Knowing A Winning Hand When You See It

The biggest mistake new hold'em players make is hanging on to bad hands. When you take that first peek at your hole cards, be prepared to fold. Only play cards that are either (a) strong themselves, or (b) can become the best or next best hand on the flop. Let's look at some examples.

Poker Stars Poker Stars

100% bonus up to $600

William Hill Poker William Hill Poker

200% up to 1400

Red Kings Poker Red Kings Poker

Choose your bonus

Titan Poker Titan Poker

200% up to $2000 free

Party Poker Party Poker

$500 free on deposit

There are the no-brainers: AA, KK, QQ, and JJ. These are strong hands already. Pairs lower than JJ, though, are often not such great hands. They are, after all, only pairs, and every other hand except "high card" beats a pair. If you are in late position, and can play TT or 99 for very little money, it might be worth staying in for the flop; beyond that, you're risking getting stuck with nothing more than a low pair.

Now, if you do have one of these great hole card combos, you need to play hard and fast. There are a lot of ways that hand can be beat if you let your opponents collect cards through the river. Bet hard and high; scare them out of the pot. You will lose from time to time, but you will make the table pay heavily for staying in when they shouldn't.

Now, what about AK, AQ, KJ, and the like? First, are they suited? If they are, you've got a chance for a royal flush. If not, the best you'll do is a straight, which is good, but still can be beat by a lot of hands. Stay in for the flop, but if that hand doesn't turn into something on the flop, get out.

For example, let's say you've got AK spades-great. But the flop comes and you get 3,8,9, no spades. Now you are stuck praying for a pair of aces of kings, and if they don't come on the turn or river, you've got nothing.

On the other hand, if the flop comes K, 6, 8, unsuited you're in good shape. You've got a pair of kings with a fantastic kicker; just as important, it's unlikely anyone else's hand improved. This is not a sure hand-a straight is still possible, and there could be someone with 88 in the hole to ruin your day. If someone starts raising you hard, consider that KK still gets beat by a whole lot of hands.

So, in general, if your hole cards don't make a strong pair on their own, but have the potential to be part of a strong hand after the flop, stay in for the flop. But be ready to fold if the flop doesn't go your way-don't just limp along. You don't want your nickname to be "river rat."

Now for those happy times when you indeed have the "nuts," the best possible hand. Yes, you're likely to win. But you can still blow it.

Suppose you've got AK suited, and out comes A, K, 3. There are no possible straights or flushes; there is a chance someone also has an A or K, or even AK in the hole, but the best they can do is tie you.

Or, take the hole cards KQ suited, which are worth playing because they can come up big on the flop. And then they do-you get A, 6, 2 suited. You have the highest possible flush, and that 6 and 2 aren't helping anyone get a better hand than yours.

They key is knowing you have the best hand, but not letting anyone else know you do. Otherwise, they fold, and you have the great joy of winning a tiny pot with your monster hand. Just slink along, raising a little, but not calling attention to yourself. Keep them in until the river; no one who's gotten to the river wants to fold-they just have to see your cards, and they'll pay to do it. Even if they do have the good sense to fold, you've pulled money out of them on the flop and turn to make a respectable pot.

That's it-great hole cards, play hard and fast; decent hole cards, play to the flop but dump them if they don't come through for you; if your hand turns into a monster on the flop, sneak along to pull some more money into the pot, and then hit them hard at the river.

Now, throw in those blinds and let's play some poker!