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Texas Hold 'em Poker - Part 3

01 October, 2009

In part two of "Texas Hold'em," we discussed the specifics of Texas Hold'em poker, learned how to play, and outlined beginning strategies. Now let's get into the fun part: the advanced strategies of Texas Hold'em poker, including bluffing and "tells."

In the film Ocean's Eleven, Rusty asks his novice poker players, "Guys, what's the first lesson in poker?" Answer: Leave emotion at the door. It's easy to make mistakes when your decisions are based on emotion. A novice player, having been dealt a series of boring, lifeless combinations, might grow impatient and start throwing away chips on bad cards just to "get in the game." A few losing hands might cause a player to grow overly cautious and miss out on some good opportunities. And even a player on a lucky streak might get overly confident and start chasing too many long shots. A mature poker player acts on set rules and principles, not emotions.

One of the books that came highly recommended to me while I was preparing this article was Phil Gordon's Little Green Book: Lessons and Teachings in No Limit Texas Hold'em . Gordon says great poker players possess five specific qualities:

  1. They are invariably aggressive. Aggressive poker is winning poker. They apply pressure to their opponents with bets and raises.
  2. They are patient. They wait for situations at the table that are profitable.
  3. They are courageous. They don't need the stone cold nuts to bet, call, or raise.
  4. They are observant. They watch their opponents during every hand.
  5. They're always working on their game and they want to be better players. They talk about the game with other players, they practice, they read poker books, they analyze their play, and work to plug the leaks that have developed.

As we said earlier, the real challenge of Texas Hold'em poker is not so much getting a good hand as much as it is reading the other players. A fierce poker player can dominate a table if he just reads the other players.

Things you want to consider at every turn are: How are my opponents playing? What are some of the hands my opponents are likely to hold? What do my opponents think that I have? And am I in a good position or a bad position? These are the considerations before you bet, raise, check, or fold.

 

Bluffing & Tells

One of the most effective techniques you can employ in Texas Hold'em is observing your opponent. This is one of the elements in poker that really makes it exciting. Think about what motivates the other players. Try to figure out what state of mind your opponent is in. Look for betting patterns. And last but not least, look for tells. Being able to successfully read your opponent is what turns a good player into a great player. Bluffing is an almost constant part of the game.

According to Caro's Book of Poker Tells  by Mike Caro, players are either acting or they aren't. If they are acting, then decide what they want you to do, and disappoint them. Players who are acting weak are usually strong; they want you to put money in the pot, and you disappoint them by checking or folding. Players who are acting strong are generally weak; they want you to fold or check, and you disappoint them with a bet or a raise.

Many "tells" are a variation on the "weak equals strong" and "strong equals weak" themes. A player with a really strong hand will immediately be conscious of the fact that he might look too excited. So what does he do? He looks calm, even uninterested. Maybe he sinks back in his chair and looks around and he pretends he's paying only casual attention. On the other hand, the player who has a weak hand might try to look eager and aggressive. Maybe he can scare enough of his opponents into folding. Here are a few of the tells that Caro lists:

 

'Tells'

Beware of the Speech
Caro recounts a story that goes like this: The big blind rose from his chair, looked at no one in particular, and said something along the lines of, "Well, I guess I gotta to do what I gotta to do. It's alright. I've been wanting to see that new movie... Ah, hell I'm all in!" Caro called. The big blind (as other players should have expected) turned up pocket aces. Any time someone at the table makes a big speech, just get out of the way.

Varied Bet Sizes Look for players who give away the strength of their hand by varying the size of their bets before the flop. Some players will raise two times the blind when they have a good hand. Other players will do the opposite. Figure out which strategy that player is using and then use it against them.

The Out of Turn Bet
Say a player jumps up and wants to raise the bet when it's not even his turn to make the bet yet. It could be he just made an honest mistake, or he is trying to fool other players into thinking that he's got a fantastic hand and wants to make a really big bet.

A Suit Check
When the flop comes with three cards of the same suit, and an opponent double checks his whole cards, he very often has one of that suit. He may remember which suit cards he has, but he probably can't remember which suits they were. He might know he has an ace/king, and he might know that one is a diamond and that one is a club, but he can't remember which is which, so he rechecks after the flop. Caro says, "I have almost never seen a player with a made flush do a double-take in that spot."

Quick Bet, Slow Bet
This is another variation of the "strength versus weakness" tell. Opponents who bet quickly tend to have weaker hands than opponents who bet slowly. A quick bet is meant to intimidate. The speed is a substitute for real strength. A slow bet on the other hand is meant to imply uncertainty.

Leaners and Slouchers
Players who sit up and lean over the table usually have weak hands. Players who slouch or lean backwards in their chairs usually have strong hands. The "leaners" are getting close to the action in an effort to intimidate other players. The "slouchers" are trying to act as non-confrontational as possible.

