Rec.Gambling. Poker FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions about Poker

This is the rec.gambling.poker Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) list. This document contains material copyrighted by various authors; reproduction in print or electronic form is prohibited. Specific permission is granted to Usenet FAQ archive maintainers to store this document, in HTML or text form, only in its entirety.

Page last modified: 12-12-00
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Table of Contents

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P1What are the basic rules of poker? What are the hand rankings?
P2 What are some fun home poker games?
P3 How is Texas Hold’em played?
P4 How is Omaha Hold’em played?
P5 What should I expect the first time I play poker in a casino or card room? What etiquette should I follow?
P6 What are some good books about poker?
P7 What are some good magazines about poker? 
P8 What computer poker programs are best for my PC or Mac?
P9 What is IRC poker and how can I play?
P10 What skills are important for Texas Hold’em?
P11 What is a good preflop strategy for Texas Hold’em? 
P12 What is a good third street strategy for Seven Card Stud?
P13 Why are poker hands ranked the way they are?
P14 Why are ace-hi flushes ranked highest, when it’s much harder to get a seven-hi flush? And similarly for two pairs?
P15 What is the correct ranking for 3-card poker hands?
P16 What are my chances of sucking out on my opponent in Hold’em?
P17 What does pot-limit mean? What is half-pot-limit?
P18 What is a kill pot? What is a game with a kill? What is a half kill? What is a straddle bet?
P19 What is a poker tournament? How does one work? What is a chip race? What is a satellite?
P20 How does tournament strategy differ from that of regular games?
P21 What is the World Series of Poker? What is the Tournament of Champions? 
P22 What the hell is Rumple Mintz?
P23 What is a burn card and why is it dealt?
P24 What happens if there aren’t enough cards in the deck to deal the final card in 7-card stud?
P25 What is the difference between a shill and a proposition player? What skills are needed to be one?
P26 What cards are in the Dead Man’s Hand?
P27 What are the Las Vegas poker room phone numbers?
P28 What poker games are spread in certain Las Vegas casinos?
P29 What do all these poker terms mean?
P30 When can I meet and play poker with fellow r.g.pers? What are BARGE, FARGO, etc?
P31 Where can I play online poker against real people for real money? Is it legal? Is it safe?
P32 How do you play no-limit seven-card stud? What is Mississippi Stud?

P33 Can one overcome the rake at low limit poker games?

 
 

Web sites – r.g.p related:
ConJelCo (home of this FAQ) — http://www.conjelco.com
Big Annual Rec.Gambling Excursion — http://www.barge.org
World Rec.Gambling Poker Tournament — http://www.poker.net
IRC Poker — http://www.poker.net/irc.html

Web sites – r.g.per contributed:
Dan Kimberg’s Poker Page — http://www.kimberg.com/poker/poker.html  http://www.seriouspoker.com/
Ken Churilla’s Poker Page — http://www.gocee.com/poker/
Jazbo’s Poker Page — http://www.jazbo.com
Abdul’s Pos. E.V. Poker Page — http://www.posev.com/poker/index.html
Jim Geary’s Poker Page — http://jimgeary.com/poker/poker.htm
David Zanetti’s Mississippi Stud Page — http://www.geocities.com/mississippi_seven/
Wolf’s Poker Page — http://www2.southwind.net/~scotwolf/poker.html

Web sites – other commercial:
Two Plus Two Forum — http://forumserver.twoplustwo.com/1/two-plus-two/
Poker Search — http://www.pokersearch.com
Poker Pages — http://www.pokerpages.com
Poker World — http://www.pokerworld.com
Home Poker — http://www.homepoker.com
Poker Digest Magazine — http://www.pokerdigest.com
Card Player Magazine — http://www.cardplayer.com


Q:P1 What are the basic rules of poker? What are the hand rankings?

A:P1 [Michael Maurer]

Most variants of poker satisfy the following definition, but in a home game of course you are free to modify the rules as you see fit.

Poker is a card game in which players bet into a communal pot during the course of a hand, and in which the player holding the best hand at the end of the betting wins the pot. During a given betting round, each remaining player in turn may take one of four actions:

 

    1. check, a bet of zero that does not forfeit interest in the pot

 

    1. bet or raise, a nonzero bet greater than preceding bets that all successive players must match or exceed or else forfeit all interest in the pot

 

    1. call, a nonzero bet equal to a preceding bet that maintains a player’s interest in the pot

 

  1. fold, a surrender of interest in the pot in response to another players’s bet, accompanied by the loss of one’s cards and previous bets

Betting usually proceeds in a circle until each player has either called all bets or folded. Different poker games have various numbers of betting rounds interspersed with the receipt or replacement of cards.

Poker is usually played with a standard 4-suit 52-card deck, but a joker or other wild cards may be added. The ace normally plays high, but can sometimes play low, as explained below. At the showdown, those players still remaining compare their hands according to the following rankings:

 

    1. Straight flush, five cards of the same suit in sequence, such as 76543 of hearts. Ranked by the top card, so that AKQJT is the best straight flush, also called a royal flush. The ace can play low to make 5432A, the lowest straight flush.

 

    1. Four of a kind, four cards of the same rank accompanied by a “kicker”, like 44442. Ranked by the quads, so that 44442 beats 3333K.

 

    1. Full house, three cards of one rank accompanied by two of another, such as 777JJ. Ranked by the trips, so that 44422 beats 333AA.

 

    1. Flush, five cards of the same suit, such as AJ942 of hearts. Ranked by the top card, and then by the next card, so that AJ942 beats AJ876. Suits are not used to break ties.

 

    1. Straight, five cards in sequence, such as 76543. The ace plays either high or low, making AKQJT and 5432A. “Around the corner” straights like 32AKQ are usually not allowed.

 

    1. Three of a kind, three cards of the same rank and two kickers of different ranks, such as KKK84. Ranked by the trips, so that KKK84 beats QQQAK, but QQQAK beats QQQA7.

 

    1. Two pair, two cards of one rank, two cards of another rank and a kicker of a third rank, such as KK449. Ranked by the top pair, then the bottom pair and finally the kicker, so that KK449 beats any of QQJJA, KK22Q, and KK445.

 

    1. One pair, two cards of one rank accompanied by three kickers of different ranks, such as AAK53. Ranked by the pair, followed by each kicker in turn, so that AAK53 beats AAK52.

 

  1. High card, any hand that does not qualify as one of the better hands above, such as KJ542 of mixed suits. Ranked by the top card, then the second card and so on, as for flushes. Suits are not used to break ties.

Suits are not used to break ties, nor are cards beyond the fifth; only the best five cards in each hand are used in the comparison. In the case of a tie, the pot is split equally among the winning hands.

Several variations are possible when playing for low. Some games permit the ace to play low and ignore straights and flushes, making 5432A the best possible low, even if it makes a straight flush. Other games just reverse the order used for high hands, making 75432 of mixed suits the best possible low. Still others count straights and flushes against you but let the ace play low, making 6432A best. Note that in most games in which the ace plays low, a pair of aces is lower than a pair of deuces, just as an ace is lower than a deuce.

When a joker is in play, it usually can only be used as an ace or to complete a straight or flush. It cannot be used as a true wild card, for example, as a queen to make QQ43X play as three queens. When playing for low, the joker becomes the lowest rank not already held, so 864AX is played as 8642A, with the joker used as a deuce.

Although true wild cards are rarely seen in a casino, they are a popular way to add excitement to a home game. Wild cards introduce an additional hand, five of a kind, which normally ranks above a straight flush. They can also cause confusion when two players hold the same hand composed of different wild card combinations. The standard rules of poker do not distinguish between such hands, but some players prefer to rank hands using fewer wild cards above less “natural” versions of the same hand.

Another explanation of poker is (was?) at http://www.contrib.andrew.cmu.edu/org/gc00/reviews/pokerrules”>http://www.contrib.andrew.cmu.edu/org/gc00/reviews/pokerrules.


Q:P2 What are some fun home poker games?

A:P2 [Michael Maurer]

There are enough crazy home game poker variants to fill a book. Good sources of games ranging from plain to insane are http://gamereport.com/poker and http://www.contrib.andrew.cmu.edu/org/gc00/reviews/poker.html and http://www.homepoker.com.

Poker variants differ in the amount of skill they admit. Some, like 7-card stud high/low with declare (no qualifier), provide skilled players many opportunities to gain an edge. Others are a virtual crap shoot. In general, the crazier games are designed to discourage folding and minimize the influence of skill on the outcome. They accomplish this through a betting structure that requires a large investment before the value of one’s hand is known. The level playing field that results is ideal for many informal social groups.


Q:P3 How is Texas Hold’em played?

A:P3 [Michael Maurer]

Texas Hold’em is a “community card” game, meaning that some cards are dealt face-up in the middle of the table and shared by all the players. Each player has two down cards that are theirs alone, and combines them with the five community cards to make the best possible five-card hand.

Play begins by dealing two cards face down to each player; these are known as “hole cards” or “pocket cards”. This is followed by a round of betting. Most hold’em games get the betting started with one or two “blind bets” to the left of the dealer. These are forced bets which must be made before seeing one’s cards. Play proceeds clockwise from the blinds, with each player free to fold, call the blind bet, or raise. Usually the blinds are “live”, meaning that they may raise themselves when the action gets back around to them.

Now three cards are dealt face up in the middle of the table; this is called the “flop”. A round of betting ensues, with action starting on the first blind, immediately to the dealers left. Another card is dealt face up (the “turn”), followed by another round of betting, again beginning to the dealer’s left. Then the final card (the “river”) is dealt followed by the final round of betting. In a structured-limit game, the bets on the turn and river are usually double the size of those before and on the flop.

The game is usually played for high only, and each player makes the best five-card combination to compete for the pot. Players usually use both their hole cards to make their best hand, but this is not required. A player may even choose to “play the board” and use no hole cards at all. Identical five-card hands split the pot; the sixth and seventh cards are not used to break ties.


Q:P4 How is Omaha Hold’em played?

A:P4 [Michael Maurer]

The rules of Omaha are very similar to those of Texas Hold’em. There are only two differences:

  • Each player receives four hole cards, instead of two.
  • One must use *exactly* three community cards and two hole cards to make one’s hand.

The second difference is confusing for most beginners. These examples show how it works.

    Board        Hole Cards     Best High Hand
    =====        ==========     ==============
As Kc Qc 8d 2d   Ac 2c Jd Th    Jd Th makes ace-hi straight.

As Kc Qc Jh Td   Ac 2c Jd 8h    Ac Jd makes ace-hi straight.

As Kc Qc Jh Td   3c 2c Jd 8h    Jd 8h makes pair of jacks.  No straight
                                is possible using two hole cards.

As Ks 8h 9d 2s   Qs 4h 4d 4s    Qs 4s makes AKQ42 "nut" flush.

As Ks 8s 9s 2s   Qs 4h 4d Qd    Qs Qd makes pair of queens.  No flush is
                                possible using two hole cards.

As Ts 8s 8h 4d   Td Tc Ad 9c    Td Tc makes TTT88 full house.

As Ts 8s 8h 4d   Td 8c Ad 9c    Ad 8c makes 888AA full house.

As Ac 8s 8h 4d   Ah 2h 3h 5h    Ah 5h makes trip aces AAA85.  No full
                                house is possible using two hole cards.

As Ac 8s 8h 4d   Ah 2h 3h 4h    Ah 4h makes full house AAA44.

Omaha is often played high/low, meaning that the highest and lowest hands split the pot. The low hand usually must “qualify” by being at least an 8-low (the largest card must be 8 or lower). One can use a different two cards to compete for the high and low portions of the pot, and the game is played “cards speak” rather than “declare”. Aces are either low or high, and straights and flushes don’t count for low. Since everybody must use two hole cards to make a hand, the board must have three cards 8 or lower for a low to even be possible. Players often tie for low, and the low half of the pot is divided equally among them. Some more examples:

    Board        Hole Cards     Best Low Hand
    =====        ==========     =============
As Kc Qc 8d 2d   8c Jc Jd Th    Jd Th makes the low hand JT82A, which
                                does not qualify as 8-or-better.

3d 5h 8d Tc Ts   Ac 2c Jd Th    Ac 2c makes the "nut low" 8532A.

3d 5h 8d Tc Ts   Ac 3c 4d Th    Ac 4d makes 8543A.

3d 5h 8d Ad Ts   Ac 3c 5d 8h    Any two make T853A, not qualifying.

Ac 2c 3d 4h 5s   Ad 2d Th Td    Ad 2d makes "nut low" 5432A.

Ac 2c 3d 4h 5s   4d 5d Th Td    4d 5d makes "nut low" 5432A.

5h 7h 8d Ac 2c   Ad 2d Th Td    Ad 2d makes 8752A, but the nut low is
                                5432A with a 3 and 4.  On the flop we
                                had the best possible low, but the turn
                                and river "counterfeited" us.

