A Pair of Balls Beats Anything

By | Beginner | One Comment

Bluffing is an essential part of poker, but it's one that a lot of people don't understand on a deep level. We categorize bluffs two ways: the first is a semibluff, the second a true bluff.

Semibluffs are bets that you make when you don't have the best hand but the next card could make you the best hand. A flush draw would be a good example of a semibluff. You don't have a hand yet, but you have a really good shot at catching the flush. A pure bluff is a bet you make when you have no chance of winning the hand and you expect that the other player will fold a certain percentage of the time, so you are making a bet in order to make them fold.

Remember, there are three ways to win poker hands. The first is to win the hand at showdown. The second is to get it all in before showdown and win the hand by showdown. And the third is to win the hand by stealing the pot. Bluffing accounts for the second two ways to win the pot, so it's essentially more important than having good hands. If you put in a strong semibluff and get it all in, not only can you win the pot by having your opponent fold on the spot, but you can also catch your hand and win by showdown.

Now let's break down each type of bluff in a little more detail. The semibluff gets its value from the combined equity of your opponents folding and you making the best hand. A bluff gets all of its equity from the percentage of times your opponent folds. This means that when you bet, whether a bluff or a semibluff, you have to be bluffing into an opponent that will fold often enough that will make your bet profitable.

If the pot is $100 and you bet $50, then I have to win that pot at least 33% of the time. I'm putting in $50 and the pot will be $150 when I take it back. If I'm winning this more than 33% of the time, I can bet there as a bluff. With a semibluff, the equity that you have for winning the pot with your draw is added to the percentage of time the opponent will fold. If I expect my opponent to fold 20% of the time but I also have a 20% chance to win the pot, then I can bet $50 into a $100 pot, even though the opponent is folding less than 33% of the time, because I have some equity with my draw. In fact, I only need my opponent to fold about 15% of the time to make this bet profitable, because 20% of the time I'll make my hand anyway and win. Because we are betting less than the size of the pot, we aren't risking so much to convince him to fold.


Let's take a look at a hand that showcases the value of the semibluff. I have on an board. That gives me a total of 12 outs, so I'm going to win the pot outright 48% of the time. I very rarely need my opponents to fold to make this a profitable bet. Nonetheless, because my equity is less than 50%, I do prefer to have them fold rather than to see a turn and a river card. In this case, I might bet something like 75% of the pot to encourage my opponents to fold but also to build the pot in case I do turn a straight or a flush.

As your equity decreases with a semibluff, for example, if I have a straight draw with just eight outs or two overcards with just six outs, the chance that the opponent folds needs to increase, or I have to be able to bet less without them folding less often. If I have two overcards for a 24% chance to win the pot, and I bet half pot, I need them to fold an additional 9% of the time for this to be profitable. Since our opponents always fold 10% of the time, this is a good bet. If I was to bet full pot, I would need them to fold 26% of the time, which is likely not the case, but might be profitable, depending on whether betting more induces the opponent to fold more hands. One read that can help you determine this is whether or not an opponent folds significantly more hands to full pot bets than half pot bets.

For the more advanced players out there, the way that we calculate the profitability of a bet is by taking our opponents' range and dividing it up into the percent of the range he calls with and the percent of the range he folds with. This approach utilizes combinatorics and is best performed away from the table due to the complicated calculations, but doing these calculations will help you intuit in the future what percent of his range he is folding.

The 10% Rule

Any time my opponents bet, I always assume that they're bluffing at least 10% of the time. Likewise, when I bluff, I assume my opponents will fold 10% of the time. Against aggressive opponents, I might bump this number to 15% or 20%. This is simply because you can't ever be certain what your opponents have. To say that you're 100% confident in what your opponents have is usually a mistake. The 10% rule provides a reasonable range to help you see the errors of that mentality and truly consider the equity value of your hand. If you've got a profitable bet if the opponent folds 10% of the time, you're going to want to make that bet. This rule definitely matters for semibluffs. If I've got a flush draw and a backdoor straight draw, I'm 41% to win the pot. If I bet the size of the pot, I need to win the pot 50% of the time. In this case, I'll always make that bet.

Poker myths about bluffing

Poker is not all about big bets and bluffs. There are a lot of TV programs out there that show all the big bluffs that happen at a poker table. I often only bluff once or twice an hour at a poker game, because the situation usually doesn't dictate the spot to be a good bluff. I very rarely make pure bluffs without good reads. A lot of players make bluffs a central part of their game and they end up going broke because eventually players will start calling you. The secret to make your bluffs profitable is to make semibluffs more often but to make your pure bluffs very, very rare. The only times when a pure bluff enters into my consideration is, say, on the river when I have no way to win the pot and I know this but I believe a scare card has come on the turn or river and I believe my opponent will fold a high percentage of his hands.

