Prominence Poker Guides:
The following is a brief and easy starting hands list (Key: A = Ace, K = King, Q = Queen, J = Jack, T = Ten, numbers are self-explanatory, "s” means both cards are the same suit, whereas "o” means the cards are of different suits):
(A+ hands) Raise pre-flop, re-raise if someone else raised: A-A, K-K, Q-Q, A-Ks
(A hands) Raise pre-flop, call if someone else raised: A-Ko, A-Qs, K-Qs, A-Qo, A-Js, A-Ts, J-J, T-T – include "pocket pairs” (both cards the same value) down to 5-5 if it looks like at least 3 other players are going to be in the hand.
(B hands) "Limp” (just pay the blind and that’s it), fold if someone else raised: Any other combination where both cards are at least a ten, and all pocket pairs down to 2-2.
Fold all other hands. This means you’re only playing about 5% of the time if another player has raised (74 out of 1326 possible hands), and only playing 18% of the time even if there are no raises (244 out of 1326). This is a very "tight” range, and will feel incredibly boring if you’ve dived in just wanting action at the table, but it achieves two things: Firstly, it means you get more time to read what other people are doing at the table, and secondly it gives you an opportunity to see how many of your folded hands would have been the winning hand.
Remember, poker is not about winning more hands than everyone else, it’s about winning more chips. There are two elements to this: one is winning lots on the hands you win, and the other is losing as little as possible on every other hand – this is the foundations on which the rock strategy is profitable, and being happy to fold is a key skill. Players who call too often are those who tend to lose the most.
So, now you’re equipped with your starting hands, and you’ve reached the flop, what next?
"Raise with the best, draw to invest, fold all the rest” (Dave Scharf, professional poker player, and a saying I’ve always liked for memorability). As a rock you want to bet or even raise when you’re confident that you’re holding the best hand, call and check when you have good chances of making a hand that will be the best, and fold to every bet where neither outcome is likely. Bear in mind that "playing like a rock” is the equivalent of putting your training wheels on a bicycle. Eventually you want to take them off, but the self-imposed restrictions will greatly help you to gain confidence.
All of your A+ hands are almost definitely the best pre-flop (they’re literally the top 1.6% of hands), and unless the board (another name for the community cards on the table) is paired (two cards of the same value, like 8-8-K), you’re almost definitely still the best with the pocket pairs (or A-K if another ace or king is on the flop). Actually, you’re probably best even if the board is paired, as there are only two other 8s in the deck for other people to have, they’ve had to call a raise. The only exception to being confident that you’re the best here is overcards (for example if you have K-K or Q-Q and an Ace appears on the flop), or if you have A-K and don’t "connect” with either of them.
As a result, you should always be betting unless someone has already bet before you, at around two thirds of the current value of the pot. If someone has already bet, raise by doubling it if your A+ hand "hit” the flop (a card of the same value of one of the two you were holding is on the table as well), otherwise call. If the bet before you was large, and someone else has called it, you need to start being very cautious of paired boards and overcards. As a rule, if there is a bet and a call and there’s a single card that beats you, assume one of them has it. There’s no shame in folding if the board isn’t kind to you – each poker hand is literally "luck of the draw”, and sometimes you just have to accept it and cut your losses. If you have A-K and the board is 8-8-K, even though you’ve actually hit the board you may still be drawing very thin* if the betting is heavy enough to indicate another 8.
* Drawing thin = having few "outs”, which are the cards left in the deck that would improve your hand to the best hand. In this case, it’s possible you’re facing "trips” (three of a kind) and you have only 2 outs. An Ace is no good against trips as two pair is not enough, so only the two Kings help you.
This continues pretty much through the turn and the river. Unless there’s a very good reason to suspect someone has picked up a better hand (like you have A-K, the board is 5-8-K, and after another 8 appears on the board some gets very excited with their bets), you can continue to bet until the showdown or all players have folded. This is where a rock will pick up all his money, and it’s important to force other players to put money in the pot if you think you have the best hand.
Green lights: A "flopped set” (you have three of a kind immediately on the flop) or better, a two pair with A-Ks, or a flush with A-Ks. It’s very rare that you ever lose these hands, get aggressive.
Yellow lights: Board is suited and you don’t have the suit (like you have A-A of clubs and spades and there are three diamonds on the flop). Overpair: You have a pocket pair above the three flop cards. You’re likely the best, but just call bets and be prepared to escape if the action gets too hot.
