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21/10/2005 No.20
he Guardian Poker Column
Victoria Coren
Friday October 21, 2005
How to play poker
(How to play has been running from issue 16)

As St Paul wrote to the Corinthians: "Calling, raising and folding abide; the greatest of these is raising." (This advice doesn't appear in all bibles. It was a postscript that Paul added later, because the Corinthians had been losing too much at poker.)

In most forms of the game, two players have to put in "blind bets" before the cards are dealt. All other players, having received their starting cards, have the option of calling (matching the big blind), raising (putting in a bit extra), or folding (throwing their hand away).

You may have noticed, this column being intended for the newer player, that I generally advocate caution. With that in mind, most hands are folding hands. If you are dealt weak cards, just throw them away. Why get involved with rubbish? (There is actually an answer to that question - but we won't get to it for some time yet.) For now, you only want ot enter a pot with a nice strong hand that you think might be winning already. A pair, for example, or two big picture cards.

With these hands, it is almost always better to enter the pot with a raise rather than a call. If nobody raises, too many players can see the next card of the flop cheaply, and the big blind gets it for free. Why should you let these people have cheap or free cards? They are your opponents. You don't want to give them presents. you want to grind them into the dust and send them home without so much as a quid for the night bus. Make them pay.

If you raise, then you will narrow the field against you, and get more information about what the others may be holding. You will also take control of the pot: on the next round of betting, opponents are more likely to check, and this gives you the option of taking a free card.

Throughout the hand, a useful rule is this. If you think you're winning, bet or raise. If you think you're losing fold. "Calling" too much is weak and passive, and a likely route to dribbling your money away.


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