How to Play Poker Lesson 1: Before the Flop

Lesson 1: Before the Flop


Perhaps the biggest mistake most below average players make is their insistence on playing lousy hands before the flop. There are 1326 possible starting hands in Texas Hold ’em, and only a fraction of those are profitable. Why? Because Hold ’em is a game with community cards, which means the best starting hand will, on the average, finish as the best hand more often than in other poker games.

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Poker Quiz for Beginning Poker Players

Quiz: How well can you read the board?

Knowing when you’re likely to have the best hand, even when you have a great hand can be harder than you might think. One nice thing about playing poker online is that there’s never any doubt about who the winner of a hand is because the software is programmed to determine the best hand. However, it’s important to have a good grasp of how to read the board so you know how to bet. Answer the questions below and then scroll down to check your answers and interpret your results. Think through your answers carefully!

1. On the river, the board reads Ac Kd Ks 9s 6s. What’s the best possible hand you could have?
a. AA in the hole, for aces full of kings.
b. KK in the hole, for four kings.
c. As Qs in the hole, for an ace high flush
d. 66 in the hole for sixes full of aces

2. On the river, the board reads Qs Qh Qc 9s 9h. Which one of the following players has the highest ranking hand?
a. The player with 88 in the hole
b. The player with 77 in the hole
c. The player with A9 in the hole
d. All of the above

3. If the board reads As Kh Ks 6s 5d, which of the following players has the best hand?
a. The player with A3 in the hole
b. The player with A2 in the hole
c. All of the above

4. On the river the board reads 7s 7h 7c 7d Kc. Which player has the best hand?
a. The player with 88 in the hole
b. The player with As Qd in the hole
c. All of the above

5. The board is Ts 6h 6d 5h 2s. Who wins?
a. The player with AT in the hole
b. The player with T5 in the hole


1. Answer: B. The best possible hand, with this board, is four kings. Therefore, a player who has two kings in the hole would have the best hand possible—known in poker circles as ‘the nuts’.

2. Answer: D. All three players are tied. They are all playing the three queens and two nines, for Q’s full of 9’s. Player A is not playing either of his two hole cards, since Q’s full of 9’s is better than Q’s full of 8’s. Similar considerations apply to player B and his pocket 7’s. Player C has a 9 in the hole, yet he would not play it, since to do so would do him no good (note that if he substitutes one of the 9’s on the board for the 9 in his hand he still only has Q’s full of 9’s, and if he chooses to substitute the 9 in his hand for one of the Q’s he now has 9’s full of Q’s, which isn’t as strong as Q’s full of 9’s. Since these are his only two choices if he wants to use the 9 in his hand, there’s no point in doing so).

3. Answer: C. Again, they are tied. Although player A has a better ‘kicker’, he isn’t going to play it. Player A’s best hand is AAKK6, which is the same as player B’s best hand.

4. Answer: B. His best five card hand is 7777A, while player A’s best hand is 7777K. Note that player A’s two eights do him no good. (I elected to use this hand in the quiz since I was once involved in a deal where I had the two eights, and my opponent had the AQ. I took him to four bets on the river, then confidently flipped my hand up. It took about five minutes for the dealer to explain to me why I didn’t win).

5. Answer: A. Her best five card hand is ATT66, while player B’s best hand is TT665. The fact that player B also has a pair of 5’s does him no good.


4-5 Correct
If you answered 4 or 5 of these questions correctly, consider yourself a board-reading expert! You are well on your way to playing like a pro (as well as avoiding expensive and embarrasing situations when playing at brick and mortar rooms).

3 Correct
If you answered three questions correctly you can confidently move on to the next lesson. These are tricky questions after all and it often takes some time to get comfortable with hard-to-read boards like these.

1-2 Correct
If you answered 1 or 2 of these questions correctly, we encourage you to look over the explanations of the correct answers carefully. As long as you understand why the correct answer applies, you should be ready to move on to the next lesson.

0 Correct
If you answered 0 questions correctly, review the hierarchy of hands and the examples in the Getting Started page. Then come back and take the quiz again thinking through each question as you answer.

Beginners & the Basics of Texas Holdem

For the sake of simplicity, we have chosen to explain the rules that you will encounter playing Texas hold’em poker online. These rules also apply to most Texas hold’em poker games you will encounter in brick and mortar casinos but there are a few variations (typically having to do with the blinds) that we won’t go into here. If after reading the rules you are still unclear about how to play, sign up with an online poker room. It is free to sign up and you can play with ‘play money’ until you get the hang of it.

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When Not to Slowplay a Poker Hand

I have played a lot of Texas hold em. At last count I had logged somewhere in excess of 800,000 hands in the past eight years, and that number continues to grow every month. Yet even after having played nearly one million hands I still occasionally see a hand played so poorly, by a player who clearly has no understanding of the basic concepts that guide winning play, that I have to stand up and take note. Such a hand took place about three months ago while I was playing at, and I’m going to share this hand with you now.

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