The continuation bet bluff

A special case of bluff is the continuation bet bluff. A continuation bet (or C-Bet) happens when you raise before the flop and then bet on the flop. If you flop a hand, then you're betting for value. But, if you miss the flop, then you're continuation bet bluffing. This is a special kind of bluff that I make very often. Because you've raised preflop, you are showing strength going into the hand. Once they've seen the flop, the opponent will often decide not to continue. Only about 35% of hands actually make a pair or better on the flop, which means about 65% of the time your opponent will fold to your flop bet. This allows you to make a generous profit (remember, with a half-pot bet, they only need to fold 35% of the time). Some players will often call flop bets to see a turn. These players can make your bluffs unprofitable.

What will really hurt your percentages in a continuation bet bluffing spot is having two players in the pot with you. When more than one person calls before the flop, there's a higher chance that someone caught a hand. If I'm betting half pot and need to win 33% of the time, but I've got two players who both fold 60% of the time, then my opponents both fold only ~35% of the time or so. That's pretty break-even. When you're betting into two or more players, a continuation bet can be unprofitable. I rarely C-Bet as a bluff into three or more players.

Basic Poker Math

By | Beginner, Mathematics | 2 Comments

Poker is a game of skill buried deep within a game of luck. In this article we're going to cover expected value, equity, risk, odds, outs, and all of the other "luck" factors about a poker hand.

Expected Value

Expected value is the amount of money you stand to win or lose when you make a bet. It applies in any gambling situation. It's basic probability: if you're flipping a coin and you wager $5 to win $10, your EV is $5, which is a $0 gain. Your possible outcomes are {0, 10}. These are two options and the average of them is $5. If you wager $5 to win $20, your EV is $10, a gain of $5. Your possible outcomes are {0, 20}. Divided by two, equals ten. If you wager $5 to win $2, your EV is $1, a loss of $4. Your possible outcomes are {0, 2}, divided by 2, is $1.

Now let's talk in terms of dice. If you wager $5 on a six to win $30, your EV is $5 (a gain of $0). Your possible outcomes are {0,0,0,0,0,30}. The average of which is $5. If you wager $5 on a six to win $40, your EV is $6.66 (a gain of $1.66). Your possible outcomes are {0,0,0,0,0,40}. The average of which is $6.66. If you wager $5 on a six to win $6, your EV is $1 (a loss of $4). Your possible outcomes are {0,0,0,0,0,6}. The average of which is $1.

You want to make bets where your EV gain is GREATER THAN $0. If you make a bet with an EV of $0, you're gambling for no gain. If you make a bet where your EV is less than $0, you're gambling for a loss.

Counting Your Outs in Poker

Outs are defined as any card that might come that would give you the best hand, assuming you don't already have the best hand. You usually count outs when you have something like a draw or when you have a good-but-not-great hand and think you may need to improve to beat your opponent. If you think you have the best hand, you don't have to count your outs, you're just going to try to put as much money in as possible.

Hand example #1

Let's talk about the most basic "outs" situation, when you have a flush draw, like on a board of . In this hand, you have to assume you don't have the best hand. If your opponent goes all in, he probably has a pair. He could just have a draw, like the or , in which case you're ahead, but we're not going to consider those situations because we want to talk about counting outs.

First, count how many specific cards, out of 52, would make you the best hand. There are 13 spades in a deck (and of every suit), but on this board, we already see four of them: . That means that there are nine spades unaccounted for. You can assume that, any time a spade comes, you're going to have the best hand. Of course, if something like was to come and your opponent makes a full house, it might cost you the hand, but that's very rare, so it's considered an out. We're going to assume that nine cards would come to give you the best hand.

That is, of course, if you don't think your is an out. If the would give you the best hand, like if he just had top pair, then you'd also have the best hand, so you have some extra outs here. This would add three overcard outs to your hand if top pair would win you the hand. On this board, it's probably enough to win the pot.

With your spades plus the ace, you've got nine outs for the flush and three outs for top pair, but the overcard won't always be an out, so it's prudent to count maybe one and a half outs in this case. That would mean that 50% of the time, your ace is good. A fair assumption, especially since you have a weak kicker.

In this hand, you've got somewhere between 9 and 11 outs. In the next section of this article, we're going to discuss how to convert your outs to equity using the Rule of Four. Until then, I'll just tell you that you're 40% to win this hand. That's really good odds if there's any kind of overlay in the pot. You can tend to get all in if you don't have a really big stack here. You can also opt to raise all in and use your fold equity to add value to your hand.

Knowing how to count outs will keep you from overvaluing your hand but also ensure that you do get the proper value for the hand you do have.

Read 3 examples on counting outs.

