Crash course

Don’t just stick to the stuff you know – embrace all forms of poker

Poker’s the name of the game, but what does it mean to you? If all it signifies is nine-handed no-limit Hold’em sit-and-gos or 1,000-man freerolls, then maybe it’s time you considered and embraced the game in all its multi-faceted splendour.

If you’ve only ever played deep- stacked multi-table tournaments, it’s time to try your hand at short-handed cash games.

If Hold’em is your game, then consider dipping a toe into the waters of Omaha or Stud. We won’t be there to hold your hand or mop your brow, but we’d never let you go over the top unarmed.


What is it? A single-table tournament or sit-and-go usually brings together six to 10 players for a quick blast of action (typically no-limit Hold’em). The game doesn’t wait for a specific time to start – it kicks off as soon as the table is full, with each player paying the same buy-in, be it $1 or $1,000, for a stack of chips that typically amounts to 50-75 big blinds. The blinds increase regularly, forcing the action until there is only one player left. The position in which you go out determines how much money, if any, you win.

Time Expect to be playing for the best part of an hour (online) if you last to the end. Turbo sit-and-gos and six-handed tables will wind up a lot faster.

Getting paid NINE-HANDED $10 SIT-AND-GO 1st – $45 (50%) 2nd – $27 (30%) 3rd – $18 (20%)

SIX-HANDED $10 SIT-AND-GO 1st – $39 (65%) 2nd – $21 (35%)


1 Call small raises in the early stages with small pairs. If you don’t flop a set (trips), fold if there are overcards and meaty bets. When you do hit three-of-a-kind, make sure you extract value by betting rather than slow-playing.

2 Play extremely tight in the first two or three levels when your equity in the tournament is small and the chip stacks-to-blinds ratio is big. Look to play big pairs and big Aces strongly, betting as much as five or six times the big blind; let others gamble with inferior hands.

3 Don’t allow your stack to drop below seven big blinds. Push all-in with a wide range of hands if no one has entered the pot before you, including any Ace, any pair, suited connectors or combinations of high cards. In fact, on the bubble, you should do it with any two cards.

4 Keep an eye on the bubble. If the tourney is paying three spots and you’re currently second or third in chips, don’t get involved in a hand (unless you’ve got Kings or Aces) with a big stack if there’s a tiny stack on the verge of being eliminated. Why let the short stack creep into the money because of your impatience?

5 Get aggressive when you’re in the money. There’s often only a 10 percent difference in payout between second and third place, so take the game to your opponents with plenty of pre-flop raises. Also remember that you need a better hand to call than to raise with.


What is it? Multi-table tournaments are similar in concept to sit-and-gos, but start at a particular preset time and usually involve a lot more players. As players fall by the wayside, tables are balanced by shifting players into spare seats, condensing the chips and action until there’s just one table left, which plays down to the last player in the same way as a single-table tournament. Making the final table is your aim. Big money for a small outlay can be made in online and live MTTs.

Time The length of an MTT is entirely dependent on the blind structure and number of runners involved. Expect an online tournament with 180 runners and 15-minute blinds to take around four hours to play and a field of 2,000, with the same blind structure, to last closer to 10 hours.

Getting paid Each poker site and casino operates its own payout structure, but expect roughly the top 10 percent of runners to get paid. The following breakdowns are fairly typical of what to expect. The money tends to be very top-heavy on the final table, so you’ll usually have to go deep for a big payday.

180-MAN $10 MTT 1st – $540 (30%) 2nd – $360 (20%) 3rd – $214 (11.9%) 4th – $144 (8%) 5th – $117 (6.5%) 6th – $90 (5%) 7th – $66 (3.5%) 8th – $46 (2.6%) 9th – $30 (1.7%) 10th to 18th – $21 (1.2%)

2,000-MAN $10 TOURNAMENT 1st – $4,400 (22%) 2nd – $2,600 (13%) 3rd – $1,700 (8.5%) 4th – $1,260 (6.3%) 5th – $1,000 (5%) 6th – $800 (4%) 7th – $600 (3%) 8th – $400 (2%) 9th – $300 (1.5%) 10th to 180th – from $150 to $16


1 Multi-table tournaments are all to do with survival and pressure. As long as you still have a chip and a chair you still have a chance to win. While this means you may have to make some big laydowns, you can also apply pressure on other stacks for their tournament life.