When They Look at Their Chips
Here's a reliable "tell" that usually occurs right after the flop, turn or river card is been dealt. When a new card helps the opponents' hand, they often look down at their stack for just a split second. You can almost read their mind thinking "Oh, what a good card! What am I going to bet?"

When They Look at My Chips
When opponents eye my stack they are usually visualizing what my chips would look like in their own stack. These players are telling me that they have a good hand.

The Toss vs. the Slide
Players who toss their chips half casually into the pot are usually weak. They're over-compensating for a lack of strength with an overly flamboyant betting style. Players who smoothly and effortlessly slide their chips into the pot are trying to make their bet as easy to call as possible. The combination move of sliding the chips into the pot and then leaning back in the chair is almost sure sign of a great hand.

These poker tells come courtesy of Mike Caro's seminal work on the topic, Caro's Book of Poker Tells  which was quoted in Phil Gordon's Little Green Book: Lessons and Teachings in No Limit Texas Hold'em  by Phil Gordon.
 

Rules of Etiquette

Don't Splash the Pot
The term "splashing the pot" refers to a player haphazardly tossing chips into the pot. If you are playing in a casino, this is illegal, because it makes it difficult or impossible for the dealer to verify the size of your bet. Just place your bet directly in front of you. The dealer will count your chips and then place them in the pot.

Don't String Bets
A "string" bet occurs when a player reaches into his stack more than once while making a bet. For example, if the player is betting ten chips, and he were to slide the first stack of five chips forward, then pause, then slide the second stack of five forward. If this were legal, a devious player could reach into his stack, place a bet, gauge his opponents' reactions, and then reach back for more chips. Place your bet in one motion, and get into the habit of clearly saying, "raise" when it's your turn to bet.

Don't Talk About the Hand
Why would you want to announce what you have verbally or physically while your hand is at play? If you are a beginner, and this is a friendly home game, and this is okay with all the other players, that's one thing. But, if you're in a casino setting it might seem like your trying to gain information by gauging the reaction of the other players when you talk about your own hand.

Other Bits of Etiquette to Consider
Don't intentionally act out of turn, make bets, or fold when it's your turn to do so. Don't intentionally stall the game. Don't order someone to turn up their cards face up at the showdown; you may ask someone to show their cards but it's the dealer's job to tell them. Asking players to see their cards too frequently is considered bad etiquette. Never mistreat the dealer. Protect your hand from wandering eyes when you peek down at your cards. Keep your cards on the table at all times. And finally, show both your cards if it's required at the showdown.
 

Time to Play

Where do we go from here? Watching "World Series of Poker" on ESPN is a great way to become more familiar with the game of poker. Check your local listings. Bear in mind, "World Series of Poker" tends to highlight the more exciting hands. Your own poker experiences will require much more patience in waiting for the great hands.

There are also some other great Web sites if you want to continue to learn about poker. ESPN has a great online source, which you can find at ESPN.com (http://espn.go.com/poker/).

Before you play a real game with real players, you could try an online game. The one I play pretty often is Full Tilt Poker (www.fulltiltpoker.com). It's free to download, free to play, and you play against live opponents. You can play as often as you'd like until you feel comfortable. Another well-known site for online poker is PokerStars.net (http://www.pokerstars.net/). And ESPN.com also offers online poker.

By now you should be ready for a real game with real players. If you know some people who play Hold'em poker, try to get yourself invited to play a game. Otherwise, try to find a few people who know how to play and set up your own game. A low-stakes poker tournament can make for a really fun Friday night.

And be sure to keep your games "low-stakes" as you begin to gain experience. As Paul Kyriazi points out in his seminar How To Live The James Bond Lifestylethere's a huge difference between "gambling" and "gaming." If you are playing with money that you can't afford to lose, then you are "gambling." But if you play with money that you have budgeted out for your evening's entertainment, then you are "gaming." Don't put yourself in a position to have to stress about losing money. Play with a limited budget, and do not go over.

And if you're interested in reading up on more poker strategies, one of the books that I used in preparing this article was Phil Gordon's Little Green Book: Lessons and Teachings in No Limit Texas Hold'em , by Phil Gordon.

I also referred to: Poker for Dummies  by Richard D. Harroch and Lou Krieger
and Doyle Brunson's Super System 2: A Course in Power Poker , by Doyle Brunson

Phil Gordon also recommends
The Theory of Poker: A Professional Poker Player Teaches You How To Think Like One  
and Tournament Poker for Advanced Players: Expanded Edition  
as well as Hold'Em Poker for Advanced Players (Advance Player)  by David Sklansky and Mason Malmuth.

And, of course, Caro's Book of Poker Tells , by Mike Caro.

That concludes this article on Texas Hold'em Poker.

Remember, great poker players are not made overnight; but with knowledge, practice, and a little luck, you'll soon be playing like a pro. Order yourself a Vesper, and good luck!

© 2009 Joseph Darlington - beingjamesbond.com


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