Converting Outs to Equity in Poker

Your equity is defined as the percent of the time you're going to win the hand. If you've got a flush draw, you know your equity is about 35%, but how do you get that number? You can use software called PokerStove (watch the video).

Hand example #1

Let's say we have a flush draw. We have the on a board.

We know from the above section on counting outs that we have nine outs for the flush draw and probably three outs for the ace, but since those are partial outs, we'll count two outs for the ace. That gives us a total of 11 outs.

Here's where we learn the Rule of Four. Multiply your number of outs times four. This is the equity of your hand and the percent of the time that you will win if the hand was to get all-in right now.

The Rule of Four says that if we were to get all in right here, we would win the hand about 44% of the time, because we have 11 outs. In fact, when we do use PokerStove to calculate our chance to win, the actual chance is 45%.

Hand example #2

Let's say we have the on a board. We know if we catch a jack we're going to win, but let's say they have a hand like T9 for two pair. We're also going to have to survive a ten or a nine coming on the river. Four outs for the jack time the rule of four is about 16%, but we're actually going to be a little less than 16%.

Simply put, drawing for a gutshot against two pair gives us fairly poor equity. On the other hand, instead of having T9 had something like T4, we'd have a lot more equity, about 40%, because now our kings and queens are both outs.

The rule of four is all you need to calculate your equity at the table, and knowing your equity is good because it tells you what pot odds you need to call a bet.

Pot Odds and Implied Odds

Pot odds are the odds that the pot is laying you to call a bet.

Example: There are 300 chips in the pot, and your opponent bets 100 chips.
If you call, you’ll be putting in 20% of the pot (100 chips in a 500 chip pot).
You can call if your pot equity is greater than 20%. Remember, your pot equity is the percentage that we calculated in the last section.

Implied odds represent the money that will go in the pot after you catch your draw. Calculating your implied odds is a little more involved than calculating your pot odds, but it is one of the things that is crucial to understanding where you stand in the hand.

To calculate your implied odds:
Step 1: Multiply the size of the pot after calling times .6.
Step 2: Multiply this number by a number between .1 and .9 which is an educated opponent-dependent guess and represents his likelihood to bet the next street or call a bet on the next street. A higher number represents a greater likelihood of putting in a bet on the next street.

Example: Consider a 600 chip pot versus a very aggressive opponent who bets 300 chips on the turn.
My pot odds dictate that my draw needs 25% equity to call.
My implied odds are worth 1200 * .6 * .7, or about 500 chips. Instead of risking 300 chips to win 1200, I am risking 300 chips to win 1700. Now, I only need 17.6% equity to call.

Several more of our hands are worth a call once we consider the implied odds! Let’s talk for a minute about the “opponent-dependent educated guess” number. I typically use the following calculations:

Tight Passive Player – 0.2
Loose Passive Player – 0.4
Aggressive Player – 0.6
Maniac – 0.8

Playing Positionally in Poker

By | Beginner, Theory, Videos | 2 Comments
Position is defined as the place you sit at on the table, relative to the button. Position progresses left around the table from the small blind to the big blind to early position, middle position, late position, and finally, the button. Playing positionally means adjusting your play based on your position at the table.

Understanding positional play is simple: early position is bad, late position is good. The later you are, the more options you have for playing your hand. For example, when you're on the button, you know that you're going to be in position throughout the entire hand, and this allows you to control the size of the pot. As a result, the closer you are to the button, the more hands you can play, the more you can raise, the more often you can raise, and the more options you have for reraising or calling before the flop. It lets you set the pace of the hand after the flop, too: will you play slow for a small pot or fast for a big pot?

When you're in a position like the small blind, the worst position on the table, you can't really dictate that. When someone else bets, you have to decide whether or not you want to play, and let them control the hand, or fold.

In the blinds, you're going to be in the worst position, but you already have some money invested. If you're allowed to check (from the BB) or simply call (from the SB) to complete the blinds, that's usually the right play. So you will play some hands from the blinds that you wouldn't play from any other position, simply because you have a little money invested.

On the button, you're going to be playing a lot of hands, especially hands with two high cards or hands that make straights or flushes. So while you'd be happy to play a hand like , a hand like is really not good enough to even call with.

The reason we would fold this hand is that, if we catch our king, anybody with a better king has us dominated with a better kicker. But you can play more hands on the button than in any other position. I tend to play about 40% of my hands from the button, whereas from early position, I only play about 10% of my hands. As my position moves around the table, I play more and more hands.

That's the basic strategy that every poker professional uses. No poker pro plays more hands from early position than they do from late position and makes money doing it. That's a losing strategy and you won't survive very long if you do that, because position is so important on the table.