Orange lights: You’re facing an overcard with K-K/Q-Q or missed the flop with A-K. In this case you might be the best, but you also might not. If any two other players are willing to spend money either by betting or calling, you may already be beaten. Count your outs (below – less than 8? Fold.
* Counting outs: You have J-Ts, both diamonds, and the board is 4 of diamonds, 8 of diamonds, 9 of clubs. Any 7 gives you a straight (4 outs), any Q gives you a straight (4 outs) and any remaining diamond gives you a flush (9 outs). That’s a total of 17 outs, and that’s not counting the fact that another Jack or ten (6 outs) may also be good enough. Just be aware that if, for example, if you have a 9 of hearts and there are three hearts on the flop, it’s very reasonable to assume that anyone with a better heart than yours is excited about the board, and you may not have any flush outs at all.
These rely much more on landing something and playing with care. Your range here is a lot wider, and a lot of the hands you land will subsequently be weaker. The rules are very similar to the A+ hands, except your chances of having overcards to your pocket pairs are much higher, and you end up relying on outs to bigger hands if you miss the flop. You do have hands with interesting "equity” (chance of improving to the best hand with the remaining cards) against multiple opponents, but you often rely on hitting them. If you play A-J and a jack comes out, you’re in a great spot as long as no queen or king appears. If you hit the ace instead of a jack, you need to be more careful: you may be beaten by a better ace already if there’s heavy betting, let alone hands like two pairs.
Green Lights: A flopped set, or a paired board on one of your cards. Your "kicker” (if you have the same card as someone else matching the board, the other card you have ends up acting as a tiebreaker against their other card, so the higher the better) is always good, and it’s very unlikely to be beaten by hands other than straights, flushes and better. Flopping two pair is generally not far behind, as both cards have to be pretty high value to be played as your A hand holdings.
Yellow Lights: Suited boards where you land top pair and you don’t have the suit. Generally ok to bet if no bettors before you, but if anyone calls or someone bets before you keep it as cheap as possible. You may already be beaten and want to have a cheap showdown. You’re beating most hands, but you’re drawing dead against a small number of them. Having an overpair on that board (your pocket pair higher than all three flop cards) is slightly stronger, and somewhat "disguised” (a hard hand for other players to put you on), but similar caution is required. A bet from another player followed by a raise from another is likely to be either two pair, a flopped set or a flopped flush.
Orange Lights: Second pair or pocket pair facing at least one overcard. In both situations any serious betting normally means you’re already beaten. Unless you have at least 8 outs* to a straight or better, fold a bet with a caller, and only call cheap bets. If the better bets the turn as well and your hand hasn’t improved, fold.
Red Lights: Anything else. Call only with straight/flush draws with at least 8 outs* for pot size bets or less, and 13+ outs for bigger bets.
Any pocket pair in this range is foldable unless it hits the flop. Even low flopped sets are very strong, but your 3-3 is useless in most situations where there’s no 3 on the board. Other hands are mostly relying on big hand equity – your J-Ts probably requires a flush or a straight to be good enough to see any serious betting, unless it’s lucky enough to land on a two pair. Get into the habit of counting outs. Again, Call 8+ outs up to pot value bets, call 13+ out hands on anything above that*. The only hands you bet here are when you’ve landed top pair, and you don’t want to raise anyone else’s bets.
Despite what I said in the first guide, playing like a rock involves very little "outplaying" or "outwitting" of your opponents. It's all about learning that you don't have to play all the cards you're dealt, starting with only high quality cards, and getting into the habit of only putting money in when you have good chances of winning the pot.
This is a very good style to play with to earn chips against weaker players, as they commonly won't recognise that you're only playing with good hands, and will make large contributions to your bankroll when they have an "ok" hand that isn't as good as the one you've chosen to play with.
However, once the stakes go a bit higher and the level of player skill increases, you'll encounter more and more people that will realise that you have a good hand whenever you're betting or calling, and less and less people will be interested in going head to head with you. They'll also notice your tendency to fold without a good hand, and will start "bluffing" you (betting with a weaker hand to make another player fold) whenever they think there's a chance you haven't picked up something strong.
At this point, you need to start broadening your horizons, considering starting with a wider "range" of cards, playing in less predictable ways with your cards, and most importantly starting to work out how to identify what sort of players you're up against at any given table (see part three of the guide!), and to play them accordingly.