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30/12/2005 No.28
he Guardian Poker Column
Victoria Coren
Friday December 30, 2005
How to play poker
(How to play has been running from issue 16)

Over the past few weeks, I have been quite stern about hand selection, and when you should allow yourself to see a flop. In Texas hold 'em, the only hands I have been advising you to play are pairs, two big picture cards, or flushing "wheel cards" (A2, A3, A4, A5 of the same suit).

The reason for this is that, if you choose strong hands to begin with, you enter the action with an immediate advantage. On TV, you see people paying for a flop with all sorts of rubbish - but if you do that, you need to beat the odds, or start bluffing almost immediately. Why create this headache for yourself? It might be fun but it's very risky, even if you have a terrific read on everybody at the table and a sound grasp of the mathematics promised by the communal cards. Without those things, it's madness. Rigorous hand selection is the best favour you can do for yourself.
One other sort of hand you might introduce, though, is the type they call "suited connectors". This means two adjacent cards of the same suit (such as 6C, 7C or 9D, 10D). Like the flushing wheel cards, you would play these not because you think you are in front to begin with, but because you have a good draw: a variety of ways to hit the flop hard. As with the wheel cards, you are looking to make a straight, a flush, two pairs or three of a kind. If you hit one pair, it isn't good enough.

The suited connectors work best in a multi-way pot, when a lot of people are in the hand and your cards might be "fresh" (ie very different from what your opponents are playing). In this case, you should just call to keep the bets small. Or, in a tournament situation, they can be good hands to reraise with before the flop - your opponent might pass before the communal cards even come down. If he doesn't, at least your own hand is a mystery to him. Just remember the kind of flop you want to see. A very good poker motto is: "Don't go broke with one pair."