Realistic Beginner’s Guide to Poker in 2023
Hold’em Tabulature – Encyclopedic Poker Cheat Sheet for Novice Players
The poker world is always evolving. None understand this more so than the most experienced players of past and current generations. Retired poker pro Doyle Brunson knows it. He was grinding the tables as early as the 1950s. Canada’s own Kid Poker, Danial Negreanu, certainly is well aware of it. He blogs/vlogs about it all the time. What doesn’t change is the soppy wetness of almost every newbie that comes to the tables, year after year, only to be raked over the coals for having no clue what they’re getting into.
You see, poker is not just a game of cards and hand ranks. That’s only the surface of the game. What makes a good poker player is the understanding that you don’t just play the game, you play the players. It’s psychological warfare at its finest, requiring a keen mental capacity most casual players simply cannot grasp. If you aren’t ready to delve deep into your opponent’s head – or more difficult yet, the heads of an entire table of opponents – you might as well go back to playing Go Fish and Old Maid.
The Hold’em Tablature: 2023 Edition
The page you’re reading now is not some random, baseline tutorial. I’m not going to teach you how to play Texas Hold’em or Omaha Hi-Lo. I won’t tell you what the maniac player in the big blind is thinking when his right eyebrow twitches. What I will teach you is the fundamentals of beginner gameplay from a statistical standpoint.
Below is a list of detailed charts you will need to study religiously. You can keep them by your side while playing online and mobile poker games. I actually recommend it, as it will help you gain experience and confidence in your studies. Before you move on to live action, these need to be burned into your cerebral cortex.
The Poker Cheat Sheet Collection
Poker Hand Ranks for High and Lowball Poker Games
In poker, hand rankings are the root of all valuable knowledge. No matter what variant you play, you must know the descending order of winning card combinations. Not all variants treat hands the same. There are two distinct types – traditional High Hand Poker, and Lowball Poker. Lowball comes in two varieties, as well, Ace to Five Low, and Deuce to Seven Low.
The hand rankings for each rule variant are detailed below, in order of strongest to weakest.
All Betting and Non-Betting Player Options in Poker
This fundamental lesson in poker describes all of the betting options, and non-betting options, you may be presented with over the course of a hand. They include both obligatory and optional wagers.
Forced bets are obligatory wagers that must be placed before any cards are dealt.
A Lesson in Poker Player Positions, and Why it Matters
Your position at the poker table can give you power, or take it away. It’s not about what seat you’re physically occupying. It’s about the location of the dealer button, in relation to that seat. The button moves counter-clockwise around the table, one seat per hand. Thus, your position changes with each new hand; with it, shifting your power in a positive or negative direction.
In Position vs. Out of Position
Generally speaking, a player will either be “in position” or “out of position”. Think of position as “power”. You’re either in power, or you’re not.
Out of Position
The player with the least power – the most out of position – is the first player to act. In pre-flop situations, this is the player left of the Big Blind. In post-flop gameplay, the least power belongs to the Small Blind player, seated directly left of the dealer button. This player is considered weakest because they have the least amount of information in the current betting round.
The player with the greatest power – the one who is in position – is the last player to act in a betting round. This player is seated right of the dealer button. Great power comes from the fact that this player has been able to gather the most information about their opponents’ potential hand strength up to this point.
Early – Middle – Late – Blinds
At a full poker table, players are often categorized into early, middle and late positions.
Those in early position are the weakest – out of position. Those who start in early position pre-flop will either remain out of position, or fall to middle position, relative to their distance from the blinds. You need a very good hand to make a move from this point. Do not limp in (Call or Bet smallest stake)
Those in the middle are just that – middle positions of power. They are not terribly weak, as they can respond to the actions of early position players. But they are not nearly so strong as late positioners, either. A middle position player needs to play a cautiously balanced hand.
Those in late position are the strongest – in position. The later the position, the stronger it becomes. A player who starts in late position pre-flop should remain in late position for the duration of the hand.
These players do not have positional status pre-flop. Their actions are forced before any cards are dealt. In post-flop gameplay, they convert to the weakest early positions, being first and second to act. Likewise, the first-to-act in pre-flop play moves closer to middle position, while those after move into middle position post-flop. The only advantage of this position is having a lot of information pre-flop before deciding whether to continue into post-flop play. The disadvantage is that they’ve been forced to pay for that information.
Individual Player Positions
Some positions at the table deserve very specific descriptions. These include the very fist player to act, said to be Under the Gun, and the three latest positions, Hijack, Cutoff and Button. Note that everything outside of UTG and Button is relative to the number of players at the table. We assume a full table of 9. Also note that we mention hand strengths in these descriptions. For more details on what constitutes a very good, good, or decent hand, see also Pre-Flop Starting Hands and Poker Hand Odds below.