If you fail to take your position into account, you're going to be playing hands you shouldn't. One of the first things I look at before deciding whether or not to play a hand is the position I'm in. That's going to dictate whether I'm going to raise or fold and how much I'm going to raise. For example, in early position in a cash game, you typically want to raise four to five times the blind. (This isn't the case in tournaments. More on that in our Tournament series.) Because you're going to be playing such a strong range of hands but have to deal with being out of position for the rest of the hand, you probably want to raise a little stronger from early position. From late position, though, I might raise two or three times the big blind. If I have a hand like , I might want to raise two times the big blind (a minraise) as a pot sweetener.

One important thing to note is that other players in the hand are considering these things too. Where a player is positioned when he raises can help you determine whether or not you're going to play a hand. If an under the gun player raises, and I've got something like , I'm most likely going to fold it. Raising under the gun, the player has indicated he has a very strong hand, and absent further reads, I have to take him at his word that he does. I'm most likely just going to fold and wait for a better hand to play.

A lot of players use a starting hand chart to help them get an idea what hands they should be playing from different positions. I don't want you to follow this chart for very long, just until you get used to the game, because it does change depending on a lot of different factors. Depending on the players at your table, you can play more or fewer hands than the starting hand chart dictates. Nonetheless, you will always play more hands in late position than in early position because it lets you control the pot.

Controlling the pot from late position

When I'm in late position, I can choose how many "bets" I want to put in the pot. I can bet the flop, turn, and river and force a player to call me each street to continue playing. I can bet the flop and then sneakily check the turn if I want to limit the size of the pot or induce a bluff on the river. Or I can bet the flop and the turn to show strength, and if I don't want to put in a river bet, I have the option of checking behind. That's really what it comes down to. The river bet is such a significant bet in a poker hand. It's the largest bet that's going to go in. The option to make or decline that bet is a huge advantage, and that is why we take care to notice our position when we're playing poker.


The “It Depends” Rule

By | Beginner, Theory, Videos | 2 Comments

How should you play this hand? Well, that depends on a lot of factors, from the players at the table to the cards that you hold. When all variables are in alignment, the opportunity to play a hand will be obvious to you. A bad player has raised, I am in position, and I have a decent hand. It's not hard to decide how to play this hand.

It depends on your cards.

When we said "your cards don't matter," it doesn't mean to play any two cards. Your cards are just one variable of five that can help you determine whether or not to play a hand. The strength of your cards is obvious from the first time you look at them. Even strong cards, when the other variables are against you, are an easy fold.

It depends on their cards.

It's important to understand that their cards can be anything. People play bad hands, and that's okay. We love people who play bad hands. We make more money off them. You don't need to know their cards to decide whether to play against them, but you should know whether or not you have the skill and information to deduce their cards by the end of the hand.

It depends on the community cards.

This is where poker gets very, very complicated. The game here introduces tons of variables we can't predict or control. All we can do is make estimations. Because our opponents can have anything, you should respond, not react. Listen, don't talk. Think, don't assume. Your opponents will react. They will telegraph their hands. Any action or non-action they make will narrow their range. The more they narrow their range, the clearer the decision of whether or not you should play becomes.

It depends on your stack size.

It depends on the opponent.

What is your opponent's goal? Why is he playing poker? Is he here to make money, to blow off steam, to gamble, to be the "alpha" at the table? If we start to understand these things about our opponents, we can start to intuit how to play against them. The important thing here is that you should avoid playing hands against opponents who "win" by taking your chips. These opponents are often tricky. Try to play against someone who "wins" when he has a night of running over the table, because you can let him run over you and still win more chips than you lose. You both win.

It depends on the table.

The table is a two-variable combination: the location of the button and the seating arrangement of the players. Do you have good players to your left, bad players to your right, bad players in the blinds? Are you in early position or late position? These things come together to form the "table."

Starting Hand Chart for Pot Limit Omaha Hi 10-Max

By | Beginner, Omaha | One Comment

Unlike in Hold 'em or 6-Max Pot Limit Omaha, a PLO 10 starting hand strategy requires extreme diligence. Because there are so many players in the hand, and because everyone has so many cards, by the river in PLO 10-max, a total of 45 cards (out of a 52 card deck) have been dealt! The fact is, without the NUTS, you can't commit significant chips to a hand without running up against the nuts almost 100% of the time. For this reason, we recommend the following starting hand strategy for PLO 10-max:

  • Ace-X suited hands
  • Connected broadways
  • Pocket pairs above 99

Each of these hands has a high potential to flop the nuts and have the hand hold up by the river. By playing weaker hands, like King-X suited, you will almost certainly run into the nuts anytime you make your hand. Your stack will quickly evaporate. Stick to a diligent starting hand strategy and reap the rewards from players who play the second nuts!

Breaking Down The Math of a Continuation Bet

By | Beginner, Mathematics | One Comment