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Essential Poker Cheat Sheet For Beginners

Jordan C

Apr 27, 2023

King and Queen of Hearts on a keyboard
Table Of Contents

It’s no secret that poker is a complicated game that requires a lot of strategies and studying to become a winning player. But wouldn’t it be easier if you had a cheat sheet you could reference at any point in a hand to get a rough idea of what you should do? Well, if you’ve ever thought that, you’re in luck, as that’s exactly what we have for you today. We’ll break down a hand of poker from start to finish, giving you an (admittedly rough) outline of how you should play on each street that will stop you from making too many mistakes. Let’s dive in!

Preflop

The most important thing to know is which hands you should play and from which position. While most beginner players think that if a hand is good, you can play it from anywhere, this isn’t always the case. While it’s true for some hands like aces, kings, and queens, some hands like 65s should be played from some positions, but not others.

The earlier position you are in, the more people you have left to act behind you, and therefore, the fewer hands you should play. For example, if you’re first to act (Under The Gun) at a nine-handed table, you have eight people left to act behind you, so the chances that someone else has a strong hand are pretty high. However, if the action folds to you in the Small Blind, there’s only one person left to act, so the chances of them having a strong hand are relatively low.

This is called being positionally aware, and it’s one of the first steps a player will make on the road to becoming a good poker player. Most good poker players will know their ranges for each position, but we’ve devised a quick way to know whether or not you should play your hand.

We’re going to group the positions at a nine-handed table into three categories:

Category Position
3 Early Position (UTG, UTG+1)
2 Middle Position (MP, LJ, HJ)
1 Late Position (CO, BTN, SB)

As the big blind is a unique position, we’ll leave that one out and focus on the ones where you can raise.

We’re also going to group the hands you can be dealt into different groups:
Poker Cheat Sheet pre-flopAs you can see, we’ve colour coded these hand groups to match the position categories. Raise the hands you’re dealt to 3x the BB according to these categories.

  • If your hand is in the green category, you can raise it from any position. 

  • If your hand is in the yellow category, it can only be raised from the middle and late positions. 

  • If your hand is in the red category, it can only be played from a late position.

Hands that don’t appear in any category should be folded from every position.

If the action folds to you, you should always come in for a raise - don’t limp! Your preflop raise should be around 3x the size of the big blind, as this isn’t so big that you’re risking a lot with your marginal hands, but it isn’t so cheap that everyone gets a good price to call.

But what if you’re not the preflop raiser? What if someone else gets there first? A good rule of thumb to use is to only play the hands that you would raise from that person’s position or higher. For example, your opponent raises from an early position, so you should only play hands in the green category. Another example would be if you’re on the button and your opponent raises from the LoJack (LJ), you should only play hands in the green or yellow category.

To determine whether or not to 3bet (re-raise) or call, we’d suggest 3betting with hands in the green category and calling hands in the yellow and red category, depending on where your opponent raised from. 

Flop

Once we’ve reached the flop, our strategy will vary depending on whether we were the preflop aggressor or the preflop caller. If you were the last person to make a raise preflop, then you’re the preflop aggressor, but if you called someone else’s raise, you’re the preflop caller.

Preflop Aggresor

If you were the last person to make a raise preflop, you have what’s called the “betting lead”, which means that most players will check to you to see what you do. This is because by raising last, you should have the strongest range of hands, so players won’t want to bet into what’s considered to be a strong range.

How often you should bet depends on the type of flop you see, as some flops are better for your range, and some are better for your opponent’s range. Below, we’ll list some of the most common flops you’ll see, how often you should bet, and what size you should use.

FLOP ACTION
Paired board (high cards) Bet 75% of the time for 33% of the pot
Paired board (middle cards) Bet 50% of the time for 33% of the pot
Paired board (low cards) Bet 50% of the time for 33% of the pot
3 high cards Bet 75% of the time for 75% of the pot
High, middle, low Bet 75% of the time for 33% of the pot
3 middle cards Bet 25% of the time for 75% of the pot
3 low cards Bet 25% of the time for 75% of the pot

While this won’t cover every flop type, it provides a strategy for many flops you’ll likely see. You may have spotted a pattern that the more high cards there are, the more frequently we bet, whereas the more low cards there are, the less we bet. You can use this to figure out your strategy when facing a flop that isn’t on this list, such as two middle and one low card - there are more low cards, so we bet less frequently.

These frequencies combine your bluffs and value hands, but what hands should you use for either of those? Your bluffs should ideally have a chance of making the best hand, like a straight or flush draw or even a hand that could turn into a flush or straight draw. For example, K Q on a flop of J 6 3 as the turn card can bring cards that give this hand a draw, which at least gives you a chance of making the best hand by the river. Your value hands should be strong hands like top pair or better, and some second pair hands with good kickers.