As in all split-pot games, the real goal of playing any hand is to win both halves of the pot, or “scoop”. Thus, hands that have a chance to win both ways are far superior to those that can only win one way.


Q:P5 What should I expect the first time I play poker in a casino or card room? What etiquette should I follow?

A:P5 [Michael Maurer]

Many people are intimidated on their first visit to a public cardroom. Knowing what to expect and some simple rules of etiquette will help the first-time visitor relax and have a good time.

Any cardroom with more than a few tables will have a sign-up desk or board for the various games being played. Usually someone will be standing here to take your name if a seat is not immediately available. This person can explain what games are offered, the betting limits, special house rules and so on. This is the moment of your first decision: which game and for what stakes?

Choosing a game is fairly easy; you already know which game is most familiar to you. You may be surprised to find that your favorite home games are not spread in public cardrooms. Most will offer one or more of Texas Hold’em, Seven-Card Stud, and Omaha Hold’em (usually hi/lo split, 8-or-better for low). Sometimes you will find California Lowball (5-card draw for low), Seven-Card Stud hi/lo, or Hold’em variations like Pineapple. You will rarely find High Draw (5-card draw for hi), and will never find home game pot-builders like Anaconda, Follow-the-Queen, 7-27 or Guts. Except for the joker in draw poker, cardrooms never use wild cards.

Choosing a betting limit is a bit harder. It is best to start playing at a limit so small that the money is not important to you. After all, with all the excitement of your first time playing poker there is no need to be worried about losing the nest egg to a table full of sharks. Betting limits are typically expressed as $1-$5 or $3-$6, and may be “spread-limit” or “structured-limit”. A spread-limit means one can bet or raise any amount between the two numbers (although a raise must be at least as much as a previous bet or raise). For example, in $1-$5 spread-limit, if one person bets $2 the next person is free to call the $2 or raise $2, $3, $4, or $5, but cannot raise just $1. On the next round, everything is reset and the first bettor may bet anything from $1 to $5. In structured-limit like $3-$6 (usually recognizable by a factor of two between betting limits), all betting and raising on early rounds is in units of $3, and on later rounds is in units of $6. One only has a choice of *whether* to bet or raise; the amount is fixed by the limit. One usually doesn’t have a choice between spread and structured betting at a given limit. Keep in mind that it is quite easy to win or lose 20 “big bets” (the large number in the limit) in an hour of play. Also, since your mind will be occupied with the mechanics of the game while the regular players consider strategy, you are more likely to lose than win. In other words: choose a low limit.

If the game you want is full, your name will go on a list and the person running the list will call you when a seat opens up. Depending on the cardroom, you may have trouble hearing your name called and they may be quick to pass you over, so be alert. Once a seat is available, the list person will vaguely direct you toward it, or toward a floorman who will show you where to sit.

Now is the time for you to take out your money and for the other players to look you over. A good choice for this “buy-in” is ten to twenty big bets, but you must buy-in for at least the posted table minimum, usually about five big bets. Most public poker games are played “table-stakes”, which means that you can’t reach into your pocket for more money during the play of a hand. It also means that you can’t be forced out of a pot because of insufficient funds. If you run out of money during a hand you are still in the pot (the dealer will say you are “all-in”), but further betting is “on the side” for an additional pot you cannot win. Between hands, you are free to buy as many chips as you want, but are not allowed to take any chips off the table unless you are leaving. This final rule gives opponents a chance to win back what they have lost to you. If you bust out, you may buy back in for at least the table minimum or leave.

Once you have told the dealer how much money you are playing, the dealer may sell you chips right away or call over a chip runner to do so. You may want to tell the dealer that you are a first-time player. This is a signal to the dealer to give a little explanation when it is your turn to act, and to the other players to extend you a bit of courtesy when you slow down the game. Everyone will figure it out in a few minutes anyway, so don’t be bashful. You may even ask to sit out a few hands just to see how it all works.

There are three ways that pots are seeded with money at the beginning of the hand. The most familiar to the home player is the “ante”, where each player tosses a small amount into the pot for the right to be dealt a hand. The second way, often used in conjunction with an ante, is the “forced bring-in”. For example, in seven-card stud, after everyone antes and is dealt the first three cards, the player with the lowest upcard may be forced to bet to get things started. The third way, often used in games without upcards like Hold’em or Omaha, is a “forced blind bet”. This is similar to the bring-in, but is always made by the person immediately after the player with the “button”. The “button” is a plastic disk that moves around the table and indicates which player is acting as dealer for the hand (of course, the house dealer does the actual dealing of cards, but does not play). A second or even third blind may follow the first, usually of increasing size. Whichever seed method is used, note that this initial pot, small as it is, is the only reason to play at all.

If the game has blinds, the dealer may now ask you if you want to “post”. This means, “do you want to pay extra to see a hand now, in bad position, and then pay the blinds, or are you willing to sit and watch for a few minutes?” Answer “no, I’ll wait” and watch the game until the dealer tells you it’s time to begin, usually after the blinds pass you.

Finally, it is your turn to get cards and play. Your first impression will probably be how fast the game seems to move. If you are playing stud, several upcards may be “mucked” (folded into the discards) before you even see them; if you are playing hold’em, it may be your turn to act before you have looked at your cards. After a few hands you should settle into the rhythm and be able to keep up. If you ever get confused, just ask the dealer what is going on.

When playing, consider the following elements of poker etiquette:

Acting in Turn

Although you may see others fold or call out of turn, don’t do it yourself. It is considered rude because it gives an unfair advantage to the players before you who have yet to act. This is especially important at the showdown when only three players are left. If players after you are acting out of turn while you decide what to do, say “Time!” to make it clear that you have not yet acted.

Handling Cards

You may find it awkward at first to peek at your own cards without exposing them to others. Note that the other players have no formal obligation to alert you to your clumsiness, although some will. Watch how the other players manage it and emulate them. Leave your cards in sight at all times; holding them in your lap or passing them to your kibitzing friend is grounds for killing your hand. Finally, if you intentionally show your cards to another player during the hand, both your hands may be declared dead. Your neighbor might want to see *you* declared dead 🙂 if this happens!

Protecting Cards

In a game with “pocket cards” like Hold’em or Omaha, it is your responsibility to “protect your own cards”. This confusing phrase really means “put a chip on your cards”. If your cards are just sitting out in the open, you are subject to two possible disasters. First, the dealer may scoop them up in a blink because to leave one’s cards unprotected is a signal that you are folding. Second, another player’s cards may happen to touch yours as they fold, disqualifying your hand and your interest in the pot. Along the same lines, when you turn your cards face up at the showdown, be careful not to lose control of your cards. If one of them falls off the table or lands face-down among the discards your hand will be dead, even if that card is not used to make your hand.

Accidentally Checking

In some fast-paced games, a moment of inaction when it is your turn to act may be interpreted as a check. Usually, a verbal declaration or rapping one’s hand on the table is required, but many players are impatient and will assume your pause is a check. If you need more than a second to decide what to do, call “Time!” to stop the action. While you decide, don’t tap your fingers nervously; that is a clear check signal and will be considered binding.

String Bets

A “string bet” is a bet that initially looks like a call, but then turns out to be a raise. Once your hand has put some chips out, you may not go back to your stack to get more chips and increase the size of your bet, unless you verbally declared the size of your bet at the beginning. If you always declare “call” or “raise” as you bet, you will be immune to this problem. Note that a verbal declaration in turn is binding, so a verbal string bet is possible and also prohibited. That means you cannot say “I call your $5, and raise you another $5!” Once you have said you call, that’s it. The rest of the sentence is irrelevant. You can’t raise.

Splashing the Pot

In some home games, it is customary to throw chips directly into the pot. In a public cardroom, this is cause for dirty looks, a reprimand from the dealer, and possibly stopping the game to count down the pot. When you bet, place your chips directly in front of you. The dealer will make sure that you have the right number and sweep them into the pot.

One Chip Rule

In some cardrooms, the chip denominations and game stakes are incommensurate. For example, a $3-$6 game might use $1 and $5 chips, instead of the more sensible $3 chip. The one-chip rule says that using a large-denomination chip is just a call, even though the chip may be big enough to cover a raise. If you don’t have exact change, it is best to verbally state your action when throwing that large chip into the pot. For example, suppose you are playing in a $1-$5 spread-limit game, the bet is $2 to you, and you have only $5 chips. Silently tossing a $5 chip out means you call the $2 bet. If you want to raise to $4 or $5, you must say so *before* your chip hits the felt. Whatever your action, the dealer will make any required change at the end of the betting round. Don’t make change for yourself out of the pot.

Raising Forever

In a game like Hold’em, it is possible to know that you hold “the nuts” and cannot be beaten. If this happens when all the cards are out and you get in a raising war with someone, don’t stop! Raise until one of you runs out of chips. If there is the possibility of a tie, the rest of the table may clamor for you to call, since you “obviously” both have the same hand. Ignore the rabble. You’ll be surprised how many of your opponents turn out to be bona fide idiots.

The Showdown

Hands end in one of three ways: one person bets and everyone else folds, one person bets on the final round and at least one person calls, or everybody checks on the final round. If everybody folds to a bet, the bettor need not show the winning cards and will usually toss them to the dealer face down. If somebody calls on the end, the person who bet or raised most recently is *supposed* to immediately show, or “open”, their cards. They may delay doing so in a rude attempt to induce another player to show their hand in impatience, and then muck their own hand if it is not a winner. Don’t do this yourself. Show your hand immediately if you get called. If you have called a bet, wait for the bettor to show, then show your own hand if it’s better. If the final round is checked down, in most cardrooms everyone is supposed to open their hands immediately. Sometimes everyone will wait for someone else to show first, resulting in a time-wasting deadlock. Break the chain and show your cards.

Most cardrooms give every player at the table the right to see all cards that called to a showdown, even if they are mucked as losers. (This helps prevent cheating by team-play.) If you are extremely curious about a certain hand, ask the dealer to show it to you. It is considered impolite to constantly ask to see losing cards. It is even more impolite if you hold the winning cards, and in most cardrooms you will forfeit the pot if the “losing” cards turn out to be better than yours.

As a beginner, you may want to show your hand all the time, since you may have overlooked a winning hand. What you gain from one such pot will far outweigh any loss due to revealing how you played a particular losing hand. “Cards speak” at the showdown, meaning that you need not declare the value of your hand. The dealer will look at your cards and decide if you have a winner.

As a final word of caution, it is best to hold on to your winning cards until the dealer pushes you the pot. If the dealer takes your cards and incorrectly “mucks” them, many cardrooms rule that you have no further right to the pot, even if everyone saw your winning cards.

Raking in the Pot

As you win your first pot, the excitement within you will drive you beyond the realm of rational behavior, and you will immediately lunge to scoop up the precious chips with both arms. Despite the fact that no other player had done this while you watched, despite the fact that you read here not to do it, you WILL do it. Since every dealer has a witty admonition prepared for this moment, maybe it’s all for the best. But next time, let the dealer push it to you, ok?

Touching Cards or Chips

Don’t. Only touch your own cards and chips. Other players’ chips and cards, discards, board cards, the pot and everything else are off-limits. Only the dealer touches the cards and pot.

Tipping

Dealers make their living from tips. It is customary for the winner of each pot to tip the dealer 50 cents to a dollar, depending on locale and the stakes. Sometimes you will see players tip several dollars for a big pot or an extremely unlikely suckout. Sometimes you will see players stiff the dealer if the pot was tiny or split between two players. This is a personal issue, but imitating the other players is a good start.

Correcting Mistakes

Occasionally the dealer or a player may make a mistake, such as miscalling the winning hand at the showdown. If you are the victim of such a mistake, call it out immediately and do not let the game proceed. If your opponent is the victim, let your conscience be your guide; many see no ethical dilemma in remaining silent. If you are not involved in the pot, you must judge the texture of the game to determine whether to speak up. In general, the higher the stakes, the more likely you should keep your mouth shut.

Taking a Break

You are free to get up to stretch your legs, visit the restroom and so on. Ask the dealer how long you may be away from your seat; 20 or 30 minutes is typical. It is customary to leave your chips sitting on the table; part of the dealer’s job is to keep them safe. If you miss your blind(s) while away, you may have to make them up when you return, or you may be asked to sit out a few more hands until they reach you again. If several players are gone from a table, they may all be called back to keep the game going; those who don’t return in time forfeit their seats.

Color Change

If you are in the happy situation of having too many chips, you may request a “color change” (except in Atlantic City). You can fill up a rack or two with your excess chips and will receive a few large denomination chips in return. These large chips are still in play, but at least you aren’t inconvenienced by a mountain of chips in front of you. Remember the one chip rule when betting with them.

Leaving

Leave whenever you feel like it. You never have an obligation to stay at the table, even if you’ve won a fortune. You should definitely leave if you are tired, losing more than you expect, or have other reasons to believe you are not playing your best game. Depending on the cardroom, you can redeem your chips for cash with a chip-runner or floorman or at the cashier’s cage.

House Charges

Last but not least is the matter of the house take. Somebody has to maintain the tastefully opulent furnishings and pay the electric bill. The money taken by the house is called the “drop”, since it is dropped down a slot in the table at the end of each hand. The house will choose one of three ways to charge you to play.

Time Charge
A simple “time charge” is common in higher limit games and at some small games: seats are rented by the half hour, at rates ranging from $4 to $10 or so, depending on the stakes. This method charges all players equally.
Rake
Other cardrooms will “rake” a percentage of the final pot, up to some maximum, before awarding it to the winning player. The usual rake is either 5% or 10%, capped at $3 or $4. If the pot is raked, the dealer will remove chips from the pot as it grows, setting them aside until the hand is over and they are dropped into a slot in the table. This method favors the tight player who enters few pots but wins a large fraction of them.
Button Charge
A simpler method is to collect a fixed amount at the start of each hand; one player, usually the one with the dealer button, pays the entire amount of the drop. Depending on house rules, this “button charge” of $2-$4 may or may not play as a bet. If the chips do play as a bet, this method also favors the tighter players, but not nearly as much as the rake does.

Regardless of the mechanism, a cardroom will try to drop about $80-$120 per hour at a $3-$6 table. The exact amount is most dependent on the local cost of doing business: Nevada is low, California and Atlantic City are high. Since there are 7-10 players at the table, expect to pay somewhere from $7 to $14 per hour just to sit down. Add $2-$4 per hour for dealer tips and you see why most low-limit players are long-run losers.

More information on cardroom play and etiquette can be found in George Percy’s “Seven-Card Stud: The Waiting Game” and Lee Jones’ “Winning Low-Limit Holdem”. Beginning players may also want to watch for special cardroom promotions to draw new players; many offer free lessons followed by a very low-stakes game with other novices. Since everyone is a beginner, much of the tension is relieved.


Q:P6 What are some good books about poker?

A:P6 [Michael Maurer, December 1994]

All thinking poker players should have this book on their shelf:

David Sklansky, “The Theory of Poker” (formerly titled “Winning Poker”), Two Plus Two Publishing, 1992, $30. ISBN 1-880685-00-0.

Beginners will benefit from the following:

Dan Kimberg, “Serious Poker“, Dan Kimberg Books, 2000, $13. ISBN: 0-970378-90-4.

Lou Krieger and Richard Harroch, “Poker for Dummies”, IDG Books Worldwide, 2000, $15. ISBN 0-764552-32-5.

Mason Malmuth and Lynne Loomis, “Fundamentals of Poker”, Two Plus Two Publishing, 1992, $4. ISBN 1-880685-11-6.

This classic in the field is an advanced but slightly out-of-date work covering a wide range of games, including an excellent section on no-limit Hold’em:

Doyle Brunson et al., “Super/System: A Course in Poker Power”, B & G Publishing, 1978/1989, $50. ISBN 0-931444-01-4.

The most recommended book for medium-limit Hold’em is

David Sklansky and Mason Malmuth, “Hold’em Poker for Advanced Players”, Two Plus Two Publishing, 1988/1993, $30. ISBN 1-880685-01-9.

This work by a fellow rec.gambler has received several favorable reviews from low-limit Hold-em players:

Lee Jones, “Winning Low-Limit Holdem”, ConJelCo, 1994, $20. ISBN 1-886070-04-0.

Beginning Seven Card Stud players must read this small spiral-bound gem:

George Percy, “7 Card Stud: The Waiting Game”, GBC Press, 1979, $9. ISBN 0-89650-903-6.

More experienced stud players may benefit from

David Sklansky, Mason Malmuth and Ray Zee, “Seven Card Stud for Advanced Players”, Two Plus Two Publishing, 1992, $29.95. ISBN 1-880685-02-7.

Finally, in a different vein is the following book about reading your opponents and preventing them from reading you:

 Mike Caro, “Mike Caro’s Book of Tells – The Body Language of Poker.”

 See Dan Kimberg’s Poker Reading Page at http://www.kimberg.com/poker/poker_reading.html for other publishers and for some unsolicited reviews that have appeared on the net. Nick Christenson reviews an amazing number of books at http://www.lvrevealed.com/books/.


Q:P7 What are some good magazines about poker? 

A:P7 [Michael Maurer]

Card Player is the best established periodical for poker players. Each issue has several columns specifically about poker strategy, including regular features by Mike Caro and other household names. It lists schedules for small daily and weekly tournaments in the U.S. and Europe and reports large tournament results. Other sections cover gambling and the law, cardroom management, sports betting and general gambling news. Because it is financed largely by casino industry advertisements, it does not print unfavorable casino news and is not a good place to find a balanced review of a cardroom. It is available free in most cardrooms and offers subscriptions at first-class and bulk-mail rates.

        The Card Player
        3140 S. Polaris #8
        Las Vegas, NV  89102
        (702) 871-1720
        (702) 871-2674 FAX
        http://www.cardplayer.com

Another magazine is Poker Digest magazine. Some of the popular writers formerly at Card Player are now regular contributors. Find out more from

Poker Digest
1455 E. Tropicana Suite #300
Las Vegas, NV 89119
http://www.pokerdigest.com


Q:P8 What computer poker programs are best for my PC or Mac?

A:P8 [Hans Ruegg, John Salmom]

Commercial Programs

There are many poker programs available but the quality of them ranges from terrible to fairly good. The following are worth considering:

Conjelco Sozobon Poker for Windows

Plays 7-card stud or Texas Holdem. Requires Windows 3.1 or Windows 95.

Plays ring games or one-table tournaments. Computer players try to adjust to your style. They use a randomized algorithm to mix up their play. You start with $100 and progress to tougher tables and tournaments as your bankroll grows.

A demo version that only plays 7-card stud is available. It has most of the features of the real version and is quite playable as is. The demo program is available on the ConJelCo FTP server (ftp.conjelco.com).

Wilson Software Turbo Series

Seperate games are available for Texas Holdem, 7-card stud, Omaha-8 and Omaha High. There are both ring-game and tournament versions. Runs under DOS.

Computer players are driven by large tables describing each decision point. These tables can be modified by the user to create new players. Play against the computer or let the computer players play each other in a fast mode. Check resulting statistics for the various strategies.

Demo versions of Texas Holdem, 7-card stud, and Omaha-8 are available. The demos are limited in that only 50 rounds can be played and the cards are always the same.

Masque World Series of Poker Adventure

Plays Texas Holdem, 7-card stud and Omaha. Also plays blackjack and other casino games. Runs under DOS.

This is more of a fun simulation of playing in the World Series at Binions. Play ring games or other casino games to get enough money to enter a satellite. Win the satellite to get into the no-limit finals. Poker opponent play is pretty good, but not exactly World Champion level.

No demo. Sometimes can be found in retail computer software stores. Simplified versions with only one game for a cheaper price (Masque Lite series) can also sometimes be found.

iPoker
Shareware for Macintosh, with nice graphics and GUI.  See http://www.ouzts.net/iPoker/.

Hotpoker (formerly Netpoker)

 Hotpoker (http://www.hotpoker.com/) is a suite of programs for multi-player hold’em over the internet. C source for Netpoker used to be available; I’m not sure about Hotpoker.

Source Code

If you want to write some of your own poker software, a fast poker hand evaluator is available at ftp://ftp.csua.berkeley.edu/pub/rec.gambling/poker/poker.tar.gz. It is in C but uses some Gnu C extensions.


Q:P9 What is IRC poker and how can I play?

A:P9 [Michael Maurer, February 1998]

See also http://www.poker.net/irc.html for the latest information.

IRC poker is a real-time network poker game that allows people from around the world to play poker with each other via the Internet. The stakes are “etherbucks”, which is to say imaginary. Each player’s imaginary bankroll is recorded from session to session, and rankings of both bankroll and earning rate inspire competitiveness. An automatic program serves as the dealer and controls the action. World Wide Web users can find out more about the dealer program by looking at http://www.cs.cmu.edu/People/mummert/ircbot.html. Note: don’t confuse this IRC poker game with the older 5-card draw games on regular IRC (http://www.mcgill.ca/services/IRC_Poker/homepage.html) or undernet IRC (http://www.atlantic.net/~phod).

The game uses the Internet Relay Chat, or IRC, to arrange communications amongst the players and with the dealer. IRC is normally a sort of global cocktail party, with several thousand people from around the globe engaged in small pockets of conversation on various “channels”. Within each channel, anything one person types appears on the screens of all the other people tuned in to the channel (although one person can also “whisper” privately to another). The poker channels are unusual in that an automaton is always present to supervise a poker game. However, the chat aspect of the channel is preserved, so that the poker games can become quite social.

In order to play IRC poker, you must have an IRC client and access to the Internet. The client is a program running on your local machine that connects you to the IRC network. The most popular Windows interface to IRC poker is Greg Reynolds’ Gpkr, available for free at http://www.anet-stl.com/~gregr.  Gpkr is reguarly maintained and sure to be up to date with the latest IRC poker changes.  If you get Gpkr you can ignore most of what follows, since the Gpkr graphical interface takes care of the details behind the scenes.

 On the Macintosh, Larry Weinberg’s McPoker is the client of choice; see http://www.ghosteffects.com/McPoker.html.

If you are on a Unix machine, try typing ‘irc’ to see if a client is already installed. If not, or if you are on a Macintosh or other system, you will have to obtain a client by FTP. One archive site for IRC clients is ftp://cs-ftp.bu.edu/pub/irc/clients. The Unix client is named ircII. This archive also contains a primer on using IRC. The official IRC FAQ is available at ftp://ftp.undernet.org/irc/docs, or from ftp://rtfm.mit.edu/pub/usenet/alt.irc. An excellent generic Windows client is mIRC, available at http://gator.naples.net/~nfn03824/mirc/main.html.

Once you have a client up and running, you need to connect to the special, isolated IRC poker server. In order to speed up the games, the poker server is not a part of the standard IRC network. The different clients have various ways to specify the IRC server you want to use; on Unix you can say

        irc nickname irc.poker.net
or      irc nickname 198.85.228.79

where ‘nickname’ is the name by which you will be known to other IRC users. After a moment, this command should connect you to the IRC poker server and print a welcome message. (From this point on the instructions are Unix-specific, but many of the commands will work on the other clients as well).

At this point you can find out what channels are open by typing

/list

which prints the topic of each channel, or you can see a more detailed view with

/names

which lists all of the people on each channel. As of May 1994, typical channels included #holdem, #omaha, and #nolimit. To join a particular channel (for instance, #holdem), type

/join #holdem

The action of the poker game and the ongoing conversations should now appear on your screen. The play of the game is governed by sending special messages to the dealer automaton; for example, the message

p fold

indicates that you wish to fold. All poker commands are prefixed with the letter ‘p’. The command

p commands

gives a list of all possible commands. The most important are

p join password         % join the game (pick any password)
                        % this starts your bankroll at $1000
p quit                  % quit the game
p fold                  % fold when the action gets to you
p check                 % check (do not bet or fold)
p call                  % call a bet
p raise                 % raise the bet

On the non-structured channels like #nolimit, some of these commands may take an argument, such as

p raise 50

When you join the channel you will notice the conspicuous absence of these ‘p’ commands despite the ongoing play. This is because most players send their messages privately to the dealer only, using a command like

/msg hbot p raise

where ‘hbot’ is the nickname of the dealer. (This is especially useful to hide your password when you join.)

Because poker players are inherently lazy, most users of ircII have a special set of IRC macros that saves them the effort of typing all those characters each time they have to act. These poker macros are available from ftp://ftp.csua.berkeley.edu/pub/rec.gambling/poker/ircrc.poker. The file contains instructions for using it on a Unix machine. Although mIRC doesn’t understand these macros, it does let you set up customized menus and aliases yourself.

In addition, curses and X-windows based front ends have been written for the poker games. The curses version uses simple terminal graphics to draw pictures of your cards and those of the other players, helping you to visualize the action. When other players fold their cards are mucked, and the board and pot are shown in the middle. This front end can be used in conjunction with the IRC macros mentioned above. Both curses and X-windows versions of the program are available on the web in source code form for Unix machines at http://www.jcsw.com/poker.html.  [Note: as of 11/2/1999 this site was not responding.]


Q:P10 What skills are important for Texas Hold’em?

A:P10 [Michael Hall]

(Hold ’em) Poker Skills in Order of Importance

Disclaimer: I’m a poker novice, not an expert.

