The more you learn about poker strategy, you realize there is a daunting amount of information to remember. Like a daring student on test day, many players want to bring a cheat sheet with them to the table. In some instances, having a poker cheat sheet is completely fine, while in others it may be against the rules. Let’s examine what a poker cheat sheet is, and when you should and shouldn’t use them.
Poker Cheat Sheets
Poker cheat sheets come in many varieties. They can be simple, such as a card with poker terms and card combinations for beginners. You can find cheat sheets like this in many new decks of cards. Cheat sheets can also be complicated, showing optimal 3-bet ranges from certain positions or showing frequencies of all-ins based on stack sizes. These cheat sheets come from working with solvers to identify game theory optimal decisions. Of course, the value of the cheat sheet varies greatly depending on what information they contain.
The most popular version of a poker cheat sheet is known as a push-fold chart. These charts are used when you have a stack size that is so small you should only be going all-in or folding preflop. These are widely used by tournament players, as the increasing blind levels in tournaments can leave players with sub-12 big blind stacks.
When You Should Use Poker Cheat Sheets
There are some scenarios where using a poker cheat sheet is totally reasonable at the table. If you are new to poker and you don’t understand all of the terms and rules, there is no issue with having a basic cheat sheet showing hand rankings and rules.
Nobody expects someone to play when they don’t know all the rules, and if there is someone at your table using a hand-ranking cheat sheet it is probably a good idea to let them.
What about the more in-depth poker cheat sheets? Should tournament players be able to consult a push-fold chart at the final table? Luckily, one wonderful thing about tournaments is the breaks. Breaks are a great time to consult your poker cheat sheet. Anyone who watches the WSOP Main Event can confirm that many players will consult a poker coach during the break, which is no different than looking at a cheat sheet.
When You Shouldn’t Use Poker Cheat Sheets
While poker cheat sheets are a helpful tool for anyone who wants to be at the top of their game, you shouldn’t be using them while at the table. Poker, first and foremost, is a competition among players. It is the one game in a casino where you are not playing the house, but rather the other patrons. Since you are competing against other players, you should be going into the game with your mind and no other assistance. Consulting a poker cheat sheet while in a hand is a lot like asking your tablemate how to play your particular hand. Every casino has rules against colluding of this nature, and consulting a poker cheat sheet is, in essence, colluding with a solver.
This isn’t exactly the same as using real-time assistance software, but it is in the same ballpark. The poker world is no stranger to controversy surrounding real-time assistance (RTA). RTA is a solver that you can put your current scenario in and receive the game theory optimal moves.
This is specific to the online poker arena, as nobody would be allowed to set up their computer while in a hand at the casino considering there are rules against using electronic devices while playing. A poker cheat sheet may not be as interactive as an RTA machine, but it is still receiving GTO strategy from an outside source while playing, which is not allowed.
Poker Cheat Sheet Controversy
During the 2016 WSOP Main Event, poker pro Jason McConnon had the floor called on him at the feature table regarding a cheat sheet. McConnon was sitting with top pair, holding AQ on a QT5 rainbow board. The poker pro then pulled a few papers out of his pocket and was immediately questioned by fellow pro Kenny Hallaert. The floor was called and tournament director Jack Effel ultimately made the ruling that players cannot use cheat sheets while in a hand.
McConnon was adamant that it was not against the rules, and he wasn’t technically wrong. The WSOP has literature condemning the use of electronic devices as well as other forms of cheating such as card marking, collusion, and chip dumping. However, nowhere in the rule book at the time did it explicitly state you cannot use a poker cheat sheet or any other information written on paper. Despite this, Effel’s ruling was final and all players accepted the outcome.
The ruling makes sense to me. While I have no problem with someone consulting a coach off the table or even looking at a push-fold chart in between hands, using that assistance during a decision feels like cheating. If you do not know what to do in the middle of a hand, you should not be getting help from anyone or anything else. Play the hand to the best of your ability and remember that spot. When you are out of the hand you can study or talk to others about how to play it, but keep that off the felt.
What do you think? Have you ever used a cheat sheet? Let us know on our Facebook page what your thoughts are on when you should and shouldn’t use poker cheat sheets.