CAN HOLD’EM STRATEGY BE LEARNED AS
EASILY AS STRATEGY FOR BLACKJACK?
By Hal Marcus
Hal Marcus developed the popular Blackjack 678 Strategy Cards which have been a big seller in our online store. He has now developed the unique Poker 6·7·8™ Hold’Em Strategy Cards a unique set of two cards that the average player can use right at the poker table to play Texas Hold’Em like a pro. The set of two Poker 6·7·8™ Hold’Em Strategy Cards are available from our store at 10% discount. Click here to purchase Hal's cards for only $9 plus shipping ($11 total).
Strategy for blackjack is commonly referred to as Basic Strategy, which means the optimal playing decision given your cards and the dealer’s upcard. To learn Basic Strategy, you can obtain a strategy card or a set of strategy cards, such as my Blackjack 6·7·8 Strategy Cards. With these strategy cards in hand, you use the panel that refers to the rules for the game you will be playing to always make the correct playing decision.
For example, for a shoe game of 4-8 decks, the Basic Strategy differs if the dealer hits soft 17 compared to a table where the dealer stands on soft 17. If you always play at tables that have the same rules, you need only learn one panel on the Blackjack 6·7·8 Strategy Cards. The tables on the strategy cards also contain footnotes, such as the correct playing decision if you’re not allowed to surrender or not allowed to double down.
For example, suppose you have 16 v. 10, and the blackjack strategy card says to surrender. The table you’re playing at may not allow surrender, or you may have three or more cards in your hand and would thus not be permitted to surrender by the rules. What’s the correct decision in this case? A footnote on the panel indicates whether the correct decision would be to stand or to hit in this case.
If you play in a variety of casinos, it’s likely you will experience different rules. You would then need to review the different panels on the strategy cards in order to deploy the correct Basic Strategy for whatever mix of rules are at your table. For any given panel, you need not vary from the Basic Strategy in order to fool the dealer since the dealer must follow a set of rules for each hand. The dealer is not allowed to vary the rules because of what he may think you have in your hand. This is why it’s OK to play blackjack when all the players’ cards are dealt up since you’re not playing against the other table players, and the dealer can’t change the playing rules that he must follow because of any of the players’ cards that he sees.
Now let’s take a look at poker (all references to poker in this article refer to Hold’Em). The first decision in poker comes after you get your two hole cards. You must decide whether your two cards represent a good enough hand to call or raise. If not, you should fold. But when there are 169 possible 2-card combinations, how do you decide whether to continue playing? In addition, Hold’Em is a positional game in the sense that it takes a stronger hand to justify calling when you are first to act compared to when you’re last to act. Supposedly, 80 million people play poker (according to NBCSandiego.com, July 19, 2004). I have to wonder how many of them think of Hold’Em as an easy game and that any two cards can win (a big mistake).
I believe Hold’Em is an easy game to learn how to play in the sense of knowing that there are four rounds of betting and that you can use any of the five community cards plus your two hole cards to make a 5-card poker hand. And yes, you will win sometimes when your first two cards are 7-2 unsuited, but you will lose more than you win if you call with 7-2 offsuit each time you have that hand. Once you agree that there’s more to Hold’Em than thinking any 2 cards can win, how do you go about learning how to play in order to get the advantage over the competition, which is the other players at your table?
There are many poker books on the market and more being published each month. Most cash games (non tournament games) are limit Hold’Em so you may want to start by reading a book that focus on limit Hold’Em as opposed to no-limit Hold’Em. One of the difficulties I had in trying to formulate poker strategy from all the books I read was that no two books provided the same strategy or guidelines. For example, one book said to call with 7-5 suited in late position while another book said to fold with that same hand. Most books give various ranges of hands with which to take a particular action, such as JTs-98s (s = suited). I find it difficult to determine fairly quickly which of the ranges my hand falls into.
In discussing strategy after The Flop (after the first 3 community cards are dealt), most books will provide many pages of discussion to cover various scenarios and modifications based on whether your opponents play loose (call with a large percentage of hands), play tight (call with a small percentage of hands), bet aggressively (tend to raise a lot), or bet passively (tend to raise infrequently). This type of coverage is good, and I think you should read one or more books before playing for real money so you are aware of many of the scenarios that will unfold. But when you play with real money, I wanted to distill this information into a handy reference card to act as a refresher, and a quick and useful practical tool to help give me an edge over the other players.
Enter the Poker 6·7·8™ Hold’Em Strategy Cards. I developed these strategy cards to meet the goals mentioned above so I could play Hold’Em with confidence and at an advantage. The Hold’Em cards come as a set of two cards and are a poker player’s roadmap to playing winning Hold’Em. The laminated, six-panel, tri-fold cards (with rounded corners) devote a total of eight panel sides to covering the strategy for all four rounds of betting. The 3.5" x 5" panel size makes possible larger, easier-to-read text than on the smaller, "credit card" size strategy cards, yet these cards still slip easily into one’s shirt pocket. All panels are designed to fold in both directions and to lay flat no matter how the card is folded to make it easy for players to display the relevant panel. A strong endorsement from two-time world champion Doyle Brunson ("A powerful shortcut to Hold’Em success right in your pocket.") appears on the back of Card 2, along with his picture.
