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Welcome to the 888 Dragon Poker Learning Centre 

(Please note this is a HUGE page and takes a short while to download).

And welcome to the world of poker – more specifically, Texas Holdem Poker – the New Sport of Kings! What other opportunity exists for a 20-year-old to win over $1m without getting his hands dirty or breaking out in a sweat? It all happens in the wonderful world of poker.

What we have set out to do on this section of our web site is to provide a distilled version of the wisdom available in our library and from the books we recommend you read. An old red-indian saying is: “Even the blind chicken will eventually find the corn” is oh so true. Your options are to (hopefully) learn by your expensive mistakes, or using the selection of free and recommended training materials to jump-start your game and put you on the fast track. And you do want to be on the fast track – don’t you?
Use this web page as a brief introduction, then please follow up by studying the articles, buying the books and using the software available. In every case, the cost of these peripheral materials is far less than the accumulated losses you can avoid by using the materials available to improve your game.
And, since you’re reading this to improve your game – let’s get to it!
To simplify your progress, we have accumulated the learning sections into the following groups. Just click on the link to jump to that selection: Kindly note that we provide this information as a service to our members, but offer no endorsement of the poker rooms or the outcomes derived from acting on any information presented to you. Please be aware that use of these materials is further subject to our Terms and Conditions.

The bulk of the information presented above has been drawn from Wiki Books, the poker rooms we represent on this site and articles from a number of other sources that you will find in our Articles Library where, for the sake of brevity, we have extracted parts and changed others to keep this page’s content “short and sweet”. If you believe that some content may have been reproduced without the author’s permission, please contact us with the details
Please let us have your feedback about any particular content or the site itself, good or bad!
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Texas Hold’em is a good game to start with, and the game we focus on in our Learning Centre. It is unquestionably the most popular poker game – with over 5 million registered players – and a game that has the most beginners. It is not necessarily an easy game, as the saying goes “it takes a minute to learn but a life-time to master”, but in comparison with other games where less beginners play (where the opponents is more experienced) it is still better to start out with Texas Holdem.

Basic Play 

Texas Hold'em is considered by many to be the most complex and strategic form of poker. By becoming proficient in Texas Holdem, you will find other poker games far simpler to master. In it everyone tries to make the best 5 card hand they can out of five community cards and two personal cards.
The game starts with the posing of the Small and Big Blinds. The blinds are forced bets. The first player to the left of the dealer (also called the button) puts in the small blind, and the player to the left of the small blind pays the big blind, which is typically twice the small blind. This represents the minimum bet once the action begins. Each player is dealt two cards face down called the hole cards, which they aim to keep secret. Then the first round of betting ensues, with the player to the left of the big blind acting first. After this, a card is discarded and three cards are dealt face up in the middle of the table. These cards are called the flop, and are the first three community cards. There is another round of betting, beginning this time with the small blind. One more card is discarded and one more community card is dealt, called the turn. There is another round of betting, again starting with the small blind, then a discard, and then the final card, called the river, is dealt. There is one final round of betting and then the players who have not folded turn over their cards to determine the winner. If two or more players have the same best hand, the pot is split evenly between them.
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Terms and Slang Used 

May we suggest that you print this section out and keep it as a handy reference until you know all these terms. We have only supplied the essential and most common terms, all of which are used in articles, books and training systems.
Small BlindFirst player to the left of the dealer (button) is forced to place the “small blind” bet
Big Blind First player to the left of the small blind, is forced to place the “big blind” bet – usually double the small blind.
Hole CardsTwo cards dealt face-down to each player and may not be disclosed to any other player until completion of the hand.
FlopThree “community” cards dealt face-up in the centre of the table. Used with the hole cards to provide 5 cards for the player to make his 5-card final hand, or to establish the probability of improving to a better hand (e.g. four to a flush, possible flush to come from either the turn or river cards).
TurnFourth community card dealt face-up.
River Fifth and final community card dealt face-up.
CheckNo bets have been made since the last card was dealt and the player doesn’t wish to place a bet, but still wishes to remain in the game.
Bet The player makes the first bet since the last card was dealt.
RaiseThe player raises the bet value above the last bet made.
CallThe player matches the bet or raise made.
FoldThe player withdraws from the betting and discards his hand by placing it face down in the centre of the table.
Pre-FlopThe action that takes place after the hole cards have been dealt, but before the flop cards have been dealt.
Post-Flop The betting action that takes place after the flop and before the turn.
All-InThe betting of all your chips in one go.
Limping InA player stays in the hand with poor cards, usually because it’s cheap (or free e.g. Big Blind) to do so.
DrawRefers to the fact that you are waiting for one more card to get the hand you want. It's most commonly used in the cases of a straight or a flush.
Kicker If you have a pair, and one of the cards is in your hand and one on the table (community card), then the other card in your hand is referred to as a kicker. For example if the cards dealt to you are AK and there is a K in the community cards, your A will be your kicker.
Loose PlayerRefers to a type of play. Referring to someone as a loose player means that they play virtually any cards, are risk takers and will take chances as long as there is a chance of winning.
NutsThe winning hand, no matter what anyone else holds.
OutsThe total number of cards in the deck that are still available that would improve your hand.