Under the Gun (UTG)
This is the earliest (worst) position. A player must act with no information from on the potential hand strength of their opponents. To bet with anything but a great hand is dangerous, as you may find yourself forced to fold, or continue dumping money in a pot on a hand with little or no value.
Under The Gun +1 (UTG+1)
This title belongs to the player left of the UTG. You aren’t much better off in this position. Same basic rules apply as UTG.
Middle (MP / MP+1 / Lojack)
This position applies to anyone sitting in a middle position. The middle lacks strength, but it is not weak, either. What you do here should be a direct reflection of UTG actions. You’ll need a good hand to move onward, but may choose to fold if early position is showing too much strength. The Lojack position is the last mid spot (seat 6 of 9), and the best of the middle positions.
The Hijacker is the player third-from-last to act. The name comes from this player’s ability to hijack the small blinds and/or limp-in bets or early positioners. You’ll need a decent hand to do it – nothing spectacular, but enough to be worth seeing the flop, should it come to that. To hijack the pot, you’l need to place at least a 3-bet raise.
The cutoff position is similar to Hijack. If the Hijacker hasn’t attempted to steal the pot already, the Cutoff can take a shot at it with a decent hand. If the Hijacker has made the attempt, the Cutoff can Raise over the top, but will need a good hand to do it.
On the Button (OTB)
There’s no better position to be in at the table. From this seat, you’ve gathered all the information there is to be had pre-flop. You can do just about anything, based on your own hand strength, or the perceived strength of each opponent. You can easily steal the blinds, as well as limpers, either with a decent hand or the occasional outright bluff. If others are showing believable strength, you can sit back, save your chips and wait for a better opportunity. If you do have a strong hand at this point, you can slow play aggressors to keep them in the pot.
List of Worthy Pre-Flop Starting Hand Based on Competition
Aside from the psychological aspect (which cannot be taught on any cheat sheet), Texas Hold’em is a game of probabilities. Every starting hand has a probability of going on to win the hand. That probability is based on the statistical odds of another player begin dealt a better starting hand, combined with the odds of your starter sustaining its superiority through the flop/turn/river.
It’s all very mathematically complex, taking into account thousands of potential outcomes. Fortunately, you don’t need a computer for a brain, so long as you have a good poker hand cheat sheet.
Above, we talked about the importance of player position and how it impacts your strength at the table. The same positional advantages apply to starting hands. I’m supplying three individual charts, designated for early, middle and late position. As usual, we assume a full 9-seat poker table.
Notes: An s indicated same-suit cards; o indicates off-suit.
Early Position / UTG Starting Hands – Texas Hold’em
Having no good information to work with, UTG players have the smallest hand range. You need a very good starter to move ahead. These are the hands with the highest probability of positive post-flop play. Worthy hands, from best to worst, include:
Middle Position / Lojack Starting Hands – Texas Holdem
In this position, your starting hands are determined by one important question. Are you the first player to raise? If an early positioner has put in before you, revert to the previous list of strongest starting hands. If, however, you are the first to put a voluntary bet into the pot – known as Raise First In (RFI) – you can play these starting hands with confidence.
Late Position / OTB Starting Hands – Texas Hold’em
When you’re on the button, your hand range expands dramatically. Of course, the actions of those before you must be taken into account.
You must assume that any player in early or middle position who is showing strength, is holding one of the starting hands in their own positional category (see above). If that’s the case, your starting hand should also come from that category. But if no other player is showing strength up to this point, you can confidently put in with any of these late position starting hands.
I intend to add starting hands charts for additional poker games, including Omaha and Lowball poker. Please check back for future updates.
Poker Hand Cheat Sheet Detailing Odds of Completing a Hand
There are exactly 169 different starting hands you can be dealt in a Texas Hold’em poker game, assuming both suited and non-suited starters (but not accounting for individual suits). Every card you see reduces the deck size, altering the probability of the next card you’ll see. Again, it takes complex mathematical computation to find the statistical value of each hand, and what it has the potential to grow into as the hand progresses. Thankfully, this next cheat sheet will save you all the time and brain-strain.
You don’t have to know how to calculate these odds, but you do need to study them. Understanding your odds of improving or completing a hand will help you make better decisions from any position at the table.
Probability and Odds of Being Dealt Starting Hands
Probability and Odds of Flopping a Complete Poker Hand
Probability and Odds of Completing a Hand by the River
Calling Odds and Bluffing Odds – Bet Sizing for Success
Calling odds indicate what size bet is worth making based on a number of factors. 1) The current betting round; 2) your current hand; 3) the amount of money in the pot. Bluffing odds are similar, indicating the size bet you’ll need to make to give the impression you have a better hand than your opponent.
The more experience you have as a poker player, the easier it is to put your opponents on a range of hands. Likewise, the experience of your opponents will help you to bluff with success, based on the fact that they, too, are attempting to decipher your hand range. Of course, to pull off the bluff, you must select a hand that corresponds with the available community cards. And do not jump from one projected hand to another as the betting rounds progress, or a skilled opponent will easily peg your bluff.
These next charts indicate (statistically) how much you need to bet to call and win with a prodigious draw hand. If you’re bluffing, choose the draw hand you want your opponent to think you have, and bet-size accordingly. For example, if you need to call $10 to stay in the hand, and you have an Outside Straight Draw / Flush Draw after the flop, the pot needs to have at least $8.50 in it. That’s $0.85 per $1 needed to justify the call.
Post Flop Calling / Bluffing Odds
10 Tips for Becoming a Successful Poker Player in 2023
Last but not least, we offer you some critical advise. These are ten of the most important things you can do and learn to ensure the highest odds of success playing poker online, on mobile, or in a live setting.
#1 Play, Play, Play!
Experience is the most important key to success. Having professional knowledge is one thing; being able to implement that knowledge in a real-time setting, when the pressure is on, is another. It is the difference between a student of the game and a true professional.
#2 Have Realistic Expectations
I don’t care how much knowledge you’ve crammed into your head, or how much you’ve practiced at home with friends and family, or an AI bot. Do not expect to sit at a live table, in person or remotely, and win every game, or even most games. Likewise, do not expect profits to stream in regularly. A good professional gambler is always prepared for upswings and downswings, because no matter how correct your decisions and wagers are, luck will only plays a marginal role in the game of poker. And it’s not always going to be you that gets lucky.
#3 Check your Emotions at the Door
Emotional players have no business playing professionally. The moment you let your emotions take over, you’re going to start making mistakes. You can be as emotional as you like in your everyday endeavors, but there’s no room for it on the felt. If you’re running hot, your opponents will know. If even the vein in your forehead is pulsating, a seasoned vet will notice. A stone-cold facade is mandatory.
#4 Separate Living Expenses from Your Bankroll
It is critical that you build and maintain a bankroll to support your career as a poker player. It’s even more crucial to maintain a separate stockpile for living expenses. If you’re spending the rent/mortgage or bill money to play the game, it’s time to rethink your choices. You may need to push poker back to a part-time position, while earning more cash through regular day job. Which brings us to…
#5 Take Pro Poker for a Trial Run First
Do not quit your day job just because you think you’re ready to go pro. When you feel you’re equipped with the knowledge and bankroll to succeed, take that plan for a trial run first and see how it goes (i.e. don’t quit your day job just yet). Only when you’ve proven you really can win, and can do so consistently, making enough money to cover your bankroll and living expenses, should you even consider taking that full-time step.
#6 Let Your Reputation Proceed You
It’s hard to respect someone who calls themself a professional poker player if they don’t have a winning record to back it up. Prove that you really can win by doing just that – winning. If you’re playing poker online, join a tracking forum like PocketFives to display your prowess. When playing in a live setting, a record your successes will populate naturally. If you’re really that good, you won’t need to brag.
#7 Act in a Professional Manner
As a direct follow-up to #5’s no bragging rule, it’s important that you always behave in a professional manner. Sure, there are times when a decorated pro might throw their weight around, but you’re not there yet. Don’t go getting on everyone’s bad side by flapping your jaws at the table. That will only result in everyone targeting your stack to get rid of you first. Long story short, if you don’t have as many accolades as Phil Hellmuth Jr or Mike “the Mouth” Matusow, don’t act like them.
#8 Study Every Facet of Poker
Poker is not a game of winners and losers. It’s not a game of my cards versus your cards. Poker is a game of physical stamina, emotional control, and psychological warfare. It’s not always the player with the best cards who wins. It’s more often the player everyone believes has the best cards. You need to be able to successfully judge your opponents, and manipulate them into judging you the way you want them to. It is not just cards, but psychology and math that rule this game.
#9 Never Stop Learning
Poker is an ever-evolving game. Strategy books that sculpted prodigious armatures become prolific pros 20-50 years ago are not relevant today. The math doesn’t change, but the psychology does. Once everyone figures out how to do something, you have to change tactics to gain an upper hand. For this reason, the influx of poker knowledge never stops. Like a river, there is always fresh information flowing downstream. The moment you stop learning, is the moment you lose your edge against the next generation of pros.
#10 Be Prepared to Expand Your Horizons
There are many ways to play poker today. You can play online in a digital or live streaming arena, or in person, from small backroom cash tables to the big stage of a main event. Whatever for you prefer, don’t seclude yourself that that single genre. Maybe the World Series of Poker isn’t for you, but there are plenty of other live events with smaller fish to fry. Or, maybe you’re a live cash game player who’s unfamiliar with the virtual felt. Cash games and tournaments, in both live and online settings, are all important parts of this complete breakfast!
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(Reminder to Gamble Responsibly)