Unlike most card games, poker comes with many layers one needs to understand to master the game. Fortunately for new players, poker strategy has been well developed over many years, with thousands of people contributing to today’s understanding of the game.
If you are just starting with poker, this poker strategy guide will help you learn essential basics and more advanced concepts alike.
Remember that you will not pick up all the strategies you need to learn from this article alone, but we will send you on a journey down the path you need to follow.
This article covers everything from basic poker strategy to advanced theories, so let’s dive into it.
Poker is a very simple game to get into and start playing, and the basic poker strategy you need to learn will not take too long to master.
For the purposes of this guide, we will assume you have already mastered basic poker rules, such as poker hand rankings and the order in which players take turns at the table.
Once you have got a grasp of those concepts, we can start getting into the basic poker strategy you will need to hold your own in even the easiest of poker games.
The first thing you need to consider when you sit down at a poker table is what types of hands you want to get involved with.
There are several factors that will impact your decision on whether to play a certain hand, and you should consider each before you put any chips in. These are:
We talk about effective chip stack instead of your chip stack because it doesn’t matter how many chips you have if your opponents have fewer.
You should always think only in terms of chips that you actually stand to win or lose in a hand, regardless of what you or your opponents may have behind.
The chip stacks will greatly impact your choice of starting hands.
As stacks get deeper, you get to play more speculative hands post-flop. On the other hand, you should be looking to get it all in pre-flop and try to steal the blinds a lot when stacks are shorter.
Next up, make sure to think about the actions of the players in front of you.
It is not the same to enter a pot that has been raised by the UTG player or to enter an unopened one. Similarly, raising over limpers is not the same as raising first-in.
Every player's action at the table should significantly impact how you play your hand. You need to beware that other players have cards, too, even those who have not yet acted, and they all can play back at you or beat you in the hand.
Every time you enter a pot, you should think about the hand ranges of the players who have already entered the pot and the potential for a big hand still lying in wait behind you.
Finally, your position should be very important in your starting hand selection.
Playing many hands from early positions will get you into trouble and is not a profitable way to play poker.
Your basic poker strategy should revolve around your position. The later your position is, the more hands you can play and the more pressure you can put on the blinds.
Think about these three things in concert, and you will be able to enter pots at the right time without getting squeezed out by better hands or dominated by your opponents' holdings.
Your basic poker strategy should not be too loose, and you should always look to play a limited number of hands, depending on your position.
While you can easily add more hands into your opening range in positions like the button and cutoff, you should also consider how you will play those hands.
New players make a very common mistake of limping in with their medium-strength hands like 66, 98s, or KJ. Experienced players know this is never the winning strategy.
While there are plenty of times when you should call raises in position, you should be looking to make most of your pre-flop action aggressive.
This means always coming in for a raise if you are first into the pot and very often 3-betting against other players' raises.
The reason behind aggression before the flop is that you get to win pots without seeing any community cards, not just at the showdown.
Starting a hand in an aggressive manner also gives you more opportunities to win pots after the flop is dealt, as you get to continue your aggression and tell the tale that you are holding the best hand.
Whether you do or don’t have the best cards will not matter if you can put enough pressure on others, which is why all professional poker players apply an aggressive approach.
Yet, it is important to find some balance.
Make sure you are playing both your strong and speculative hands similarly and not overdoing it with bluffs.
It can be tempting to always want to re-raise a player’s open and try to steal the pot, but this kind of strategy will end in disaster.
A balanced approach means playing aggressively with a mix of super-strong poker hands and those that can flop well, giving you many chances to win the pot in different ways.
Another part of the poker strategy that many players don’t fully comprehend is bet sizing and how it impacts the outcomes of your play.
In No-Limit Texas Hold’em, you are always free to size up your bets as you wish, leading to many variables you can employ.
Making mistakes in proper bet sizing is very common even among experienced players and is one of the areas where you can improve your results very quickly.
We recommend spending a lot of time learning about bet sizing and how to employ a mix of bet sizes on different boards to balance your strategy and extract maximum value from your opponents.
Proper bet sizing can also depend on opponents, table dynamics, and more, which is why it is a field of poker strategy that you should study quite extensively.
One of the hardest things for new poker players to understand is that the results might not go your way regardless of your poker strategy and how you play.
Every time a poker session is played, whether we are talking about a cash game or a tournament, there will be some players who run better and others who run worse.
What’s important to understand is that over the course of the long run, everyone will get just about the same amount of good and bad hands, bad beats, and lucky breaks.
This is why maintaining a consistent poker strategy and always playing your best game is important and why it doesn't matter if you win or lose on any given day.
Of course, you will need to book more winning sessions than losing ones, but this will be natural if you are playing a better game than your opponents.
Yet, no poker strategy can guarantee you a win in any particular poker session, even against the worst players out there, and you should be acutely aware of this before you sit down to play poker.
Focus on making the right decisions and knowing that your decisions were right, and the results will follow, guaranteed!
A big part of winning in poker comes down to playing against players who are worse at it than you, and that means finding the right games to play is crucial.
Playing in any game around and taking on any player who will play you is generally not a good idea.