0. Table selection
1. Hand selection
2. Reading opponents’ hands
3. Opponent assessment
4. Heads up play, bluffing, and semi-bluffing
5. Seat selection
6. Check-raising
7. Getting tells
8. Pot odds calculations

The exact order of importance of skills varies by game type. For example, you cannot read your opponent when your opponent does not know what he has. The list above is geared towards mid-level games where some sanity prevails but the game is not at an expert level either.

0. Table Selection.

By far the most important skill is table selection, so it ranks better than #1, it’s #0. It doesn’t matter how well you play if you are always picking the games with no fish where even an expert can’t beat the rake. Most of your income will come from a few very bad players. If you play fairly well, you won’t lose much to the better players, nor win much from the slightly inferior players; it’s the fish that count.

1. Hand selection

Now that you’ve found your table with a live one or two, be patient. More than just having the discipline to play good hands and the stomach for surviving the variance, you should realize that most of our income in Hold ’em comes from AA and KK, with notable mention to the other pocket pairs and AK. Your object is to not lose too much while waiting for these premium hands, and particularly not to lose too much to these hands when other players get them. At $10-$20 and below, go ahead and make it 3 bets if you can before the flop with your AA or KK; you’ll be surprised at how little respect you get with people calling you all the way to the river even though your betting is screaming “I HAVE POCKET ACES!!!” And respect preflop raises done by other players, dumping a lot of hands you would normally play such as AT and KJ or even AJ and KQ, as you don’t want to make top pair versus an overpair. On the flop, don’t bet into someone who has made it three bets unless you can beat the xxxx out of AA and KK and *want* to be raised back and then just call and go for a check-raise on the turn.

2. Reading opponents’ hands

Now, think about the range of hands and their probabilities that your opponents could have. Initially, when the players receive their first two cards, every possible two card hand is equally probable (unless you start grouping them like 87 offsuit, pocket aces, etc., but you get the idea.) Every action a player takes gives you information that you can use to adjust these probabilities. It’s a Bayesian inference problem. Unfortunately, actually applying Bayes’ rule exactly is beyond any puny human brain’s capability. So, you make a major approximation and essentially just keep around a set of possible hands, which you then prune down as action take place.

Suppose a player just calls preflop in early position and the flop comes Q 7 2 offsuit and he suddenly goes berserk by reraising, you have to think about what hands are likely. The hands that make sense to reraise like that are AQ, KQ, Q7, 72, Q2, 77, and 22. QQ would probably be slow-played here instead. Now join that set with the possible hands before the flop. We can just look at these hands and see which are reasonable to just call preflop in early position. AQ and KQ are often raised in early position, but at least sometimes they just call, so they are still consistent. Q7, 72, and Q2 are not reasonable calls from early position. 77 and 22 are reasonable calls, though tight players would probably dump the 22. So that leaves AQ, KQ, 77, and 22 as his possible hands, which has narrowed down the field quite a bit. Be aware also of how other players may interpret your betting.

3. Opponent assessment

As play goes along, give yourself a running commentary of the events, “she open-raises, he folds, he cold-calls…”. You must make a lot of mental notes based on this, and you must do this even when you’re not in a hand, because in addition to being useful during a hand, it’s useful for later hands. You want to see the frequency with which a player sees the flop, the frequency with which a player defends his blinds from raises, and the hands a player open-raises with, raises with, reraises with, cold-calls with, and just calls with. This in conjunction with narrowing down the hands above will often give you a good idea of what’s going on even when there is no showdown. Your goal is to stereotype each player, as well as to note particular idiosyncrasies of the individuals for use not only now but in future sessions.

4. Heads up play, semi-bluffing, and bluffing

Especially when heads-up, you should be constantly applying pressure to the other player to make him fold. You may reraise when you think you’re either beaten badly or your opponent is bluffing. It’s a bit like chess or wargames, with attacks, feints, counterattacks, and graceful retreats. This is part of the “feel” of poker that’s hard to put into words, but hopefully you get the idea. Bluffing and semi-bluffing is important to keep yourself unpredictable, and with since you’re keeping track of the ranges of plausible hands, it’s quite likely you’ll often know where your opponent stands. Cold bluffing is usually restricted to the river, where you might bet into one or two opponents (who might fold) if you have no chance of winning the pot if there is a showdown. Semi-bluffing is betting with a hand that is not likely best but has some big outs. Your opponent may fold immediately, and if not, you may hit your out and your opponent may seriously misread you. There is an important balance here; you must have sufficiently tight hand selection criteria such that when you do bet your opponent is positively terrified that you may have a big hand like an overpair. Semi-bluffing is very powerful, because you’ve been so careful in choosing your starting hands that even if you aren’t there yet you are likely to get there.

5. Seat selection

Generally, you want the loose aggressive players to your right and the tight passive players to your left. This is so that you can see a raise coming before calling the first bet. However, if the game is tight enough that it is being folded around to the blinds often, then you want some very tight passive players in the two seats to your right, so that your blinds will not be stolen. This is a very important skill, and just because you’ve found a good table, doesn’t mean that every seat at that table would be a winning seat on average for you.

6. Check-raising

Because the nature of fixed limit Hold ’em makes calling one bet often correct for very weak hands, it’s difficult to protect your hand. A major weapon you have to protect your hand is check-raising. However, you must be conscious of where you think the bettor will be. Typically, if you had a made but vulnerable hand you would check in early position if you thought there would be a bet in late position; you then raise and the players in between face two bets plus a risk of a reraise by the late position player, making it difficult for them to call. If you have an invulnerable hand that you want to make everyone pay you through the nose for, then you would check in early position if you thought there would be an early position bet, and then you would raise after everyone trailed in calling behind. The down side of check-raising is that you risk giving a free card if no one bets.

7. Getting tells

Be aware of tells. If a player has his hands on his chips and is leaning forward, all ready to raise if you bet, usually this is an act intended to get you to just check, as the player in fact does not what to raise you or maybe even call a bet. Two other incredibly valuable tells are the “what the heck, I raise” tell (get *out*, he has a monster!) and the “let me check to see if I have one of that suit with three on the board” tell (so you know he doesn’t have a flush already.) Remember that if they think they’re being watched, players typically act the opposite of what they have.

8. Pot odds calculations

Be aware of pot odds. You can count the number of “outs” you have to estimate if calling is a positive expected value play. You may be surprised that I rank this so low. Although it is a subjective opinion, particularly when heads up it’s much more important outplay your opponent rather than outdraw him. In loose games, outdrawing becomes much more important, but then the pots are so big that you usually have odds for any half way reasonable draw anyway.


Q:P11 What is a good preflop strategy for Texas Hold’em? NEW

A:P11 [Abdul Jalib]

Abdul Jalib describes a carefully thought out preflop strategy at http://www.posev.com/poker/holdem/strategy/preflop-abdul.html.


Q:P12What is a good third street strategy for Seven Card Stud?

A:P12 [JP Massar]

Two Plus Two Publishing has requested that this section be removed from the FAQ.  Until this issue is resolved, we are complying with their request.


Q:P13 Why are poker hands ranked the way they are?

A:P13 [Michael Maurer, Darse Billings, Roy Hashimoto]

The standard poker hands are ranked based on the probability of their being dealt pat in 5 cards from a full 52-card deck. The following table lists the hands in order of increasing frequency, and shows how many ways each hand can be dealt in 3, 5, and 7 cards.

Hand                  3 cards           5 cards           7 cards
====                  =======           =======           =======
Straight Flush             48                40            41,584
Four of a Kind              0               624           224,848
Full House                  0             3,744         3,473,184
Flush                   1,096             5,108         4,047,644
Straight                  720            10,200         6,180,020
Three of a Kind            52            54,912         6,461,620
Two Pair                    0           123,552        31,433,400
One Pair                3,744         1,098,240        58,627,800
High Card              16,440         1,302,540        23,294,460
=================================================================
TOTALS                 22,100         2,598,960       133,784,560

Notes:

1. The standard rankings are incorrect for 3-card hands, since it is easier to get a flush than a straight, and easier to get a straight than three of a kind. See question P15.

2. For 7-card hands, the numbers reflect the best possible 5-card hand out of the 7 cards. For instance, a hand that contains both a straight and three of a kind is counted as a straight.

3. For 7-card hands, only five cards need be in sequence to make a straight, or of the same suit to make a flush. In a 3-card hand a sequence of three is considered a straight, and three of the same suit a flush. These rules reflect standard poker practice.

4. In a 7-card hand, it is easier for one’s *best* 5 cards to have one or two pair than no pair. (Good bar bet opportunity!) However, if we changed the ranking to value no pairs above two pairs, all of the one pair hands and most of the two pair hands would be able to qualify for “no pair” by choosing a different set of five cards.

5. Within each type of hand (e.g., among all flushes) the hands are ranked according to an arbitrary scheme, unrelated to probability. See question P14.


 

Q:P14 Why are ace-hi flushes ranked highest, when it’s much harder to get a seven-hi flush? And similarly for two pairs?
A:P14 [Michael Maurer, Giancarlo DiPierro]
[Michael Maurer’s original answer:] Only the classes themselves (flush, straight, etc) are ranked by the probability of getting them in five cards. Within each class we use an arbitrary system to rank hands of the same type. For example, our arbitrary system ranks four aces higher than four deuces, even though the hands occur with the same frequency. Similarly, flushes are ranked by the highest card, with the next highest card breaking ties, and so on down to the fifth card. This has the curious effect of creating many more ace-hi flushes than any other kind, because any flush that contains an ace is “ace-hi”, regardless of the other cards. Thus, although 490 of the 1277 flushes in each suit contain a seven, only four of them are seven-hi flushes: 76542, 76532, 76432, and 75432. The median flush turns out to be KJT42.

A similar situation occurs for two pair hands. There are twelve times as many ways to make two pair with aces being the high pair (“aces up”) as there are to do it with threes as the high pair (“threes up”). While the aces can go with another other rank of pair, the threes must go with twos, or we would reverse the order and call them, for instance, “eights up”. Note that it is fruitless to alter the relative rankings to try to account for this imbalance, since as soon as we do the cards will be reinterpreted to make the best hand under the new system. For example, if we decide to make “threes up” the best possible two pair hand, now all the hands like “eights and threes” will be interpreted as “threes and eights”, and the population of “threes up” hands will soar twelve-fold. The median two pair hand turns out to be a tie between JJ552 and JJ44A.

[Giancarlo DiPierro suggests a fresh interpretation:] You’ve figured it out. Flushes are not correctly ranked according to their mathematical probability. The ranking of flushes and no-pair hands by the highest card (hence the term “high-card” for no-pair hands) that is commonly used around the world today is an arbitrary system that likely dates back to when someone first started betting on poker hands.

The correct way to rank these hands according to how hard they are be dealt becomes clear if you have ever played lowball or any high-low split game. In those games, low hands are ranked by the worst card, not the best card. Any 6-high low hand is ranked higher than any 7-high low hand because a 6-high is dealt three times less frequently than a 7-high. It doesn’t matter if the lowest card in the 7-high hand is an ace and the lowest card in the 6-high hand is only a deuce, the 6-high wins.

Applying that principle to flushes and no-pair hands in high poker, a 9-low hand is dealt about three times less frequently than an 8-low and about seven times less frequently than a 7-low. So the 9-low should ranked higher, even if the 7-low contains an ace and the 9-low does not. In any situation where unpaired cards are determining the ranking of a hand, whether it is a flush, no-pair, or the side cards in hands with trips of equal rank, the worst card — the lowest one — should be used for the ranking.

This concept also applies to two pair hands — the mathematically correct way of ranking them would be to use the value of the lower pair. Kings-under-aces is twice as rare as any queens-under hand, three times are rare as jacks-under, four times as rare as tens-under, and twelve times as rare as dueces-under — the easiest two pair to make. The next time your queens-under-kings loses to a pair of aces that turns into aces-and-dueces on the river, you can feel justified that mathematically, at least, you had the better hand!


Q:P15 What is the correct ranking for 3-card poker hands?

A:P15 [Darse Billings]

The standard ranking of poker hands is based on their frequency of occurrence in a five card hand. In three card hands the relative frequency of hands is different, so different in fact that three of a kind beats a straight, and a straight beats a flush.

The following is a break down of all three card poker hands. They can be used for certain three card games, such as Guts or 3-card-6. They can also be used to analyze starting hands for games like 7-Card Stud.

