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Part of playing live poker expertly is knowing the rules

Aug 26, 2008 7:01 PM

Winning Strategies by Elliot Frome | I almost can’t believe I’m writing this column.

Part of playing expertly is also knowing the rules of the game that you are playing. Most, if not all, of the tips in this week’s column apply to real poker (i.e. head to head against other players) and not video poker.

Let’s start with a fundamental of full houses. If you have three 2’s and two Aces, and the other player has three 4’s and two 3’s, he wins! If you’re playing Texas Hold’em, and there are two pair on the board, and you complete a full house with the lower card, and your opponent completes it with the higher card, he wins.

You don’t add up the total of the ranks, and it doesn’t matter if you’re pair is higher than his trips. First you compare trips, and then if tied (which can happen in Texas Hold’em), you compare the pair. Period.

Moving down the rankings of hands, flushes are rated by each individual card within the hand until one outranks the other. So, if you have K-Q-J-10-8 of diamonds, and he has A-7-4-3-2, he wins because the Ace outranks the king. If you both have king-high flushes, the second highest cards are compared and so on.

In Texas Hold’em, it doesn’t matter if you have six of the same suit and the other guy has five. You only look at the five highest cards of the same suit. If one of his pocket cards is of the same suit and outranks the lowest card on the board, and you don’t have another card of the same suit, he’s got you beat.

In straights, all that matters is the highest card out of the five. If you’ve got a 6-or 7-card straight, all that matters is the highest card. If you have a 6-card straight to the 10 and your opponent has a 5-card straight to the 10, you pushed.

One point that confuses some people is that an Ace can be either high or low. You can have a 10-J-Q-K-A straight or an A-2-3-4-5 straight. In the latter case, this is considered to be a 5-high straight and will lose to a 6-high straight. In other words, the Ace is not high in this case.

The exception is Pai Gow Poker where the A-2-3-4-5 is generally considered the second highest straight (behind the 10-A straight). Also, there is no such thing as a ‘wrap around’ straight. Q-K-A-2-3 might count as a straight when playing with your friends, but it is fairly worthless in the casino whether at a Caribbean stud table or a poker table.

Regardless of how many cards are dealt, the goal is to create the best five card hand. Hands don’t tie because you both have a pair of 7’s. You must then compare the next highest card in each player’s hand.

It doesn’t matter if the cards are community or if they belong to a particular player. In Texas Hold’em, you take the five best cards and play them. If one player uses all five community cards and another player can make the exact same hand using some of his own pocket cards, it is still a tie.

If the board has four 8’s and an Ace, and one player has an Ace-king in the hole and the other has a 2-3, it is still a tie. If the board has four 8’s and a jack, the player with the Ace hole card will win, because the Ace is higher than the jack.

My experience has taught me that many of the items described here still confuse a lot of novice players. One can’t play expertly unless fully knowledgeable about the rules of play, including how to rank a hand relative to his opponent’s.