It’s long been said that poker is a game that takes a day to learn and a lifetime to master, and it’s one of the hardest truths about the game. If you are here, you probably already know the most basic poker rules and are trying to find ways to win at poker more often.
The truth is that there are many things you need to learn before you can show any sustainable wins, but you need to start with a strong fundamental poker strategy.
So, let’s take it from the beginning and start by looking at some very basic poker strategy tips that you should start implementing in your game as early as your next session.
Preflop Hand Selection
Everything you do at the poker table starts somewhere, and the way you play your hands before the flop gets compounded across all the latter betting streets.
For that reason, preflop is the most important betting street in many ways, but one that many novice poker players take lightly.
You will often see beginners in poker simply limp into the pot without thinking about why they are doing it and relinquish a vast portion of their equity.
Instead of just blindly calling bets with any cards that seem nice and hoping to hit the right flop, you will need to start thinking about poker ranges you actually want to play from each position at the poker table.
Your entire poker strategy will be built around the starting range of hands you play in different scenarios, which is why you must get this part down just right.
Of course, preflop hand selection is too complex to explain all at once, but we highly recommend looking at preflop hand charts and trying to memorize them to the best of your ability before you play.
By knowing exactly which hands make sense to play from each position, you will already be well ahead of many of your opponents. Once you master the preflop hand selection, make sure not to deviate from it much and try to play only the hands that are actually profitable to play from different seats.
Some hands are worth playing in some positions, but are worth avoiding in others,
making it critical you study the proper preflop ranges!
Be the Aggressor at the Poker Table
The next key tip of your poker strategy has to do with your aggression factor. More often than not, you want to be the player making the bets and the raises in a poker hand.
While there are definitely times in poker when you want to let an opponent bluff off their stack into you, there are many more when you want to leverage your equity and make bets to try and get your opponent to either fold or pay you off.
By being aggressive from the preflop betting round to the river, you open more different ways to win pots. You will be able to protect your equity against draws and win hands with bluffs more often.
There is something to be said for being too aggressive as well, as you don’t want to be the maniac who is always raising and betting when the action is on them.
Instead, you will want to learn the power of well-timed aggression and be just aggressive enough to make sure you are the dominant force at the poker table.
Size Your Bets Like a Pro
Another part of poker strategy that every professional player pays a lot of attention to is bet sizing. Beginners, on the other hand, don’t really think about their bet sizes too much.
Instead, novice players often make bet sizes that are either too small or too big for a given spot, missing out on a lot of value.
If you want to take poker more seriously and learn proper poker strategy, you will want to give bet sizing a lot of attention.
This starts before the flop when you need to decide on how much to raise with the hands you are opening and how to size your 3-bets and 4-bets.
The truth is that there are different sizings to use in different scenarios, and all of them have to do with your position, previous actions, and the players you are playing against. We could talk a lot about bet sizing in particular, but for the time being, it is useful to know a few basic things.
- When sizing up your bets, you should make sure to use the same sizes for your bluffs and your value hands so as not to tip off the strength of your hand based on the bet size.
- If you make a small continuation bet on the flop with your straight draw, and you want to keep bluffing with it on the turn, you should tend to make a big bet, similar to what you would do if you had flopped a set.
- Your bet sizes should also have a lot to do with the texture of the board you are betting on, with different boards requiring different bet sizes.
For example, when betting on the flop, it is typically recommended to c-bet small on static boards like Ad6c6s and bigger on dynamic boards like Jh9h7s, as it is more likely your opponents connected with the latter board in some marginal way.
What’s even more, you should always be thinking about you and your opponent’s range and whose range has an advantage on the board in question.
When your range contains more strong hands than your opponents, you can make bigger bets and exert maximum pressure.
On the other hand, when the board favors your opponent, making big bets is typically not recommended, as it puts you in a position to lose a big pot more often than win a big one.
To play an optimal poker strategy, you must be able to consider
and execute strategic bet sizes.
Position is Everything
There are few poker concepts more important than position at the table. Your table position can give you all the power or get you into a world of trouble.
To make sure you are getting the best of it, you should try to play more hands on the dealer button and other late positions while playing very few hands from early seats.
The logic here is quite simple. The more players behind you, the more of a chance that someone has a very big starting hand.
What’s even more, late position players get to go last after the flop is dealt, and that gives them a massive advantage against other players.
By playing last on every street, you will get to pick up a lot of free information, see free cards, and control the size of the pot.
Get Your Baselines Right
We see new poker players trying to get fancy and make big plays all the time, but they often forget about the most basic poker strategy in the process.
It is always tempting to try and be the hero by pulling a big bluff or making a hard river call, but the truth is poker can be much simpler than this.
By learning GTO poker baselines very well and playing a fairly simple poker strategy, you will be able to win in most poker games out there.
You don’t need to get too fancy or invent new plays to beat low-stakes cash games or tournaments. You need to play a good basic strategy.
Spend some time looking at preflop hand charts, learn good bet sizings for pre and postflop action, and try not to play too deep early on. This alone should be enough to give you an edge over player fields in low-stakes games.
Pay Attention to the Details
Once you are in the game, you should try to pay attention to everything that’s going on, from how many chips players buy to the things they are saying and the way they are playing their cards.