Hand Type      Kinds   Each   Total     Cuml   Rating
---------      -----   ----   -----     ----   ------
straight flush   12      4       48       48   0.9978
trips            13      4       52      100   0.9955
straight         12     60      720      820   0.9629
flush  **       274      4     1096     1916   0.9133
pair  ***       156     24     3744     5660   0.7439
Ace high         64     60     3840     9500   0.5701
King high        54     60     3240    12740   0.4235
Queen high       44     60     2640    15380   0.3041
Jack high        35     60     2100    17480   0.2090
Ten high         27     60     1620    19100   0.1357
Nine high        20     60     1200    20300   0.0814
Eight high       14     60      840    21140   0.0434
Seven high        9     60      540    21680   0.0190
Six high          5     60      300    21980   0.0054
Five high         2     60      120    22100   0.0000
                             
** More on Flushes           
------------------           
                             
High Card       Kinds Percent  Total    Cuml   Rating
---------       ----- -------  -----    ----   ------
Ace high         64    23.4     256     1076   0.9513
King high        54    19.7     216     1292   0.9415
Queen high       44    16.1     176     1468   0.9336
Jack high        35    12.8     140     1608   0.9272
Ten high         27     9.9     108     1716   0.9224
Nine high        20     7.3      80     1796   0.9187
Eight high       14     5.1      56     1852   0.9162
Seven high        9     3.3      36     1888   0.9146
Six high          5     1.8      20     1908   0.9137
Five high         2     0.7       8     1916   0.9133

*** More on Pairs
-----------------

Hand Type      Kinds   Each    Total    Cuml   Rating
---------      -----   ----    -----    ----   ------
   AAx           12     24      288     2204   0.9003
   KKx           12     24      288     2492   0.8872
   QQx           12     24      288     2780   0.8742
   JJx           12     24      288     3068   0.8612
   TTx           12     24      288     3356   0.8481
   99x           12     24      288     3644   0.8351
   88x           12     24      288     3932   0.8221
   77x           12     24      288     4220   0.8090
   66x           12     24      288     4508   0.7960
   55x           12     24      288     4796   0.7830
   44x           12     24      288     5084   0.7700
   33x           12     24      288     5372   0.7569
   22x           12     24      288     5660   0.7439

In the preceding tables, “Kinds” refers to the number of card combinations in each class, while “Each” is the number of non-distinct hands of each Kind. The product of these two numbers gives the total number of hands in that class. “Cuml” is the cumulative total of all hands, and “Rating” is a percentile ranking of the lowest hand in the class.

Note that “Rating” is only an estimate of the probability of beating a random hand. To compute the exact probability, a given hand must be compared to the (49 choose 3) combinations of the remaining cards in the deck.


Q:P16What are my chances of sucking out on my opponent in Hold’em?

A:P16 [Jason Steinhorn]

The following is an extension of the probability table offered by Sklansky and Malmuth in their Hold’em For Advanced Players. It lists the probability (%) and odds (X:1) of making any given hand on the turn, the river, or combined turn and river, given the number of outs for the hand.

Below that is a chart listing the number of outs given a particular drawing hand, and what hands those outs will give if made.

   Chances of making a hand on the turn/river/both

        turn    turn    river   river   t/r     t/r
 Outs   (%)     (X:1)    (%)    (X:1)   (%)    (X:1)
------------------------------------------------------
  20    42.6    1.35    43.5    1.30    67.5    0.48
  19    40.4    1.47    41.3    1.42    65.0    0.54
  18    38.3    1.61    39.1    1.56    62.4    0.60
  17    36.2    1.77    37.0    1.71    59.8    0.67
  16    34.0    1.94    34.8    1.88    57.0    0.76
  15    31.9    2.13    32.6    2.07    54.1    0.85
  14    29.8    2.36    30.4    2.28    51.2    0.96
  13    27.7    2.62    28.3    2.54    48.1    1.08
  12    25.5    2.92    26.1    2.83    45.0    1.22
  11    23.4    3.27    23.9    3.18    41.7    1.40
  10    21.3    3.70    21.7    3.60    38.4    1.61
   9    19.1    4.22    19.6    4.11    35.0    1.86
   8    17.0    4.88    17.4    4.75    31.5    2.18
   7    14.9    5.71    15.2    5.57    27.8    2.59
   6    12.8    6.83    13.0    6.67    24.1    3.14
   5    10.6    8.40    10.9    8.20    20.4    3.91
   4     8.5    10.75    8.7    10.50   16.5    5.07
   3     6.4    14.67    6.5    14.33   12.5    7.01
   2     4.3    22.50    4.3    22.00   08.4    10.88
   1     2.1    46.00    2.2    45.00   04.3    22.50



   Number of Outs Given a Particular Hand to Improve

 Outs   Given                           In attempt to make
-----------------------------------------------------------------------
  15    Open Straight Flush Draw        Straight, Flush, Straight Flush
  12    Inside Straight Flush Draw      Straight, Flush, Straight Flush
   9    Flush Draw                      Flush
   8    Open Straight Draw              Straight
   4    Gut Shot Straight               Straight
   4    2 Pair                          Full House
   2    1 Pair                          Three of a kind
   1    Three of a Kind                 Four of a kind

Q:P17 What does pot-limit mean?

A:P17 [Steve Brecher]

This is an explanation of bet size limits in pot limit poker.

In pot limit, as in all poker, you may fold, or call the previous bet — which may be a forced blind, if there is no previous voluntary bet — or you may raise. A raise, as in all poker, must be at least as large as the previous bet or raise. In pot limit, however, your raise may be no larger than the size of the pot after your call. If you are the opening bettor on a round for which no blinds are made, your bet can be no more than the size of the pot.

Say that the pot contains p units before a previous bettor bets (or blinds) b units. You wish to raise the maximum. What is the total amount that you should bet?

The size of the pot when it is your turn to act is p+b. Your action includes a call, making the pot p+2b, and thus the amount of your raise will be p+2b and your total bet will be p+3b. Therefore:

If you wish to raise the previous bettor (or big blind) the maximum amount, your total bet will be three times the previous bet plus the size of the pot before the previous bet was made. If you are the first to act on the first round, the size of the pot before the previous bet is the total of the small blind(s), and the previous bet is the big blind.

Sometimes the minimum betting unit is larger than the size of one or more blinds. E.g., it may be that only $5 chips play for betting, but one or more blinds are smaller than $5. In this case, the maximum initial bring-in is rounded to the betting unit.

Some people state the general rule that the maximum initial bring-in is “four times the big blind.” This is correct only if the total of the small blinds, after rounding if appropriate, is equal to the big blind, and this is not always the case. E.g., in a tournament when the blinds are $100 and $200, the maximum bring-in is $700, not $800. The correct rule is “three times the big blind plus the total of the small blinds, rounded as appropriate.”

Examples:

  • 1, 2, and 5 blinds. 3 times 5 = 15; 15 + 1 + 2 = 18. Assuming that the minimum betting unit is 5, the maximum initial bring-in would be 18 rounded up to become 20 — a raise of 15.
  • With 1, 2, and 5 blinds, someone brings it in for 10. The maximum bet of the next to act would be 3 times 10 = 30, plus the total blinds of 7, rounded up to 40 — a raise of 30.
  • The pot contains, say, 1 unit. Suppose each successive bettor wishes to raise the maximum; how fast will the bets increase?

  size of pot before                   3 x previous bet
  previous bet         previous bet   + size of pot before
                                        previous bet
                                         = next bet

       1                   -                 1
       1                   1                 4
       2                   4                14
       6                  14                48
      20                  48               164
      68                 164               560
     232                 560              1912

So, if the initial pot size were $100, the seventh maniacal raiser would be making a total bet of $191,200. The action can escalate quickly.

 Q: What is half-pot-limit?

A: [David Zanetti, March 2000]

In half-pot betting the maximum bet is half of whatever is in the pot. In a head-to-head contest, HP pots and bets double with each additional bet or raise, so four bets or raises increase the pot by a factor of 2 x 2 x 2 x 2, or sixteen times. Pot-sized bets triple the pot, giving 3 x 3 x 3 x 3 or eighty-one times the original pot after four bets or raises, in a head-to-head contest.

Half-pot is the smallest of the big-bet games, and like its big brothers pot-limit and no-limit, it provides plenty of scope for using position and well timed bluffs to win with inferior hands, and the pot builds quickly when you are betting for value. At the same time the more moderate bet sizes mean that half-pot games last much longer than pot-limit or no-limit games with a given amount of money available. Half-pot games are much easier to keep alive than pot-limit and no-limit games, and this alone makes them worthy of consideration as a big-bet option.

Half-pot, like limit-betting, is a game which provides reasonable odds for a call — 3/1 in a head to head contest, as opposed to 2/1 in pot-limit — and as a result there is more action and multi-way pots than in pot-limit and no-limit. Because half-pot is a big-bet game, bets and bluffs do not decrease in effect as the hand progresses, as they do in limit, where a final round bet can be as little as two or three percent of the pot. In effect, half-pot combines the best features of pot-limit/no-limit, and limit-betting: it has multi-way action, favorable pot-odds and reasonable bankroll longevity, like limit-betting, and it’s also an excellent bluffing form in which pots and bets build quickly, like PL and NL.

Here is a chart comparing half-pot and pot-limit pot sizes and bets in a 50-100 (cents or dollars, depending on your BR) game of holdem. In this example the opener raises, and then bets at every round, and one player (other than either of the blinds) calls at every round, and then raises and is called at the end. The pot size at the start of each round includes all bets and calls for the preceding round, so the pot at the start of the second round in the half-pot column is 150 (blinds) + 100 + 125 (call and raise) + 225 (call) = 600.

        Half-pot                                  Pot-limit
Start:  call 100, raise 125                       call 100, raise 250
Flop:   pot 600, bet 300                          pot 850, bet 850
Turn:   pot 1200, bet 600                         pot 2550, bet 2550 
River:  pot 2400, bet 1200                        pot 7650, bet 7650
        raise 2400, final pot 9600                raise 22,950, final pot 68,850

The rapid escalation of the bets means that a hand of PL in which there is serious action at every round of play is something of a rarity, because players with average bankrolls tap out after three or four bets. Four rounds of action, even multi-way action, is common in half-pot play.

Pot-limit is good, but half-pot lasts longer.

While it is perfectly understandable that some players will always prefer pot-limit to half-pot — and if bankroll conditions and the players are right I like it myself — I believe it is a mistake to dismiss half-pot as a big-bet game. A half-pot game can survive for years in a situation where a pot-limit game would quickly break many of the available players and revert to limit-betting. The situation in the USA and Canada — where pot-limit games can be hard to find — is a reflection of this tendency of limit games to push out pot-limit. Players who prefer big-bet poker but who spend most of their time playing limit because the pot-limit game folded again, (or because their own bankroll can’t handle the big swings) might consider half-pot betting as an alternative, if not to pot-limit, at least to limit-betting.


Q:P18 What is a kill pot? What is a game with a kill? What is a half kill? What is a straddle bet?

A:P18 [Stephen Landrum]

Big bet (no-limit or pot-limit) poker frequently allows a player to “kill the pot”, by posting an amount equal to current to-go amount, and the amount to-go (to come into the hand, or call preflop) is now double the kill amount. In no-limit games, players are frequently allowed to kill for more than the to-go amount, but for no more than 1/2 of their stack. Some games allow overkills – after someone has killed the pot, someone else can kill it again, raising the amount to-go to double the new kill amount. There may be a limit to the number of kills allowed on a hand, even though the game is “no-limit”. Killing the pot alters the order of action preflop/predraw. The killers act after the blinds in the order in which they killed the pot. After the flop or draw, action returns to its normal order.

To kill the pot in Hold’em or other flop games, the kill must be announced (either verbally or by placing the amount of the kill in the pot) before any cards are dealt. Draw lowball games frequently allow players to kill the after seeing two cards – and some places even allow a kill in lowball after the 3rd card is dealt. No-limit draw lowball also frequently allows the player with the big blind to place a blind which is larger than the normal amount, but still smaller than the to-go amount, and the new to-go amount is twice the big blind.

Example: In a 1-2-2, 5-to-go Hold’em game, the player on the button (who also has the $1 blind) decides to kill it for $5, rebuying his right to act last before the flop. The blinds now look like 5-2-2, and the game is now 10-to-go. After the player to the right of the button acts, the two $2 blinds act, then the killer acts.

Example: In a draw-lowball game, 1-1-2 blinds, 4-to-go, the player with the big blind puts out $3 before cards are dealt and it is now 6-to-go. After two cards are dealt, the player to the right of the button kills the pot for $10, and it is now 20-to-go. The player after the blinds is first to act. After the player in front of the killer acts, the button and other blinds must act, and then the killer acts.

Limit lowball games also frequently allow a player to kill the pot from any position. In this case, the killer makes a blind of the current limit, and the limit is doubled for that hand. As in no-limit games, the player who kills the pot acts last after the blinds before the draw, and action resumes to the normal order after the draw.

