless it's translated into rational, calculated betting. Knowing you have a 20% chance of hitting, what do you do then? If you're not sure, check out our Pot Odds article.

Math skills are the most basic knowledge; it's day-one reading. Anyone who doesn't understand these concepts should not play in a game for real money until they do.

Skill #2: Discipline

Good poker players demand an advantage. What separates a winning poker player from a fish is that a fish does not expect to win, while a poker player does. A fish is happy playing craps, roulette, or the slots; he just hopes to get lucky. A poker player does not hope to get lucky. He just hopes others don't get lucky.

Good poker players understand that a different game requires a different discipline. A disciplined no-limit player can be a foolish limit player and vice versa. For example, a disciplined limit hold'em player has solid preflop skills. When there is not much action preflop, he or she only plays the better hands. When a lot of people are limping in, he or she will make a loose call with a suited connector or other speculative hand.

A disciplined player knows when to play and when to quit. He recognizes when he is on tilt and is aware when a game is too juicy to just quit while ahead.

A disciplined player knows that he is not perfect. When a disciplined player makes a mistake, he learns. He does not blame others. He does not cry. He learns from the mistake and moves on.

Skill #3: Psychology

A good player is not a self-centered player. He may be the biggest SOB you know. He may not care about anyone but himself, and he may enjoy stealing food from the poor. However, when a poker pro walks into a poker room, he always empathizes with his opponents. He tries to think what they think and understand the decisions they make and why they make them. The poker pro always tries to have an answer to these questions:

  • 1. What does my opponent have?
  • 2. What does my opponent think I have?
  • 3. What does my opponent think I think he has?

  • Knowing the answer to these questions is the first step, manipulating the answers is the second and more important step. Suppose that you have a pair of kings and your opponent has a pair of aces. If you both know what the other has, and you both know that you know what the other has, then why play a game of poker? A poker pro manipulates the answers to questions #2 and #3 by slowplaying, fastplaying, and bluffing in order to throw his opponent off.

    Good poker players know that psychology is much more important in a no-limit game than in a limit game. Limit games often turn into math battles, while no-limit games carry a strong psychology component. Thus, poker tells are much more important in no-limit games.

    Skill #4: Understanding Risk vs. Reward

    Pot odds and demanding an advantage fall into this category. Poker players are willing to take a long-shot risk if the reward is high enough, but only if the expected return is higher than the risk.

    More importantly, they understand the risk vs. reward nature of the game outside of the actual poker room. They know how much bank they need to play, and how much money they need in reserve to cover other expenses in life.

    Good poker players understand they need to be more risk-averse with their overall bankroll than their stack at the table.

    When you play in an individual game, you must value every chip equally at the table. You should only care about making correct plays. If you buy in for $10, you should be okay with taking a 52% chance of doubling up to $20 if it means a 48% chance of losing your $10.

    However, you should be risk-averse with your overall bankroll. You need to have enough money so that any day at the tables will not affect your bankroll too much. If you worry too much about losing, then you will make mistakes at the table. You need to leave yourself with the chance to fight another day.


    How much money should I invest?

    This is an important question, with two simple answers.

    If you are a beginner or just looking to have fun, don't invest any more than is 'fun' to lose. Hence, if you're comfortable blowing a hundred bucks, put in $100 and see if you can win with it. This is what I did. My original roll was only $100, but I built it up into my current, much more powerful bankroll.

    Bankroll considerations are different for a seasoned player who has proven himself a winner. These types of players are looking to consistently make money at a given limit. If you are one of these players, you should be able to bank 200 big bets at the limit you play. Hence, if you play $2-$4, you should have an $800 roll ($4 x 200). For $5-$10, your target roll should be $2,000. These numbers prevent you from blowing your entire bankroll because of one bad run.

    Some say that 200 big bets is too few for shorthand, but I believe that you need to be reasonable about potential losses. You don't want to invest more than 200 big bets unless you've proven that you're successful at that limit.

    Also, it is a very good idea to keep a daily diary of your sessions. This will help you determine if you are a winning or a losing player and how often you win. It will also prove helpful come tax time if you live in a country with income tax on gambling winnings (in the UK and Canada, there is no tax on gambling winnings).

    Adjusting From Home Games to Casino Games

    Most people who play poker seriously started by playing in home games. The structure of these games is simple. Generally, everyone would ante a certain amount (say, $0.25) and then the betting was structured as to have a minimum and maximum bet. For example, the bets and raises would range between $0.25 and $2 each round.

    The play at home games was generally: bet, call (or perhaps bet, raise, call.) Most hands would go to a showdown, and typically the person who had the hottest cards would win at the end of the day. Games were mostly luck and a little bit of skill.

    Internet poker and casino poker are very different from this typical home game in 3 ways: the ante structure, the betting structure, and the competition.

    Ante Structure

    First, unless you are playing 7-card stud, there is no ante; instead, there are blinds. The person to the left of the dealer must pay the small blind and the person after him must pay the big blind. These are forced bets. All the other players are not forced to pay anything to receive cards (they do not need to ante), but they must match the big blind or any raise to the big blind to see the flop. Thus, a typical game, involving 6 people, with a small blind (SB) of 50 cents and a big blind (BB) of $1 would go as follows preflop:

    Seat one: SB ($.50)
    Seat two: BB ($1)
    Seat three: Fold
    Seat four: Calls BB ($1)
    Seat five: Raises BB ($2)
    Dealer (Seat six): Fold

    Seat one: Fold
    Seat two: Calls raise ($1)
    Seat four: Calls raise ($1)

    Then the betting would begin with the big blind (since the small blind folded) after the flop.

