An Observation On The Nature Of Holdem

Limit Texas Holdem, No Limit Texas Holdem

December 3, 2008

There are some things about specific forms of poker that just don’t become obvious until you compare them to other forms, so for my holdem-only readers this statement may come as a surprise.  But holdem (both limit and no limit) has the least information contained in the mechanical play of the cards of any form of poker.  Simply put, when a new board card is dealt, especially on the turn and river, it often tells you very little that you didn’t already know. An example will make this clear.

Suppose you hold AdKd before the flop, raise to 4BB from early position, and get called by the button.  Everyone else folds.  The board comes Kh5s4s.  You bet 2/3 pot on the flop and are called.  What do you know at this point?

  1. You probably have the best hand, but you’re not 100% sure
  2. Your opponent might be drawing, or might be on a worse made hand like a KQ
  3. Your opponent might be floating (ie. calling the flop with nothing but position, planning to bluff the turn)

Now, what are you going to know after the turn card hits?  I contend that you will almost always know more or less the same things about the hand that you did before the turn was dealt.  In order to demonstrate this, let’s look at all the possible turn cards and what they tell you.

  • If the turn is a non-spade ace, very little changes except the 23 draw hits (unlikely) and a KQ would be less eager to put a lot of money in. Otherwise, all three things you knew before are still fundamentally true.
  • If the turn is a high to middle spade, you’re not quite as confident you have the best hand any more but the other two statements still hold.  Some of the previous draws (especially bad straight draws) will probably give up, but new draws like the naked As or a combo draw with the Ks are created.
  • If the turn is a non-spade K, Q, J, T or 9, all three statements still hold except there’s some chance you are now beat by a worse king. Still, on the whole, little has changed.
  • Now for the 8s, 7s, 6s, 3s and 2s.  Those are the real game changers since they cause both one of the straight draws and the flush draw to hit. If any of those 5 cards fall, it should really re-shape your view of the hand.  Especially the 8s and 3s.
  • The rest of the low cards act very similar to a high spade, completing a few draws and creating a few more and not telling you all that much.

Ok, now that was long winded.  Sorry.  But there’s a point I’m trying to get to here: of the 47 unseen cards in this example that could potentially fall on the turn, 2 of them are very informative about the state of the hand.  Three more are fairly informative.  The other  42 tell you something, but not as much as you might think.  Or to put it another way, about  85% of the time the card that falls on the turn in this example will not fundamentally change any of the things you knew about the hand before that card was dealt. I contend this is not an isolated example.  You could take most any holdem hand and do the same analysis and get the same result: the majority of cards that can fall on the turn and river don’t by themselves change the player’s knowledge about the hand all that much.
Back to my original point: the mechanical play of the  cards in holdem tells you very little  Now, if there’s very little information to be gained from the cards themselves, it’s reasonable to ask where the information needed to
play a hand correctly comes from.  The answer is that, as a direct consequence of the uninformative cards, holdem has a large amount of information transferred by the betting.  That’s what we’ll talk about in the next article.

This article is part of Project Cash Game No Limit Holdem - You can find more great strategy articles there.
Like this article? Subscribe to the CardSharp RSS Feed

One Response to “An Observation On The Nature Of Holdem”

  1. XAmsterdamX Says:

    I’d argue that the information that the turn card gives depend heavily on the number of players that are still in the hand. Your observation is correct if you are against one opponent. This is why in heads-up play the pot if often won by the more agressive opponent; because both players are uncertain where they stand.

    But a multiplayer pot is a different thing altogether. In the example of the author, if you hold AK on a K54 board with 4 spades and 4 players call your bet, then you can be fairly sure that at least one player has a king and probably one player has a spade draw. The other players might had straight draws or a mid/low pair. You also have to account for the possibility that someone is slowplaying a set of 5s or 4s.

    Now, if a Q or J falls you need to start worrying about someone having 2 pair (particularly if there are several bad players who would call a raise with KJ or KQ). If a spade falls you are very unlikely to be best. If a card falls in the range 6-8 you may be against a straight or at least an open-ended straight draw. Combined with the action on the turn you should have enough information to take the appropriate action.

Leave a Reply