When to Play
Brett N. Steenbarger, Ph.D.
In a game of Texas Hold’em, each player receives two cards initially.
Then the betting
After that round, the dealer uncovers a set of three cards.
These cards, called the
flop, are available for use by all players to create the strongest possible hand.
another round of betting commences.
Next, for all who decide to stay in the game, a
single card—the turn—is uncovered.
This, too, is available to all players.
another round of betting, the final communal card—the river—is turned over.
point, there is a showdown and the strongest hand takes the pot.
One of the cardinal skills of Texas Hold’em is the decision of when to play and not play.
Do you fold, do you call, or do you raise?
All you see initially are the two pocket cards.
You have no idea of the cards held by the other players or the cards you might be able to
use from the flop, turn, and river.
All you can do is try to assess your odds and the
The player who has done his research knows that, in an eight hour poker
game where 35 games per hour are played, the number of times he will be dealt an
unsuited Ace, King will average between three and four.
Those are rare, good pocket
cards and you have to play them.
Conversely, a low, nonconsecutive, unsuited hand
gives little in the way of odds and, in a game with ten other strong players, you would be
wise to fold and wait for something better.
Traders face the same question of when to play.