Basic poker strategy

King of spadesTexas hold’em, like all poker games, is essentially about risk and reward. Every decision you make will have some effect on your result. Luck is a frequent ingredient, but in the long perspective luck will be on (approximately) the same level between players, and that makes skills to the defining factor. Skill is in the end what makes the difference.  

Information

The key to winning at online poker is the ability to gather, analyze, and process a large amount of information faster and better than your opponents. In all forms of poker, information is power.Mark Vos

Poker is not like chess, there both players can see all pieces a front of them. You can’t see the opponent’s cards in poker; therefore, it become a game with imperfect information.

The information is sparse in poker and that makes it more valuable. Even that you can’t see your opponent’s card, there are information to collect. By “putting questions” to opponents by betting you will receive answers that you must try to decode into god guesses about the hand you don’t see.

Here are three ways that information is given and that you should try to analyze:

  • The bet size of an opponent’s bet.
  • The time lapse before a call or raise from an opponent.
  • The patterns of betting, raising, folding and calling.
  • (If playing live) the face expressions and body language of other players.

There are plenty of important information to be extract from these four (or three, if you’re playing online) points. As more you play, as better you will be at finding and analyzing information.

Betting

If you have a good hand that you think is the best, but that can be beaten if more cards will be shown on the table, you must handle actively (i.e. bet) and trying to get the pot before it’s too late. You shouldn't bet too modest: if the opponent doesn’t have anything but are waiting for a possibly good hand, such as a straight, you want to make it expensive for him to see the next card.

But don’t bet to gratuitous or in unnecessary risky manners. If you overbet you could lose more than it should cost in most cases just to get your opponents away from the pot. By learning pot odds and memorize different probabilities, you will become more certain about how to do. Until then, remember to handle actively but without exaggerating. Be aggressive to take command, if you’re passive you let the opponents decide the conditions.

Some beginner players base the size of their bets after the strength of their hand. This is a very primitive way of playing, instead, you should base the bet size according to the pot size. The size of your bet should not match the strength of your hand - this gives away information and therefore this type of play can be exploited.

Raising

After a player have made a bet, you have the opportunity to raise. This is the most aggressive step in poker, and it can definitely be a good choice in some situations.

The hardest opponents to play against are players that put you to a difficult decision. This is done by a bet or a raise. If you bet and a player just call, you actually don’t have a decision to make at all, besides decision it to bet the next betting round (if it is one).

By betting and raising you will put pressure on the opponents and that will make more difficult for them. Some will often fold and that wins you many uncontested pots. The thing that differs average players to real good players is the ability you not only put pressure by betting and raise, but choose the right bet sizes. The players decision also depends on how cheap or expensive it is to call. A good raise is when a player starts to thinking that: “It’s almost correct to call, but I don’t have enough pot odds to do it though”. This is a part of an advanced strategical concept called pot-size manipulation.

When you raise pre-flop, camouflage your hand by betting the same regardless of your hand strength. You could vary your pre flop razing sizes, but it should in that case be based on your position and, perhaps, your opponents.

Folding

It’s critical that you are able to fold your hand (sometimes even a good one); otherwise you are being a fish feeding the sharks!

The easiest way to spot a bad player on the table is when someone doesn’t give up hands in time. In way of knowing when to fold or play on, you must have an understanding about positive and negative odds. The foundation for this is to choose solid starting hands and know how to read the opponents from their actions.

As long as you hold on to cold hands, you must rely on luck. But you shouldn’t play for luck, but with calculation.

Calling

Many players tend to call of reason that are not sound in the aspect it will lead to a long-term profit. They call in hope to hit something on a following cards. This is only correct when the odds to do so is enough in comparison to the cost to call. It is important to understand this odds-to-improve-the-hand-cost-to-call ratio, which in poker often is sorted under the concept of pot odds.

Furthermore, a call is often inferior compared to raise. Calling is passive and you are giving initiative to the opponent. And most, important you can’t win the pot immediately by calling, you must have the best hand. Or even worse, you may decide to call on one betting round and fold on the next.

To call could on the other hand be the best choice in some situations.

  1. When you have a very good hand and don’t want to do anything that can make your opponents to fold. This is called slow play.
  2. When you want to keep the pot small, since you have a good hand but not strong enough to raise with. This is called pot control.

Something you should avoid as often as possible is to cold call. This refers to a call made after a player have raised another player’s bet. You can get in very problematic situations by doing this. For one part, you don’t yet know if the original bettor will re-raise the original raise and you can be cough in the crossfire.

Written by Oscar Sand

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