A quick upgrade to rule three of my Four Basic Poker Rules

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It was many years ago when I first developed my Four Basic Rules for winning at poker. Time and experience often help us improve.

Today, my Four Basic Rules have been upgraded, especially Basic Rule No. 3: “Don’t Lose – Play only those Hands You Have a Good Chance of Winning.”

Let’s first discuss the most important of the Four Basic Rules – dealing with starting-hand selection. It requires that you play only hands that meet selected criteria; otherwise, more often than not you should fold your hand and wait for a better opportunity.

Note that at a full table you are competing against 8 or 9 other players; the odds are one of them has a better starting hand than you. Furthermore, the vast majority of your hole cards should be mucked, especially from early positions. Be patient!

The following are the key criteria for starting hands when you are dealt a drawing hand (must improve to be the winner at showdown):

a: High hole cards.

b: Good betting position as related to your hole cards. Connectors – two cards in sequence, open at both ends.

c: Suited hole cards.

d: The Hold’em Caveat.

e: Learn your opponents’ playing traits and any special betting patterns. (You should always be monitoring how your opponents play their hands.)

Depending on your hole card values and betting position, your two hole cards can be a “made hand” pre-flop, a “premium drawing hand,” or a “marginal (borderline) drawing hand.” (Most hole cards do not satisfy our criteria, and should be mucked.)

The Hold’em Caveat applies primarily to hole cards that barely meet the criteria (marginal drawing hands). In order to stay (invest your chips) in that hand, it is required that at least three opponents stay to see the flop and there be no raises. Note that most hands dealt to you will not be worthy of your investment and should be folded preflop.

High hole cards give you a big “edge” over opponents who play smaller ones. With unpaired hole cards, one small card – 7 or lower – may be enough to muck those cards.

Suppose you are dealt A-7. Most weak players love to play “any-Ace.” As a general rule, the skilled player will fold it. The odds are you will catch a pair on the flop about one out of three times. A pair of Aces sure looks good; but, an opponent also holding an Ace may very well have you outkicked. Very costly!

Why is Q-10 much preferred over Q-9? If a Q falls on the board, the 10 kicker takes the pot from the smaller kicker. With only a single-gap, it’s also easier to catch a straight. Even so, Q-10 scores only 22 points according to the Hold’em Algorithm. That ranks as a marginal drawing hand – a “borderline drawing hand.”


As indicated in the Hold’em Algorithm, having two cards in sequence, open at both ends (making it much easier to catch a straight) earns you a bonus of 7 points. Depending on how daring you want to be, you can modify that bonus at your own discretion.

How about suited hole cards?

A hand like 9-8 offsuit (24 points) that would be playable only in middle or late positions gains a bonus of 2 points. The bonus makes this hand playable in any position provided the Hold’em Caveat is satisfied.

Having decided to invest in your hole cards, it is important to consider your opponents’ playing traits and how each has played his hand up to this point. Assuming you decide to proceed, you have the option of calling the blind to see the flop or raising. But that’s another issue.

“The Engineer,” a noted author and teacher in Greater Los Angeles, is a member of the Seniors Poker Hall of Fame. Contact George at [email protected].

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About the Author

George Epstein

A retired engineer, George Epstein is the author of “The Greatest Book of Poker for Winners!” and “Hold’em or Fold’em? – An Algorithm for Making the Key Decision.” He teaches poker courses and conducts a unique Poker Lab at the Claude Pepper Senior Center under the auspices of the City of Los Angeles Dept. of Recreation and Parks and at West Los Angeles College.

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