In addition, some limit games are played with a kill or a half kill. In these games, there is some condition which if met, raises the stakes of the game – doubling them in the case of a kill game, or increasing them by 50% in the case of a half kill. In addition to the normal blinds posted for the game, the player who met the kill condition must post a blind equal to the new small bet size. This blind is instead of the small or big blind if the player would have been in position to have one of those. In some clubs the killer gets to act last after the blinds; but in others the killer acts in normal turn order.

In a high only game, the condition is typically that someone wins two pots in a row. In a high-low split game, the condition is usually that someone takes the whole pot, and that the pot is some minimum size.

For example: in a 10-20 Omaha-8 game with a half kill that I’ve played in, if someone scoops a pot with $100 in it, then they must post a $15 blind and the next hand the game is 15-30.

What is a straddle bet?
In limit Hold’em and other flop games players are frequently allowed to make a bet called a straddle bet, sometimes known as a live blind, live raise, or live-<amount where <amount is the amount of the bet. The player who follows the big blind and would normally be under the gun can raise before cards before cards are dealt.  Players that act after him must call the raise, fold, or raise the bet themselves.  The straddler’s raise is live – if no-one else raises, s/he has the option to reraise after the blinds have acted.  If straddle bets are allowed, the player behind the straddler can also post a straddle by raising again, and so on until the maximum number of bets is reached.

For example:  In a 6-12 game, the blinds are 3 and 6, the player after the small blind makes it live-12 by raising before the cards are dealt, and the player after him can make it live-18.


Q:P19 What is a poker tournament? How does one work? What is a chip race? What is a satellite?

A:P19 [Michael Maurer]

Basics

A poker tournament is an event in which poker players compete for all or part of a prize pool. Each player pays an entry fee and initial buy-in for a set number of tournament chips. The chips are non-negotiable, having no cash value except at the end of the tournament. The contestants play until all but one or a few are busted; the top finishers divide up the prize pool according to the tournament rules. The game’s stakes increase with time to hasten the tournament’s end.

Variations

Within this framework is considerable room for variation. Many tournaments permit “rebuys”, which allow a busted player to reenter the tournament by immediately posting additional money to the prize pool. The number of rebuys may be unlimited, limited to one or a few, or limited to an initial period of the tournament. Rebuys may also be available to players with short stacks or even to all active players. Some tournaments allow an “add-on”, a one-time opportunity for all active players to buy a set number of additional chips, again increasing the prize pool. The add-on may be available at the end of the rebuy period, at the beginning of the tournament, or, rarely, at any time during the rebuy period. The exchange rate for rebuys and add-ons may be better than that for the initial buy-in. A tournament with no rebuys is called a “freezeout”. The betting structure may be limit only, pot-limit, no-limit, or a mixture, usually limit in the early rounds and no-limit later. Whatever the betting structure, the blinds or betting limits increase regularly, perhaps doubling every twenty minutes in a small tournament, or more slowly in a large one.

The Chip Race

A confusing aspect of the increasing stakes is the way in which some tournaments get rid of the small denomination chips. At some point in the tournament, the dealer may “race off” all the red $5 chips. Each player puts all their red chips in front of them, and the dealer converts them to as many green $25 chips as possible. Whatever red chips remain are raced off: each player receives one card for each chip, and the player receiving the highest card (ace, king, etc) wins everybody’s reds and converts them to greens. Bridge suits break ties for the high card (spades, hearts, diamonds, clubs). In other tournaments, the red chips may simply be rounded to green chips. Although rounding can change the total amount of money in play, it is better at preserving the players’ relative chip positions.

 Some tournaments use a new chip race technique that only awards one chip to the player with the highest card. Then that player is ineligible to receive more chips. If more chips remain, the player having the next highest card receives the next chip and becomes ineligible also, and so on until all chips are distributed.

Winning

The tournament usually continues until only one player remains. The winner may take all the money, or the top finishers may divide it up according to a set schedule. In most tournaments, tables are consolidated and seats redrawn when a certain number of players are eliminated, eventually resulting in a “final table” of contestants. Sometimes, each table plays until only one player remains, and then the survivors meet at a final table; this is called a “shootout”. Since the betting stakes are large at the final table and payout schedules often favor first place, luck plays a major role and many players prefer cutting a deal to playing the tournament to its conclusion.

Satellites

A “satellite” is a tournament in which the prize is an entry to another tournament. Large tournaments like the $10,000 No-limit Hold’em event in the World Series of Poker generate a lot of satellites. Typically, the satellite buy-in is around 1/10 the tournament buy-in, so the top 10% of satellite finishers win a tournament buy-in. Sometimes a satellite will even have mini-satellites, in which the prize is an entry to the main satellite. A mini-satellite for the $10,000 event might have a $100 buy-in and award a $1,000 buyin to a satellite that is awarding a $10,000 buy-in to the main event.

A satellite format popular in the larger tournaments is the “super-satellite”.  This is a multi-table tournament that awards a number of entries into the main tournament.  The buy-in to the super can be as little as 2% of the buy-in to the main tournament, with rebuys usually permitted.  Depending on the number of entrants and rebuys, the top N finishers receive an entry into the main tournament.  The strategy late in a super-satellite can be unusual because of the flat payout structure.

Schedules

Many small (under $100 buy-in) daily or weekly tournaments are listed in the back pages of Card Player magazine. Be sure to call the casino to see if they are having the tournament that day, since the magazine is sometimes out of date.


Q:P20 How does tournament strategy differ from that of regular games?

A:P20 [Ramsey]

Poker tournaments offer a chance to win a large sum of money for a small, and known, fee and can be an enjoyable alternative to cash poker. However the strategy required to be successful in a tournament can differ significantly from that of the equivalent cash game. This section is therefore offered as general advice to new, or inexperienced, tournament players.

Tournaments work by eliminating players who lose all their chips. To ensure that a tournament ends within a reasonable time the blinds/antes are increased at regular intervals. Your objective in a tournament should therefore be to accumulate chips whilst minimising the chance of being eliminated.

Before the Tournament

Before entering a tournament make sure you know the way it is organised; if it is a ‘freezeout’ then it will cost you only the initial fee. If the tournament allows rebuys or add-ons then you need to know the exact rules and costs of each of your options.

In your first few tournaments it will probably be sensible to forego all these options, play your best game with your starting chips, and gain as much experience as possible at minimum cost.

As a general rule it is mathematically sound to rebuy at any stage providing that you are not out-classed by the opposition (and the cost is not a major concern). This is true even if all the other players at the table have far more chips than you.

A good ‘rule of thumb’ for add-ons is to take the option if you currently have less than the average number of chips *and*, by taking the add-on you will then have an above average number of chips. The add-on is less sound if you have a very small stack or a large stack. Of course the cheaper the cost of the add-on chips the more attractive the option is regardless of stack size.

Make sure you know how many prizes there are and whether the tournament is played to a finish or ends at a fixed time. The correct strategy when you get down to the last few players or the last few hands can lead to some plays which would be irrational in any other circumstances.

Also check the blind/ante structure; how it changes and how frequently it changes during the tournament. The blinds typically double at fixed intervals of between 20 and 40 minutes. This information is important: Suppose at some point you have 1800 chips and there are currently blinds of 200 and 400. After you have paid your next blinds you will have 1200 chips left or 3 times the big blind. If however the blinds are likely to double before you next post then, after posting, you will have 600 chips left which is less than the big blind of 800. Clearly the strategy you need to adopt will vary considerably in these two situations, in the first you can be reasonably conservative whilst in the latter you have to win a pot quickly and will need to be aggressive.

The Early Stages

In the early stages of a tournament keep the following points in mind:

If it is a ‘freezeout’ tournament a lot of players will play tight in the early stages not wanting to be eliminated quickly. Some players will however be aggressive looking to build a big stack quickly with a fall back of a return to the cash games if things don’t go to plan. Selective aggression against the tight players can be effecive in this situation.

If rebuys are allowed the play in the early stages will tend to be a lot looser. A lot of the players will be prepared, and even expect, to rebuy and they will play marginal hands aggressively trying to build a big stack early. Players who are not going to rebuy will play a lot more cautiously.

At the start of a tournament the cost of the blinds will be relatively low in respect of the average stack size and will become even lower if rebuys are allowed. This allows you to play much more marginal hands than normal. It is worth risking a small part of your stack (say 5% or less) to see the flop with small pairs, suited connectors and other marginal hands to have the chance to double your stack if you hit big on the flop.

By the same token it can be right to play good hands relatively conservatively preflop. If you hold AK in late position and there are several callers it is often better just to flat call. You know if you raise you will not get the other players to fold. By flat calling you minimise your loss if the flop is not to your liking and you have the benefit of disguise if you hit the flop big.

If you are by nature an aggressive player then use the early stages to try and build a substantial stack. This risks early elimination but when successful it will give you sufficient chips to survive the first few blind increases even if the cards turn against you.

If your natural game is passive or middle of the road then the best strategy is to try for a steady accumulation of chips. Play looser than normal preflop providing that the cost is small in relation to your stack but play slightly tighter than normal post-flop. This generally means not putting in that extra bet or raise when you think, but are not sure, that you are ahead – the saving of a bet when you lose the pot is worth more to you than the extra bet you could potentially win.

Finally in the early stages do not be concerned with eliminating other players. You are too far from the prize list to worry about how many players are left. It is more important to concentrate on keeping your stack in good condition. For example a player raises and everyone else folds. You hold T9s and have a big stack. Your opponent is almost allin so the cost to you even if you lose the pot is small. Even so, fold. Your opponent has almost certainly a better starting hand than yours and even if you win it will not increase your stack by much. Having made a good start you need to be careful not to bleed chips unnecessarily.

The Middle/Late Stages

In the middle and later stages of a tournament the structure of the game gradually changes and the strategy necessary changes too:

As the blinds increase they represent an increasing percentage of the average stack. Winning the blinds therefore becomes more significant and the first player into the pot will normally enter with a raise rather than a flat call.

The converse of this is that it now costs a significant proportion of the average stack to call a raise. Therefore the quality of hand needed to call a raise increases. The result of this is that a lot of hands go raise, all fold and you can go several hands without even seeing a flop.

As players are eliminated the game in the middle/late stages will be played most of the time with less than a full table. This, and the increasing blinds, means that unless a players is winning hands at regular intervals even a big stack can be quickly depleted. To counter this all players, regardless of their normal style, have to play very aggressively.

So the general strategy in the middle/late stages is to increasingly loosen the requirements for an opening raise and to tighten up the requirements for calling. Your objective should be to win, on average, the blinds once per round. Each time you win the blinds you can, in effect, survive one further round of hands…. and each round of hands you survive increases your chance of hitting a premium hand and an opportunity to double your stack.

A player who has an average or large stack commands respect when they raise and will often win the blinds unopposed. A player with a small stack will be called much more frequently because they do not have sufficient chips to seriously damage the larger stacks. There is, therefore, a critical stack size and it is worth a player taking extra risks to try and avoid falling below that point. As a rule of thumb this critical size is about 4 big bets in a limit game and about 6 times the big blind in pot and no-limit.

If your stack does fall below the critical level then a change of strategy is required. It is no longer sensible to raise with marginal hands because you expect to be called. So raise if you are lucky enough to hit a premium hand but otherwise limp in to a pot with any reasonable hand. If there is no raise then you can judge the flop and fold if absolutely necessary. If you limp into a pot and it is then raised be prepared to put all your chips in and keep your fingers crossed. If there is a raise in front of you then you should also loosen your calling requirements when you are very short of chips. A hand such as Ax or a low pair offers a reasonable chance of doubling your stack and you can’t afford to wait for a better opportunity.

If you have a big stack (e.g. twice the average or more) then you are in a strong position but this can change rapidly. A big stack allows you to play more conservatively and wait that bit longer for better hands before raising however the blinds will soon eat into even a large stack so you have to remain aggressive. Normally it will pay to be selectively aggressive, that is be prepared to mix it with the smaller stacks but keep out of the way of the other large stacks as they can do you serious damage.

Experienced tournament players with large stacks are likely to call a raise by a short stack even if they have only a moderate or poor hand. They are risking losing a few chips for the chance of moving one place closer to the prize money. There may even be several callers with good stacks and poor hands. It will not be unusual for these players to check down the hand once the short stack is all-in to maximise the chance of eliminating the all-in player.

Whilst this is good tournament strategy it is probably best in your first few tournaments to call a raise only with a very good hand and ignore whether the raiser has many or few chips. However if you do get head to head with a player who is almost all-in you should force the other player to commit their last few chips at the first opportunity; certainly if you would call if they bet then you must bet to prevent them checking. It is a cardinal error to let a player off the hook because no matter how few chips a player has left they can bounce back to being chip leader within a few hands if they get the run of the cards!

