Scott,

I am fairly new to poker, having been playing for about three months.

I feel as if most hands shouldn't be folded until I see the flop. You never know how potentially good the two cards in your pocket are until at least seeing the first three pool cards. But I can't stand having to spend a lot of money in order to see the flop, especially if I'm holding something like 9-10 suited or a pair of 5s.

What are your thoughts on seeing the flop before folding most hands -- even if that means betting before the flop?

-- Russ

Dear Russ,

One of the most troubling things for me when I'm teaching new players the game is that there are infinite ways to approach the strategy and theories of poker. My method of coaching encourages new players to "learn how to learn."

I want to teach novice players in a way that allows them to learn the advanced "thinking" concepts of poker on their own. There is an element of the game that is unteachable. However, once the fundamental building blocks are in place, a new player can begin to grasp more advanced poker strategy.

When I first started playing poker, the main game was limit hold 'em. If you stand around a limit hold 'em game long enough, you'll hear somebody say, "Any two can win," or, "You can flop the nuts with any two cards." A player might hold 8c 3h and flop comes out 8s 8h 8d. There is a 1 in 9,800 chance of that occurring, or about 0.01 percent.

You want to be the guy saying, "You gotta be in to win," not the guy actually believing it.

Every beginner should study the analysis of poker odds on the Web page www.homepokergames.com/odds.php, especially if you're the guy saying, "I would have won that pot with my J-6 offsuit." This site details the steps that need to be taken to do the math yourself. It's imperative that you understand the process and not just the answer.

Take note of how unlikely it is to actually hit the flop. When I started to play cash games, I found myself playing many, many hands. I soon came to the realization that while the average strength of a winning hand seemed to be one pair, I was only comfortable risking a lot of money with two pair or better. When I learned that the chances of flopping two pair are a measly 2 percent, I knew it was time to tighten up my game and make some changes.

My first order of business was to find a way to win pots without actually hitting my hand (i.e., bluffing). That's one way to turn the odds in your favor. The best way to do that is by taking advantage of late position. "Position, position, position!" is another commonly heard poker cliché, but this one holds water. Begin to curb the desire to see a lot of flops in hopes of making a big hand. Instead, use your late position to make an aggressive move at the pot when your opponents check to you. This type of adjustment will turn the odds of winning a hand in your favor.

When you don't have the luxury of late position, take time to evaluate the chances of improving your hand, and make sure you'll have the opportunity to win additional money later in the hand if one of your cards (outs) comes up. In other words, the reward of drawing has to meet the risk of your investment.

Scott Fischman is a professional poker in the live and online worlds. He has won two World Series of Poker bracelets and has accumulated nearly $3 million in career earnings.