If you take the contents of this article to heart and learn the skills it suggests, you should be able to beat a mid stakes live game or any small stakes online game.
Before anything else, you must understand the two most fundamental components of poker strategy.
- Poker Hand Rankings - If you do not know what a strong hand is then you do not have much of a chance.
- Poker Rules - How to use the cards in your hand when playing poker, betting rounds and blinds.
Advice: Play some free money online poker or start with a small amount and just start playing some hands. For many this is the fastest way of learning and in some cases you can even get completely free poker money.
You must learn at least 20 poker terms if you plan to take poker seriously. Although the terms by themselves are arguably meaningless, they are used constantly by pros and other serious players when discussing online poker strategy.
Make sure you are not left out of these discussions - they are the gateway to improving your poker strategy and your game.
Poker terms will also come in useful later if you move up the stakes and decide to buy poker software to help you. This will make tracking opponent’s tendencies very easy if you play multiple tables.
One of the most pivotal factors in any poker game. Poker Position refers to where you are sitting in relation to the ‘button’ (An essential poker term!).
If you are in early position you will be required to ‘act’ or play before your opposition, whereas if you sit in a late position you will have the luxury of your opponents acting first, and thus can react to their moves. Of course being in late position is advantageous.
Understanding the concept of position and applying it to situations to is the first step on the path to mastering poker and poker strategy. Once you are able to use position to your advantage and adapt the hands you choose to play based on position, you have a solid foundation.
Hand Reading & Ranges
If you were able to see your opponents' cards, then poker would be easy.
Whilst professional poker players cannot see their opponent’s cards, they can get pretty close and are almost always in the right ballpark. So how is it done?
Practice: Even when not in the hand, always try to imagine what kind of hand the players might have. This is a skill that will get better with time and should be practiced at every opportunity.
It is known as putting your opponent ‘On a Range’ and this is an important aspect of poker strategy.
Do not think about a specific hand your opponent might hold. This is counter productive as you will be incorrect the majority of the time and if you go too far with your read, you could cost yourself a lot of money.
Instead, think: “What possible hands could my opponent have?”. For example if an opponent has bet as much as he can at every opportunity on a board with 3 cards of the same suit, it’s safe to assume he either holds a flush, is inexperienced / drunk, or (least likely) is some kind of genius who can see right through you.
Two key pieces of information will help you put your opponent on a range:
- How has he played before this hand? Have they been tight i.e. Barely played any hands, or maybe they have been losing a lot and playing super aggressively.
- How has he played this hand? Do not over think - Repeated aggression is usually a sign of strength unless you have reason to believe otherwise. It’s just a question of how strong.
Every poker hand is a story and a key part of your poker strategy should be to devise methods to identify what your opponent is holding. Try to work out what your opponent is telling you with his actions and you will find your results radically improve.
Know the meaning of the money in the pot and any bets you are facing. There are two common sense rules you must strive to follow at all times:
- Win the maximum possible when you have the best hand
- Lose the minimum possible when you have a losing hand
Value is a complex subject that requires further reading, but even if you can read your opponent’s hand, if you do not know how to extract value you will never be as profitable a poker player as you could be.
Maths & Odds
Despite popular belief, not all successful poker players are numbers machines and can spit out probabilities like a calculator.
However, all successful poker players do understand the concepts behind these numbers and why they are important.
For example if the pot is $100, but someone has bet $200, you need to be very sure you are winning in order to make this call profitable. You would be putting in $200 to win $300 and if you do not have a made hand i.e. are hoping for a spade to come for the next card to complete your flush, then you absolutely cannot make this call. These are known as the ‘pot odds’.
Another popular type of calculation that can enhance your profitability is known as implied odds. Implied odds dictate that you should always be aware of your opponent’s stack. If you are playing $1.00/2.00 and your opponent raises to $6, but only has $20 in his stack, you do not stand to gain much by calling with suited connectors or any type of drawing hand. The majority of the time your opponent will go all in for his remaining $14 and you will have no option but to fold, as you will not have made a hand.
The aspect of poker strategy most overlooked by players is ‘site selection’. In the same way you would not sit down at a table full of the world’s best, you do not want to select an online poker site where your opposition will be tough.
Find the online poker room that fulfills the four core aspects of poker site selection best and you are on the path to poker success.
- Cost - Ensure you are paying as little as possible to your poker room. Rake is fairly similar across all poker sites, but the possible rewards are not. In some cases players can effectively play for free or even be paid to play at a certain poker room. Shop around before you sign up at a poker room and make sure you are getting the best deal possible - This could be through Rakeback, Rake Races or other promotions. Remember: The poker site itself will rarely advertise the best possible deal on their site, but this does not mean there is not far better out there for you.
- Softness - Ask yourself questions like; Who are the players I will be playing against if I sign up to this poker room? Where do the pros play? Ideally you want to be playing against people who are relatively inexperienced, but this sometimes requires going off the beaten track.
- Safety - A relatively small number of online poker rooms have been known to go bust and run away with customer funds. Whilst this is shocking and unforgivable it is an aspect of the online world one must accept exists. Consider the size of the company, how long they have been around for and in the first instance never deposit more than you need to. After all, not only will you lose your initial deposit, but possibly hundreds of hours of grinding and your winnings, if a poker room decides to be dishonest.
- Traffic - If your poker site selection is looking good based on the above three factors, you need to finally check if there are enough players online for you to play against. You can have the best poker room in the world on paper, but if there are no games for you to play it’s pointless. Also consider what hours you will typically play too. For example if you are from the UK but like to play at 9am, you probably want to look to an option other than European sites.
Think about these four factors when deciding where to play and you will be on your path to poker success. In fact, this author would argue that site selection is the most important element in online poker. For instance, there are players who simply cannot show a profit at one site, but go on to earn hundreds of thousands from the right site for them.
Although many do not believe site selection is a part of poker strategy, this author believes that any factor that influences profitability should be evaluated and improved always.
If you cannot control your emotions then online poker might not be for you. Of course, being upset after getting unlucky is normal, but you must know when is the time to stop.
Discipline can also refer to having a clean work environment to play poker in, to avoiding casino games, or playing stakes that your bankroll cannot withstand.
The typical pitfalls for online poker players are;
If you can set a poker plan, keep a poker journey or blog and stick to it for a good amount of time, then you truly have something many poker players are lacking.
So, what are you waiting for? It’s now time to research these aspects of poker strategy more and put your new found skills to good use.