For the most part, you want to be among the few of the best players at the table, if not the best. Yet, this won’t always be possible while you are just starting out.
For that reason, you should at least look to play with players who play on a similar level to you and aren’t too advanced at the game just yet.
You should also not mind getting into some games with better players, just so long as the stakes you are playing for are not too significant. This can be a great opportunity to learn from experience.
Generally speaking, playing for small stakes early on in your poker career should be the way to go, as you don’t want to lose a lot of money making silly mistakes and playing a flawed poker strategy.
Whatever kind of a natural talent for the game you may think you have, you won’t be a good poker player if you don’t understand the mathematics behind it.
Without knowing these mathematical concepts, you will be playing poker by hunch alone, and that will not be enough to beat actual thinking players.
Instead, you need to base your poker strategy on the idea of odds and how they relate to the bet size, pot size, etc.
Once you know how odds work and how to construct ranges in various situations, you will be ready to move on in your poker career and start learning some advanced poker strategy concepts that will take your game to a new level.
It can take months to master all the basic concepts of poker strategy, but once you have a good grip on it, you will be able to introduce new things into your game and start thinking about advanced poker strategy.
In today's poker, most advanced players base their game on a model called "Game Theory Optimal which creates an unexploitable poker strategy.
This means that playing by the GTO model makes you completely impervious to other people’s plays. If you were to play GTO perfectly, you could technically not lose.
Of course, the GTO model also limits how much you win off certain player types as it does not focus on exploiting other players and their tendencies.
For that purpose, your advanced poker strategy lessons will focus on learning more about GTO poker first and then finding ways to deviate from it to exploit certain player types and their tendencies.
As previously mentioned, Game Theory Optimal is the model of play used by most successful modern players, at least to some degree.
This advanced poker strategy focuses on balance, making every play completely unexploitable, regardless of how your opponents play.
For the most part, GTO is helpful in heads-up situations, while it can fall short when multiple opponents are involved in a hand.
However, with the nature of today’s games, most pots get down to heads-up, especially at higher stakes and in online poker, which means GTO can be a great asset in every type of poker game today.
To get started, we recommend you check out our short guide to GTO poker before you move on and start learning the intricacies of the strategy.
The game theory optimal poker strategy can take months and even years to master, which is why we recommend you start slowly delving into it as early as possible.
To practice GTO play yourself, you will need to download a poker solver software, which will help you run simulations of various poker hands and give you outputs that suggest how you should play in every scenario.
Keep in mind that GTO can be used as both your entire poker strategy and a baseline for a more advanced poker strategy that includes various exploitative plays you can include.
Early in your poker playing days, you will focus mostly on your cards and plays, but as you get better and better at the game, you will start to notice patterns in your opponents’ strategies.
Whether your baseline game is GTO or a simpler strategy, you will want to start using a variety of exploits to adapt to other players' tendencies.
To give a very simple example, you will want to significantly expand the range of hands you play at a table where all players are very tight or significantly tighten it up at a very loose and aggressive table.
Against particular opponents, you might notice they rarely fold to c-bets or always continue against 3-bets regardless of the sizing. You could counter all these flaws and exploit them to gain a significant edge.
The more players in your game you have a good read on, the more exploits you will be able to use. The one important thing is to remember to not take it too far and to still try and be somewhat balanced and not too exploitable.
There will be players against whom you won’t have to worry about getting exploited at all, as they will play their cards face up and not try to pull too many stunts. On the other hand, others might significantly over-bluff, making it imperative to call them down often.
The truth is that poker is all about your opponents, and being able to adapt to different opponent types and their playing styles will transform your game and make you a true poker champion.
Any advanced poker strategy starts before the flop. To simplify your decisions, you will want to construct clear ranges you play in various scenarios before the flop and not deviate from it too much.
This means that you should remember, by heart, which hands you want to raise from each position of the table if the pot is unopened, which hands you want to 3-bet against which position openers, etc.
Here at Pokercode, we have a perfect tool called RangeViewer, so you might want to check it out.
Even before the flop, there are many possible variables to consider, so memorizing the pre-flop poker strategy won’t be a walk in the park.
Yet, once you have mastered the pre-flop game, you will be very comfortable with it and confident in the plays you are making on this street, freeing you up to make decisions after the flop is dealt.
If you don't come in with a clear plan for the pre-flop game, you will constantly be questioning your decisions and thinking about whether you should even be in certain hands or if a pre-flop fold was the better play.
Finally, depending on the situation at your table, you may want to introduce some deviations to your pre-flop hand ranges in case players are playing too loose and too tight on average.
The truth is that no two poker players in the world play exactly the same, and that’s exactly what makes poker such a beautiful game.
With so many poker strategy variables in play, there is always room for adaptation, change, and exploitable play.
For all these reasons, you should start working on creating a poker strategy that works well for you and build upon it by looking into each of the concepts we mentioned above.
As your poker skills improve, your poker strategy will evolve to a level where you are employing all these concepts in cohesion and playing at a much more advanced level than you ever thought possible.
Don’t be discouraged if it takes you a long time to master poker strategy, as it is one of the most complex card games out there and one that no player in the world can say they understand completely.
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