2 Don’t put too much faith in Aces and Kings in the early stages. A raise of four times the big blind is still a small bet at the start of a tourney, and won’t clear out all those players looking to hit flops hard with suited connectors and small pairs. As such, you’re best off either making a big overbet to see if anyone wants to gamble, or merely limping looking to hit a set. However, this second approach does rely on your ability to fold a big pair on dangerous boards post-flop, so make sure you never ‘fall in love’ with a hand.

3 Paint a profile of each player at the table and make sure you make the most of each one. Let aggressive players continuation bet into you (when you’re strong) and make sure to fire out bets in position (last to act in a hand) against tight players. Check-raise aggressive players who you suspect are ‘at it’ with strong drawing hands, such as nut flush draws and open-ended straights, as well as with made hands.

4 Know your motives. If you’re playing just to make the money, climb the cash ladder and build a bankroll, you’re correct to tighten up around the bubble. If you’re only interested in the big money, however, then force the action as others start to worry about getting knocked out empty-handed. Target medium stacks with this approach, as they have the most to lose. Short stacks are also vulnerable but will be looking for a spot to double up, while big stacks can easily put the pressure back on you.

5 When the action gets short-handed on the last few tables you need to lower your starting hand requirements. The blinds and antes will be hugely significant at this stage of the game, and stealing lots of pots pre-flop will build your stack at just the right time, which could be the difference between a small win and a big score.


What is it? Cash games are the traditional form of poker, where each chip has a real monetary value. If you bet $30 of chips and fold to a raise, you’re literally $30 out of pocket right there and then – until the next hand anyway… And in contrast to tournaments, there’s no pressure from rising blinds – the game conditions never change. There are also differences in rules that you should research before you start playing. Also known as ring games, cash games are the lifeblood of many a professional player, both online and live, and are played at every level, limit and type of poker.

Time There’s no set blind levels or time constraints. You can play for as long as you want. You could double up on your very first hand and cash out or grind away for 10 hours straight.

Getting paid It all depends on how many chips you have when you cash out. It’s also worth remembering you can only ever win as much as there is in front of you for any given hand.

TYPICAL BUY-INS NO-LIMIT AND POT-LIMIT Min: 20 big blinds Max: 100 big blinds LIMIT Min: Five big bets Max: No maximum


1 Cash games are not tournaments! It might sound obvious, but if you play them the same way you’ll find yourself in a spot of bother. The blinds never increase and the concept of survival doesn’t come into play (unless you’re playing well beyond your means), because any player can reload to the maximum buy-in at any time.

2 Pot odds are important in tournaments, but in cash games they’re absolutely essential to know. In limit games you can be well behind, but if you’re getting the odds to call you’re theoretically making money every time you make that call. Check the strategy section at for a full explanation of pot odds and other related concepts.

3 Establish the style of each player as quickly as possible. Pay attention to who is continually betting and raising aggressively pre-flop and who is only betting when they have the nuts. At its most simple level, be prepared to get away from medium strength hands against rocks and more inclined to play back at aggressive players with the same medium strength hands.

4 Implied odds are hugely important in no-limit cash games, where hitting a set or two-pair can see you take an opponent’s entire stack. If the rock next to you has only been putting out bets with big pairs or big Aces, it’s worth speculating with a pocket pair or suited connectors. If it costs you $5 to call a raise and you both have over $100 in your stacks, flopping a monster can be enormously profitable. Remember, A-A is only slightly better than a 3/1 favourite to beat 6-7.

5 Bluffing is an important part of poker, but it’s best to keep it to an absolute minimum when you first hit the cash tables. There will be so many bad players at the lower levels that your bluffs will get picked off by calling stations. Bet your strong hands and check or call marginal hands until you feel settled. And if you’re going to bluff, at least do it when you’ve got a strong draw.


What is it? If you’ve played Texas Hold’em, Omaha shouldn’t come as too much of a shock. Each player is dealt four cards, two of which MUST be used in combination with the community cards to make a five-card hand. Betting is traditionally pot-limit, meaning the maximum raise is the amount that the pot is worth after the current bet has been called.


1 Big hands win Omaha. Straights, flushes and full houses typically take down most pots. Be very wary of calling raises and re-raises without the nuts or a strong draw to the winning hand. 2 Big double-suited Aces such as A-A-J-10 are exceptionally strong. They give you two chances to hit the nut flush, and should an Ace come down you’ll be sitting on top set and will also be drawing to the strongest full house possible.

