Help Arnold avoid the poorhouse! (poker strategy)

One of my colleagues at work has decided to start a poker club with the people from our team. Arnold, always eager to please, said “sure, I’ll play poker with you guys.” Unfortunately, my best poker days were before the age of ten, and I’m very rusty. Any tips from you more experienced players out there? e.g.
When to call? When to raise? When to throw in your hand?
What is a “good” hand? Anything above a pair?
What’s the lowest hand that justifies going for broke, and raising until your adversary pleads for mercy?
N.B. There wil be seven people playing.

Another question on poker etiquette - the host said we play “dealer’s choice”, and he mentioned that you could choose anything you want, citing as examples “five-card stud”, “seven-card something”, etc… What are the usual choices and how do they work? Would a gentleman push the envelope and choose something with a little extra flair, like “eight-card, you can draw three, red sevens, black nines and the jack of club are wild?”

I plan on starting by reading this: Frequently Asked Questions but any additional tips would be appreciated.

The really good players I have played with all have one thing in common, They all play every hand the same way.

i.e. When they did have a great hand they didnt throw their money in straight away but played it slowly with little raises.

My technique is to throw away my first 8 hands or so (unless theres a good chance it a winner) and then when the next 50:50 hand comes along put in a relativly big bet in. This should make all other players think you are a bad player but this time you have a good hand, and they will throw away their hands that they may have bet on. This will only work once, but it should lead them to think you are not a very experienced player and, at least for a little while, will not yake you seriously.

Oh and its not a good idea to suddenly smile or cry ‘AT LAST!’ when that good hand does come along.
Good luck let me know what happens


You could try watching “Rounders” a few times…


Experience makes the best teacher. I know, trite, but true. You sometimes have to lose a lot to learn how to play poker.

My only advice to you is, when it’s your turn to deal, call something simply. 5 card draw, or stud, 7 card stud. Avoid wild cards until you have a feel for how others feel about them. Many poker players dislike wild cards because they skew the odds. After you play with these folks for a while and get an idea of what different games are like, you’ll know better what to call and how to play them.

Every gambler knows that the secret to survivin’ is knowin’ what to throw away and knowin’ what to keep. Because every hand’s a winner, and every hand’s a loser; the best you can hope for is to die in your sleep.

Buy a cheap little hand-held video poker game and practice, or download some software off the net…it’ll refresh your skills and give you some much needed confidence.
Avoid worrying to much about bluffing and forget all those idiotic 12 card stud with 3’s, 10’s and red cards wild…you will look like a rube.

The seven card game is most likely stud as well, unless you are playing with five year olds, then it might be Go Fish!. Seven card can be an expensive game as you get five betting rounds. (

This goes for five and seven card stud) Keep an eye on the out cards, possible straights and flushes have as much chance being show (especially if it is an inside straight on the out hand {oooh double brackets, inside straight = 4,5,6,8 or any other combination that requires a card on the inside of the run}). Roll over if it gets expensive and your hand can’t beat any of the out hands of the other players.

Illuminati called it right, don’t bid heavy when you get a good hand, lead into it.

Jacks or better is a decent betting hand in five card, nothing to raise about but, worth paying to see anothers hand providing it isn’t to expensive. Watch what people toss away, if you keep an eye out you will notice who keeps four cards to try and fill a straight and who only does it with two pair. Just keep your eyes open.

Some interesting ways to play:
Jacks or better to open trips or better to win: Just like it sounds you can’t open w/ a bet unless you have Jacks or better. Three of a kind or better to pull the pot. Play a round, if no one has the hand to win, reshuffle and redeal. Nice way to get a big pot going.

High/Low Chicago: High Chicago person with the highest spade in their hand splits the pot with the winner. Low Chicago, same but with the low spade.

No. Don’t even consider it.

I’ve smoked more than a couple people by following Illuminati’s advice. When you have a good hand and wild-ass bettors, you just have to ride along with them to win big.