    Betting Structure

    In addition to the ante structure being different, the type of betting differs. The most similar to the spread limit (i.e. the minimum and maximum bet) would be no-limit. There is still a minimum bet, however, the maximum bet is the amount of chips in front of you.

    There is a common myth in no-limit poker that if someone bets more chips than you have, you must fold. That is not true. If Tom bets $30 and I only have $15, I only must put in $15 to call. If I'm the only person in the pot, Tom is essentially betting only $15. However, let's say that the pot is between me, Tom, and Jane. Suppose both Tom and Jane have $50, while I have $15. Tom put in $30, I go all-in for $15, and Jane must call $30 to stay in. $15 from each player ($45 total) would be in the main pot. $15 from Jane and $15 from Tom would be in a sidepot. So, at the showdown, I would be in contention for $45 and Tom and Jane would be in contention for the $45 main pot plus the $30 sidepot. If I have the best hand, and Jane has the second best hand, I would win $45 and she would win $30. If Jane's hand were better than mine, she would win the entire $75.

    Closely related to no-limit is pot-limit, where you can bet any amount from the minimum bet to the size of the pot.

    The final form of betting is known as limit (also called fixed-limit). This type of game has fixed bets. For example, in a $2-$4 game, the size of the bets are $2 or $4, depending on which round it is. In Texas Hold'em and Omaha, each bet preflop and at the flop (when the first three cards come out) is $2. If someone wishes to raise, he must do so by $2. Thus, in a 4-handed situation, this would be a typical case:

    Seat one: Check
    Seat two: Bet $2
    Seat three: Raise $2 (to $4)
    Seat four: Call $4

    Seat one: Fold
    Seat two: Call $4

    The bets on the turn (when four cards are out) and the river (when all five cards are out) would be the higher amount: $4. So, taken the above example, this is how the turn betting may happen:

    Seat two: Bet $4
    Seat three: Fold
    Seat four: Raise $4 (to $8)

    Seat two: Call $4


    Finally, skill pays off more on the internet and in the casino. People are actually try to win because the money exchanged is often more than just nickels and dimes. You should not just call to the river 'just to see what he has' and such. You must use strategy if you expect to win in the long run.

    Someone whose only poker experience is playing at home games will probably lose in the long run on the internet or in a casino if they do not learn solid poker strategy. The other strategy articles on this website will help you to become a winning poker player.

    Play Money

    Games for "play money" are very popular on the internet. These are poker games where no real money is wagered, and players just play with fake, virtual chips. There are far more play-money players than real-money players on the internet because it is a form of free entertainment. Many people play these games to pass the time or to learn the basics of poker.

    Play-money games can be entertaining. However, play-money games are very limited in their ability to help a player improve his skills. Play-money games are generally only useful to accomplish the following purposes:

  • To help a player understand the rules of the game
  • To help a player get used to online poker software

  • Play-money games are not helpful for a player to refine his or her poker skills. Learning to excel at play-money games will only help you beat play-money games. The "skills" you learn at play-money games may be helpful at real-money games, but there is also the chance that you will learn bad habits that will actually cause your real-money poker skills to deteriorate.

    Play-money players tend to play almost any hand dealt to them. They will hardly ever fold because there is no consequence if they lose a lot of "play money." In this environment, winning is extremely easy. You can see the flop with a lot of hands and hope to hit a solid hand. Since you will definitely be paid off, it pays to play extremely loose pre-flop in a play-money game, provided you use some sense during your post-flop play.

    In a real-money game, people are not nearly as idiotic as they are in play-money games. If you go all-in on a board of [[cards As Ks 5s]], very rarely will someone call you with [[cards 3d 2c]] in a real-money game. But in a play-money game, this sort of move would certainly not be out of the ordinary. In short, people in play-money games are more than happy to give their "virtual money" away. In a real-money game, players are not nearly as generous.

    This important difference between the two games greatly affects the strategy of the games. Successful play-money strategy incorporates loose preflop play because one can expect a huge payoff if one flops a strong hand. Since people will not simply throw their money at you in real-money games, players need to play tighter preflop and only see the flop with certain hands.

    Furthermore, winning at play-money will often give players false confidence. Winning at play-money games is absolutely no guarantee that one will win at real-money games. Often, winning play-money players lose at real-money games. These players frequently fail to realize what mistakes they are making at real-money games because the habits they have learned were successful in play-money games.

    While play-money ring games have little in common with real-money ring games, there are certain types of play-money games that are somewhat similar to their real-money counterparts. The best example is large play-money MTTs vs. large freerolls. Freerolls are essentially play-money tournaments, except there is a cash prize for the top winners.

    Generally, the smaller the prize, the more similar the freeroll is to a play-money tournament. After all, if first place only receives $50, people will not be as focused as they would be if first place received an entry into the World Series of Poker.

    Even in low-buy-in tournaments ($5 or less), people will still try a lot harder than they would in a play-money tournament. The only thing at stake in a play-money sit-and-go is pride, and pride alone is not nearly as important as $10. Bear this in mind when transitioning from play money games to real money games.

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