3 Make sure your hand leaves no man behind. Going into a pot with only three of your cards supporting each other is putting you at a disadvantage, and that’s a losing strategy. Ditch hands like Q-J-9-5.

4 Four of a kind in the hole is unplayable. Being dealt three- or four-of-a kind may look fantastic, and if you were playing Draw or Stud poker it would be, but in Omaha it’s an immediate muck. Your hand has next to no chance of improving.

5 It’s possible to land huge ‘wraps’ where any number of cards can give you a straight. When you’re holding something like 6-7-9-10, it’s possible to hit a flop like 5-8-J where any Four, Six, Seven, Nine, Ten or Queen gives you a straight. Play big draws fast, but slow down if the board pairs or flushes.


What is it? Heads-up poker pits you against just one adversary and is argued by some to be the purest form of the game. It can be played like a cash game (see opposite), or in a tournament format with increasing blinds where the winner takes both buy- ins. Either way, you don’t get much chance for respite.

Time If you’re playing in a cash format, you can play for as long as you want. In a tournament format, the length of heads- up matches varies hugely, and depends to some extent on how aggressive and evenly matched the players are. Online, with small stakes, a heads-up match could be over in a matter of minutes, while big- money live matches can go on for hours.

Getting paid $10 TOURNAMENT HEADS-UP 1st – $20 2nd – $0


1 Hand values are radically different. Any hand with potential suddenly opens itself for play, as the range of your opponent’s hand is huge. Any pair, any Ace, King, suited or connected cards are worth playing. Obviously you’ll have to use your judgement against any given player as to how much you should invest in a marginal hand.

2 Get a feel for your opponent when you first start playing. Don’t feel that you have to make any rash moves or thoughtless re-raises for aggression’s sake. Remember to check back through the action after each hand has taken place and steadily build up a profile of how that player reacts to different situations.

3 If you’re playing in a heads-up tournament, make sure you never leave yourself short-stacked. If there’s a slow blind structure there’s no need to force the issue early, but once you approach 10 big blinds or less you should be looking to get your chips in pre-flop with both strong and marginal hands. Re- raising an aggressive opponent all-in pre- flop can be a profitable move as long as the raise is at least three times their bet.

4 Keep the pot small when you’re first to act on the flop. Being out of position heads-up is an uphill struggle. Any bet that you make out of position instantly opens you up to being smashed over the head with a large re-raise.

5 It’s better to be the one pushing than calling when you’re trying to finish off an opponent. Make them decide whether they want to put their tournament life on the line or not. If they start pushing all-in every time they’re on the button (first to act), you’ll have to widen your range of calling hands, as they could have any two cards.


What is it? Stud uses no community cards. Each player is dealt two cards face down and one face up as a starting hand, and if the hand is seen through to the end you’ll end up with a total of four ‘up’ cards and three ‘down’. There are several variations, including Razz, where the aim is to have the lowest hand possible. Betting is almost universally fixed limit. You’ll have to get good at this game if you want to play H.O.R.S.E., as three of the five games are Stud-based.


1 Your starting hand requirements are more important in Stud than in Hold’em. In Hold’em you can often play any two hole cards if you can get in cheaply, as you have the possibility of hitting a big disguised hand when a ragged flop is dealt. In Stud, however, there are no community cards, so you have to be more selective. Being dealt three of a kind (rolled-up trips) is incredibly strong, but otherwise you should only be playing if you have a pair or all three cards are suited or connected for straight potential.

2 Always remember the face-up cards of the players that muck their hand. They could be outs for you or an opponent, and that’s vital information you’re throwing away if you’re only focused on your own cards.

3 If you entered the pot looking for a straight or flush and fourth street doesn’t help you, be prepared to muck your hand if there’s raising and re-raising. If there’s that much action in that round, there will almost certainly be action in the next where the fixed value of bets increases. If you do continue through fifth street you should usually be prepared to see it through to the end, because while it’s a small mistake to call a bet on seventh street when you’re beaten, it’s a huge mistake not to call when you have any chance of winning a big pot.

4 Bet your big pairs straight away. Limit betting means players will often be priced in on drawing hands. Narrow the field by raising and you’ll reduce their odds to stay in – and you’ll make more when they miss their flush or straight.

5 Bluffing is not as important in Stud as other games. If any of your opponents are showing four cards to a flush or straight and are betting, you have to give them credit. Just because it’s ‘only’ a single big bet to call at the end there’s no need to pay them off if you know you’re behind. Don’t cripple your profit margin out of curiosity.

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