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  • Use the Chat feature politely - no swearing at the other players, or use of bad language in general.
  • Do not use the Chat feature to badger other players or to criticise their playing abilities.
  • Compliment other players when the play warrants it. Comments such as “n1” mean “nice one!” or “wd” means “well done”. “wp” is “well played” and of course you can acknowledge a compliment by a “tx” for “thanks”.
  • Do not discuss your cards with other players while the hand is still being played - even if you have folded.
  • Only use English when chatting, or the site language (e.g. German on a German-language table).
  • If you need to take a break, click the "Sit Out" button or option so that your hands will automatically be folded.
  • Refrain from constantly discussing your hands after the fact, especially if you have folded and are tempted to discuss what could have happened had you stayed in the pot. You are the only one interested in this and it is irrelevant to the other players.
  • Do not send repeated messages to a player who is not replying - remember that many players play with the Chat feature disabled, so as not to be distracted.
  • Do not point out mistakes to other players, or gloat over having won a hand.
  • Do not become so distracted while chatting that you hold up the game - remember that you are there first and foremost to play, not to chat.
  • If you are playing at more than one table, be sure to pay attention so that you don't hold up the game at any of the tables you are playing at.
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Success Stories 

So, you want to be a millionaire, but sooner rather than later?
Maybe just earn enough to pay for your college or university fees, get a decent car or even a really nice house? Poker is a possible route, as the following stories confirm. There are thousands of poker players who make their sole living from online poker – and you could be one of them. However - NONE OF THEM did it overnight, was a born “natural” or didn’t study to consciously improve his (her etc) game.
Almost anyone can make money at poker – but please be careful. If the game runs away with you and you may be in danger of becoming a compulsive gambler rather than a skilled and controlled poker player, please seek professional advice from one of the gambling-addiction web sites or support groups. On a lighter note: “Nothing succeeds like a budgie with no teeth”.

  • This year, we saw Jeff Madsen, a 21-year-old internet poker player, win not one but two World Series of Poker bracelets and set a new record for the youngest player ever to win a World Series of Poker bracelet.
    Madsen also made two other final tables in games different from the traditional favorite of Hold'Em. His total winnings from this year's WSOP have added up to a little bit more than $1.4 million.
    Click here for the full story

  • University of Alabama student won $205,000 playing Texas Hold 'Em with some of the world's best players. Family and friends gathered at the Birmingham International Airport terminal Sunday to greet Shannon Shorr, 20, of Irondale, who placed fourth in the Aussie Millions Tournament at Melbourne's Crown Casino. .
    Click here for the full story

  • Christie Parham, a Little Rock, Arkansas nursing student in her junior year, and Sharla Lehrmann, a poker tournament writer for, engaged in a lengthy heads-up battle with several chip lead changes. Eventually, Parham got all the chips, a $15,330 payday and a striking gold pendant verifying her ladies championship status for winning the $200 no-limit ladies event.
    Click here for the full story

  • Bryan, a sophomore studying business at UMASS, plays poker from his dorm during his time between classes, playing basketball, socializing and taking in a few rounds of golf. For Bryan, his superior poker abilities and experiences have made him over $100,000 in the last three months.
    Click here for the full story

  • A young gambler from Duke University is trying to keep things "in perspective" following a $440,000 win at online poker. The win was Jason Strasser's biggest in his short time gambling at online poker, but he had to withstand a "marathon" online tournament to win, reports the Poker Gazette.
    Click here for the full story

  • Sam Farha, right, of Houston tries to determine whether Chris Moneymaker of Spring Hill, Tenn., is bluffing Saturday after Moneymaker put in all of his chips. The biggest and most improbable triumph in poker tourney history took place Saturday morning at Binion's Horseshoe, when a 27-year-old amateur from Tennessee captured poker's top event, parlaying a $40 investment in an online poker tournament into the $2.5 million top spot in the World Series of Poker's championship contest.
    Click here for the full story

  • Journalist Vicky Coren won the European Poker Tour London event - and £500,000 - in a dramatic final table in her home casino. Vicky, the first woman to win a major European title, beat off competition from 398 entrants in the four-day tournament.
    Click here for the full story

  • Santino Sgambelluria arrived in the Bahamas a casual online poker player with hopes of winning the big one. The dream is now a reality for the family man and Naval Officer. On Sunday, he became only the second person to ever win $1 million in an online tournament.
    Click here for the full story

  • Three PokerStars players made it all the way to the final table, slugging through eight grueling days, battling for the grand prize of $12 million. The three finalists departed Las Vegas with combined winnings of $5.9 million:
    • Doug Kim of Hartsdale, NY - $2,391,520
    • Erik Friberg of Sweden - $1,979,189
    • Dan Nassif of St. Louis, MO - $1,566,858
    Click here for the full story

  • Having the most tournament experience at the final table of the April 9th Foxwoods Poker Classic No Limit Hold'Em Championship gave 38-year old Victor Ramdin enough of an edge to grab the title and $1.3 million prize.
    Click here for the full story

  • Mike Sexton scoops $1 million at the 2006 WSOP Tournament of Champions and gives half of it to charity. Sexton, elated but exhausted after a grueling 17 straight hours of play, finally had a chance to see the $1 million passed his way, after years of providing commentary as it went to other players.
    Click here for the full story

  • LAS VEGAS -- When Jamie Gold bluffed, his opponents folded. When he had the best hand, they threw in all their chips. With a run of cards, a huge chip stack and an uncanny knack for reading other players, Gold, a talkative former Hollywood talent agent, cajoled his way to victory Friday at the World Series of Poker for the $12 million grand prize.
    Click here for the full story
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Playing for Free 

The first time you select a poker room to play at, you will be asked to register with them (a free service) and will always have the option to play for free for as long as you like. If you lose all your "play" chips, just go to the Bank and they give you more (always for free).
When you're comfortable with the room and your playing ability, deposit a nominal amount (usually $20,00) and start playing the small-stakes games. You must start small to get the “feel” of real cash play – simply put, players behave differently when there’s real money on the table and you need to make both allowances and adjustments to your own style accordingly.
As you move on to the “Beginner Players” section below, you will come to the “Free Online Training” recommendations, where you can not only register and play for free, but on “graduation” can enter (on some sites) an exclusive tournament with substantial $ prizes – a chance to win your starting stakes!
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Now – this is IMPORTANT: You will be registering on several sites to find those where you are comfortable. When you do, you will need to select a user name that will be the name you play under on any site. Obvious names like “Poker Shark”, “killer” “fat boy” “Stephen” will all be taken – remember that there are over 5 million players out there! So - take some time to create a short, unique name, that’s not going to embarrass you when you meet other players at the final table play-offs on a luxurious Caribbean cruise! This is actually your fist major challenge in the game of online poker. Typically, your name can be up to 12 characters long and can include only the alphabet, numbers and the "_" (underscore) character.
Have a look at the sections below - but don’t be concerned if it seems to be too much information for starters – then register at one of the free online training programs. They will take you by the hand and help you gain as much pleasure from online poker as possible. And it really is a “nice” game to play! Back to top-of-page

Free Online Training 

There are options for free online training available. On clicking the poker room link below, you will need to (a) download their software and (b) register on the site.
Please remember to come back to this page to continue your growth as a winning poker player!


Get Your Friends Involved 

Poker is a great passtime. If you’ve enjoyed the learning experience, get your friends to register with us too, so you can share your growth, boast and learn from each other as well – in short – enhance your learning experience by sharing it with your friends. The easy way is to just click here to send them an email!

Software for Offline Training 

You may often be in a position where you can’t play live games online (maybe you’re sitting on an aircraft) or have snatches of time available to you (waiting for the bus, sitting in the doctor’s room etc) which you could put to practical and enjoyable use by improving your play.
This is where offline PC software comes into its own. The nominal cost is more than offset by the intense training you receive to sharpen your game against real players for real money.
When your play has become more sophisticated and you want to sharpen specific skills or concentrate on particular game situations, you can set up your own competitor’s profiles and play any kind of game against them at your pace. So you can take your time in analysing each hand not only for your play, but also to see how they play against each other!
Click here to go to the Poker Software Solutions page.
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Know Your Odds 

