Starting Hand Charts
> Badger... Occasionally I will refer to it when I play on-line, but only
> on "borderline" decisions and usually only after I've folded or called.
> I use it as an aid to memorization and analysis. Is your objection to using
> during play? If so, I can see your point. If not, how else can you obtain a set
> of standards for starting hands if not through some sort of "memorized" list?
Poker is a game of people. Holdem in particular is a game of people and situations, not cards nearly so much. Only if you
are playing an extremely loose, many-take-the-flop game does starting hands become the main determiner in when to play. In
these games, you simply have to show down the best hand, so you need to start with hands that can make clear winners against
a large field. Games like this are similar to common Omaha games, and in Omaha starting hand selection is the key thing.
Also, in games like this, position matters for a lot
less, so you should be looking to play the same basic group of cards whenever you get them. A chart is still not necessary.
Windows - Mac
In less lively Holdem games, people are what matter. Sometimes KTs is a piece of crap. Sometimes it should be raised. It depends on the game
conditions, the players in the blinds, who has acted so far, who won or lost the previous pots, and so on. A dozen factors should go into your
thought process of why a hand should be played, and how it should be played.
Pedestrian players merely (or mostly) look at their cards. Very good players think and analyze the situation. Learning players need to push and
train themselves to do that.
Another example is, suppose extremely super-tight players are in both blinds and you are one behind the button. The universe of hands you should
play for a raise here is simple: every single two-card combination from AA to 72o. No starting hand chart can tell you that raising to steal these
two blinds is clearly the right play. Observing the people does.
A rank amateur can look at a starting hand chart once and get some ideas about hands, but a chart itself is meaningless for one look. All that needs
to be done is players need to be told tendencies, like you should tend to play stronger hands out of position than you need to play in position.
Starting hand charts lead to people thinking totally
wrong in terms of how to *play* poker. They send you down the wrong road, they give you a bad crutch. If you aspire to be a very good player, they
are simply about the worst possible tool for a learning player to use. Memorization of starting hand charts is a recipe for permanent mediocrity.
Starting Hand Charts and Point Count Systems
> Don't you agree that as long as we understand WHY a book tells us
> to play a certain way, it is better to be aware of some good general
> rules than to reinvent the wheel every time we have to act?
General rules surely are useful, and they surely are much more useful if you *understand* them than if you don't. A problem
some people have is they want shortcuts -- charts, systems, etc. -- where somebody else has done the thinking for them. If
that "somebody else" is a decent poker player, then the parrot will be a big step up from clueless players. However,
they are many steps down from players who try to understand the reasons for doing the right things.
Learning to play winning poker is about
understanding the reasons, not the actual doing.
If a person was sitting in a game with David Sklansky, Mike Caro and the Pope standing behind him telling him what to do,
and the player won, to call him a good poker player would be ridiculous. This person has in fact become a worse player by
doing what he was told if he did it all without understanding the why. If a good poker book explains the "why" in a clear
way, then it has done it's job. That still isn't the end though, the player has to understand the "why" and see the wisdom
of the "why".
> I think Badger just doesn't like the idea because it'll put more
> rocks in his game. :)
Actually I love these things. It puts more robotic weaklings in the game. I bet this is how more than half of the weaklings on Paradise Poker think.
I mean, look at those hand histories Mike posts. A few people playing truly awful in a super-loose way, and all these cupcakes responding by playing
weak-tight?? It makes no sense at all.
> At least in the Hutchinson system, the webpage makes no apologies
> for its simplicity. It appears to be intended solely as a guide for the
> absolute beginner who can't tell his AA23ds from his elbow. It's probably
> a good practice guide for someone's first visit to the O8 table because
> it'll prevent them from losing more money than necessary, but past that
> it should be dropped once Omaha gets its sharp metal hooks in the player.
I have no doubt a novice could do better in the short-run using this system than just sitting down a virgin, but the virgin
will do better in the longrun. It's just like school. Having somebody tell you the answers is just not as good as learning
the answers yourself, even if it might be temporarily convenient.