Card 1 contains strategy tables for the Pre-Flop. The cells of each table are color-coded and contain an abbreviation for the decision. Some people prefer to learn by focusing on the color-coding while others learn better by remembering the text abbreviation. Three strategy panels cover players in Early Position, Middle Position, and Late Position. A fourth panel provides an alternative to the regular Late Position strategy and is called Late Position — "Aggressive", which is provided to allow more variation to help the player mislead his opponents.
One of the panels contains a pithy, insightful discussion of the button, the blinds, and the positions to help players learn how to play the game, along with a brief example on how to use the strategy card. Each of the four strategy panels contains all of the 169 possible combinations of two-card starting hands, which allows users to always quickly find any possible two-card Pre-Flop hand. To facilitate even greater user friendliness, each of the panels that contain strategy tables is divided into three sections: suited hands, unsuited hands, and pairs. As a test of seeing how easy it was to use the tables, I played Hold’Em with my 10 year old daughter (it’s amazing how many of her classmates love to play Hold’Em) and gave her the strategy cards to use. Each time she looked up her hand in the relevant table, she found the correct decision in less than two seconds!
Card 2 includes the strategies for The Flop, The Turn, and The River. Two of the panels on this card are devoted to strategy for the critical and complex Flop. A third panel provides the player strategy for The Turn, and a fourth panel furnishes the strategy for The River. The strategies on Card 2 are written in a style using short paragraphs to help the user consider various scenarios. For example, if you flop a set, there is a paragraph that discusses how you have an advantage with your three of a kind since you hold a pocket pair (your two hole cards are a pair), while also pointing out how the board should enter into your decision. Card 2 features a panel that defines outs and pot odds, and also provides definitions of some key terms, such as explaining the difference between a set and trips. An example on Card 2 demonstrates how to determine pot odds. This can be used with certain hands to determine whether it’s worthwhile to call when you compare the amount of money in the pot with how much you need to bet in order to call. Finally, the titles of the four different betting rounds are also color-coded (in blue on Card 1; red, green, and purple on Card 2) so you can more easily and quickly distinguish one betting round from another when choosing the relevant panel when it’s your turn.
Ease of learning strategy.
As part of playing winning blackjack, you should learn to count cards and vary your bet according to the count. This is in addition to mastering Basic Strategy. Tracking the count, calculating the bet amount, and trying to look like you’re not counting cards so you don’t get barred is much more difficult than just learning Basic Strategy. You also have to be aware of the rules at the table where you’re playing blackjack in order to apply the correct Basic Strategy. With Hold’Em the rules are the same in the sense there is always a rotating button, a small blind, and a big blind. There are no player options that may or may not exist, such as surrender in blackjack (an exception perhaps in Hold’Em is the kill game where the size of the stake can increase, but this is not the same as an option that you may exercise at your discretion).
What’s tricky about Hold’Em is that you’re playing against other players instead of the dealer. To increase your expectation in Hold’Em, you want to try to understand whether the players at your table play loose or tight, which will cause you to vary your strategy. These strategy variations are covered on the Poker 6·7·8 Hold’Em Strategy Cards. And with poker, the casino doesn’t care how skilled a player you are since you’re winning other players’ money, not the casino’s money. Both blackjack and poker require effort to be a winning player. It seems to me that on balance it takes about the same amount of effort to become a winning Hold’Em player as it does to become a winning blackjack player … provided that you’re using the Poker 6·7·8 Hold’Em Strategy Cards.
In addition to increased confidence, I find there’s so much less effort and more enjoyment in playing Hold’Em when I use the Poker 6·7·8 Hold’Em Strategy Cards. Also, if you play poker online, none of your opponents will know that you’re using strategy cards. And since casinos allow the use of strategy cards, you may want to use them at a live table in a casino.
Since the Hold’Em strategy cards just came out, I haven’t had much opportunity to use them in real games. The cards are geared more toward limit than no-limit Hold’Em simply because no-limit Hold’Em can involve huge bet swings, and players bluff more often in a no-limit game than in a limit game. The cards are still helpful for no-limit, especially for the Pre-Flop. Recently I used the Poker 6·7·8 Hold’Em Strategy Cards in a no-limit tournament. With only one tournament of play I would be careful about attributing my outcome to the strategy cards, but I did finish 18 out of a starting field of 126.
The set of two Poker 6·7·8 Hold’Em Strategy Cards retails for $9.95 normally. Click here to purchase Hal's cards for only $9 plus shipping ($11 total).
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