The expected value (EV) or expectation of a wager is how much you will win in the "long run" by making that wager. For example, this situation comes up often in Texas hold'em: a player has four hearts on the turn, and needs to hit a heart on the next and final card to make a flush. He is absolutely certain he will win if he hits the flush and in so doing the board does not pair, because the board allows no possibility for a full house or better hand, and his flush will be the nut flush. Even if the board pairs, he has a good chance of winning, so he need not worry about other hands that much. The probability of catching the heart is about one in five. Therefore, he can expect to lose most of the time. However, the idea of continuing cannot be dismissed out of hand unless we know what his expectation is. If it will cost $5 to call a bet and the pot, including other bets and calls, is $50, our player actually has a very positive expectation and should pay to see the next card. The chance of hitting his hand is only one in five, the pot is ten times the bet size. The player expects to win on average two dollars for every dollar invested every time this situation occurs.
To make it easier to understand why this move is correct even though it usually loses, suppose you have a six-sided die. If you correctly guess what side it lands on, you will win $50. If you are wrong, you lose $5. You will be wrong five times out of six, but you stand to gain a lot over the long run! This is because the probability of guessing correctly is 1/6, sometimes expressed as odds, "5:1 against" (five losing possibilities, one winning possibility). However, the payoff odds are 50:5 ($50 won for a $5 bet), which can be reduced to 10:1, and 10:1 is twice as large as 5:1. The payoff odds are called pot odds in a poker game. Comparing the odds of winning to the pot odds is how you can estimate your expected value.
Ideally, you want to avoid all situations where you have a negative expectation. Even slightly negative situations can pile up and bleed away your bankroll.
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Calculating Expected Value

You cannot always get a good idea of the chances of winning your hand — at least, not without knowing what your opponents have, and they're not going to tell you! However, you will often have a draw which, if you hit, you will very likely win the pot. The exact arithmetic involved varies from game to game. In Texas hold'em and Omaha, once you see the flop, the percent chance of making your hand within one card is generally your number of outs (cards that will make your hand) multiplied by two, and the odds of making your hand within two cards is your number of outs multiplied by four. For example, if you have four hearts and you need one more for a flush, you have nine outs, because there are thirteen hearts in the deck, and subtracting the four hearts you already have gives nine. 9 × 2 is 18, so you have about an 18% chance of making the hand in the next card, and 9 × 4 is 36, so you have about a 36% chance of making it in two cards.
To make this easy, you want to turn this percent chance into odds, like 5:1 against. Fortunately, they are easy enough to memorize:
     50% =    1:1
     33% =    2:1
     20% =    4:1
     16% =    5:1
     14% =    6:1
     12% =    7:1
     11% =    8:1
     10% =    9:1
      9% =   10:1
      8% =   11:1
      7% =   13:1
      5% =   20:1
      4% =   25:1

The odds in bold are the most important to commit to memory; the others can be easily estimated.
Now, take the x in the x:1 figure and multiply it by the bet size. For example, if the odds of making your hand are roughly 4:1, and the next bet costs $5, multiply 5 × 4 = 20. That means you want there to be at least $20 in the pot (be sure to include bets that have not been added to the pot proper yet!), preferably a bit more just in case unless you're certain to win if you hit your draw. If there is not at least $20 in the pot you will lay down your hand, unless you can check instead. If the table is really loose, and a lot of players are in the hand and are likely to stay in, and the pot will get really big, you may even want to raise. Normally, however, checking or calling is the correct move.
Notice we did not calculate the exact expected value. This is not necessary or indeed practical for most people. If it is negative, you get out, and if it is positive, you call. If you're a favourite to win the pot, you raise. However, as has been shown you can usually figure out if the value is only barely positive, for instance, the size of the pot is a dollar more than the odds of making your hand (and this dollar is small in proportion to the pot size). When faced with this situation, you might want to lay down your hand sometimes: you may be losing just a little money in the long run, but you keep your bankroll from taking big swings. But if you don't mind taking a gamble, by all means go for it!
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Recommended Books and Videos 

You need to click here to visit the recommended books, magazines and DVDs section.
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Starting Hands 

The single most important thing in choosing which hands to play is to avoid being dominated. A hand is dominated if it is a non-pair hand facing a higher hand with one card the same, or facing a pair of the same or higher value as one of its cards. For example, AQ is dominated by AK, QQ, KK and AA. QJ, which looks like a good hand to beginners, is dominated by AQ, AJ, KQ, KJ, AA, KK, QQ and JJ - that is, virtually any hand playable for a raise but AK and the medium pairs. In short: A pair is dominated by any higher pair.
This is important not just because the dominated hand is, at best, a 3 to 1 underdog. The implied losses involved in holding AQ against AK are huge, since it can result in losing a large portion of your stack when an ace flops. The legendary player Doyle Brunson once gave up playing AQ entirely, saying that it had lost him more money than any other hand.
This leads to the Gap Concept - you need a better hand to call with than to raise with, from any given position. A player on the dealer button may raise with KJ after the action has been folded around, but should normally fold it to a raise which they judge may represent AK, AJ or KQ.

