Poker Fundamentals - Beginner's Poker

Starting Hands

The first thing that you must learn in Texas Hold'em is which starting hands are good and which ones should be folded preflop. Although the answer depends on the number of people in the game and the type of game, here is a general guide to use when you are just starting out and want to win at low limits. I suggest starting at a fixed limit of $1-$2 or lower.

Note: the following guidelines are only for fixed-limit Hold'em

Hands to Raise With

These are premium hands that you want to jam the pot with pre-flop:



Hands to Call With

You want to see the flop with these hands and then decide what to do. Do not call three bets with these hands; call only one or two.


(T9 suited)
(Ax suited)

Pot Odds

When you see a flop, you will generally be in one of three situations.

Situation #1: Your hand totally misses the board.
Your Hand

You have nothing, so you should check and fold. Another possibility is to bluff.

Situation #2: You hit the flop well and hold a strong hand.
Your Hand

In these situations, you should generally bet or raise.

Situation #3: You have a drawing hand.

The third possibility is that you currently do not hold a strong hand, but it is possible for you to make a strong hand if the turn or river brings you a good card. This situation is known as "drawing."

Your Hand

In this situation, a spade will make you a flush, and an Ace or King will bring you top pair.

When you are drawing, there are several tools that will help you make your decisions. One important tool is "pot odds." Calculating pot odds is fairly simple. First, you must count the number of outs you have. An out is a card that will improve your hand.

Your Hand

In this example, your outs are 4 aces and 4 nines, or 8 outs total. To calculate your percentage of hitting an out on the next card, you take the number of outs times 2, then add 1. In the above situation with 8 outs, you have roughly a 17% chance of hitting on the turn.

Once you figure out your chance of hitting a draw, you multiply it by the pot+bet to determine the maximum bet you can call.

For example, if the bet is $10 and the pot is $90, the pot+bet is $100.

Now let's say you have 6 outs (6 cards will help you). This means you have about a 13% chance of hitting on the next card. If the pot is $90 and you must call $10, you should call, because you have more than a 10% chance to hit ($10 / $100). However, if the bet to you is $20, you should fold, because that would require a 18.2% chance of hitting ($20 / $110).


Poker is not just a mathematical game. It is also a game that entails a lot of psychological combat. Three of the most important psychological weapons in poker are bluffing, semi-bluffing, and slowplaying.


Bluffing is much more useful in a no-limit game than in a limit game. In a no-limit game, a player's entire stack is at risk each hand. In a limit game, players know they can only lose so much if they call to the river.

Bluffing is almost useless in a low-stakes limit game (anything less than $2-$4). Rarely will a hand not be called to showdown, so there is no point in scaring people out of the pot. Bluffing becomes a much more powerful tool at high-limit games. When you play at a higher limit, it's best to bluff when you 'represent' something and there are only one or two opponents in the pot. For example, betting at the flop with a high card on the board represents a pair, and raising with a flush draw out represents the flush.


Semi-bluffing is the name for bluffing when you also hold a drawing hand.

Your Hand

You currently only have ace high, but you may hit a spade flush or make a pair of aces or kings. If you bet with this hand, you are bluffing, but you also have a high likelihood of gaining a strong hand on later betting rounds. Semi-bluffing can be a very useful technique, especially in no-limit games.


Slowplaying means deceiving your opponents into thinking you have a weak hand, when in fact you hold a powerhouse.

Your Hand

You flopped a full house! There is no need to scare people out of the pot, because there is little chance of someone drawing out on you. You should wait till the turn or maybe even the river to jam the pot with bets and raises. You should slowplay if two conditions are met:

  • 1. You hold a whopper, and there is almost no chance of someone drawing on you
  • and
  • 2. You will only get action if some other cards come out that improve your opponents' hands but not by so much that they will beat your hand.

  • Tilt

    Being on tilt means letting your emotions disrupt your ability to play. All poker players go on tilt at least once during their career, but limiting these episodes is essential to winning at poker. Poker is a game that requires reason. If you have [[cards Qs Js]], and the flop comes [[cards Ah Qh 10h]], and there is a lot of betting action, you need to know to fold. If you were on tilt, you would let your emotions take control and make you do whatever it took to take down the pot. You would keep chasing, hoping to catch a king and hoping that no one had a flush.

    In general, people who get upset and don't stay focused and reasonable will lose all the money they brought to the table. Poker is almost anti-human in the way it triggers emotions but rewards people who are made of stone. I don't mean to scare you or act as if all poker players are unemotional rocks, but it is imperative to stay focused and rational while at the poker table.

    Generally, most players tilt due to a bad beat or if they just can't seem to win a hand. Some players have a slight tilt after they win a big hand or two, but those episodes generally are much shorter than tilts caused by losing.

    For example, take this hand I played recently:

    I bet at the flop and was called. [[cards 10h]] came on the turn. I bet, he called. River was [[cards 7h]]. I bet, and he raised. I decided to just call, thinking he may have actually had KJ. No, he had [[cards 7s 7c]]. The idiot had called me to the river with little hope but won on a very lucky river catch. Needless to say, I was not playing well the next couple of hands.

    While going on tilt is natural, you need to limit it. Generally, the best way is to sit out a couple of hands and go for a walk.

    Another good way to handle a bad beat is to just think about all the bad beats you have laid in the past. After the bad beat I mentioned above, I sat back and thought about the time I stupidly went all-in during a Pot-Limit Omaha with bottom set.


    My opponent had the best hand when all the money went into the pot. I was lucky enough to catch a backdoor flush on the turn and river and took down a huge pot. That day, I went on to win the most money that I have ever won. If I had lost that hand, I probably would have called it quits and never would have won all of that money. Thinking about the time I pulled off this bad beat and went on to win such a huge sum helps me get through the times that some idiot rivers me.

    Listening to music is another way to avoid tilt. The positive vibes you get from a song you enjoy will help counteract the negative emotions from a bad beat. I would also suggest changing songs or CDs after you have suffered a bad beat. This way you distract yourself from getting too emotionally caught up in the poker game.

    Many people, myself included, tend to curse at the computer if they get bad beat. However, for myself at least, cursing is not nearly as therapeutic as thinking about that huge bad beat I laid at the Omaha table. Cursing tends to make you more mad and will cause you to develop some bad habits. When you are about to go on tilt, sit out and think happy thoughts (as cheesy as it sounds, it's true), and hopefully you can resume playing your best.

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