Some people say that poker is a lot like golf – it’s easy to learn how to play but getting good is extremely difficult.
Thankfully, while you need a lot of natural ability to create the perfect golf swing, new poker players can significantly improve their chance of turning a profit by following some basic strategy tips.
Like most games of strategy, the more you study and practice, the better you will get. And that’s undoubtedly true in poker, even when Lady Luck tries her best to undo your good work. In this article, we narrow down some easy-to-understand tips that new players can use immediately. If you are looking for an online poker site to play at, make sure you go for a safe and secure site with lots of players – this poker guide can help you do that.
Play Fewer Hands
We know; we did it ourselves. When you first begin to play poker, it’s all a little exciting. You want to jump straight in, play a lot of hands, splash the cash around, and get involved in the action. Big mistake. Less is more.
The trouble with playing too many hands, characterized by limping in when you’re first to act, or simply calling when someone else bets pre-flop, is not just that doing so costs you chips in itself; it’s the knots you can tie yourself up in as the hand plays out.
Instead, play few hands but play those with aggression.
Let’s say, for example, you decide to call a raise with 10-7 offsuit. Not a good decision. Firstly, the chances are you will miss the flop completely and not improve your hand. But if a 10 or a 7 does come on the flop, how confident are you that you now have the winning hand. What are you beating?
Chances are you will face a continuation bet by the original bettor and call – repeat on the turn and on the river. Now you have put loads of chips into the pot on a hand like a pair of sevens and you walk into a high pocket pair, or a hand like A-10, K-10, Q-10, or J-10.
By resisting the urge to join in as many hands as you like, you reserve your play for stronger starting hands that are more likely to win at showdown or take the pot without any aggression because other players are more likely to respect you.
Take Note of How Your Opponents Play
While you are trying to improve your own style, take a close note of how others are playing at the table. As you become more experienced, you will begin to realize that you can adapt your own play to have a better chance against certain types of opponents.
For example, if you notice there is an ultimate rock at the table, the sort of player who folds and folds, playing perhaps one hand in 20, you must assume he has a very strong hand if he suddenly wakes up and makes a pre-flop bet.
Now you have two clear choices. If you have anything other than a very strong hand, fold. But there are clever exceptions. If you have a mediocre hand that could easily become a monster, then you can call to see if you indeed make that hand on the flop. If you do, then it is disguised, and you might win a substantial pot against your rock opponent’s aces, kings, queens, or A-K.
Mediocre hands to consider playing against a rock are small to medium pocket pairs, any suited ace pair, and any suited connectors, like 7 hearts and 8 hearts. Here you have the chance of building a flush or a straight – a combo draw.
Keep an Eye on Your Stack
Always be aware of your stack size and how it compares to the price of staying in the game. In a tournament like a sit and go, there might come a time that your stack has reduced, and the blinds have gone up, meaning you don’t have much room for maneuver.
A good starting point is that whenever your stack is the equivalent of ten big blinds or fewer, there is no point in just calling pre-flop since you will very soon be committed to the pot, even if your hand does not merit it. Far better, then, to either fold or move all-in in this situation – sometimes it means you will win the big and the small blind without meeting a caller, or if someone does call, you will hopefully double up and give yourself a chance to progress.
Vary Your Own Play
Just as you should be taking notes on other players at the table, don’t forget that they will be watching how you play, too. If you get into the habit of always playing the same way, then after a while, it’s much easier to second guess what hand you have. So, vary how much you raise by (so not always twice the big blind or three big blinds. Mix up occasionally your starting hand selection, and add three-bets or check-raises to your game.
One of the most critical aspects of the game is your position at the table. The closer you are to the button on your left, the better, since the later you have to act. You get to see what other players do first before you have to make your own decision. Therefore, over time you should play fewer hands in early position but widen your range of starting hands the later you get around the table.
Finally, only play in games you can afford. And we don’t just mean playing in one game – budget for many games that minimizes the risk of going bust. We recommend only every playing in cash games or tournaments that take up 5% of your bankroll.
Have $100 set aside in your poker account to play with? Then $5 tournaments, or $0.02/$0.05 cash games should be your limit. If you lose money, reduce your buy-ins. If you win money, then at the relevant time, you can increase your stakes. Of course, if you make it to World Series of Poker champion, then you can afford to play in much bigger games.