Should you fold or should you call?
If you know the answer to the above question most of the time, you're probably a very successful poker player.
Seriously though, when should you fold and when should you play a certain hand? There are some factors in online poker that can help you make a good decision in this respect.
First of all: starting hand selection. I myself have never been a fan of starting hand charts and I always figured that in the hands of a skilled individual just about any two cards could win in a Texas Holdem game. I'm still an advocate of this idea, however I've grown up not to see the whole poker-picture in grainy old black and white. Starting hand selection is something that can give you a small edge, and I'm obviously not a good-enough poker player to leave any small edge unexploited.
Starting hand charts usually take two factors into consideration: the two hole cards and the position they're being played from. Of course, whether you're in a short handed game or not, should also be a major factor here.
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Most rookie players make the mistake that they play too many hands. Out of the 169 possible two-card combinations though, only about 80 are playable and not all of those are playable from just any position. Whether your position offers you an advantage or not, depends on where you're sitting in relation to the dealer's button. Keep in mind though that the dealer's button goes around in a clockwise direction so your position will constantly change, too. Whenever you find yourself in a favorable spot you'll be able to play hands you wouldn't have played otherwise.
The cards that you're dealt in the pocket (hole-cards) can be anything from the best possible pair of As to the worst possible 7,2o. Of course, the better your starting hand (high pairs, suited high-cards), the more of them you should play. Weaker hands, like low connectors, should only be played from certain positions.
Whenever there are only a few guys playing against you (you're in a short-handed game) starting hands values naturally diminish. You can play hands you wouldn't play in a full game even if you're out of position. The reason for this is that with fewer players, the chance of one of them getting hit big before the flop decreases. If you need proof to support this theory, just sit in on a short handed game in an online poker room in observer mode, and watch what pots are won on. Not only is a high-pair a pretty strong hand at the showdown here, but there are pots won on as little as a high-card.
Now then, you have a few interesting pointers here that should help you do the right thing before the flop. As we all know, however, Texas Holdem is a post-flop game. That's when the atom of it all, betting, comes into play.
It is a lot more difficult to decide whether to fold or to commit on a hand after the flop, than it is before it. If you had to make a good decision faced with 169 possible combinations before the flop, there will be several thousand such combinations once the flop is shown.
On the other hand however, after the flop, your eventual finishing hand is 71% decided. That ought to make the decision somewhat easier. If you get hit by the flop, that is: the flop contains cards that'll let you make a strong hand, commit by all means. A four-card flush, an open ended straight, a high pair, or some trips are always worth chasing after. Watch out for gutshot straights as the chance of completing one of these via the turn and the river is much less than that of an open ended straight.
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Another factor in deciding whether to commit on a hand or not is the board texture. You need to learn to read the board, and you need to recognize potentially dangerous situations. If you have trips but there's a four-card flush on the table, you're better off throwing in the towel, no matter how enticing the whole thing looks to you.
The last thing you want to do is call or raise someone with a flush, and bluffing is pretty much out of the question too. (it'll take a hell of a lot to make someone fold a flush, especially if he holds the high end of it in the pocket).
Last, but certainly not least, comes the read that you get on your opponents. If you're in a position that you feel you can manipulate the opposition and get away with it, your folding standards will once again change.
As I said in the beginning of this article, if you find the right answer to the question in the title most of the time, you're a very successful player. If you know the answer all the time, please please please let me know how you do it.