Posted 26 August 2006 - 11:27 PM
People who read up on Texas Hold'em first learn the hands that are strong enough to play. Most every poker book goes into detail explaining premium hands such as A-A, K-K, Q-Q, A-K, as well as marginal starters like 8-8, 9-9 and A-Q.However, knowing what cards to start with is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to understanding how to effectively play No Limit Hold'em.Frankly, it's the easy part.The real trick to playing this game for profit is learning how much to bet on those hands in various situations. Knowing what cards to play won't be very useful if you continually misplay them by betting the wrong amount.Betting the right amount is dictated by your skill level.A novice player should make larger bets than a professional. With blinds at 100-200, I'd recommend that a beginner raise anywhere from 800 to 1,000 chips when he decides to play. An experienced player would be better off raising 500 to 600.The reason is simple: A novice has a much better chance to win the pot before the flop rather than after it. A player with tons of experience would rather see a flop cheaply and make key decisions after the flop.Let's look at an example where a professional would fare better after the flop than a novice.Suppose the beginner holds J-J and raises to 600 before the flop. Three other players call him, and the flop comes Q-7-4. This is a situation where he can get into trouble. While the pocket jacks started out as a strong hand, the flopped queen is a danger card. If someone holds K-Q or A-Q, the jacks will be in bad shape.So how should you proceed?Well, an experienced player is better equipped to read his opponents and make an informed decision. If the veteran were holding the jacks, he'd likely know whether they were still strong. The beginner, though, would be in no-man's land.An advanced player may decide to check and see what develops. He might even make a small, feeler bet -- about a third of the pot.For beginners, I'd recommend a large bet to define opponents' hands. If there's 2,700 in the middle, go ahead and bet the whole pot.Until a beginner really knows what he's doing, I'd advise that he make those large raises -- four to five times the amount of the big blind -- before the flop. His post-flop bets should be the size of the pot.Ideally, though, the goal is to become experienced enough to make smaller bets. That is the most effective strategy.For those of you ready to take that next step, it's time to think about what your bet is accomplishing. Because you and your opponents will miss the flop a high percentage of the time, most of your post-flop bets should be made to obtain valuable information.Let's say, for example, you hold 9-9, and raise to 600. The big blind is the only caller. The flop comes A-7-4 and the big blind checks to you.Even though the ace is a huge scare card, making a bet here will accomplish two things: You'll protect your hand if you're ahead, and you'll also define your opponent's hand.A small bet of 200 simply won't give you enough information; your opponent will call such a small bet with a wide variety of hands. Now, if you bet the pot, 1,300, you'll definitely get the information you're looking for.But is it necessary to risk that much? If you bet 1,100, wouldn't you get that same information? Yes, you sure would. So, make an assertive yet careful bet, something like 900 -- approximately two-thirds of the pot.By betting about two-thirds of the pot, instead of the entire amount, you'll save a little bit of money on your bluff attempts. It will also define your opponent's hand. As a bonus, you'll get extra calls when you do catch a monster hand.(If you enjoyed this piece, please send an e-mail or a letter to your local newspaper and tell them you want Daniel Negreanu's column in your newspaper).