As the blinds rise a raise or a call starts to take a significant proportion of the average stack. The effect of this is that most players will continue to play aggressively on the flop if they have even a small part of it and quite often they will play aggressively even if the flop misses them completely (ie bluff). You will have to respond in kind
especially if conceding the pot would leave you with a stack below the critical level. For example you hold AsQd, raise and are called by the big blind. The flop is Jh 8h 2c and the big blind bets. Even though this flop does nothing for you you should call unless you are in a strong chip position. The big blind is as likely to be on a draw or bluffing as he is to have a genuine hand.

The Final Stage

If all goes well you will survive to the point where you are down to the last few players and almost in the prize money.

At this stage the blinds will be so high that virtually all the players left will have stacks at or below the critical size. In addition you will be playing the game increasingly short-handed which means that you can see fewer and fewer hands before your stack is anted away.

You need at this stage to know exactly how near the prize money you are and how many chips each of your opponents has. If you have an average or large stack the correct strategy is still to be ultra aggressive in raising but conservative in calling. However when you have fewer than average chips it can be right to adopt a tighter strategy! There are two reasons why this may be so:

Suppose there are 5 players left and there are prizes for the first 4 only. If the player under the gun does not have enough chips to cover the big blind next hand then you will be probably correct to fold any non-premium hand and hope that utg doesn’t get lucky. In general this extends to playing tight if you can survive longer than one or more of the other players left in the game. This will force them to try and win a pot before you have to – if they lose you are one further notch up the ladder whilst if they win you still have a chance to also win a pot and be back in the same relative position to them.

Providing that you have enough chips to see the next few hands then playing tight also avoids the chance of immediate elimination and gives the other players a chance to eliminate each other or to agree to make a deal, either of which is to your advantage.

In most tournaments the last few players are allowed to agree a deal sharing the prize fund in different proportions to that originally envisioned. A lot of tournaments will end in this way because regardless of how big a lead the chip leader has the blinds are so high that who wins will be more a matter of luck than skill or weight of chips.

There are typically three types of deal:

  1. A saver is agreed for all those players still in who subsequently get eliminated outside the original prize scale. For example if there are 6 players left and only 4 prizes then the players may agree that the next 2 players eliminated will receive $100 each and the prize for the eventual winner will be reduced by $200. The game then continues.
  2. The whole of the prize fund is distributed amongst the remaining players and the game is ended at this point. The amount each player receives will be related to the number of chips they currently have but the exact amount will be subject to negotiation.
  3. Part of the prize fund is distributed amongst the remaining players and then the game continues; normally on the basis of the winner takes all of the remaining prize money (and the trophy if any).

If you are going to split the prize money on the basis of chips held then it is probably easiest to let the experienced players do the initial negotiating. They will ask if you would be happy to accept $x and it is then up to you to accept or reject the offer. If you are one of the chip leaders then you should expect to receive less than your chips are worth whereas if you have less chips than average you should insist on receiving more than their face value. For example with 5 players left if you have 10% of the chips you might expect 15% of the prize fund; if you have 40% of the chips you might have to settle for 30-35% of the money.

For new tournament players the important point to bear in mind is that any deal requires the explicit agreement of *all* the remaining players. If you do not like the proposed deal you do not have to accept it simply ask the dealer to carry on. If things continue to go your way you will end up with all the chips and the bulk of the prize money. Remember however that in these final stages luck is more important than skill and a sensible deal leaves everybody happy.

[Several books have been written on the subject of poker tournaments, but none has received universal praise from rec.gamblers. Jay Sipelstein’s reviews of McEvoy’s “Tournament Poker” and Buntjer’s “The Secret To Winning Big In Tournament Poker” are in the Poker Book Review Archive at http://www.kimberg.com/poker/reviews.html –ed.]


Q:P21 What is the World Series of Poker? What is the Tournament of Champions?

A:P21 [Jim Albrecht, JP Massar]

Q: What is the World Series of Poker?

The World Series of Poker is a yearly series of poker tournaments hosted by Binion’s Horseshoe Casino in Las Vegas. The official WSoP home page is at http://www.conjelco.com/wsop.html.

Q: How do the WSOP satellites work? [Jim Albrecht, 1996]

Those satellites are for all events. Actually, they are to win “tournament buy-in chips” worth $500 towards a buy-in to any event. You could for example, win a hold’em satellite and receive 3 chip and $60 in cash. This has a value of $1,560 and may be used as a buy-in for any $1,560 event. The chips can be added up to play in a larger event, or can be sold to you friends at discount. They are usually obtainable for $480. In the “old days”, or PC (pre-chip) days, you received a receipt and HAD to play in the specific tournament that matched the satellite you won. Now you have all kinds of options. Just think of them as tournament stock certificates. These chips are without question the best invention of the 90’s for tournament poker (I would say this even if it wasn’t my idea)…… 🙂

Q: What about the satellites for the $10,000 WSOP event?  [Jim Albrecht, 1996]

Supers start on Monday night and run nightly throughout the tournament dates. You win a piece of paper with your name on it (WOW!) This piece of paper (a receipt) allows you to play in the $10,000 event and win up to $1,000,000. Disclaimer: Winning is not guaranteed. This part is up to you.

The first Super you win is non-transferable, non-negotiable, and must be played by YOU. This will be clearly stamped on your receipt. If you win a second Super you will be paid in Buy-in chips (twenty $500 chips). You may do as you please with these. Stake a friend, play in several events yourself or sell to the highest bidder. Best place for a sale: The line for sign-up on the day of the event. Early sales (first week of the tournament) can fetch as low as $9,500. The day of the event you should be able to get $9,900.

Q.  What is the Tournament of Champions? [JP Massar, October 1999] 

The first annual TOC, organized by Mike Sexton and Chuck Humphrey under the auspices of Tournament of Champions, Inc, was held at the Orleans Hotel Casino in Las Vegas in July, 1999. To enter the next TOC, you must win a TOC-recognized tournament sometime in the preceding year.  Thus, the TOC is a ‘tournament of tournament champions’.  The 1st TOC was won by David Chiu.

The current format of the TOC is alternating rounds of Limit Texas Hold ’em, Omaha Hi/Lo, and Seven Card Stud.  The final three tables are played using No Limit Hold ’em. The entry fee for the year 2000 TOC is $2000.


Q:P22 What the hell is Rumple Mintz?

A:P22 [Michael Maurer]

Rumple Mintz is the official rec.gambling spelling of a brand of 100 proof peppermint schnapps called Rumple Minze, imported from the Scharlachberg Distillery in Germany. Best served shaken over ice for five seconds, then strained into a short glass. It is the official drink of rec.gambler poker players everywhere, and is known to increase poker skill dramatically. Legend has it that one rec.gambler won $4000 in a 50-100 Hold’em game while under its spell, lived to tell the tale in a trip report, and assured its eternal fame.


Q:P23 What is a burn card and why is it dealt?

A:P23 [Michael Maurer]

A burn card is a card dealt face down at the beginning of a round, before any other cards are dealt. This card is not used in the play of the hand. The main reason for this custom is to guard against marked cards. If the cards are marked, a player who can read the backs will know what the top card on the deck is. In a flop-game like Hold’em or Omaha, knowledge of the next board card is extremely profitable. Knowledge of which card it will *not* be is slightly useful, but much less so.


Q:P24 What happens if there aren’t enough cards in the deck to deal the final card in 7-card stud?

A:P24 [Michael Maurer]

The burn cards will be shuffled into the remaining deck. If there are still not enough cards, a single community card will be dealt face-up and used by all the players.


Q:P25 What is the difference between a shill and a proposition player? What skills are needed to be one?

A:P25 [John Murphy]

A shill is paid by the house at an hourly rate, and plays with house money. A prop is paid by the house and plays with his own money. Many states require cardrooms to identify house players if asked, but may not require them to do so otherwise. Shills and props are directed to games by the house. This means that they may be constantly shifted to tougher games, as non-house players boot them out of seats in juicy games. The most important skill for a prop is to be able to excel in all games, since they may be called to play any game that the house offers, against players who specialize in that game. Also, be they must be prepared to sit and wait if all games are full.


Q:P26 What is the Dead Man’s Hand?

A:P26 [Stephen Landrum]

Legend holds that Wild Bill Hickok was shot to death during a poker game in Deadwood, South Dakota, and that the hand he held was two pair, black aces and black eights. On that most people agree. The fifth card is not known for certain. In order of credibility, the following kickers have been suggested:

Five of Diamonds
The actual card is supposedly on display in Deadwood, previously on display at the Stardust in Las Vegas.
Nine of Diamonds
Listed below in the glossary, this card was supposedly reported by first hand accounts, and is used in a recreation in Deadwood.
Queen of Clubs
On display at Ripley’s Believe it or Not.
King of Spades
Appeared in the 1936 movie The Plainsman with Gary Cooper as Hickok.

Q:P27 What are the Las Vegas poker room phone numbers?

A:P27 [Dave Marshall, June 1994]

Here’s a list of all the poker rooms in Las Vegas (Santa Fe, Boomtown, and Henderson poker rooms not included) with addresses and the *direct* phone number of the poker room. In one or two cases, the poker room doesn’t have a direct line, so the main casino line is used instead. See bottom for the two 800 numbers I know of.

Aladdin Hotel & Casino                      3667 S Las Vegas Blvd    736-0329
Binion's Horseshoe Hotel & Casino           128 Fremont Street       366-7397
Circus Circus Hotel-Casino                  2880 S Las Vegas Blvd    734-0410
Continental Hotel & Casino                  4100 Paradise Road       737-5555
El Cortez Hotel                             600 Fremont Street       385-5200
Excalibur Hotel-Casino                      3850 S Las Vegas Blvd    597-7625
Flamingo Hilton                             3555 S Las Vegas Blvd    733-3485
Fremont Hotel                               200 Fremont Street       385-3232
Gold Coast Hotel & Casino                   4000 W Flamingo Road     367-7111
Hacienda Hotel & Casino                     3950 S Las Vegas Blvd    739-8911
Harrah's Las Vegas                          3475 S Las Vegas Blvd    369-5234
Imperial Palace Hotel & Casino              3535 S Las Vegas Blvd    731-3311
Jackie Gaughan's Plaza Hotel & Casino       1 S Main Street          386-2249
Las Vegas Hilton                            3000 Paradise Road       732-5995
Luxor Hotel And Casino                      3900 S Las Vegas Blvd    262-4210
MGM Grand Hotel                             3799 S Las Vegas Blvd    891-7434
The Mirage Hotel And Casino                 3400 S Las Vegas Blvd    791-7290
Palace Station Hotel & Casino               2411 W Sahara Avenue     367-2453
Rio Suite Hotel & Casino                    3700 W Flamingo Road     252-7777
Riviera Hotel & Casino                      2901 S Las Vegas Blvd    794-9255
Sahara Hotel                                2535 S Las Vegas Blvd    737-2317
Sam's Town Hotel & Gambling Hall            5111 Boulder Highway     454-8092
Sands Hotel & Casino                        3355 S Las Vegas Blvd    733-5000
Hotel San Remo                              115 East Tropicana       739-9000
Sheraton Desert Inn                         3145 S Las Vegas Blvd    733-4343
Showboat Hotel & Casino                     2800 Fremont Street      385-9151
Silver City Casino                          3001 S Las Vegas Blvd    732-4152
Stardust Hotel & Casino                     3000 S Las Vegas Blvd    732-6513
Treasure Island at The Mirage               3300 S Las Vegas Blvd    894-7291
Tropicana Resort And Casino                 3801 S Las Vegas Blvd    739-2312

800 Poker Room Numbers:
Binion's : 1-800-93-POKER
MGM Grand: 1-800-94-POKER

Q:P28 What poker games are spread in certain Las Vegas casinos?

A:P28 [Joel Trammell, June 1997 — note the stale date, any volunteers for an update?]

Sometime around June 1997, the following casinos were spreading the poker games listed:

ALADDIN HOTEL (702)736-0329
7-card stud: $1-4, Hold’em: $1-4.

BINION’S HORSESHOE (702)366-7397, (800) 93-POKER
7- card stud: $1- 5, Hold’em: $1-4-8, $4-8, $10-20, $15-30, Omaha High: $4-8, Omaha Hi-Lo (8 or better) $4-8. 18 tables.

BOULDER STATION (702)432-7777

CIRCUS CIRCUS (702)734-0410

EXCALIBUR (702)597-7625
7 card stud: $1-5, Hold’em: $1-2 (Novice Table), $2-6, 2-6-12.

FLAMINGO HILTON (702) 733-3485
7-card stud: $1-4, Hold’em: $1-4-8. 6 tables.

GOLD COAST (702) 367-7111
7-card stud: $1-4, Hold’em: $1-4-8-8, Omaha: $1-4-8-8. 6 tables.

HARRAH’S (702) 369-5234
7-card stud: $1-5, Hold’em: 1-4-8-8. 9-10 Tables.  Well run room, $5 comps are for the asking. Lots O’ granite except on weekends.