If you’re getting a little low and need some ante money, try this in a game of five-card draw: don’t take any cards on the draw. Everyone will jump out like their cards are on fire. I was pissed at the time, because I was sitting on my first natural flush, but it paid the bills for the rest of the night. (If anyone has some better suggestions about what I should have done with that flush, please let me know!)

Arnold, I’ve got a monthly poker game that’s been going almost eleven years now and one thing we did at the outset was agree that Hoyle’s would be the ultimate arbiter of game rules.

Not that you can’t call other rules and see if the others will agree.

And, as has been noted, you’ll want to get a feel for your fellow players before you start calling games with weird rules.

In a four or five player hand of five card, a pair can easily take it. You’ll learn after a bit how your compadres act when they’ve got something. Trips is a good hand in regular five draw. Anything better is, of course, better :).

Since five draw often turns up no hands of particular note, a common variation is jacks or better to open, meaning you have to have a pair of jacks or better to open. If nobady has at least that, you ante again and redeal. Sometimes that is played with trips to win as well. It helps get the pot up.

What sort of betting scale will y’all be using?

Another thing to keep in mind is that poker games always work better with people with a similar concept of what is comfortable to bet and lose. We had a work poker game years ago, and although everybody should have been more or less within the same economic boat, there was a wild divergence on what was considered extravagant. Thus one colleage would fold almost as soon as the bets went above what I considered a pittance. A good way to make money but it was boring poker. Of course it could just be an excuse to get together and play cards on a night out, which then the poker doesn’t matter as much.

It’s a great site. Check it out.

My favorite game is Texas Hold’em. It’s currently the most popular casino game (followed by 7 card stud and then Omaha).

The best piece of advice is to play the players. Learn how they play. Think of it this way: if you get everyone to fold, and you don’t show your hand, it doesn’t matter what you had right? You won. So why should you only bother to try to push people off their hands when you have good cards? If you know this player will fold if you bet, then bet!
That’s not an invitation to go wild on your bluffing, it merely means to pay attention so you know when to bluff.

Hey, poker aside, I’ll add that this apparently perpetual social arrangement has been one of the most rewarding things in my life.

Well, I guess that gets back to your betting scale. Perhaps.

Truly, though, it’s my golf club or fraternity or however you want to put it. I’ve done at least some business with several of the guys and during the duration we’ve humped a couple of guys over some rough times. I expect I’ll stay in the game for another twenty or thirty years. Probably until I croak.

Oh yeah. Good luck Arnold!

As always, I’d rather be lucky than be good (I hope you appreciate where that comes from).

I play about 10 times a year, quarter/half.

Refresh yourself on the odds of each type of hand and pay attention to the wild cards available. If you are playing 7 card stud, pay attention to what others have and what they might have based on the wild cards out there. Maybe that’s too simplistic but when I first started playing, I was too focused on my own hand and not giving anything away that I never bothered to notice what others had. My biggest mistake early on was never folding. Pay attention to people when they bump. Try to keep track of what they have when they do bump, then when you have something better later on and they don’t bump or just call your bump, you can make a judgement.

only take the amount of money that you feel comfortable walking away from.

A handy book to have is Play According to Hoyle : Hoyle’s Rules of Games. It’s a cheap little paperback with rules for many card games. There’s usually a section on strategies for the games (the poker one is pretty big, and gives odds) that can get you started. You can also get familiarized with the common variations. Although the names used vary from region to region or even within a group, you can usually find something about it in the book somewhere.

What is a good poker hand, whether to call or raise, when to fold are all very dependant on the type of game you are playing. I’d bet the lights out with a pair of Aces in a 5 card stud game, but would fold it in 7 card stud. There are too many variables.

Here is some general advice though:

  1. Never play with more than you can afford to lose.

  2. Figure out why you are playing. If it is for the drinking, smoking, and guy talk, you should play conservative and just enjoy the company. If you are playing not to lose money, play even more conservative. If you are playing to make money, you better really buckle down and get to know your games and their odds.

