Poker is a popular game that involves multiple strategic components. To be quite frank, poker is the most complicated game you can play. That’s why it’s become the entity that it is and has built the community that it has.
A lot of poker strategy concepts covered in the past have to do with paying attention to your opponents and using the information you gain from that process to inform your poker decisions.
But in this post, I’ll look at seven other poker strategy concepts that fill in a bigger picture.
You Must Want to Compete
When I was younger, I worked at a telemarketing agency, and I was in charge of hiring. We had a personality assessment to give to applicants. One of the questions was whether the person would navigate to the front of traffic while driving.
I don’t remember the other questions, but they were largely of this nature. They were designed to test an applicant’s competitiveness. The idea was that the ideal applicant would score somewhere in the middle. They needed to be aggressive enough and competitive enough to make sales without being a con man who’d say anything just to close the deal.
If you’re going to succeed in real money poker, you’re going to need to be competitive enough to play your best game all the time. You need to be focused on making the mathematically correct decision on every hand.
Some poker writers suggest that this takes discipline, and they’re not wrong about this. But I think it also requires a degree of competitiveness that weak poker players might lack.
In fact, if you’re playing “just for fun” instead of playing to win money, you’re not competitive enough.
You want to be like Conan the Barbarian, who knows what happiness is:
“Crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentation of the women!”
That’s the attitude you need to have at the poker table, although you need to seem friendly while you play. Gamblers don’t mind losing money when they’re having fun. So, you need a competitive mindset along with a friendly table image.
You Need to Mix Up Your Play
It is important to be unpredictable at the table, and I will elaborate on that throughout this page.
For one thing, you should try to play somewhat differently from the other players at the table. If most of the other players at the table play tight, you should loosen up a little. If they’re playing loose, you should tighten up a little.
This doesn’t mean that you don’t have a default strategy. It just means that you’re flexible enough to adjust your strategy according to the table conditions.
You can also mix up your strategy based on how you’re doing at the table. If you’re winning, it might be time to loosen up and gamble a little. You don’t want your opponents to fear you so much that you can’t get any action.
On the other hand, if you’re losing, you should probably tighten up a little bit. IF you’re losing, no one will be intimidated by you, so your tighter strategy will work better.
Different Poker Games Require Different Strategies
Take limit Hold’em versus no limit Hold’em, for example. In a limit Hold’em game, you’ll often need to have the strongest hand at the showdown to win the pot. That’s because, for the most part, it’s harder to bluff someone when you can’t force them to risk all their chips.
In no limit Hold’em, though, you’ll get to a showdown less often. The idea of losing an entire stack of chips just flat-out forces players to fold more often.
From a strategy perspective, this tells you that limit Hold’em rewards tight play more than aggressive play. And no limit Hold’em rewards aggressive play more than tight play.
You’ll find other subtle differences in attitudes and strategies when getting familiar with games like Omaha and Stud.
Omaha Hold’em has more cards, so many players loosen up. The rule of thumb is that you should play tighter when you have access to more hands. Since most Omaha players make this mistake, Omaha games can be especially juicy for the skilled player.
Stud, on the other hand, rewards players with solid attention and memory skills. You see so many cards in Stud poker that you have more information available to you than in other games.
But that information doesn’t mean anything if you can’t remember it after several of your opponents fold their hands. Stud is hard to play because of the memory element.
Bluffing Is Overrated
Bluffing is a great tactic to have in your arsenal, but you must always remember that not every player can be bluffed. Some players just never fold once they get into a pot. If the probability of your opponent folding is close to zero, folding has a negative expected value.
Since you could have to risk your entire stack on any given hand in no limit Hold’em, you’ll naturally play tighter in the face of aggression. This is true of your opponents, too. It’s not true when you’re playing very low stakes or free money no limit games, though.
Bluffing only works when there’s something of value on the line. I’ve played my share of play money poker games on the internet. I enjoy them, but I don’t get to bluff much.
A semi-bluff, on the other hand, can be even more profitable. A semi-bluff is when you make a bet and/or raise with a hand that’s probably not the strongest hand, but it has a reasonable chance of becoming the best hand at the table.
For example, if you have four cards to a flush on the flop but no pairs, you’re almost certainly behind someone who has at least a pair. But you also have a roughly 1/3 probability of hitting your flush.
When you add the probability of hitting the flush with the probability that your opponent or opponents will fold, you have a profitable situation.
You should also only bluff against one or two opponents. Trying to bluff against three or more opponents is almost always a mistake. After all, the good cards have to be somewhere.
Managing Your Bankroll Is an Important Meta Poker Skill
If you sit down at a no-limit table with your life savings in front of you, then you’re liable to lose your entire bankroll on a single hand. You might even get your money in there with the best of it and get drawn out on. It happens all the time.
This is why you should learn how to appropriately manage your poker bankroll. Some poker players are more conservative about this than others.
A friend of mine likes to point out that if you’re a losing player, you need an infinite bankroll to avoid going broke no matter what limits you’re playing for. He makes a lot of sense.
But even if you are a winning player, you shouldn’t be playing above your bankroll. Try not to buy in for more than 5% of your total bankroll.
You might be more conservative or aggressive than that, but that’s a reasonably good starting point.
They’re Just Chips, Baby
On one hand, you want to take the money on the table as seriously as you can. After all, if you donk off this money, you can never spend it. And you can’t use it to gamble with anymore either.
On the other hand, if you think about the chips on the table as money too specifically, you’re liable to play too tight or be unwilling to gamble. One thing is true at every poker table in the world: You’ve gotta give action to get action.
For example, I played in a $5/$10 game in Vegas at the MGM Grand. Until that point, I’d been playing in $2/$4 and $3/$6 games exclusively. I was a winning player, but I was far from a professional.
I was there with my buddy Todd, and he told me, “Look, baby. Those are just betting units. It doesn’t matter what they’re worth while you’re at the table. You’re going to play them the same way. It’s still the same game. You got this.”
I’ve never forgotten that. Thanks, Todd!
Don’t Play Scared
Now that I’m older, I spend some time playing in some play-money games on the internet. I often like to pretend that I’m outclassed and overwhelmed. That’s just the table image I prefer to capitalize on.
The night before last, I sat down at the table and folded a few hands before the flop. There was a lot of loose aggressive action, as you might expect from a game for play money.
I typed into the chat box, “You guys might be out of my league.”
One of my friendlier opponents typed back, “Just don’t play scared.”
That’s some of the best poker advice I’ve ever gotten, even though I didn’t really need it. It’s not something I’ve thought about much, although I know a lot of novice players who are under-bankrolled fall into that trap of playing scared.
The idea in poker is to make good decisions repeatedly. You can’t do that if you’re scared.
This means playing with a poker bankroll that’s separate from all your other funds. It also means being caught up on your bills. Often, it also means having a source of income other than poker.
I watched a friend of mine—a waiter in his parents’ coffee shop—play in a tournament trying to win enough money to cover the shortfall on his rent. He just hadn’t managed his money well all month.
He didn’t do well that night either. He took risks when he shouldn’t have just to try to stack chips. Then, he tightened up when he shouldn’t have to try to preserve his occasional lucky win. At every point during the game, he made a boneheaded decision. I went home with a lot of his money that night.
Poker strategy is about way more than deciding which starting hands are good enough to play. You have plenty of big-picture issues to think about, like the size of your bankroll and the tendencies of your opponents.
Maybe the biggest consideration is how much attention you’re going to pay to what’s going on in the game. If you can master that aspect of the game, you can become a world-class professional poker player.
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