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The game of poker is a very complex topic with a lot of nuances. For that reason, it’s hard to cover all poker strategies in a single article. There are many different variations of the card game that all have their own little tricks that can help you to improve your game. Furthermore, we have to differentiate between playing against the bank and playing against real players. Obviously, if you are playing against the bank the game is designed in a way that always favors the casino. The same is true for video poker.
This means that not as much thought goes into the game theory and there are no poker strategies that truly will help to beat the odds. On the other hand, if you are competing against real players it comes down to skill and the right poker strategy. This will heavily impact whether you can make some money in the long run. There are plenty of sharks out there profiting off the less experienced players, including some legends that you might know from TV, like Phil Ivey, Phil Hellmuth or Daniel Negreanu.
For that reason, we mainly want to focus on this part of the games as it truly allows you to take your skills to the next level. Some of the strategies can be applied to casino poker as well if that is what you are interested in. Most of the tactics we will discuss refer to Texas Hold’em since it is by far the most popular version of poker, but generally speaking, they can be used for other variations as well.
Watch the other players
Always pay attention to your opponents. You should keep track of how aggressive they are, what stack size they have and if they might be committed to a pot. A player is often "pot committed" when he has invested so many chips that he can no longer reasonably fold. In other words, if you go all-in, he'll have to call, even if he bluffed or speculated on a draw. Conversely, it might be a bad idea to bluff a player that only has a small stack left as he is more likely to call. If a player is pot committed while holding a strong hand, you should almost always go all-in.
Never forget your position
The position is by far the most important factor in almost any game of poker. It should never be ignored and it should always influence the way you play. You have to consider your relative position to the blinds on the table, when it’s your turn to act and if you potentially have to act first or last. Generally, you should play very tight in the early positions, the furthest away from the blinds. There are tons of players sitting behind you whose hands you don't know about. The fewer players that will act after you, the more hands you can open as the chances are lower that you might face off against a really strong hand.
You should set up the range of hands as wide as possible on the button because you always have a position on your opponents after the flop. This means you are always last to act and have an advantage. In the blinds, the big blind is the better position because the small blind is always the first to act after the flop. It’s vital that you play with as much information as possible and that is why your position on the table can give you the edge.
A donk bet is when a player bets even though he does not have the initiative. Let's say a player raises in the middle position and you call in the big blind. The flop is revealed. Instead of checking to the aggressor, you place a bet yourself before it is their turn. This is a donk bet. For a long time, donk bets were considered completely nonsensical, but now even the best poker players use them once in a while.
The bet is useful if you have a clear range advantage on the flop when a certain board hits for example. In other words, you have more possible strong hands than your opponent. The donk bet does not always have to be made on the flop. It can also be a good move on the turn when the board pairs and you have more trips in the range than your opponent.
This might also be a good poker strategy in tournaments. The donk bet can be the method of choice if you only have a small stack left. Because of your small stack size, you have additional fold equity and might be able to snatch up some blinds. If you let your opponent bet, he would be "pot committed" and might call you. If you bet yourself, there's a chance he'll fold.
Overbets are excessively large bets that exceed the amount in the pot. Typically, most poker strategies call for bets that are a third, a half or maybe two-thirds of the amount in the pot. This is mostly dependant on your play style and the stack sizes of your opponents. Overbets are rather rare. By using this tactic a player tries to polarize his range. He could be either very strong and trying to trick you or he might be weak and simply trying to bluff you out of the pot.
If you find your opponent's range too strong for a normal bet to result in a fold, an overbet is sometimes advisable. With it, you can even put strong hands like overpairs under pressure. If there was no check-raise on the flop, an overbet on the turn and river is also a way of getting all-in. The aim of the overbet is to generate as much value as possible or to force a strong range to give up that would have remained in the game against a normal-sized bet.
How should you respond to a raise?
You opened a hand and an opponent raised your bet. Whether you should react to this with a fold, call or raise depends on a number of factors. It’s not always easy to determine what the correct move is. There are a couple of questions you should ask yourself before making a decision.
- Would you rate your own hand as strong or weak?
- How many players are in the pot? Raises against several players are usually much stronger than raises against individual opponents.
- Are you facing an aggressive player? This might mean that he is more likely to bluff or at least raise with a weaker range.
- What’s your position and how many players are left to act after you? Middle position raises tend to be much stronger than raises from the blinds.
- Do you have a position on the raiser after the flop? If so, you can continue playing marginal hands because you have an information advantage.
- What about the pot odds? If the pot odds are good, you can call more often as you have to win less often to make a profit in this scenario.
When should you check-raise?
If you check to your opponent after the flop and play a raise after your opponent has placed a bet, you are talking about a check-raise. A check-raise as a bluff is not advisable for the most part, especially on low stakes. It is not uncommon for your opponents to see a bluff attempt and try to catch you off guard. However, this makes it the ideal approach to get more value out of some of your strong hands. But keep in mind that you shouldn’t default to a check-raise with your strong hands since players might be able to exploit you if they are smart.
Show a strong hand
If you can present a strong hand, your opponents will sometimes give you more credit. What if you have a good hand in front of you again? Or maybe it’s not that strong at all. You can play a mind game with opponents and this can work to your advantage. But be careful and only show your strong hands if you think that you can get into the other player’s head. After all, you are giving up some free information.
Exposing a weak hand
If you show a bluff, your opponents could also draw the conclusion that you are a very loose player. The next time you play a hand the same way, they may suspect another bluff. You are one step ahead of them and in truth have a strong hand. Showing bluffs after your opponent has been struggling for a while is a great way to tilt them. They might be thrown off their game plan and you can cash in on that.
When should you slow play your hand?
When slow playing your hand, you are being passive even though you hit a strong hand. For example, if you flopped a full house and checked to your opponent twice in a row, this would be regarded as a slow play.
Beginners should never slow play. There are two reasons for this: firstly because they slow play in situations that don't even require it. Oftentimes you miss out on possible winnings as other players might have just called your previous bets anyway. Secondly, it can be a trap as you give other players a free chance to improve their hands and in the end, they might even be able to beat you.
Of course, there are situations in which slow play can work or make sense. When you flop four of a kind with a pair, there are few hands to get action from. There can also be spots before the flop in which you just want to call a pair of aces. For example, if there is a player acting after you who is on tilt and willing to raise every single hand.
There are many different poker strategies that you can learn and implement in your game. Here we just described some of the basics. Nevertheless, this will help you to outmatch many players if applied correctly. There are plenty of resources available online that explain different poker variations and scenarios in more detail. Always keep in mind that poker is a very complex game that is easy to pick up but incredibly hard to master. There’s always some way that you can improve your poker strategy.