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Remembering Suits and Estimating Stacks in Live Poker

Remembering Suits and Estimating Stacks in Live Poker


  • Online players and those new to poker can sometimes get confused by the mechanics of the live game.

  • A couple of easy-to-remember tips for recalling hole cards and counting stacks when playing live.

I am currently wrapping up a three-week trip during which I’ve played a ton of live poker. As a predominantly online player, I tend sometimes to have trouble with the mechanics of the live game.

For example, occasionally I will enter a pot and forget the suits of my hole cards after the flop comes out. This is not an issue online because the cards are always visible. Other times, I have trouble estimating the chip counts of my opponents because this just isn’t something I ever have to do when playing online.

If you have these problems as well, maybe I can help. Here are some mental tricks I have been using to make playing live poker a little easier.

Remembering Suits

To remember the suits of my offsuit hole cards, I visualize a phrase derived from the first letter of each suit. For example, if I have a heart and a spade (HS), I picture the phrase “High School.” Thus, {10-Hearts}{8-Spades} becomes “T8 High School” in my mind, which is easier to recall.

Here are all of the memory tricks I use:

CC – Clubs DC – Washington, DC HC – Hot Chocolate SC – South Carolina
CD – Compact Disc DD – Diamonds HD – High Definition SD – South Dakota
CH – Chip Up DH – Designated Hitter HH – Hearts SH – Ship It
CS – Common Sense DS – Nintendo DS HS – High School SS – Spades

These phrases work for me because they all represent things that are meaningful to me. For example, I used to own a Nintendo DS hand held video game console, so it’s easy for me to use that phrase for DS. If you have no idea what that is, then you probably should come up with a different phrase to help you remember diamond/spade.

I came up with these by looking at the letters and saying the first phrase that came to mind. If you don’t want to use mine but are having trouble coming up with your own, you can get some ideas from Just type in the two letters and choose a phrase from the list.

Estimating Stacks

To get an idea of how many chips my opponents have in their stacks, I use counting tricks instead of mental math.

Generally, opponents keep their chips in stacks of either 5, 10, or 20. I refer to these as a half stack, a full stack, and a double stack, respectively. If I am looking at a full stack of 10, I just add a zero to the end of the top chip’s denomination to count the stack. So a full stack of ten 5,000 chips would equal 50,000. Stacks of 5 and 20 can easily be derived from this number by halving it to 25,000 or doubling it 100,000.

This may seem obvious to many of you, but you would be amazed at how confusing this can be to some new players. This is especially true for those who hate math. The last thing they want to do when they are trying to enjoy themselves in a card game is to be posed with a question like “quick, what is 5,000 times 20 times 9?”

Multiplication is hard. Counting is easy. As a former math teacher, I constantly had to remind my students that these two things are essentially the same.

Online players and those new to poker altogether can sometimes get confused by the mechanics of the live game. If you fit into either of the categories, hopefully these tricks can make playing live poker a little easier for you.

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