While poker tells may not be the most reliable tool in your arsenal, there is a lot to say about picking up on players’ tendencies and their general style of play.
Most players play far from mathematically optimal, which means there are massive errors in their games that you can exploit. If you want to play the game at the highest possible level, you should be looking to find these mistakes and find ways to capitalize on them.
Of course, all of this only comes once you have mastered the basics of poker strategy, and you should not be concentrating on exploiting people’s leaks too early in your poker career.
However, even if you are not immediately going to make some big exploits, try staying aware of your surroundings and always getting any information you can.
Contrary to popular belief, there is a lot you can pick up even in online poker games if you pay attention, so don’t play too many tables and don’t get distracted by less important things that have nothing to do with the game.
Paying attention to your opponent’s actions will help you make better decisions.
(Photo Courtesy of Katerina Lukina)
Learn to Exploit Others’ Mistakes
Many poker players and coaches these days swear by the idea of GTO poker, which is designed to prevent others from exploiting you.
However, while GTO does prevent you from getting exploited, it also ignores the idea of exploiting the mistakes other players make, and this is a mistake in the vast majority of poker games.
An average poker player makes tons of mistakes every time they play, and exploiting these mistakes is what’s going to make you the big bucks, not playing optimally in every situation.
For example, imagine a player who limps every hand and calls every raise they face before the flop, which is very common in live cash games.
While GTO may still be saying to raise a range made up of value hands and bluffs to 3.5x, going for a 10x raise with your big hands and folding or overlimping with your speculative hands is going to make you more profit against this particular opponent.
Similarly, imagine a player who always chases draws regardless of the price they are getting. When you notice this, go ahead and overbet both flop and turn on dynamic boards since you will likely get paid by tons of drawing hands that have limited equity.
Of course, these are extreme examples to illustrate the point. That said, exploiting the mistakes other players make is how you become a truly great poker player and how you make your win rate skyrocket.
Poker legends like Phil Hellmuth have built a career off of knowing how to exploit opponents.
Defend Your Big Blind Frequently
The blinds are some of the most difficult positions in poker. Playing in the blinds forces you to play out of position, which is why many players try to avoid this situation by folding too much. And yet, you should understand that by being in the blinds, especially in the big blind, you are getting such good odds against most raises and are closing the action, so you simply need to play many hands.
This is especially true in tournament poker, as the presence of ante increases the pot size, and most players tend to make fairly small pre-flop raises.
For instance, facing a 2.2x raise in the big blind, you will need to call 1.2bb to potentially win a pot of 5.9bb, giving you nearly 4:1 on your money. As you probably guessed, you don’t need too much equity to make this call.
What’s even more, facing raises from late positions in the blinds, you should know that many of these raises are simple steal attempts, which means that you are in an ideal situation to re-steal and go for a re-raise to win the pot right then and there.
In fact, many professional poker players suggest never making a call out of the small blind but rather always 3-betting or folding all the hands in this particular position against an open.
Whether you are facing an early or a late position raise, you should always be aware of the amazing price you are getting on a call in the blinds, but also the implications of playing certain hands in these situations.
Calling raises with hands that tend to realize more of their equity, such as suited and connected hands, will make a lot of sense, while off-suit hands will often become great candidates for a re-steal against late position raisers.
Making big preflop three-bets is a great way to defend your big blind.
(Photo Courtesy of Katerina Lukina)
Don’t Be Afraid to Bluff
Bluffing is an essential part of poker, but one of the biggest leaks that many players have in their game is that they are afraid to pull the trigger at the right time.
While we are by no means suggesting you play like a maniac and turn random hands into bluffs, we are definitely saying that knowing the right moment to bluff is of extreme importance.
Not only does bluffing pay dividends by allowing you to make your opponents fold their cards when you don’t have it, but it also balances out your ranges to make you more unpredictable, which is how you get paid when you do have the goods.
More important than just being willing to bluff is picking the right time to do so.
When choosing the hands to bluff with, be aware of your equity against the ranges your opponent might call with, and make sure that you still have a way to win on later streets if your early bluffs get called.
Equally as importantly, make sure not to give up on bluffs just because you got called on the flop. Changes to the board texture might let you represent a made draw, while continued pressure might be enough to simply force your opponent to fold.
Aggression is key in poker, and being willing to bluff under the right circumstances is what sets poker champions apart from average players.
Whether you are bluffing or have the goods, maintain a calm image
at the poker table so you do not give away tells.
Never Stop Studying
There is more to the game of poker than meets the eye, and the very best players out there never stop studying it. From the very basic poker strategy concepts we mentioned in this article to the more advanced ones, there will always be something left to learn.
What’s even more, poker is a game that’s always evolving, and the way people play today is much different from the way they played ten years ago.
So, if you want to keep improving as a poker player and always keep up with other players, you will need to keep studying.
Fortunately, there are countless teaching tools and programs available these days, and getting some help from more experienced poker players is always a good idea as well.Depending on your preferred method of learning, you can try out private poker coaching or learn how to use poker solvers yourself. Whatever you pick, try to approach studying systematically and always devote some time to it while you progress through the stakes.