Poker celebrity Phil Hellmuth has his “Ten Top Starting Hands” for limit hold’em. So, today, here are my “Nine Top Odds” that are most important when playing hold’em, no matter the limits.
(1) At a full table (nine players), if you do not have an Ace in the hole, the odds are about 4-to-1 that an opponent does. At least one of your eight opponents will hold an Ace 80% of the time. Be prepared to fold if an Ace falls on the flop – unless you connect with a set or trips, two-pair, or draws to a big flush or open-ended straight.
(2) At a full table, the odds are 2.3-to-1 that the best hand before the flop will be the best hand after the flop. (That’s 30% of the time.) With the best hand on the flop, the odds are 2.8-to-1 (almost 25% of the time) that you will have the best hand on the river. Starting-hand selection is important. (To make it easier, use the Hold’em Algorithm.) The better your starting-hand, the more likely you will end up winning the pot!
(3) Starting with a made hand (A-A, K-K, or Q-Q), the odds are about 4-to-1 in your favor that you will beat any one of your opponents (assuming no one starts with a higher pair). But your hand becomes an underdog (likely to lose) against four or more opponents. Raise preflop, using the Esther Bluff tactic to thin the field. Ideally, play against three, but not more than four, opponents. With K-K or Q-Q, be cautious if an Ace flops.
(4) With a non-pair in the hole, the odds of flopping a pair are 2-to-1 against. Corollary: Expect to pair up on the flop one out of three times. That’s one reason high holecards are preferred; i.e., high pairs beat small pairs. Further, if three players see the flop, expect at least one to have a pair.
(5) With a non-pair in the hole, the odds of flopping two-pair are almost 50-to-1 against – a huge longshot. If you do flop two-pair, even in a multi-way pot, the odds are strongly in your favor that an opponent will not catch a better hand if he stays to the river. It’s best to protect your two-pair by betting, using the Esther Bluff tactic to force out opponents who have draws to better hands. Even top two-pair on the flop is vulnerable.
(6) Starting with a pair in the hole, the odds of flopping a set are about 8-to-1 against – a longshot. To make it a sound investment, medium/small pairs in the hole are best played in multi-way hands with no raises preflop, in accord with the Hold’em Caveat.
(7) Starting with two suited cards, the odds of flopping four-to-a-flush are about 9-to-1 against. It will happen only one out of ten such hands. It’s best to have high cards per the Hold’em Algorithm. After flopping four-to-a-flush, the card odds against making your flush on the turn or the river are only 1.86-to-1. Assuming higher pot (implied) odds, the flush is well worth pursuing. If you miss on the turn, the card odds become 4-to-1 against making it on the river. The pot odds are likely to be higher, so a call is warranted.
(8) Flopping an open-ended four-to-a-straight draw, the card odds are 2.2-to-1 against making your straight on the turn or the river. (You have eight outs.) If you miss on the turn, the card odds become 4.7-to-1 against making it on the river. Usually the pot odds will be high enough to warrant calling.
(9) Holding two-pair on the flop, the card odds for catching a full-house on the turn or the river are 5-to-1 against. If you miss on the turn, then the card odds increase to 10.5-to-1 against. Even so, your two-pair may still be the best hand.
To better understand the Hold’em Algorithm and the Hold’em Caveat, see Hold’em or Fold’em? – An Algorithm for Making the Key Decision by George “The Engineer” Epstein (T/C Press, 5482 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1553, Los Angeles, CA 90036).