The Object of the Game in NLHE


Continued from: Introduction to No Limit Hold'em

To paraphrase the "theory of poker" we'll use the sentences that follow: "Whenever I make a play that I would not have made if I could see my opponent's cards and properly calculate all the mathematics, I lose money. Whenever my opponent makes an improper play based on the same criteria, I gain money."

Object of the Game

In any single hand we know that the correct play may not yield corresponding results. It is quite possible for one player to make a rather large mistake and still come out on top in the very short term.

The money we gain in any single decision is all in the form of estimated value (EV). EV is always looked at in the long run. If any given play is made an infinite number of times, how much money is made per play? If I bet all of my chips, say 100 dollars, into a 100-dollar pot with AA (two aces) and my opponent calls the bet for 100 dollars with AT (ace ten), he will be getting a relatively good price on his call: 2 to 1. He only risks 100 dollars to potentially gain 200 more. However, he is a far greater underdog to win the hand than 2 to 1. He has to, in all likelihood, catch two of the three remaining 10's in the deck in order to win the hand. He is a decided underdog and would not have agreed to wager 100 dollars to win another 200 if he had known how far behind he was. He has made a mistake. Even if he does in fact suck out on ("out draw") his opponent with two running 10's, he has still made a mistake. His play had a very negative EV when he made it.

Because of the fundamental theory of poker we can see that the entire essence of poker, or object of the game, is to avoid making mistakes while allowing or inducing mistakes from our opponent(s). The EV of the play does not correlate directly with the outcome of a particular hand. It's important to note that the game of poker is a game of skill and chance where chance is the dominating force in the short term, but where skill overcomes chance in the long run. As a matter of fact luck, in the long run luck is boiled to a non-factor. If we add up all of your positive EV and subtract your negative EV, we will arrive at your "expectation". The longer you play the more your actual profit will begin to resemble your expectation. Given enough time the two, expectation and profit, are destined to become identical figures. This is an absolute concept without exception.

How do we avoid mistakes while allowing our opponents to make mistakes? There are many different situations that arise in NLHE that allow you to create potential mistakes for your opponents. The easiest way to find a statistical edge is to start with better cards than your opponent(s) and charge an unfair price to draw against you.

Before I introduce my list of starting hands and how to play them, we're going to discuss position. The idea of position in NLHE is an illusive one that many beginning players do not understand well, if at all. Many intelligent players have realized that they cannot continue to play every hand that is dealt to them and win in the long run. These players have become selective about which hands they will play, but play them in the same manner whether they are first to act (under the gun or UTG) or on the dealer "button".

This is probably the single most common mistake made by intermediate level players. Hold 'em is very much a positional game and must be understood and practiced as such. The big blind (BB) is last to act before the flop, and the small blind (SB) is first to act after. The dealer is last to act in all betting rounds after the flop, allowing him to profitably play more hands from his dominate position than can be played from earlier position. These factors absolutely must be taken into consideration to make intelligent decisions at the table.

♣ Continued at: Position in Hold'em Poker

♣ Back to the index of Dead Money's guide to hold'em strategy.