LUXOR (702) 262-4210

MGM GRAND (702) 891-7434, (800) 94-POKER
7-card stud $1-5, $5-10, $10-20, Hold’em $1-4-8-8, Omaha, higher limits weekends.

MIRAGE (702) 791-7290
7-card stud: $1-5 thru $400-800, Hold’em: $3-6 thru $400-800: no limit, pot limit, Omaha: $4-8 thru pot limit: hi-lo split (8 or better): $15-30 thru $400-800: no limit razz $15-30 thru $400-800. 31 tables.

MONTE CARLO (702) 730-7777
7-card stud: $1-4, $4-8, Hold’em: $1-4-8-8. 8 tables.

ORLEANS (702) 365-7111
7-card stud: $1-5, Holdem: $2-4-8, $3-6-12, and sometimes $10-20, Omaha:$4-8

PALACE STATION (702) 367-2453
7-card stud: $1-2, $l-4, Hold’em: $2-4, 1-4-8-8, Hi-Lo Split: $1-3-6-6. 9 tables.

RIO (702) 252-7777
7-card stud: $1-4, Hold’em: $1-4-8-8. 6 tables.

RIVIERA (702) 794-9255
7-card stud: $1-4-8, Hold’em: $1-4-8, hi-lo split: $l-5,3-6.

SAHARA (702) 737-2317
7-card stud: $1-4 ,1-4-8, 2-6, 3-6, 5-10, Hold’em: $1-4-8; hi-lo split: $3-6, 5-10, beginners poker;$1-4. 18 tables.

SAMS TOWN (702) 454-8092
7-card stud: $1-4, Hold’em: $1-4-8, Omaha: $1-3, $2-4, $3-6. 10 tables.

SHOWBOAT (702) 385-9151
7-card stud: $1-4, Hold’em: $1-4-8.

STARDUST (702) 732-6513
7-card stud: $1-5, Hold’em: $3-6.

SUNSET STATION (702) 547-7777

TEXAS STATION (702) 631-1000

THE PLAZA (702) 386-2249
7-card stud: $1-3, Hold’em: $1-3-6, Omaha hi-lo split: $3-6, pan: 50 cents and up, pineapple hold’em hi-lo split: $1-4-8.

TROPICANA (702) 739-2312
7-card stud: $1-4, 1-4-8, 1-5-10, Hold’em: $1-4-8-8.


Q:P29 What do all these poker terms mean?

A:P29 [Michael Maurer, August 2000]

Four good poker glossaries are available on the net:

John Hallyburton’s compendium, compiled with the help of several rec.gamblers, is at http://www.BJRnet.com/RG/rgpglossary.html.

Lee Jones’ glossary from the popular book “Winning Low-Limit Holdem” is at http://www.conjelco.com/pokglossary.html.

Dan Kimberg’s glossary, complete with usage examples and hyperlinks, is at http://www.seriouspoker.com/dictionary.html

 Michael Wiesenberg’s incredibly thorough “The Official Dictionary of Poker”, is online at http://www.planetpoker.com/dictionary/ and is also available in print (MGI/Mike Caro University, ISBN: 1880069520).


Q:P30 When can I meet and play poker with fellow r.g.pers? What are BARGE, FARGO, etc? NEW

A:P30 [William Chen, November 1999]

BARGE

Big Annual Rec.Gambling Excursion
Las Vegas, NV
Beginning of August
Chuck Weinstock <weinstock@conjelco.com>
Mike Zimmers <mzimmers@pacbell.net>
http://www.barge.org

FARGO

Foxwoods Annual Rec.Gambling Outing
Foxwoods, CT
October
Don Perry <donaldperry@peconic.net>

MARGE

Mississippi ARGE
Biloxi, MI
November
Randy “Mitch” Collack <RMITCHCOLL@aol.com>
http://conjelco.com/marge.html

CARGO

Christmas ARGO
Las Vegas, NV
Christmas
Alan Bostick <abostick@netcom.com>
Alan informs me he won’t have time to organize it this year!

ESCARGOT

Extraordinary Southern California Annual Recreational Gaming Outing and Tournament
Los Angeles, CA
Near Valentine’s Day [February 8 – 10, 2001 at the Bicycle Casino]
Lou Krieger <LouKrieger@aol.com>

ATLARGE

ATLantic City ARGE
Atlantic City, NJ
Late March
Jazbo Burns <jazbo@jazbo.com>
http://www.jazbo.com/atlarge

TARGET

The Annual Rec.Gambling Entry Tournament
Las Vegas, NV
First held in 1994. Usually occurs during the first week of WSOP (April).
Ken Kubey <kubey@engr.sgi.com>


Q:P31 Where can I player online poker against real people for real money? Is it legal? Is it safe? 

A:P31 [Michael Maurer, November 1999.  Contributions from Jim Geary.]
Ken Churilla maintains a list of online poker rooms at http://www.gocee.com/poker/pokerplay.htm. As of November 1999, there were about a half-dozen sites offering live games against real people for real money. Betting stakes ranged from $2-$4 to $10-$20, with rakes in the 5% or 10% range with a maximum of $3 or $4 per hand.  The usual procedure is to establish an account with the cardroom by making a deposit, usually through a third-party clearing agency, either by check or credit card.

[Geary:] The idea of online poker has some advantages over the usual kind.  You don’t have to drive to a casino.  You can play in your underwear.  You can smoke or breathe clean air, according to your pleasure.  You don’t have to tip the dealer; plus, the lower operating costs of online cardrooms may be passed on to players.  You can sing along to your music without disturbing anyone.  You have the ultimate poker face.  You can’t be mugged in the parking lot.  And finally, online poker attracts players who have never been inside a real cardroom and thus may not be that sophisticated in their play.

[Maurer:] Is it legal?  As of this writing, the issue is ambiguous in most U.S. states and at the U.S. federal level.  Most of the cardroom sites are operated from the Caribbean or Central America.  Existing laws tend to target illegal gambling operators rather than the players, but since the online operators are out of reach there is political pressure to modify this approach.  In the U.S., several federal bills have been proposed that regulate or forbid online wagers.  You’re on your own until legal systems catch up with technology.

Is it safe? The jury is also still out on this one. There are a number of risks.  First is the ease of collusion among players.  The magnitude of this risk is a matter of ongoing debate, but it is possible for your opponents to communicate secretly or even be the same person.  Second is the possibility that the cardroom will not honor a redemption request, that is, will stiff you when you ask for your money.  Third is the possibility that the technology is not secure, allowing others to compromise the game’s or site’s integrity.  This could take any number of forms, from others knowing your cards, knowing what cards will be dealt next, changing what cards will be dealt next, or even impersonating you and withdrawing your money.  Fourth is the possibility that an insider at the cardroom will take advantage of existing security flaws or secretly create new ones to favor their accomplices during play.  Fifth is the chance that a cardroom insider will compile records of your play and reveal them to your opponents for strategic or tactical analysis.  Sixth is the chance that you will be found guilty of a crime in some jurisdiction, perhaps not even your own, simply for playing.  For example, if your internet traffic is routed through Virginia, as much of it is, are your internet activities subject to Virginia law?  Seventh is the chance that opening an offshore account will bring other aspects of your life under the scrutiny of authorities, for example, by increasing the chances of an IRS tax audit.

You might notice that many of these risks exist in real cardrooms.  It is likely that some risks will be greater in the online world and that some will be lesser.  At least one of the online cardrooms takes the precaution of applying collusion detection algorithms to the database of hand histories.  It may turn out that the cost of collusion will be lower in the online world.  Also, in time, it is likely that some of the online cardrooms will seek audited validation of their software and processes by one of the major accounting firms.  But for now, you have to judge for yourself whether you can accept the risks.


Q:P32 How do you play no-limit seven-card stud? What is Mississippi Stud? NEW

A:P32 [David Zanetti, March 2000]

It isn’t practical to play classic seven-card stud with no-limit betting, but here is a game called mississippi seven card stud, which can. Deal the start cards as for conventional seven-card stud, two down, one up; then deal each active player two more upcards, then a fourth upcard, then a fifth upcard. In other words deal the cards 3-2-1-1 instead of 3-1-1-1-(1).

Mississippi is more suited to half-pot, pot-limit and no-limit betting than seven-card stud for two reasons: The four round structure is less crippling financially than five rounds, and the fact that only two hole cards out of seven are concealed means that hands as small as trips of the biggest card showing can be the absolute nuts at the end. Similarly, a straight or flush is the absolute nuts if none of your opponents have paired their board, and aren’t showing three cards to a possible (bigger) straight or flush. In seven-card stud (with it’s third hole-card) trips, straights and flushes can never be the nuts at the end because your opponent could have quads or a full house without showing a pair, or a (bigger) straight or flush if they have two cards to a straight or flush showing.

Mississippi also plays well as a limit game. It’s faster and more active than seven-card stud because the two card individual flop not only speeds up the game, it is better value than taking the cards one at a time, and you get more callers at every round on average as a result. Mississippi can be dealt with the last card down for limit betting if you prefer it that way.

If you like mississippi, the layout also works very well with an extra hole-card, a form called murrumbidgee stud: the deal is the same as mississippi except everyone gets three hole-cards to start: only two of the hole cards can be used at the end. Hands like (3s,Kc,Ac)3c, have a lot of ways to improve: you’ll make the flush 20% of the time by the end, and there are eight cards which give you at least kings up. (9s,Jc,Qc)10c will make either a straight or a flush over 40% of the time by the end, and if you flop Ko,8c or Kc, 8o, you have a twenty-three way straight and flush draw. A king or an eight on the flop, plus one club, gives you a twenty way straight and flush draw. There is plenty of action in murrumbidgee, making it an excellent short-handed game: it can be dealt for up to six players at time.

Disclosure: the writer invented mississippi in mid 1998 and murrumbidgee in early 1999.


Q:P33 Can one overcome the rake at low limit poker games? NEW

A:P33 [Bob Dainauski, August 2000]

In a game with no rake and no toking, there is no question that in the long run (with the cards breaking even) the better players will win money at the expense of the weaker players. The question is: Can strong players win enough from the weak players to more than cover the expenses in a game with a rake and/or toking?

How much do the rake and tokes cost us? It varies, but we can calculate some ranges. Let’s assume a 10 seat $2/$4 game dealing 40 hands per hour. Assume a rake of 10% to $4. As a good player, you are somewhat tighter than your opponents, so let’s assume you win an average of 3.5 pots per hour (4 would be your “fair share”). Your average rake expense ranges from a probable low of around $1.46 per pot (from TTH sims) to a probable high of around twice that amount (in line with the observations of experienced players in certain games). Add in a $1 toke per pot, and your average expense per hour likely falls somewhere between $8.50 and $14. In terms of big bets, this is 2.25 to 3.5 big bets per hour. Across other limits we can calculate expense ranges the same way:

10% rake to $4, $1 toke

      Est. Total Hourly
Limit Expense (Big Bets)
----- -----------------
10-20 0.76 to 0.88
5-10  1.23 to 1.66
3-6   1.91 to 2.62
2-4   2.25 to 3.50

Some games have lower expenses. For example, some on-line games feature a rake of 5% to a max of $3 with, obviously, no toking. The expenses here (From TTH sims) are:

5% rake to $3, $0 toke

Est.  Total Hourly
Limit Expense (BB)
----- ------------
10-20 0.45 and up
5-10  0.55 and up
3-6   0.58 and up
2-4   0.53 and up

Now we need to estimate the win rate for a good player in a sufficiently weak game. Unfortunately this resists a straightforward mathematical solution. Our best source of information comes from the observations of top theorists and experienced players. These sources have cited approximately 1 BB per hour (after expenses) as the approximate profit a strong player might expect at limits of 15-30 and up. This corresponds to a pre-expense win rate of about 1.5 BB / hr. (TTH sim showed a .54 BB expense factor for 15-30). Experienced players have reported higher win rates in exceptionally weak low limit games. Players in the softest of games report win rates as high as 3+ BB per hour after expenses So, a good player in a weak enough game can achieve a pre-expense win rate of 1.5 BB / hr and up, perhaps exceeding 4 BB / hour in extremely favorable circumstances.

This indicates that the rake can be overcome in even the lowest limit games if you are sufficiently strong and your opponents sufficiently weak. Remember, if you’re not one of the better players in a given game, it wouldn’t matter if there were no expenses, you’d still lose.

Any given poker game at a given time comprises many factors: fixed factors such as the rake, betting structure and rules; variable factors such as the talent, mood, and motivation (etc.) of you opponents; and personal factors such as your ability, discipline, and toking level (etc.). Therefore, the question we should really be asking is “Can I beat the players at *this* table at a rate sufficient to overcome the particular expenses of *this* game?” This all points back to the importance of skill #0, judicious table selection.

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