  3. Figure out who you are playing against. The way a good player plays ALWAYS depends on how the other players are playing. If the guy at the table who folds every hand suddenly raises, it’s a good bet he’s got the nuts (best hand possible with what is showing). You also want to figure out how the dynamics of a poker game will affect the work dynamics. Not everyone who plays poker leaves the game at the table. Some people may carry over bad feelings or grudges from a game to the workplace. So don’t beat the heck out of your boss every time.

  4. Don’t cheat or accuse somebody of cheating without some solid proof. I got involved in a regular monthly game with some guys who were friends from college. It was a kinda serious game for pretty good stakes, but still relatively friendly. Until one guy accused another of cheating. BLAM, it was no fun anymore, and there was almost a fist fight. After a couple aborted tries to keep it alive, the game died.

  5. Not to disagree with Ike, but an occasional offbeat game, like Screw Your Neighbor, can actually be a good palette cleanser in a game. Just don’t play the cutsy games every deal.

Good Luck. And let me know if you need an eighth. If the game is good enough, I’ll come from Chicago.

I love the game, or I suppose more precisely “games”. So I think it is fitting that I use this as my 1,000th post (second time actually - because of the recent troubles). Looking above, I think pretty much everybody’s advice is good.

Personally, as Hamlet alluded to in his “Rule 3”, I tend to play the people rather than the cards. I find that poker’s sort of a free-form psychology study if you treat it right. I tend to find the “real” individual comes out when money is on the table and it is his (or her) turn to bet. If you know how the individual will react, you will know how to play your cards. There are some people you don’t want to go against with three of a kind while others you can stay in with a low pair and have a reasonably good chance of winning. It is good to remember that while there are numbers on most of the cards, there’s a lot more to poker than arithmatic.

I have also noted that new “bad” poker players get invited back a lot more than new “good” poker players. So if this is an established game and you want to come back again and again, you might let a couple of pots go south until you become an established regular. I have found that two or three games will make you a regular.

Also, whether you do win or lose, do it gracefully. Personally, I feel the only thing worse than a bad loser is a bad winner. At least with a bad loser I have the pleasure of knowing that I am holding part of his money.

Finally, at the end of the evening (morning or whatever) if you did lose, remember that it was good fun getting to that point and if you were doing almost any other form of recreation (movies, concerts, athletic events, etc.) you would have probably paid a lot more for probably less than half the entertainment. For God’s sake, look at what people have to shell out for Pittsburg Pirates’ or Denver Nugget’s tickets and look at what they get in return.

There are plenty of good books on poker, so read a couple of 'em.

If it’s Dealer’s Choice, you want to call a game that gives the dealer something of an edge. Texas Hold 'Em is a good choice. It also has the advantage that it isn’t a “cutsie” game. It’s worth studying.

Drinking a bit less beer than the others tends to start paying off around 11 pm.

Hamlet: You’d fold a pair of Aces to open in 7-stud? What are you, the rock of all rocks? A pair of aces is a fine opening hand.

Rule of thumb for stud: Small pairs are usually junk, but it depends on the game. If you have an ‘overcard’ to the highest card being shown as your third card, then a small pair may be playable. But it also depends on your position and how agressive the game is.

In 7-stud, pay a lot of attention to what the other up cards are. That pair of Aces Hamlet has is usually a good starting hand, but it is worthless if you see two other aces up on the table, because you have no chance of making trips now. Even one more Ace showing on the table makes the hand marginal.

In seven-card stud, you can play a 3-straight or a 3-flush if your cards are high enough in value, and if the cards you need are still ‘live’ (i.e. not showing in front of anyone else).

