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We have often discussed the Hold’em Algorithm as a means for starting-hand selection. In that regard, recently I received an interesting email from poker celeb Doug Polk, creator of the Upswing Poker Lab. His advice: “Have a baseline strategy for which hands to play in every preflop spot.” (He also offers guidance on other poker issues. You can contact him via [email protected].)

In this case, he strongly recommends having these baseline strategies for each common preflop situation well in hand before going to the casino. “Being unprepared leads to guessing, and guessing in poker leads to losing money.” We fully agree.

In fact, that’s exactly what our Hold’em Algorithm can do for you. Be prepared so you can wisely make that key decision. No guessing! Starting-hand selection is probably the most important decision if you want to be a winner. I assume you do.

As Polk indicates, there are many factors to be considered; and you don’t have much time during the play of a hand. (A typical hold’em poker game is only about two minutes long.) Some starting-hand selections are easy – such as made hands (A-A, K-K, and Q-Q) and premium drawing hands (A-K, A-Q, A-J and K-Q, especially if suited). But the vast majority of your holecards are more difficult to decide on. As a result, poker players often resort to guessing or intuition; that’s not a formula for winning.

That is why we developed the Hold’em Algorithm. Very simply, it’s a procedure (a plan of action) to help you decide whether to invest your valuable chips in those two holecards.

Yes, there are huge charts, full of numbers and in various colors and patterns that you can use for that purpose; but that takes considerable time – time you don’t have. You won’t see any players pulling such charts from their pockets to study before making that key decision: Should I pay to see the flop? Should I hold’em or fold’em? Using the Hold’em Algorithm makes it easy; and, furthermore, it relieves the stress that, otherwise, can only hurt you at the table.

With that in mind, we developed the Hold’em Algorithm. In addition to the rank (value) of your two holecards, also important are your betting position, whether there have been any raises or are likely to be, number of opponents staying in the pot, the types of opponents in the pot, and the texture of the game.

The Algorithm gives points (a score) based on the card rankings, with a bonus for connectors and suited cards depending on your position, Just add up the points. Thus, the Algorithm gives you numerical criteria for deciding whether to fold or invest (stay) to see the flop. What’s more, the starting-hand criteria depend on your betting position: More points are required for early positions; fewer points for middle positions; and still fewer for late positions.

For marginal (mediocre) holecards barely meeting the criteria, we suggest you use the Hold’em Caveat: Fold your hand (1) if there is a raise before you, or likely to be one after you bet (look to your left for tells), or (2) if it is not a multi-way pot with three or more opponents staying to see the flop. (In that case, the pot will be too small for a Positive Expectation.)

Before we leave this topic, there is more you should consider: Unless you start with a made hand, after using the Hold’em Algorithm to select a satisfactory starting-hand, it is important your hand improve on the flop. That’s Part II of the Two-Step Concept. (Part I was satisfying the Hold’em Algorithm before the flop.)

If you do not hold a made hand or have a drawing hand with at least six good outs on the flop, folding is the smart thing to do – unless you get a free card to see the turn. (Never refuse a free card.)

It’s that easy. Try it; you’ll like it!

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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