Poker isn’t a complicated game. Learning the basic poker rules and understanding which of the handful of hands is best can be picked up in minutes. That’s the easy part. It’s truly mastering the way you play – and turning poker into a way to make money consistently – that can take a lifetime..
For new players starting out, it’s crucial to balance the fun and excitement of playing poker with the hefty losses you can quickly rack up if you don’t know what you’re doing. How do you get on your way as the next big poker star?
Here are NINE poker strategy tips to get you up and running:
9 Poker Strategy Tips for Beginners:
Poker Tip 1: Aggression Pays in Poker
The only way to win at poker is to bet – and the only way to win a lot is to bet a lot. Poker is a game of timed, focused aggression. And as you master the basics of the game, you’ll learn when you need to up the aggression at the table.
Many novice players are simply too cautious, too much of the time. They will check when they should bet and call when they should raise. On solid opening hands, like high pairs or a hand made up of A-K or A-Q, you should play more aggressively than you might think you should. These are great cards to be starting out with a raise.
You’ll want to make sure that, in a game with a full table, you push players with weaker holdings out – or force them to – or force them to cough up to stay in. There’s nothing worse than underplaying a pair of Kings only to be beaten by someone who checked before the flop with 8-4 and miraculously caught a straight.
Make them pay to see those cards and push as many people out of the pot as early as possible. With six people in a pot, your base odds of a win are only 17%. With only two in the pot, that rockets up to 50%.
What’s worse with cautious play is that it marks you as a weaker player to the rest of the table. If you rarely bet or raise, you’ll soon find yourself being pushed around by stronger players who know you’ll cave under pressure. When you do bet big, other players will immediately know you hold a strong hand and everyone will quickly fold, reducing the amount you get paid off.
Remember that aggressive play builds big pots. If you have a winning hand, your best move is to milk the table for all you can get. This scenario spotlights poker at its most fun and most thrilling.
Poker Tip 2: …But You Must Also be Patient
Being aggressive doesn’t mean throwing money away on bad hands and going all-in on the hope of catching a great card on the river. That’s a sure-fire way to quickly cut down the size of your chip stack.
One of the most basic smart poker tips is to fold far more hands than you play. For many players, this sounds like an awfully boring way to spend an evening – just sitting at the table while everyone else is in the game.
Here are 5 bottom-line tips to up your patience levels:
- Remember that, based simply on the law of averages, most hands dealt are going to be losers.
- If you don’t have a strong hand, your best move is to fold, and fold immediately.
- Use the time to watch the other players at the table and study the way they play.
- When you don’t have to worry about your own hand, you can focus more closely on everyone else.
- Wait patiently for a situation where the poker odds are in your favour, then use your aggression to go after the pot.
Poker Tip 3: Observe Your Opponents
There’s an old saying in poker: Play the player, not your cards. That’s a fancy way of saying that poker is based on the situation. Your hand is usually good or bad only in relation to what the other guy is holding. K-K is a fantastic hand, but if another player holds A-A, your kings are losers 82% of the time. Imagine the reverse situation: You hold A-10 while the other guy’s on J-J. The flop comes up 10-8-6. Suddenly your two 10s have only a 20% chance of winning.
Imagine the reverse situation: You hold A-10 while the other guy’s on J-J. The flop comes up 10-8-6. Suddenly your two 10s have only a 20% chance of winning.
How do you know what the other guy has? By watching other players and learning how they play.
Imagine the 10-8-6 flop situation above and you have A-A.
What do you do?
- Have you seen the guy across from you slow-playing big hands before?
- You might play more cautiously with your Aces.
Have you seen him make big bluffs to try to grab pots when “scary” cards are on the board?
- You might call his bets, or even raise, knowing that 10-10 is a rare hand.
Learn how to read other players and watch for “tells.” Tells aren’t just the nervous habits that you see in the movies, like fiddling with chips or a ring, they also include the way a person plays.
Someone who has been calling all night that suddenly makes a huge raise is probably holding an unbeatable hand, for example.
Poker Tip 4: Play for the Long Term
As a novice player, you’re going to lose some of the time. At some point, you'll go all-in with a pair of Aces, then lose to another player holding a pair of 9s who catches a third 9 on the river.
Don’t let these types of losses (known as “bad beats”) discourage you. The odds won’t always fall in your favour, but over the long term, those Aces will win more than they lose against the 9s.
Learning to win at poker is a long-term project that requires playing thousands and thousands of hands in a real game setting. It's the only way to firmly grasp even the basics, and it will take many more than that to become an expert.
As you develop your skills, using this poker strategy guide, keep the first three tips in mind: Play cautiously, be aggressive when required, and study the table like it's your favourite movie.
This tactic will keep your play in check and resist the urge to go “on tilt”. Don't try to make up losses with foolish bets.
Set a bankroll – both for every session and over the long term – and stick to it.
Poker Tip 5: Develop Your Skills
While you will learn a lot from both wins and losses, poker isn’t just a game you master at the table.
While you will learn a lot from both wins and losses, poker isn’t just a game you master at the table. You can also learn a lot more by reading blogs and books about poker strategy.
You can start here at the 888poker blog, or check out Doyle Brunson’s Super System and Dan Harrington’s Harrington on Hold‘em. There are plenty more poker sources besides those, but they should get you on your feet.
Playing online is also a great way to improve your skills and knowledge. Just be sure to choose the right table. “Play money” tables are likely to be chock full of amateurs that aren’t playing a serious game.
So, stick to lower-stakes tournaments with buy-ins of $5 of less.
Keep notes as you go to help you refine your strategies as you get better and better!
Poker Tip 6: Position is Power
Position is dictated by the dealer button, which moves clockwise around the table after each hand. As a result, positions are changing on a hand-by-hand basis, which is why it’s critical to distinguish between each spot and the pros and cons of each.