Hands can be divided into a number of types. The value of the types changes depending on the number of players, the level of the blinds and the player's position on the table.
Some hands here are chosen for their ability to make a useful strong one-pair hand; others are chosen for the ability to make a straight, flush or set. The latter are known as drawing hands. A good general rule for drawing hands is: play them in later positions, perhaps the button and positions 1 and 2, and never call with them for more than 5% of the maximum possible return. The maximum return is, roughly, the minimum of your stack and the opponents stack. You might well invest more than that when raising, of course, if you have a stealing opportunity.
A few playable hands, which are not mentioned, fall somewhere in between these two - K9 suited, for example, has a value perhaps somewhere close to KJ off. (But it should be noted that KJ off is not nearly such a strong hand as most beginners would tend to think).
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Big pairs (AA KK QQ)

These cards are a favourite against any hand (except a higher big pair) and must be played aggressively preflop. The general idea is to make as big a pot as possible with as few opponents as possible - which means that you should very rarely slow play these hands, unless you are playing opponents who know your style, in which case occasional slow playing has some value. However, there are three general rules for these hands in small tournaments: raise, reraise and all in. Post-flop, by contrast, it pays to be careful. If the pot is small relative to your stack, you are probably only going to find all of your chips in the middle when you are beaten - after all, all you normally have is a one pair hand. The main worries are over cards, a high pair on the board, or a flop with three cards to a straight or flush, especially a high straight like Q-J-T. Knowing when to push for maximum value against someone with top pair or a smaller over pair, when to make a player pay for a draw, and when to slow down or throw your hand away is a question of experience.
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High cards (AK AQ AJ KQ AT KJ QJ KT)

Post flop, the hope with these hands is to make top pair, ideally with top kicker. For example, if you play AJ and the flop comes J 8 4 of 3 different suits then you are leading against most hands, such as KJ and QJ. By raising preflop you should eliminate hands such as J8 and 44, or at least make them pay exorbitantly to hit their hand, and so you only need to worry about a player holding 88, JJ or higher. It is standard practice to bet strongly with top pair here, to make it unprofitable for an opponent with T9 to draw for a straight, and avoid someone hitting an over pair. T.J. Cloutier has said that 'Hold'em is a game of top pair, top kicker.'
Ace-King should be regarded in a different category from the other hands, since every time it hits it makes top pair, top kicker with minimal possibility of an over pair. The other hands should be played much more carefully, especially in a raised pot, and especially in a full ring game, where a dominating hand is present much more often than you might think.
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Small and medium suited connectors
(JT T9 98 87 76 65 54 43; QT Q9 J9 T8 97 86 75 64 53 suited)

Numerically adjacent cards of the same suit are less likely to make a playable hand on the flop than two big cards. However, when they do make a hand it is usually a very strong one such as a flush, straight, two pair or trips. While pot odds rarely favour these hands, no limit holdem is a game of implied odds, and making that type of hand can easily allow you to double through. Against good players they have the additional advantage of making your play less predictable.
With suited connectors the main aim is to enter a pot cheaply against a number of opponents and from a good position, usually either on or one off the button. With an open-ended straight or flush draw the player will often make a bet called a semi-bluff. If they are called then they are probably behind, but on drawing the correct card it may be possible to force a player with a hand as weak as top pair-top kicker to move all in.
Suited connectors have the most value in full ring games and with low blinds. The true connectors, with no gap between them, are more valuable because they are more likely to make a straight. However the one-gap connectors sometimes gain value from being more deceptive. The medium, offsuit connectors such as JT and T9 may also be playable in late position. The smaller offsuit connectors are trash hands from any position.
The medium connectors are excellent hands to find in late position in an unraised pot, since many players are often holding lower connectors, small pairs, and (especially in online play) high-low combinations, where the medium connectors have a distinct edge. In raised pots the small connectors may become more valuable than the medium ones, however. For example, if a player raises with AQ and another calls with AK, then a 65 suited will be quite a playable hand in a showdown, since the AQ is such a big underdog. (There are pathological cases where the 65 can actually be a favourite in a showdown over the AK here.) Better yet, a flop like A-K-6 will not loose many chips for the player with 65... while a flop like K-6-5 could be quite expensive for the player with AK. By contrast, a QT would be a very bad hand to have.
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Suited Rag Aces (Ax Suited)

The ace with a low suited kicker plays very similarly to suited connectors. While pairing the ace is useful, it can easily cause problems when outkicked by a premium ace, and should be played more like middle pair than top pair. The idea, however, is to flop a flush draw. While many inexperienced players will play any two suited cards in the hope of this happening, suited aces have unique advantages here.
Most obviously, when making an ace-high flush you may have the nuts, and you will break any player with a lower flush. Also, when the flop brings a flush draw there are two scenarios; there is no ace, in which case you have a flush draw and an over card, or there is an ace, in which case you have top pair with a flush draw. This means you have 12 cards to improve your hand above the current top pair by making a flush, pair of aces, or two pair. This gives a very good chance of winning a showdown. Unfortunately, the flush is so obvious that it will take very good play to extract maximum value from a solid, conservative player.
It is worth bearing in mind that an ace with a wheel card (2, 3, 4 or 5) is a stronger drawing hand than an A6 or A7. You may flop a straight, or a flush draw with an inside straight draw, a genuine monster draw with 15 outs over a pair of kings.
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Small And Medium Pairs (JJ TT .. 22)

The medium pairs, JJ through 88, are often the hardest hands to play. For example, suppose a player raised in early position and you called with 99. The flop comes 8-5-3, and the opponent bets. It is clearly unlikely that they have paired the flop, since they raised; if they have a pocket pair of eights then they have a set; if they have a higher pair then you are a massive underdog. All you can beat is a bluff, and even against two over cards you are only a 3-to-1 favourite. So, the medium pairs require very careful handling after the flop unless you hit a set. At the same time they are a little too good to throw away to a single raise, and certainly good enough to raise with. In fact they may be re-raising hands against an aggressive player.
With lower pairs, 77 through 22, hitting an over pair is increasingly unlikely, and they are played more as drawing hands. The standard plan is to enter the pot as cheaply as possible and with good position, try to make a set on the flop, and release the hand upon failing to hit. The pair will make a set approximately 12% of the time, which is enough to pay off handsomely, especially since it is nearly impossible to tell whether or not someone has made a set from the cards on the board.
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Trash Hands (Almost Everything Else)

Trash hands are trash not because they cannot win - any two cards can win, especially in a game where you normally do not show down a hand - but because it is so difficult to make a hand which you can play strongly on the flop. Take K7 off suit. When pairing the king it cannot really be played as top pair because of the poor kicker. When pairing the 7 it is unlikely to be top pair, and also unlikely to remain as top pair once the turn and river have been dealt. Making two pair can be very profitable, but with only a few percent chance of flopping two pair even the implied odds cannot justify the play.
As a result, trash hands are only playable under certain circumstances. One is a common scenario at the final table of tournaments. The blinds are high, giving you little chance to select premium hands, and the table is shorthanded. This forces gambling play. By the time a tournament gets down to two players it may be normal to go all-in on being dealt a K7. They are also playable for a call or check from the blinds in an unraised pot.
It is also possible to play them simply because your position at the table makes playing any two cards advantageous. This normally occurs when you are the dealer and the players in front of you have passed. If you are an experienced player or have weak or conservative opponents in the blinds then it can be profitable to play simply for the opportunity to bluff.
Outside the blinds, it is vital to raise when playing these hands preflop, not call. By raising you give yourself the opportunity to steal the blinds as well as the best chance of finding yourself heads-up, where it is easiest to win with the worst hand. Also, limping in where you cannot call a raise is rarely a good strategy. This approach works for some of the best players in the modern game such as Daniel Negranu and Gus Hansen, but it is extremely difficult for inexperienced players, who should normally stick to more playable hands.
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Bankroll Management 

The first rule of bankroll management is that the money that you set aside is for your poker play only and is not to be used for any other purpose. You should not be taking money from your bankroll until it is in profit and if you want to build up enough to be able to play in high-stake games, you will need to exercise self-control and remind yourself of (a) how much effort it has taken to build it up, and (b) what your overall objectives are in terms of regular poker income.
The size of your bankroll depends on a number of factors. It should be as much as you can afford and it should be an amount that you are prepared to lose. The size also will determine the table stakes that you can play. The general rule of thumb for limit holdem is 500x the big blind and for no-limit holdem, to have 1000x the big blind as a bankroll. In other words, if your bankroll is $250,00 you can safely play in a game with a 25cents big blind ($250/1000 = .25) and absorb a number of losses.
If a losing streak causes your bankroll to drop to $200, then lower the game type to 20cent big blinds. In the same manner, you grow your stakes as you grow your winnings. Remember though - be patient!
You need to be aware that when you increase your stakes, are also going to be playing against players who are probably significantly stronger than yourself and as a result, you may be at risk of playing too passively at the higher limits. Many players get scared when they are inexperienced and cannot afford to lose, which then causes them to lose, which makes them more scared etc.
Fortunately, however, most players play for fun. If you are not 100% focused on playing a winning game and are playing mostly to have a good time, you belong to the 95% who are happy amateurs.
Last, but not least, keep a record of every game you play to monitor your progress and keep things in perspective.
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Anger Management - The Dreaded "Tilt" 