Hands like second pair, bottom pair, and weak pocket pairs often aren’t strong enough to bet for value but are too strong to bluff with. If you have one of these hands, they’re the perfect hands to check with, as betting with them doesn’t accomplish anything. It’s also important not to bluff with every weak hand; otherwise, you’ll be bluffing far too often. Bluff with the hands that have the best chance of improving, and fold the rest of the time.

Preflop Caller

If we’re the preflop caller, we want to play very passively on most flops and check to the preflop aggressor. This is because they’re likely to have a stronger range than us on most boards, so we don’t want to bloat the pot when we’re at a disadvantage. The easiest way to play the flop as the preflop caller is to check every hand you have to the preflop aggressor and play from there.

If you do that, you may face a bet from your opponent on the flop, so how do you know when to call, raise, and fold? If you have a strong hand that is top pair or better, you should always continue against a bet, mostly calling but sometimes raising - the stronger your hand is, the more you should be raising. You can also play this way with strong draws, such as a straight and flush draw, or even a hand like a flush draw with two overcards to the flop. If you have a medium-strength hand, such as a weak pair or a weak draw, those hands are best played as a check-call. Finally, if your hand doesn’t have a pair, the easiest way to play it is just to fold it.

Turn

After the flop, we reach the turn, which can be quite tricky to play if you don’t know what you’re doing. Depending on the card, the turn can change a lot about the board's texture and who’s likely ahead, so you must be ready for anything.

Bluffing the Turn

Certain turn cards are better for bluffing than others, depending on how you’ve gotten to the turn. While there’s some overlap, here are the best types of turn cards for bluffing if you were bluffing on the flop:

  • An overcard to the flop*

  • A draw completing card (flush draw, straight draw, etc.)

  • Cards that give your hand equity.

*Only for players bluffing the flop

If you were bluffing on the flop, you were likely the preflop aggressor, and if you were, then you’re more likely to have high cards in your range. This makes bluffing on cards higher than the flop a profitable bet, as players are more likely to be scared that you made a better pair than they did. 

Cards that complete obvious draws, such as flush and straight draws, are also good cards to bluff on - especially if you make a big bet, as players with one pair will think you’ve made a very strong hand. 

The last kind of card you can bluff on is one that gives your hand equity. If you were bluffing with two random overcards on the flop, any turn card that gives your hand additional equity (such as a straight or flush draw) is a good card to continue bluffing on, as there’s a chance that you end up making the best hand by the river.

Value Betting the Turn

The further into the hand you get, the stronger your hand needs to be able to bet it for value. For example, while a second pair with a good kicker was strong enough to bet the flop for value most of the time, it would be too weak to bet on the turn. This is because the more bets your opponent faces throughout the hand, the stronger their range gets, as they’ll fold out the bottom portion of their range each time they face a bet.

However, on the turn, you can still bet the top pair for value (and all hands greater than that) as long as the board doesn’t have too many draws. For example, a top pair on a board of K 9 6 2 is a lot more valuable than a top pair on a board of 9 8 7 5.

Calling the Turn

Just like your hand requirements for betting the turn for value should increase, so should your hand requirements for calling the turn. Hands like bottom pair/weak pairs become dangerous, particularly if the turn is an overcard. Therefore, hands like these should mostly be folded when facing big bets from your opponent.

However, hands like the second pair and above are still good calls on the turn. The second pair and weak top pairs are likely going to be bluff catchers against your opponent’s betting range, but you need to have hands like this in your range; otherwise, your opponent won’t be incentivised to bluff the river.

River

The river is arguably the most important street to play, as it’s where the pots are the biggest, and the most money is won or lost. However, it’s also the most complicated street to talk about, as it contains the biggest number of variables and possible strategies. To keep this short, we’ve condensed the river strategy section to make it easy to understand while reading at the table. Check out the below on river play for more information on how to play this street.

On the river, we can split our range of hands into three categories; value hands, showdown hands, and bluffs:

  • Value hands: These are hands such as a strong top pair or better that you want to be betting for value against your opponent.

  • Showdown hands: These are hands such as second pair or weaker that you want to try to get to showdown with as cheaply as possible. You should always check these hands and only call river bets if they’re very small.

  • Bluffs: These are hands that don’t have any showdown value and, therefore, must be bet to win the hand. Hands like missed draws are the most common bluffs you’ll see.

On the river, you often want to use a bigger sizing for your bluffs and value hands. We would recommend using a 75-100% pot sizing for your bets, as this gets the most value with your strong hands and applies the most pressure with your bluffs.

There you have it, your very own walkthrough on how to play a hand of poker - complete with why you do it! If the article is a bit too much to read through at the tables, we’ve made a handy graphic showing the steps you need to take.