> For a beginner, I would think that any info would be meaningful.
> Info can always be discarded as one sees it is no longer useful to them.
To the extent that if you could memorize everything about poker that you ever read or observe, any info can be helpful. But
memorizing hand groups is just going in the exact opposite direction of what it takes to be a good player. Good players
adapt to the very specific circumstance they are in. Good players learn how to *think* and act and react. Using a chart is a
bad idea for any player who aspires to be an excellent player. If you want to be mediocre, sure, let Sklansky think for you.
It's just a very limiting approach to learning the game. You will instantly get better than many players, but it is not the
best to become a better player.
> I think that more than memorizing "rules", it might be more useful
> to know the whys of certain play suggestions.
"Why" is more important than "what", and that is the basic reason a chart is bad -- it tells you the "what"
while inhibiting your discovery of the "why". If somebody hands you a fish, that might be cool, but the fellow who learns how
to fish is going to have a lot more fish in no time at all.
> For me... the best teacher is actual play, but it is a costly education.
Shortcuts cost you more in the long run, and poker is
about the long run, if you care about the money.
> This is all so confusing...so many different opinions.
That's good because it's like poker. Poker is supposed to be
confusing. Yet another reason a starting hand
chart is a negative, because your play is predictable.
You should do poker actions for a good reason. The reasons are what novices should seek. If John Doe tells you to play XX
hand before the flop, well, what the hell do you do after the flop? If you don't know *why* you played the hand (besides
John Doe told me too) you basically playing in the dark.
If a starting hand chart is extremely detailed (six players limp to you on the button, play these hands this way, these
other hands this way) and it gives you the reasons for those actions, then you might be able to better understand why you
are playing (or not) and what you should do after the flop. But it's still distracting you from what you should be thinking
Holdem is a post-flop game. You want to play hands in different situations that better exploit the precise situation you are
in. Even if a chart is savvy enough to tell you that you should gleefully play A5s on the button if everybody limps to you,
the important thing here is *why* you are playing this hand. What post-flop circumstances are you looking for; which are you
not. Focusing on the trivial at the expense of the important is not a good way to go.
> A rookie *might* benefit from the
charts. But I think there's lots better
> use of their time learning other things. I think learning how to determine
> what kind of game you're in (loose/tight, aggressive/passive, etc)
> and what kind of player you're against is more important. Depending
> on the game, some group 5 and 6 hands might be better than some
> group 3 and 4 hands. If you memorize the hand groups and that's
> you're main tool, you're probably going to lose.
Any rookie who is looking at a chart to decide whether to play JTs rather than KTs, or KJs, rather than the others, instead
of focusing on the game and the specific players, and what happened to those players the previous hand, and his own table
image, etc. ad nauseum... such a rookie is going so completely in the wrong direction in terms of developing as a poker
player that it is almost impossible to put the immensity of the error into words.
> Obviously you misapprehend the target of the starting hand tables.
> As shown above, their author intended the target to be the very game
> that most students intend one day to play: mid-level casino
Which quite obviously makes the chart utterly useless in the type of game a beginner IS playing! Any player referring to a
starting hand chart playing a "tough mid-level" game ought to be institutionalized. For beginners, maybe these have value,
in tough games they are non-useful.
> Of course the hand groupings are a good place to start. The first
> question a rookie poker player needs to answer is what cards to play.
Nonsense. The first thing a rookie needs to do is learn to play poker, not read a crib sheet.
> The question *is* how one starting hand ranks relative to other
> starting hands. If I have no conception of relative strength, then
> evaluation of the "current situation" becomes irrelevant. Hand
> strength is a primary factor in poker. The charts are simply a way
> for the rookie to get a sense of which hands are stronger and why.
Again, just fully non-sensible. The importance of hand strengths is in relation to your *opponents*, not in relation to some
other hand you might have. If you have KJs, and your opponents are who they are doing what they are, make a decision, but it
is fully ridiculous to be thinking "how does KJs compare to AKo".