For example, let’s say you have TJQ of clubs. Normally, this would be a pretty solid starting hand. But you look around the table, and there are four other clubs showing, two kings, a nine, and an Ace. This hand should go in the muck. Because the kings are showing, pairing one of your cards could give you an underpair to the kings. And you needed those kings to make a straight. And normally you’d have nine other flush cards to hit to make a running flush, but four of them are exposed leaving you only a five-out runner-runner draw for a flush, and about the same odds for making a straight. Not good.

Also, pay attention to what the other players are thinking in a stud game. You can catch a lot of bluffs in stud if you know something the other player doesn’t. A common way to catch a bluff is to keep track of another players ‘outs’. For instance, let’s say a guy has the 7, 9, and J of diamonds on the table. But you saw four other diamonds go by, and you have two in your hand that the other player doesn’t know about. Now let’s say that the player checks, and you bet. He calls. Another card falls. He checks, you bet, he calls. On the last card, another diamond falls and suddenly he comes out betting. Should you call with, say, a pair?

In this case, you probably should. Because the odds are pretty good that he was on a straight draw (probably a gutshot) and missed it. Why? Because if he had a four-flush on fourth street, he probably would have bet it when heads-up with you, hoping to get you to fold. Same with the turn. But on the river when the fourth diamond falls, he’d probably bet whether he had the fifth diamond or not. In addition, with all those other diamonds showing he’d be less likely to make a flush. So you’re making a percentage play - you are probably beat, but the evidence from how the hand was played out gives you enough reason to call.

This brings out another important stud principle - in a limit stud game, if you go all the way to the end with a hand, it’s usually correct to call just about any bet if you’ve got a hand that can beat a bluff (say, a small pair) unless you can’t beat the hand that’s already showing. The reason is because the number of betting rounds means that the pot will be quite large compared to the single bet you have to call. Folding the best hand on 7th street in stud is a serious error. Making a call with the worst hand is a much smaller one.

But you know, if you’re a complete poker neophyte, there’s just too much to learn to get across in a forum. I suggest you pick up a good book on poker (anything by Sklansky, Malmuth, Zee, Ciaffone). I also heartily second Ender’s suggestion of going over to - they have a poker forum there which is just full of people swapping advice, posting hands and asking, “How would you have played this?” etc. You’ll learn about poker faster by hanging out there than by any another means.

There are also a couple of pretty good computer poker games out there you can practice against. Look for “Turbo Texas Holdem”, “Turbo Seven Card Stud”, or “Turbo Omaha”. Those games play reasonably well, and they have an ‘advisor’ mode that you can bring up to give you playing hints based on the situation you’re in. For a new player to the game, they are valuable tools.

Beware of other poker playing programs other than the ones I mentioned. Most computer poker games suck really badly.

Another free learning experience is to sign up to play IRC poker. There’s even a good front end out there (do a google search for “Gpkr”, that will get you up and running with a decent interface, and many of the players on IRC are very good. It’s a great place to start.

I also recommend staying away from cheezy games and games with wild cards. Serious poker players stay away from them, because they reduce the amount of strategy required and make it difficult to learn the right way to play. When it’s your turn to deal, stick to the ‘casino’ games - Hold’em, Omaha, or Seven-card stud. There are lots of variants of these - the most popular are ‘split’ games in which the lowest possible hand gets half the pot and the highest gets the other half, and ‘lowball’ games where the lowest hand wins.

But if you take the time to learn the game, you won’t need any more variety than those three games. I have thousands of hours of professional poker playing time booked, and I’ve never played anything but those three games (pot limit and limit).

One last piece of advice - don’t play in the game if there’s more money at stake than you are comfortable with. If you don’t know the first thing about the game, you’re a fish. EVen if your friends are only average players, they’ll clean your clock. So don’t accept opportunities to get into real money games. Play penny poker until you understand what you are doing and have a decent feel for the strategy of the game.

If your friends are your average poker players who have never really studied the game, then even a modicum of study on your part should give you a pretty good advantage over them.