Scenario: You have folded the last 20 hands, waiting for a reasonable hand to play with, and you’re getting irritated. Suddenly you are dealt AK suited, and you’re on the button with four other players already in the pot. To keep them in and build the pot, you only raise 3 times the blind. The big blind and two other stay in for the flop. You make your AA on the flop, but slow-play to keep the pot building. The turn gives you AAA and you are excited. When the big blind comes back at you, you are surprised but happy. On the river, though, he makes his full house, you lose a huge pot and you’re ANGRY.
If you let this anger affect your play – you’re on “tilt” and a huge danger to yourself. If you haven’t learnt to cope with these situations – click the “sit out” button and go get a glass of water (or something) and don’t return to the table until after you’ve calmed down.
Now, of course, when you see another player smashed like this (especially – look for the loser’s AA hole cards on the showdown) you can expect him to do something really dumb on the next deal. If you have the hand strength – it could be your chance to take him down!
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For ease or reference, we refer to “intermediate players” as those who win the occasional tournament or finish "in the money" often enough to justify the time and expense of tournament play. In the case of ring games, you show a steady profit and are systematically working your way up the stakes to where you will soon be making real money at poker.

It is at this time in your development that you should be seriously considering reading the advanced poker books and investing in play-monitoring software to help you sharpen your game, minimise your losses and squeeze the maximum profit from the right opportunities. Back to top-of-page

Strategies and Tactics 

The Button Steal: While any raise preflop can be seen as an attempt to win the blinds, there is one scenario where it is especially profitable. This is the previously mentioned situation of having every player before you pass when you are on the button. If the small and big blind will both fold to a raise of twice the big blind two times out of three then the third time is effectively a freeroll, and a freeroll with good position. Late game in high level tournaments is dominated by attempts to steal the blinds in this fashion. Of course, it is possible to steal from positions other than the button, but having late position is very desirable.

The Squeeze

The squeeze is best demonstrated by example. Suppose a player raised and was called in front of you. A reraise here will place the original raiser in a difficult situation. They have no way of knowing what the original caller will do, and any chips they place in the pot may have to be surrendered to an all-in by a large pair or similar. As a result, a good player will not call without a huge hand. This move almost always either wins the pot outright, or sweetens it and moves to heads-up. Even some conservative players will make this move with marginal hands such as suited connectors and small pairs.

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Reasons to Bet, Check and Call 

One of the main mistakes beginners make is acting without a reason. Or rather, acting with a reason that is to do with their cards rather than with gaining chips. The main reasons to bet and raise are:
  • To gain value. This is the simplest reason. You have a hand, and you think that your opponent may have a worse hand with which they can pay you off. Value bets are the heart of poker.
  • To force a better hand to fold. Bluffing, discussed in detail later. Your chances of winning a showdown are slim, so avoid one.
  • To protect a hand. Almost any hand can be outdrawn, and it is often important to force your opponent to pay for the privilege. How important this is depends on your hand, the board and your opponent's range of hands.
  • To gain information. Betting and raising purely for information is a technical mistake - you are betting in a situation where the bet will not generate income. However, it may be correct to make a small mistake to avoid a large one later.
The main reasons to check are to:
  • Induce a bluff or misrepresent your hand. This might be slowplaying, or it might not in a normal sense; you might check a middle pair to induce a bluff.
  • Keep the pot small. If it's not clear whether you are ahead or behind, why build a bigger pot? Checking a hand down might be a good option in this case.
  • Take a free card. In position, especially against a tricky, trappy opponent, you might be better off seeing if the next card improves your hand when they check to you. Out of position you cannot guarantee a free card, of course.
  • Gain information. Sometimes, against certain opponents, you might gain more information by checking than by betting. Be aware of these times.
  • The reasons for calling might be related to a number of the above - but generally, call when neither folding or raising seems like a good option.
These may seem like simple principles, but balancing them in the many different situations of hold'em is one of the keys to post-flop play. Back to top-of-page

Evaluating Hand Strength 

There are several factors which affect how strong a hand is besides its face value.
The more superior hands which can be made or drawn to from the flop, the weaker the hand. Two black aces are excellent preflop, but on a flop of Q J T suited in hearts it becomes a very mediocre holding against the possible flush, straight, two-pair, set and straight flush combinations.
More players in a pot also weakens a hand. Top pair jacks, ace kicker may be excellent heads-up, but it is far less likely to stand up with 5 players, and almost dead if those players are allowed to remain for the turn and river.
A hand becomes stronger when the amount in the pot is high in relation to the maximum you can lose. All-in with top pair is normal when the pot is similar in size to your stack, but suicidal with a ratio of 20:1.
Also, in tournaments the size of the blinds in relation to your stack is an important factor. A short stack must judge whether it is worth waiting for a better opportunity to double through with a lower stack, or worth making a move now with a weaker hand.