Then of course hand strength is important, but chart-dependent people unfortunately seem to look at it as "the" (as opposed
to "a") primary factor in poker. It's one thing, and it is very definitely not the most important, nor even close to the top
> I think the old players like yourself and Gary should not spoil the
> fun of the hand groupings for the newbies.
I'm an old player? I'm not posting about fun. I post about what I think will make players win. Getting drunk might be fun,
but it is shitty for your poker. So is a practice designed for a player not to think for themselves.
It is a question of what you want to do, whether you want to learn,
study and *understand* why you do things, or if you base
your actions on a memorized list with the list generated by an entirely different type of game than the newbie is likely playing in!
Think or parrot. Everybody can make their choices.
The lazy players will parrot. The players who end up being great players don't parrot.
> > Badger wrote: "Most players lose. Most players lose for several
> > basic reasons: no self-control,
no desire to win, abject laziness.
> > Two of these three reasons are indictments of chart dependence.
> Absurd. Lazy losing players don't bother with charts at all. Motivated,
> potential winning players improve by studying published poker materials
> that expand their game.
Your posts are just so ironic in how they condemn what you purport to support. Of course somebody who takes the time to
memorize a chart is doing more to at least try to improve their game than the vast majority of players. Also, dependence on
charts will likely pretty easily get you to a mediocre playing level. But you are doing this in a way similar to what losing
players do. You choose to do a little work, rather than a larger amount of work. You choose to parrot instead of learn. You
are being lazy. You are exercising no self-control because you are allowing your actions to be controlled by something
> That the hand-ranking charts are useful is so utterly obvious that it pains
> me to think of the bankroll of a player who so completely discounts them.
All you have posted are very direct indictments of the hand ranking charts. Even in trying to defend them you point out the
obvious flaws in depending on them. You also now are trying to make the entirely trivial point that the charts are "useful".
Duh. Look at the charts. *Think* about what the charts say. Then in the situations you are in, *decide* what to do. Following
or obeying a memorized chart is a truly lousy way to play poker if you want to be a truly good poker player. Poker is about thought
and creative action, it's not about obeying.
The Baron wrote...
> Okay, let's take a player who's played less than fifty hands of poker
> in the first 37 years of his life. He decides to learn to play Holdem for
> whatever reason. What would you suggest as the first thing this player
> should do to learn the game? I'm not being a wiseass here, I'm trying
> to get a serious answer.
Understand that poker is situational, that each situation must be thought about and judged on its own merits, based on a lot
of data. Next is learning all the different data to focus on. Next is the long process of learning to correctly analyze the
data. Starting hand selection is one part of the second thing, and an ongoing part of the third thing. New players need to
assume a dynamic active and reactive approach to the game. In terms of starting hands, it means that a lot of hands can and
should be played differently depending on the circumstances, and some become better or worse depending on the circumstances.
Also, before sitting down, a player should learn why Holdem is a post-flop game, why post-flop play is MUCH more important
to focus on and think about than pre-flop play.
Jeff Biship wrote...
> If you meant "opponents'" (plural possessive, i.e. opponents' hands)
> as opposed to "opponents" (the people themselves and how they play),
> then I guess I AM off base in my reading of your position.
This is kinda the whole thing. Opponents are people. Why would you think they are cards? Really, I don't understand how you
could jump to this conclusion. It would never occur to me to think of game conditions and opponents as pieces of paper.
Brian Bowles wrote...
> Memorizing the hand chart is not always a mistake. Using it for preflop
> hand selection is not optimal, agreed. For a totally novice player,
> memorizing it is likely not a mistake. Continuing to use it and nothing
> else for hand selection would be a mistake. Memorizing doesn't hurt much,
> except the time spent memorizing. It is what the person does with the
> chart once they've memorized it. (This may be what you meant.. I don't know.)
If a person could memorize everything any reasonable, sensible person said about poker, all that info could help somewhat at
different times. Knowing how somebody ranks hands -- divorced from game conditions -- well, fine. But the fact of the matter
is, and you see it in comments here all the time, often people look at these charts and rankings with the intention of
*using* them. Following them. Obeying them. Relying on them. I'm not saying this is what the rankings-makers advocate. I'm
saying that when people do in fact rely/obey/follow a chart, they are going in the opposite direction it takes to develop as
> If I had no chart to go by when I started playing and instead
> just tried to learn which hands were stronger in which situations,
> I would have started out a losing player.
Nobody is advocating that you don't read books or whatever to get experienced players views on what starting hands are good.
> Hand strengths are more intuitive.
Hand strengths are variable.
> If an opponent was a known S&M fanatic and one of these chart-people,
> then having the chart memorized could be used against them. Not for
> your hand selection, but as an aid in putting an opponent on a hand?
> I'm always surprised at the rigid black & white thinking I see from people
> who usually arguing such things are bad.
Don't confuse a tactic for an overall game plan. Certainly knowing all the hand ranking systems will help you play against
opponents who are dependent on them. The point of this though is that you should exploit whatever
weaknesses your opponents have.
> I pretty much agree with most of what you say. The only point I
> wished to make was that when a player is an absolute novice, those
> thoughtless-provoking charts are sending them in the direction it
> takes to be a competitive player. If a person has no direction to begin with,
> then the charts are going to help, and likely give immediate results.
> That's pretty much my point. You seem to not want to really acknowledge
> that, for whatever reason.
I said it in another post... if two paths diverge in the woods, and you have a chart that sends you over hill and dale,
under barbed wire, through fields of cow doo-doo, that then gets you to some point... that chart did give you "direction."
But it didn't give you the right directions if you could have just walked a straight line to get to a point even beyond where
this chart has gotten you, then the chart took you in the wrong direction. Direction is good. But charts point you in the wrong
direction -- even if it a better direction than totally clueless players go in.
The goal of a poker player should be to do the right thing for the right reasons. Every player, from novices to experienced
ones, should constantly try to do the right things for the right reasons. Depending on a chart -- even if the chart-maker
tells you not to depend on it -- is a bad thing. There are *better* ways to learn the *reasons* for actions. And of course
the best way to learn the reasons is to think.
> We both agree charts are not the best way to base your play.
> Some people will continue attempting to prove their game, and
> will move beyond the charts. Maybe some people really don't care
> to understand the game that well. Do not wish to spend the time. Who
> knows. I could probably makeup several categories of people where
> charts are a good thing. If your point was more like 'Charts can be
> a useful way to aid in your initial learning of hand strengths, but should
> be discarded as soon as possible because they are a major handicap',
> then I would have no problem with it. I'm just having a problem with this
> absolutist 'charts are useless'. They're not.
I didn't say useless. They are often *harmful* because they are used harmfully and thought of in a harmful way. I say charts
are not a good way to approach the game. Playing by a chart points you in the wrong direction, teaches wrong lessons and
inhibits your growth of as player.
The point is absolutism is bad. Think, don't obey. Read a chart, think about it, think about other things even other charts,
but decide for yourself based upon your situation at that moment.
> I've been hearing that charts specifically are bad. What I said
> above is not about books, but charts specifically. A chart is a
> real simple and efficient way of presenting the information.
Roy Cooke wrote an article about players seeking simple answers to complex problems, but that is really a different issue
than what we have been talking about. Again, players studying a chart is fine, just as reading a text version of the chart
would be fine. But do not sit at a table, two off the button, and look down at your chart to decide what to do.
> This is your answer to me saying that hand strengths are a lot more
> intuitive now, and I don't (if I ever did.. ) think of things in terms of
> a chart. Even though when I started a year or so ago, I did look at
> charts initially. <gasp> I've also moved on like I expected to.
You were cryptic so I was cryptic. Hand strengths are obviously not intuitive, it is the judging of opponents hand strengths
that is intuitive. In this chart context, hand strengths are variable. A5s has a different value in different situations.
It's an actual value. Judging that actual value is intuitive, but the value is not. It's there, we just have to figure it
> Hand strengths are variable, but they also have a general strength.
> I'd also make the point that most beginning players are starting at
> low-limit full Holdem tables. Knowing which circumstances makes a
> hand's preflop strength go up or down is probably not one of the most
> important skills to a very beginning Holdem player.
It's not?? What to do with no-brainer hands in low limit games is pretty much nothing important -- raise with KK, fold with
92o. But it is precisely circumstances that dictate how to deal with the marginal hands -- and it is marginal hands where
the profit in poker is (including folding them)!
This is exactly one of the skills a player needs to work on from the start. A5s is a good example. It is literally a hand that
could be folded, called or raised from any position depending on game conditions. It does not have a general strength. It has
a hugely variable strength.
Brian Bowles wrote...
> I play low-limits and almost never see 7 limpers before the button.
> Maybe it gets close, but I almost never see it. I'm sure it does
> happen everyday, though...
You obviously don't play in LA or San Jose. It happens every day, nearly every hand some days.
> I don't recall you ever agreeing that charts have value to a novice.
> You seem to have been making the point that charts are universally bad.
I don't know why you look at this as so black and white. A pinto has value, right? But that isn't even the point. I've said
it many times but I'll say it again, the starting hand charts can help someone become a mediocre player, and yes, a mediocre
player is better than a lousy one. BUT, they are a bad thing to use. There is a *better* way, if you want to be a winning
> I still don't think a lot of folks see games with everyone before
> the button limping in.
Sorry if you have to commonly play in crappy games, but half the poker in the US is played in California, and 7+ players
seeing the flop in $1/2 to $3/6 games is very, very common. If you play where this is not so, fine, but still that isn't the
point. The point is the hand [small suited connectors] should be played, absolutely, definitely if on the button or in the
small blind with seven limpers already in the pot -- *especially* if the game is normally tight! This again is precisely why
a person dependent on a chart would be playing terribly if they can't adapt to a clearly profitable situation.
> You've conveniently deleted a lot of context where I explained why
> I used that hand as an example. Just because a hand is profitable in
> a certain situation, doesn't mean a complete novice will play it correctly
> enough to retain the profitability. My guess is there are a lot of marginal
> hands like that. Hands that novices should not worry about until
> they've started mastering other aspects of the game.
As part of the learning process, novices should play a few more hands than only those that are profitable. The first hand a
player is ever dealt in, AA might be the only profitable one. But assuming at least 5+ hours of play, novices should be
playing suited connectors in position in loose games for one bet. It is the key component in winning (since you don't get
AA, KK, AKs, QQ, JJ, AQs, AJs, AKo, AQo, TT and KQs often enough to only play them). Adapting to specific situations is just
a key aspect of the game because sometimes hands that are marginal in general become very playable/profitable in specific situations.
Seeing the Flop Percentage in Holdem
> Less than 9% of the 1326 holdem hands have a long term positive EV.
> Thus paying to see the flop outside the blinds more than 10% of the
> time (less than once per round at a full table) is technically "loose".
In a nine-handed game this statement is absurd on several levels. How do you come to this conclusion?
> First of all thanks for responding as you helped uncover an error in
> the "off the cuff" calculations I did when I posted the comment.
> I should have said "Less than 12%" not less than 9%.
There is almost a bottomless pit here to talk about but the first thing you need to consider is that it is very poor
thinking to think that XX% of hands have a long term positive expectation. Under the gun the number of positive expectation
hands is smaller than on the button. There are more hands on the button that have a positive expectation when no one has
entered the pot than if one or more are already in. KTo is a clearly positive hand on the button if no one has entered the
pot. If the pot has been raised and reraised it is suicide to play it. Then, the long term value of hands depends on the
person playing the hands. Some cards in the hands of David Sklansky will have a positive value that will have a negative
value in the hands of Joe Kitchentable. So, your postulation here is dangerously wrong. Two card hands do not have
intrinsic, objective value. Their value depends on position, who plays the hand, the quality of the opposition and more.
The % of hands you can play with a positive expectation against a table full Joe Kitchentables is dramatically higher than the % of
hands you can play with a positive expectation against a table full of David Sklanskys.