poker strategies
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Analysis In Theory

One of the most difficult things for the average poker player to do is to make accurate decisions at the games in the heat of a hand. Many good and bad players alike simply decide what they think their opponent has and then go on to determine their best play on the assumption that their opponent has the hand they're assuming he has. However, as we saw in the page on reading hands, this is a bad and potentially costly way of going about the business of decision-making. There is a better way, which is employed by most good players. They ask, "What are the various hands my opponent could have, and what are the chances he has each of them?" They determine the best play for each of the possible hands, and they usually choose the best play against their opponent's most likely hand or hands.

Sometimes it works out that no matter what your opponent has, you wind up with the same best play. This is especially true in the relatively easy decisions - for example, deciding to fold when you have nothing in seven-card stud, the pot is small, and your opponent with an open pair of aces bets on the end.

If, on the other hand, the pot were large - hence the reward would be large - you might want to determine the chances of a bluff raise working if your opponent has nothing but two aces. And, of course, those chances depend upon the chances that your opponent has in fact only aces.

Frequently, then, a different play becomes correct depending upon what your opponent has. For example, a bluff raise might have a reasonable chance of working if your opponent has nothing but two aces. It has less chance of working if that opponent has aces up. It has little to no chance of working if he's made a straight and no chance whatsoever against aces full. Therefore, determining whether the risk of two bets (calling and raising) is worth the possible reward of the pot depends:

Upon the chances that your opponent has only two aces rather than any of his other possible hands.
On whether that opponent is the type of player who would fold them if you raise.

Let's say you decide there's only about a 25 percent chance that your opponent has two aces and a 75 percent chance he has aces up or better. Furthermore, if that player does have only aces, you think there's only about a 50 percent chance he will fold if you raise. Then the reward of the pot is probably not worth the risk of two bets, and you should fold. In general, when you have alternate plays dependent upon your opponent's hand, you choose the best play against his most likely hand or hands.

Let's say you figure an opponent to have Hand A 40 percent of the time, Hand B 35 percent of the time, and Hand C 25 percent of the time. Usually you would pick the best play against Hand A, which is your opponent's most likely hand. However, if Hand A requires one play, while both Hand B and Hand C require quite another play, you would ordinarily make the second play since it would be right 60 percent of the time - 35 percent of the time when your opponent has Hand B and 25 percent of the time when he has Hand C.

When analyzing a poker situation, you go through four steps in deciding on your best play.

1. Determine the possible hands your opponent may have.
2. Assess the chances of his having each of his possible hands.
3. Determine your best play against each of his possible hands.
4. In most cases, pick the play that will most often be correct. 
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