Here’s a look at the different positions in an nine-handed poker game:
- Big Blind – (BB) – Two to the left of the Button, pays the big blind.
- Small Blind – (SB) – One to the left of the Button, pays the small blind.
- Button – (BTN) – To the right of the blinds, the best position at the table.
- Cutoff – (CO) – To the right of the Button, the second-best position at the table.
- Hijack – (HJ) – To the right of the Cutoff, called ‘Middle Position’ (MP) on a 6-max table.
- Lojack – (LJ) – aka Middle Position 2 (MP2) – To the right of the Hijack, called ‘Under the Gun’ (UTG) on a 6-max table.
- Middle Position (MP1) aka UTG+2 – To the right of the Lojack, exclusively on full ring tables
- Under the Gun (UTG+1) – The second earliest positions, to the left of UTG, only on full ring tables.
- Under the Gun (UTG) – The three earliest positions, UTG, UTG+1 and MP1 aka UTG+2, only on full ring tables.
A player is “in position” when they are either on the button or close to it. Those in position get the benefit of seeing how many of their opponents act before they themselves have to act.
It’s a big advantage for several reasons, which you can learn more about here.
Poker Tip 7: Learn the Lingo
One of the most intimidating aspects of learning poker is getting used to the lingo used.
The game really does have a language all its own with words like the following – just to name a few:
- Three-bet (3bet)
- Double gutshot straight draw
- Open-ended-straight-draw (OESD)
- Double gutshot
If you were to say to a stranger, “I got it AIPF holding Big Slick against deuce-trey off-suit and my opponent went runner-runner to make a wheel and felt me,” well they’d probably look at you like you were crazy. However, an experienced poker player will know exactly what you mean.
Try not to get frustrated by all the words you may not understand. They’ll become clearer with experience. Instead, whenever you hear a word used that you don’t understand, either look it up online or ask the players at the table.
Most everyone will be happy to help, and while your inexperience may shine through for a moment, it’ll ultimately help get you up to speed that much quicker.Before you know it, you’ll be a GTO wizard running triple-barrel bluffs and leveraging ICM situations to you advantage.
If you’re not sure what that means, don’t worry, you’re sure to find out as your poker journey continues.
Poker Tip 8: Understand Concept of GTO
Along the lines of understanding poker lingo, it’s essential to understand certain concepts in poker. One of them, especially in this day and age, is Game Theory Optimal (GTO) play. It’s an approach/strategy in which players try to play a perfect style rooted in balanced ranges and mathematical-based models.
The theory goes that if you properly execute a GTO style, you close yourself off from making mistakes, whereas your opponents will make some. In a heads-up match, if both players were to play a perfect GTO game, it’d simply boil down to luck as neither player would be making a mistake.
All that said, the sheer number of situations and card combinations make it extremely difficult for players to play a perfect GTO style. Many players aspire to it, but few are able to do it consistently on the real and virtual felts.
Even so, it’s critical to understand how it works as it’s prevalent in today’s game. By familiarizing yourself, you cannot only incorporate elements into your own game, but you can also be wise to a popular strategy employed by your opponents.
Poker Tip 9: Don’t Neglect Your Mental Game
Poker isn’t physically strenuous, but it can be extremely taxing to the mind. That’s why it’s imperative to pay close attention to the mental game of poker.
From controlling your emotions to avoiding distraction, your brain is tasked with dozens of things all at once in any given poker session.
Inevitably, you will experience frustration and tilt, which if left unchecked can sink your poker game faster than an iceberg to the Titanic. You need to learn how to declutter your mind, develop a positive mentality, and deal with losses.
It sounds easy, but it’s not. There are poker players out there who’ve played professionally for decades that still struggle with the mental side of the game.
The key takeaway is that while you learn poker and gain more experience, be sure not to neglect your own mental health.
If you do, the game can warp your thoughts and impede your decision-making ability, which will inescapably be detrimental to your chances of success.
For more on the mental game of poker, check out Jared Tendler’s "Why Mind Matters” series right here on 888poker.
Poker Strategy – Questions and Answers
Question 1: Is there a strategy to poker?
Although luck will heavily affect the winner of any given poker hand, good poker players realise that there is strong strategic element to the game of poker. Players using good strategy can definitely expect to win more money in the long run than those making random decisions.
Question 2: Does it matter which poker strategy we use?
Although luck plays a big factor in short term results, poker strategy is NOT irrelevant (as it might be in some other casino games such as slots). Over the long run, poker is predominantly a game of skill, meaning that the best players can expect to earn consistent profits.
Question 3: How can I learn good poker strategy?
Rather than attempt to master the game on our own, it’s recommended to make use of the wealth of poker material available online. Training sites, training videos, strategy articles, forums and private coaching are all excellent ways to learn high-level poker strategy.
Question 4: Is there an optimal poker strategy?
It’s theoretically possible to derive an optimal solution to poker using the branch of mathematics known as game theory. Unfortunately, most poker variants are complex enough that humans are still a considerable distance from knowing the theoretically optimal strategy.
Question 5: What is the best strategy in poker?
The most profitable way to play poker is to make use of “exploitative” strategies. This concept involves probing our opponent’s game for weaknesses and look to target those weaknesses as aggressively as possible.
Every player has had a bad session at the table. Remember when you’re starting out, and you lose your small bankroll, that many professional players have been right where you are at some point in their poker careers.
However, they managed to bounce back and become million-dollar winners on the pro circuit.
We all had to start somewhere, so don’t be put off if things don’t immediately go your way.
Keep your head down, follow the poker tips in this post, and continue practicing improving your skills.
Above all else: Have fun! At the end of the day, it’s only a game.
For more articles on poker strategy, check out the following links: