How to Host the Perfect Poker Home Game is a 12-part series on how to run the superlative poker night for all your friends and coworkers.
We’ll cover everything from what game of poker is easiest to play, what hand beats what and even what drinks and food to serve. Follow this guide and people will be reserving their seat at your table weeks in advance.
For our third article we’re going to take a look at how a Texas Hold’em game works at its most basic level and some simple strategy.
The first thing you need to learn is poker hand rankings (which you’ll find in the previous article) but from there it’s time to learn how to determine the winning hand in a game.
The majority of poker hands are fairly easy to determine a winner (a pair of aces beats a pair of kings) but there are some trouble spots.
Here are three very good points to keep in mind when playing poker:
- You must make the best hand possible using exactly five cards
- No cards outside of the best five have any bearing on the strength of the hand
- All five cards are used in deciding the strength of the hand
In Texas Hold’em you're allowed to use any combination of the cards in your hand and the cards on the board.
Which Hand Wins: Common Trouble Spots
Below is a quick summary of two common areas of confusion and how to actually figure out who wins the hand:
It's Flush vs. Flush
Always remember that if more than one player has a flush, you award the pot to the player with the highest flush. This includes all five cards. For example:
In this situation, the first player wins the pot. The reason is that when you look at all five cards, Player 1 has the higher flush:
The cards are the same until final fifth card. Since 7♦ is higher than 6♦, player wins the whole pot. This is sometimes referred to as being out-kicked. If you replace the 3♠ with a T♦ then both players would have the same flush (playing the board) and they'd split the pot.
What if We Both Have Two Pair?
Sometimes two players will each have two pairs, which confused players as to who should win.
Take this example:
In this scenario, Player1 wins the entire pot. Two pair is always ranked by the value of the highest pair first, and only if that pair is the same for both players do you rank by the second pair.
If both of two pairs are identical, it will be the kicker that will decide the winner (the highest-value fifth card is the kicker).
In this scenario because the two paired on the river, Player 1 has two pair - A♦ A♣ 2♠ 2♣ with the kicker K♦.
Player 2 has the lower two pair - K♦ K♥ Q♠ Q♥ with the kicker 3♥. Aces are higher than kings, so Player 1 wins the entire pot.
Which Hand Wins on an Awesome Board?
Take a second to think this one though. This is a very bad beat, as once the river falls both players now have four of a kind with nines.
Only Player 1, who up until this point had nothing special, has the highest kicker with an ace.
Even though Player 2 flopped a full house - K♠ K♣ K♦ 9♠ 9♣ - once the fourth nine fell, he was now playing four-of-a-kind nines with a king kicker.
Player 1 wins the whole pot.
A Quick Guide to Hold’em Starting Hand Strategy
If you’re hosting a poker night you want to have at least some idea what you’re doing out there and the following guide is a crash course in poker strategy.
This guide will at least give you some initial insight into what you should do with certain hands right off the bat. Poker is a very contextual game, however, so keep in mind that it can sometimes be right to fold powerful hands like pocket kings in certain scenarios.
Here’s a look at all the major hands in Hold’em:
The best starting hand in the game. There are books written about how to maximize profit with this hand but other than folding, it's difficult to make a mistake with pocket aces pre-flop.
Post Flop: Pocket rockets get signicantly more complicated post-flop. If the board doesn't improve your hand you still only have one pair. Watch out for sets and two-pairs.
You can play pocket kings just like pocket aces pre-flop. You'll occasionally see them folded if players think they smell A-A but it's almost always a bad decision. Don't do it.
Post Flop: Pocket kings are also similar to pocket aces post-flop although now you have to be on the lookout for an overpair if an ace hits on the flop. Be very careful if an ace shows up on the flop.
Suggested reading: Poker Trouble Spots: KK in Early Position Part 1
Pocket Queens and Jacks
Pocket queens and pocket jacks are powerful hands but not true killers like pocket aces or pocket kings. They can be very difficult to play but you're still going to want to play them.
You can actually fold these pre-flop if you're facing a ton of bets pre-flop, unlike pocket kings or pocket aces. If it's a tight table then a raise and a re-raise can spell trouble for pocket queens and below.
Post Flop: If there's tons of action pre-flop you'll want to be very wary on the flop. Sometimes you'll only want to continue if the board improves your hand. Watch out for overpairs.
Suggested Reading: Pocket Jacks Part 1: Pre-Flop Play
Pairs Below Pocket Jacks
Example:9♠ 9♥, 8♣ 8♦
These hands are playable but you're primarily looking to hit a set. It's simple really, if you don't hit your set, don't bet.
Tip: The lower your pair, the better chance you'll get into an unlucky sit over set situation.
Example:A♠ K♥, K♠ Q♦
A-K, A-Q, A-J and K-Q can be good hands to play, especially if you're at a aggressive table and you have position.
You're primarily looking to trap your opponent and get them in a situation where you have top-pair, top kicker against an opponent with the same pair and a weaker kicker.
Watch out if there is heavy betting pre-flop. You're almost guaranteed to be up against at least a pair.
You still have to remember that one-pair hands can easily be beaten by sets, two pairs or worse.
Suggested Reading: Ace-Queen Part 1: The Worst Best Hand
Suited Connectors (and Suited One-Gappers)
Example:8♠ 9♠, 9♦ J♦
Suited connectors can be one of the most profitable hands in No-Limit Hold'em. Part of the reason is that they tend to either hit big or whiff completely. That makes playing them simple.
They will miss most of the time, however, so you don't want to be calling huge bets pre-flop. Stay away from them in early position. You want to get in cheap and hopefully get paid off later.
Suggested Reading: Playing Suited Connectors in Six-Max
Example:A♠ 3♠, A♥ 8♥
Generally you don't want to be putting a lot of money into the pot with these hands pre-flop as you're crushed by pairs, better aces, almost everything.
Post-Flop: Don't get into a betting war against someone with better ace. You want to BE the one with the better ace and getting paid off. If you don't hit big on the flop, feel free to muck small aces. They can be very problematic.
Example:5♠ 9♦, 2♥ 7♣, K♥ 10♦
If you're new to poker, avoid these hands altogether.
You're just not going to be very profitable with them. Even big ones such as Q-J or J-T look good but are simply going to lose you money eventually.
If you play these hands your decisions are going to get much more difficult. Wait until you're an experienced player and then you can start experimenting with these. Remember the three most common beginner mistakes are:
- Playing out of position
- Playing bad starting hands
- Playing weak hands against a raise
To sum up: stick to playing hands in this list, throw away the weaker of these hands whne out of position and try to only play against a raise if you have a very strong hand or a strong drawing hand.
More on How to Host the Perfect Poker Home Game:
- Part 1: Equipment
- Part 2: Hand Rankings
- Part 3: How to Play
- Part 4: How to Set Up
- Part 5: What to Drink
- Part 6: What to Eat
- Part 7: Who to Invite
- Part 8: Etiquette
- Part 9: How to Beat your Friends
- Part 10: Cheaters
- Part 11: More Games, More Gamble
- Part 12: Odds and Exceptions
Additional Home Game Tools: