Poker is an everyman’s game and its siren’s call is heard by professionals and laymen alike. Turn on the television and you’ll find poker games featured on popular television shows, like The Office. Visit the library and you might find a guide on poker strategy written by none other than Herbert O. Yardley, a US code breaker during World War 1.
The game is not only enjoyable – it’s become a part of Western culture and evolved along with the times. While you might find that most people will have a vague knowledge of how to play a game of Texas Holdem, anyone looking to play beyond the walls of their own home will want to make sure they have a basic knowledge of some of the fundamental strategies of the game.
When most people think of poker strategy, they tend to think it’s reserved for professionals sitting around a table at a world poker tournament, playing for millions of dollars, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Strategy isn’t just for the experts and it doesn’t have to be complicated. In some instances, a strategy can be as simple as perfecting your “Poker Face”, i.e. not giving anything away by your facial expression, or as complicated as calculating statistics and probabilities.
The old adage goes that it takes moments to learn the game of Poker, but a lifetime to perfect it. This certainly rings true when it comes to both brick-and-mortar and online poker.
Anyone looking to employ a poker strategy needs to remember one thing; they aren’t universal. A Texas Holdem poker strategy will work differently online and offline, and the results may vary when you’re playing limit vs. no limit poker. Forget this and your “winning” strategy could actually end up working against you. The truth is that you don’t simply need to learn the strategies, but you also need to learn when and how to use them.
What Sort of Game are you Playing?
Before you start to work out what your strategy is going to be, you first need to work out whether you’re playing for fun or money. Playing for fun allows you to take more risks and to play more “in the moment”. This sort of game is played between friends, or even online, and the stakes are relatively low. Playing for money, on the other, is an entirely new ballgame and it can be a lot of hard work. In this instance, players are always looking ahead to the next round or the next pot. Not only does playing for money require a lot more hard work, but it also requires a higher bank roll.
Whether you are playing for fun or money, you need to be willing to lose at times. No one wins all the time, not even Phil Hellmuth. The focus should be on making the best play, rather than attempting to simply make the winning play, no matter the cost. And you had better believe that with this mentality, there is always a cost.
Choosing the Style of Play
Your style of play compliments and even guides the strategies you put in place, and there are a variety of styles to pick from, which can be used in combination with each other, including;
- Tight: playing cautiously, avoiding risks and potentially folding more often.
- Loose: playing hands with less caution, embracing risk and even increasing the size of the bets.
- Aggressive: increasing the frequency of the bets, opening pots and putting other players under pressure with the larger bets.
- Passive: the opposite to playing in an aggressive manner. This involves calling more often and allowing other players to take the lead with regards to the action.
It is generally better not to stick rigidly to one style of playing, as it might not work with all strategies across the board. A great player is a flexible one because it prevents them from becoming predictable, which is the Achilles’ heel of any player. A player who is always playing tight will likely find that when he starts to raise, the other players fold – this is generally because a player in this position will usually only bet when they are guaranteed a win. Of course, there is a time and place for it – the trick is to find the right time.
Strategies for No-Limit Texas Holdem Poker
Beginners Should Play Tighter
There is a common belief among the professionals that beginners should play a tighter, more aggressive game when they are learning to perfect their poker strategy. Most players will tend to “limp into pots” when starting out, which means that players will “call” more often than folding or raising; a strategy that impedes on higher win rates.
Big Turn and River Bets
Betting big on the turn or river can tell the players around the table something really important; that you either have the winning hand or you are bluffing. If someone else is betting big, you’ll want to adjust your strategy accordingly, but it’s usually best not to be the player who pays off this type of bet. This type of bet is also known as a “bluff-catcher” and it can be tough for a player to stand down when they feel that they might be missing out on a big pot. Ultimately, however, calling this type of bet will usually mean that you’re paying to find out the other player has a stronger hand.
Bet the Flop and the Turn
One of the simpler poker strategies is banking on other players following a call/call/fold betting pattern. While this might not be a complex strategy, it is one that can yield large returns.
This strategy is based on the fact that players will play very loose on the “preflop”, often limping in for just about no reason at all. At this point, a player doesn’t need the cards to raise the stakes and then continue to bet on the flop. At this point, the aim is to get your players to fold once the stakes become too high for them to comfortably continue to call, allowing you to keep reaping the rewards until they begin to change their tactic.
Keep Other Players in the Game
When you have a valuable hand, you’ll want to change your tactic. Too many players raise themselves out of a valuable pot by raising too quickly (or too much), forcing the other players to fold much too soon. If you have a hand of value, you want the players to stay in the game until the river, contributing to the pot.
It is just as important for a player not to call these types of bets when they are on the other side of the fence, facing a player with a valuable hand. The aim should be to allow a player to reach the showdown when you have a valuable hand. Of course, by extending play, there’s a chance you’ll get outdrawn, but it’s often worth taking that risk, as long as the winning pot is worth the risk.
Tournament strategies are played completely differently to those in online poker rooms or casinos. When you’re in a tournament such as the World Series of Poker, you’ll want to start out by getting a good idea about the structure of the tournament. If you’re playing a slower paced tournament, the best stance to take is a patient one, where you wait for your opponents to make mistakes and call themselves out of the game.
Using the same slow-paced strategy in a fast paced tournament, however, can suddenly force a player to rely on valuable hands later in the game. In this instance, it’s probably better to play a more aggressive game, commit earlier and play a looser game. Fast competitions usually make it more difficult for players to utilize postflop manoeuvring because of the shallow stacks.
Once again, adjusting your strategy based on the situation will make it easier for you to play the cards you’ve been dealt, rather than try to force a win or rely on luck alone.
The Importance of Position
Position is an integral part of a poker game, as most experienced players will be aware. Acting last allows a player to make their decision based on the decisions of all the players that have acted before them and this is an obvious advantage. The advantage is not afforded to one player for an entire game, however, as the dealer position changes after every hand. Players should keep this in mind when the time comes to put their strategy in play, as they can take advantage of their position when it’s in their favour.
To take advantage of their “late” position, players will want to make sure that they play more hands at this time, rather than when they shift up into an “early” position. Players who are able to witness other players acting before them are known to “have position”, while those who need to act before the rest are “out of position”. When used correctly, players will find it that allows them a significant advantage.
Know When to Bluff
Bluffing allows player to manipulate other players, regardless of the value of their hands, ultimately increasing the chances that a player will claim the pot. With that being said, however, it should be noted that not all bluffs are useful – they need to be used in the right way for them to be effective.
Players need to start off with the understanding that the more players there are around the table, the higher the chances will be that someone else will have a valuable hand. A player looking to bluff will then want to make sure that when they bluff, it is consistent with the “story” they have been telling throughout the hand.
A player intending to force other players to fold should make the others believe they have a valuable hand, but at the same time, they need to ask themselves whether they would have been playing the way that they have if they started the game with a good hand? Inconsistencies can quickly cause a bluff to unravel, causing a player to lose more than they would, had they simply folded in the beginning.
Learning the Odds
When you start to take the odds of each hand into account, you can really improve your game because you’re basing the outcome on probabilities, and these tend to pay off.
If you are waiting for a heart to fall on the river to give you a flush, for example, you’ll want to work out the odds of that happening. There are 13 hearts in any 52 card deck, and if you have two in hand and two on the table, there will be nine remaining. The rest of the deck will come to 46 cards which could appear on the river and only nine of them will allow you to claim the pot. This means that the odds of you getting one of the 9 cards can be calculated like this: 37/9 = 4 to 1.
Strategies in Different Formats
While the basic rules of poker tend to be the same whether you are playing online poker or placing your bets in a brick-and-mortar establishment, your strategies will differ, depending on the location. You might be able to use certain strategies across the board (for example, the importance of position applies to both contexts, but there are others that simply won’t make a lot of sense.
You can’t use a “Poker face” in an online gambling room and it will be impossible to bluff using body language. Bluffing is something that will need to be done solely with your betting patterns, and this can be risky. Just as it will be impossible to manipulate the game without body language, players might find it to be equally disconcerting have to play without being able to see the body language of other players. Figuring out if someone else is bluffing could be next to impossible when you’re playing online, but perhaps this adds to the simplicity of the game.
Furthermore, online poker has a much faster pace and tends to be played with smaller pots, which means that there is less risk for players. This tends to be somewhat of a hobby for many people, but it has also turned into a profession for others.
Poker is a varied game that requires a blend of creativity, luck, strategy and flexibility. Everything can change between the dealing of the very first card to the final round of betting, and the best players are able to ensure that they manipulate the odds in their favour at every possible turn.
- Early Position: being forced to act before most other players have acted. This can put players at a significant disadvantage.
- Call: meeting the most recent bet or raise to the pot.
- Calling Station: a passive player who calls often and doesn’t fold or raise as much.
- Cap: putting the last raise allowed in a round of betting.
- Cold Call: calling more than one bet in a single action.
- Fast: playing “fast” is a more aggressive style of playing, with a player increasing the frequency with which they bet and raise.
- Favourite: a hand that is statistically favoured to win.
- Fold: to forfeit the hand.
- Implied Odds: taking into account bets that might not exist at present, but are calculated because of the likelihood that they will appear.
- Late Position: acting after most other players have already acted. This can give players an enormous advantage.
- Limping into a pot: choosing to call the minimum bet pre-flop instead of raising or folding.
- No-Limit: poker that is played without any limits on the chips that can be bet on the hand or the pot.
- Out: the card that wins the hand.
- Outrun: to beat another player.
- Overcall: calling a bet when one or more of the players have called already.
- Play the Board: showing down a hand in Texas Holdem poker when the player doesn’t have a hand of higher value than the board. In the event that a player uses this option, they will have to split the pot with all of the other players.
- Pot Odds: the difference between the money already in the pot and the money a player must put into the pot in order to continue to play.
- Raise: increasing the amount of the current bet.
- Represent: playing as if a player has a certain hand.
- River: the fifth and last community card that is placed, facing upwards, by itself.
- Rock: a player who is playing a very tight game. Those who play using this strategy tend to be very predictable, as they will only raise in the event that they have a valuable hand.
- Tell: a hint or clue unknowingly given by a player that indicates the strength of their hand or the action they are going to take next.
- Under the Gun: the player who takes the first action in a round of betting.