There are no two words about it, poker is a complex game with many layers to peel back and master. It’s an easy game to play, but it can take many years to master. So-called poker ‘cheat sheets’ are typically designed for poker newbies, making the game as accessible and inviting as possible to the next generation of poker fanatics.
The more time you delve into the game and the multi-faceted approach to poker strategy, it’s easy to see why poker cheat sheets have their place in the hierarchy. With so much information and data to remember, a cheat sheet can give poker beginners a leg up without negatively impacting the integrity of the game.
What is a poker cheat sheet?
There are several popular examples of poker cheat sheets. Whether it’s discussing basic poker terminology at the tables or your pre-flop short-stack strategy, we’ll cover the guides most coveted by poker beginners today:
- Poker hand rankings
For newbies that simply need a reminder of the ranking of poker hands from Royal Flush down to high card, a hand ranking poker cheat sheet is a useful basic tool. Hand rankings are important, especially among poker player who enjoy multiple types of poker games, including those which require players to win by making the lowest-value hand. There are also variants like Short Deck, which remove low-value hands from 2s to 5s, which changes the dynamic of hand rankings as flushes are much harder to make than full houses.
- Table position naming conventions
A large aspect of poker strategy is based on your position at the poker table. In cash games, a player’s win rate will vary dramatically between early and late positions, especially among beginners. Understanding table positions and the naming conventions for each spot to the left of the dealer button is vital for mastering your pre- and post-flop play. Naming conventions also differ when you play nine or ten-handed Texas Hold’em and short-handed (6-max) poker.
- Poker starting hands
A big leak for beginners is playing too many starting hands. They get involved in too many pots, both pre-and post-flop, which can eat away at their chip stacks. For poker newbies serious about improving their play, a starting hand cheat sheet can be useful to optimise their voluntarily put money in post (VPIP) percentage. These starting hand sheets explain which hands you should play or bet with and from which table position.
- Short-stack push-or-fold
A popular poker cheat sheet for poker players new to multi-table tournaments is the push-fold chart for short stacks. Players with less than 12 big blinds at the table can use the push-fold sheet to help them when tightening up their game by shoving selected hands and folding other weaker or marginal holdings. Mastering short-stack gameplay is key to improving long-term results in MTTs.
- Pot odds short-cut
One of the biggest flaws in beginner poker players is that they misunderstand just how strong their hands are, both pre-and post-flop. When a player holds to suited cards, there’s only a 0.73% chance of the hand flopping a flush. It’s the same probability for a full house when your hole cards are a pocket pair. Even when you have a pocket pair, the likelihood of flopping a set is just 11.8%. Pot odds cheat sheets are a clever way of illustrating these statistical realities, preventing newbies from going overboard with certain starting hands.
Is it any different to a blackjack strategy card?
Not really, no. Blackjack strategy cards are designed to give players information that’s freely available in a handy card form. Poker cheat sheets are the same. Consider them as a refresher, a reminder of the rules or poker hand rankings to help you make an informed decision at the tables.
Reasons to use a poker cheat sheet
If you’re a legitimate newcomer to the game of poker, a cheat sheet may be accepted at the tables, so long as you’re not using them during a hand – more on an example of this shortly.
Basic poker cheat sheets which list hand rankings, table positions and rules that most opponents will already know are hardly going to give you an edge. It’ll just make the game more enjoyable.
When it’s best not to use a poker cheat sheet
It’s best to keep your poker cheat sheets in your pocket in the middle of a hand. It’s an element of respect for your opponents at the table.
The biggest difference between poker cheat sheets and blackjack strategy cards is that you’re not playing against the house in poker. As you’re playing other people, you should tread carefully in this regard. Each casino has its own rules when it comes to poker rooms. Some will prohibit cheat sheets altogether, deeming them to be a form of collusion with a poker solver.
What’s the etiquette with using cheat sheets in live poker?
In some cases, poker cheat sheets may not be so well received at live poker events. In 2016, poker professional Jason McConnon was reprimanded for using a cheat sheet in the middle of a hand at the feature table of the World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event. Opponent, Kenny Hallaert, was suspicious about the pieces of paper McConnon was using when mulling over his betting decision on the flop.
The Main Event’s tournament director, Jack Effel, was called to the table, who promptly ruled that players cannot use cheat sheets when active in a hand.
The ruling has since provided a sense of clarity for poker players at the biggest events. It’s no problem using them when playing at home online, but play hands to the best of your ability in live games and consult your notes later.