Evaluating the Strength of an Opponent's Hand

The first thing to do on the flop is to evaluate whether the opponent has made a hand. As a rule of thumb, remember this: against one opponent, you will be correct in assuming they missed the flop two times out of three. Against more than one, you will be wrong two times out of three or more.
Position is the most useful tool in judging their strength. If they are forced to act before you and check, and if they have no history of check-raising or slowplaying, then it is safe to assume that they hold no hand. This is not necessarily true if the flop came A K Q -- they may be worried about your hand, or they may have flopped the nuts.
On the other hand, with a flop like 7 5 2, a bet may not mean much, especially if the opponent considers you a tight player. This type of bluff on a rag flop is so common as to hardly be considered a bluff; they may be simply protecting an ace-high.
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The game of poker cannot be played correctly against rational opponents without bluffing. Of course, not all opponents are rational. If you find an opponent who invariably calls any reasonable bet on the flop and beyond, then only bet if you have a strong hand -- this sounds obvious, but it is something so alien to many players that world champions have been known to struggle in small stake, friendly games. There are 3 ways in which bluffing pays off:
  1. The opponent folds.
  2. The opponent calls, and you then draw out to a stronger hand against them.
  3. The opponent calls with a stronger hand, sees the bluff, and is more inclined to call bets in future because of it.
Against good opponents it may be that the last of these is actually the most profitable.
It is very difficult to establish how often you should bluff. Mathematically, a bet of half the pot breaks even if the opponent(s) fold one time in three, and a pot-sized bet breaks even if they fold half the time, based only on the possibility of them folding. Heads up against a conservative, inexperienced player it may well be profitable to make the first bet on the flop regardless of your hand. It certainly simplifies decision-making.
The main cost of bluffing on the flop is probably the opportunity cost of slowplaying. Checking with a very strong hand is something of a tell if you have bet the last 40 flops.
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Slow-playing, or trapping, is one of the most dangerous moves in Hold'em. The principle is to check after making a good hand, allowing the opponent to either bluff at the pot or improve their hand slightly on the next card.
The problem is that the opponent may find themselves drawing to a better hand than yours. Unless you are able to make some painful laydowns it is important to only trap with hands which are quite unlikely to be outdrawn, given the texture of the flop.

High Card Only

If you have no hand, no draw, then there is a good rule of thumb which almost always holds true -- don't call any reasonably sized bet. (Micro-bets, of 1/5 the pot or so, might be treated as if the opponent had checked, especially online.) You might bet, to pick up the pot, or even raise, but calling is a fast way to bleed chips.

Supporting PC Software

You may often be in a position where you can’t play live games online (maybe you’re sitting on an aircraft) or have snatches of time available to you (waiting for the bus, sitting in the doctor’s room etc) which you could put to practical and enjoyable use by improving your play.
Another variation: You want to learn how to cope with a combination of three loose, aggressive players, a maniac, a tight-aggressive, a calling station and two professionals – a challenge to be sure! With the right software, you can set up your own player profiles and play any kind of game against them at your pace. So you can take your time in analysing each hand not only for your play, but also to see how they play against each other!
This is where offline PC software comes into its own. The nominal cost is more than offset by the intense training you receive to sharpen your game against real players for real money.
Click here to go to the Poker Software Solutions page.

Recommended Books

You need to click here to visit the recommended books, magazines and DVDs section.
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The mark of the true professional is that knows that he doesn't know it all - and is willing (even keen) to learn more. We are not so presumptuous as to offer our own pointers, but rather recommend specific tools for your consideration:

Offline Training - PC Software

You may often be in a position where you can’t play live games online (maybe you’re sitting on an aircraft) or have snatches of time available to you (waiting for the bus, sitting in the doctor’s room etc) which you could put to practical and enjoyable use by improving your play.
Another variation: You want to learn how to cope with a combination of three loose, aggressive players, a maniac, a tight-aggressive, a calling station and two professionals – a challenge to be sure! With the right software, you can set up your own player profiles and play any kind of game against them at your pace. So you can take your time in analysing each hand not only for your play, but also to see how they play against each other!
This is where offline PC software comes into its own. The nominal cost is more than offset by the intense training you receive to sharpen your game against real players for real money.
Click here to go to the Poker Software Solutions page.

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Recommended Books

Click here to go to the Poker Books and Magazines Selection page.

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