This is the first journal I wrote after playing poker. I’ve had to remove the names of people, so that they don’t realize which piece of information pertains to them, but thems are the breaks.
- One player in particular is very impatient, and prefers to check or call when not holding anything. He’ll throw money at the pot pre-flop solely to push people out of it. He will also call the big blind just to see the flop, regardless of what he’s holding. Very easy to suck him into a hand by raising twice to three times the pot.
In retrospect, reading back over this journal, it would seem that he’s making correct plays, but he’s actually not. I’ll elaborate on the reasons why in another journal. Being impatient makes for a loose player. The general rule is that whenever you’re playing someone loose (they’ll play with worse hands, and are more likely to call a bet), you need to tighten up. The best way to take down a loose player is to wait until you’ve got a good hand, and then milk them for all they’re worth. Try to put bluffs past players like this is generally a bad idea, as they will blindly call.
- Another player will play with lots of poor hands, and will play with suited cards right to the river, calling most bets. He prefers check when not holding anything, though will rarely check-raise. The odds of that happening are pretty low, and likely not worth the risk. He’ll call a high bet without holding too much in his hand, and finds the prospect of taking someone out when they go all-in almost irresistable. He too will call the big blind just to see the flop, and is likewise easy to suck in to a hand.
Another player that will call most bets. Generally speaking, if this guy is raising, he’s probably got something decent. Trying to bluff him isn’t likely to work for the same reason as above, and so taking him down with a decent hand is the way to go. The most important thing to realize about players like this is that when a flush draw hits the board, caution is the best approach. Because of his tendency to hang on to suited cards, it’s not a good idea to raise the pot holding something like top pair.
- Between the two above players, usually only one of them can be pulled into the pot with an all-in bet
This is actually an incorrect play on their part, generally speaking. If they both feel that they have a decent hand, they should likely both be going all-in – the pot odds are better.
- The third player in our group often wastes away his chips, raising at the wrong spot, then folding his hand when either re-raised or being raised post-flop when he didn’t get the draw he was looking for.
- When raising, I need to start including calculations for implied odds
More on this later
- Not many people in our group are raising pre-flop, and I think this is causing more people to win on the draw. By raising pre-flop, I knocked a lot of potentially strong hands out, and was able to protect my decent hands more often.
Okay. Those are the notes I’ve got written down here from my first poker journal. The first thing I’m going to do is explain some of the terminology here.
We play no-limit Texas Hold ‘em. In this game, everyone is dealt two cards, face down. Then there’s a round of betting. After everyone has called (met) the bet or folded, three cards are dealt to the table, and these are the community cards. This is called the flop. There is another round of betting after the flop, then a fourth card dealt, another round of betting, a fifth card dealt, and then a final round of betting. The community cards can be used by everyone to make the best hand possible. The idea of the game is to try and get a feel for your opponent, and figure out if he’s got something better than you do.
- Small blind/Big blind
The small and big blinds are mandatory bets that are made to the two positions immediately left of the dealer. At the beginning of our games the small blind is a five dollar chip, and the big blind is a ten dollar chip. As play continues, the blinds increase in amount.
- Raising pre/post-flop
Raising pre-flop means raising before you’ve seen any of the community cards. This is typically done for a couple of reasons. The first reason is to bluff and try to win the pot right there (if everyone folds rather than call your bet, you win the pot). The second reason is to protect a good hand. If you’ve been dealt two aces, you’ve got a great hand. However, if you don’t raise, you’ll likely be playing against everyone else at the table. Let’s say you’ve got six other people that call the big blind and are playing this hand. The more people you have, the more likely someone is to make a better hand than you are. Two aces is the best starting hand, but there’s not a lot more you can draw from the community cards to make them better. As a result, you want to protect this hand from being out-drawn, and you do that by betting pre-flop. This is done to get people with hands that are likely to beat you on the draw (a seven and a two of the same suit, or something like that) to fold.
To finish off, I’ll talk a bit about odds and implied-odds. Poker has many aspects to it, but odds calcuation is a big one. Whenever you make a bet, you should be thinking in your head, “If I made this bet a hundred times in a row, would I come out on top more often than not?” This is what statistician’s call expected value. It can be summed up with the long drawn out example below:
BEWARE, there lies math below!
Let’s say that a lottery ticket costs me one dollar to buy. Furthermore, on that lottery ticket, I will win three dollars 70% of the time, and win no money the other 30% of the time. So, that can be broken down to this: 70% of the time, I win two dollars (three, minus the cost of the ticket), and 30% of the time, I will lose a dollar (the cost of the ticket). The expected value on this lottery ticket is computed as follows:
0.30 times -1 + 0.70 times 2 = -0.30 + 1.40 = 1.10
That’s a lot of numbers for people that hate math, but basically what this equation shows is that everytime I buy one of these lottery tickets, I can expect, on average to get back $1.10. So, if I bought ten of these tickets, and averaged out my wins and losses, I would be getting back $11.00 on my investment. And so on. Clearly, these lottery tickets are a good way to go.
Okay, now that we’ve got a grip on what expected value is, you can see that poker is very much like that, only a little more open to chance. Let’s say I’m playing poker, and there are 16 cards left in the deck that could be dealt that will guarantee that I win the hand. There’s one card left to be dealt, so at this point I have seen six cards out of the deck (The two in my hand, plus the four that have been dealt). The odds that I will be dealt one of the cards in that deck and win the hand are:
16 / 46 = Roughly 1/3 = 0.3
This can be confusing because you would think that I haven’t factored into the equation that my opponents may be holding the cards I’m counting as letting me win the hand. However, because all of the cards are randomly dealt in a deck, we deal with this by including the cards our opponents are holding in our denominator. That’s why we’re dividing 16 / 46. If we knew for a fact that one opponent was holding none of the 16 cards we needed to win, the denominator would actually be 44, and our odds would be slightly better at 16 / 44. The odds of 16 / 46 basically can be thought of like this: “If I were to choose any one face down card (be it from my opponent’s hand, or the top of the deck), there is a 16 / 46 chance that it will be one of the cards I need to win”
So we’ve figured out that our odds of winning this hand are about 0.3. The next step we need to do is determine how much money we are expected to win on average if we make a given bet. Let’s say that the pot has 8 dollars in it, and it will cost me 1 dollar if I want to play. Should I make this bet? The easy way to figure this out is to determine if the percentage likelihood of you winning is greater than the percentage of your bet relative to the pot. So, is 0.3 greater than 1 / 8? Yes. 1 / 8 equals 0.125. This means that on average, if you make this bet, you will win more money than you would lose. That’s basically how you determine whether or not you should make a given bet.
Math section over
This of course doesn’t take into account the chance of you knowing what your opponents are holding, them knowing what you’re holding, and about a billion other factors, but it’s the basis for good poker playing.
Anyhow, likely that was boring and totally unhelpful, but it provides me my basis of comparison. Next week I’ll go into why some of the plays that I was mentioning above (about the various players in our group) weren’t good, and further elaboration on strategy, or at least what I’ve developed so far.
If anyone has questions, or wants clarifications, please post them, or just go read an actual poker strategy site, there’s about a hojillion of them out there.