Poker is a highly competitive game, and there aren’t many other casino games, like it that encourage such competition between opponents. Get ahead in Poker, be strong-willed, and ready to exploit players who you suspect have weak hands.
You’ll need to be ruthless with unxperienced players and induce them into making further mistakes. That’s just how things go in Poker, it’s a highly competitive game, and there’s no room for sympathy.
One of the biggest signs of a weak hand or inexperienced player is limp. This is where a player calls the big blind rather than raising it, it’s also sometimes known as a flat play. Generally speaking, a player will limp if they have a weak hand or aren’t sure of the best course of action to take. Both of these signify weakness and you should exploit it whenever you see it.
Whenever you see a player call the big blind, you should raise to isolate them and force them into folding or calling again. Bear in mind that some more experienced players may also limp as a strategy to show false weakness. A player might be reverse bluffing and trying to encourage players to raise when they actually have a strong hand.
Controlling the Game
In Poker, it helps to be in control, both of your actions and ideally of your opponent’s actions too. This means you should avoid situations where you’re being forced to take a certain action and try to force your opponents to react to your actions as much as possible.
An important part of control in Poker is pot control. Pot control refers to keeping the pot as small as possible when you don’t have a great hand. Make small bets whenever possible or simply check to keep the money you’ve invested in the pot as low as possible.
Sizing your bets and keeping track of your stack of chips is essential and you don’t want to get carried away by making big bets to force your opponent’s actions too often. When you have a strong hand, however, you should take the opposite approach, building the pot up as much as possible. This doesn’t just mean making big bets of your own of course. You also want to encourage your opponents into betting more.
Proper pot control is a difficult skill to learn but will come through practice. You should always be watching other players and seeing how they react to your actions. If you find that you can force them into certain actions, you should exploit this whenever possible. This can be used to control or build the pot depending on what kind of hand you have.
Folding sometimes feels like a last resort, but it should really be one of your go-to moves. You don’t want to fold too often of course, but folding when you have a weak hand is crucial if you want to preserve your stake and stay in control.
Knowing the right times to fold is what separates the good players from the very good. You can stay in the game for longer and come back stronger provided you know when to fold. It’s also important to remain calm while playing. Part of being in control also refers to your emotions. All Poker players get overly emotional at times, but you need to learn to recognize when you’re getting tilted and control it. Getting tilted means to get angry or upset over a losing hand, and players who get tilted often lose more.
Narrowing the Field
When you’re playing Poker, the temptation is to get as many players out as early as possible. Lots of players think that playing aggressively right off the bat is the best strategy. For some, it might be. But for the majority of players, playing aggressively is just going to end up costing you.
Keep your play steady and consistent, slowly building your stack with lots of little wins rather than a few big wins. Keep your play tight in the early rounds of the game. Watch your opponents as much as possible and learn their behaviors and strategies. You should start to notice patterns in their actions, whether they’re bluffing regularly and how they react to a good opening hand.
Once you’ve got a good idea of the behavior of all the players around the table, you’ll be in a much better position to start eliminating them one by one. Note that this style of play works much better in tournaments where players can’t join and leave tables whenever they want.
Getting more aggressive once you’re familiar with the other players at the table is a great way to get the edge over your opponents and control the play. You’ll be surprising them with your change of strategy and have a good chance of forcing them into mistakes.
Poker, similar to any card game, has set actions which you should take for certain hands. While these actions don’t guarantee you success, they do increase your odds. We’ve written up examples of actions you should take for certain starting hands. You can also find a cheat sheet below, which gives you a clear picture of whether you should play your starting hand of not depending on your position at the table. These strategies are applicable to Texas Hold ‘Em only. For other variations of Poker, the best course of action for each starting hand can be different.
When to Fold
As we explained, folding is an important part of a successful Poker strategy. Generally, your folding strategy will depend on how aggressively you want to play and whether you’re interested in crushing your opponents or playing it safe. For a safe folding strategy, you should consider folding if any of the following is true on the preflop:
- You have a hand with a two that’s not a pair of twos or an Ace and two suited.
- You have a hand with a three that’s not a pair of threes or an Ace and three suited.
- You have a hand with a four that’s not a pair of fours or an Ace and four suited.
- You have a hand with a five that’s not a pair of fives or an Ace and five suited.
- You have a hand with a six that’s not a pair of sixes or an Ace and six suited.
- You have a hand with a seven that’s not a pair of sevens or an Ace and seven suited.
- You have a hand with an eight that’s neither a pair of eights, an Ace and eight suited, a ten and eight suited, a nine and eight suited or a seven and eight suited.
- You have a hand with a nine that’s not a pair of nines, an Ace and nine suited, a nine and King suited, a nine and Queen suited, a nine and Jack suited, a nine and ten suited or a nine and eight suited.
When to Raise
In Poker, raising is a great way to not only build the pot up but also eliminate inexperienced players or players who are unsure of their hand. You can raise early to play aggressively or raise late on to force players to fold when the pot is much larger.
If any of the following is true about your starting hand, you should consider raising to maximize your winning potential. These hands are all ranked in order of best to worst so you can decide how much you want to raise for each one.
- You have a hand with a pair of Aces or a pair of Kings
- You have a hand with a pair of Queens, a pair of Jacks or an Ace and King suited.
- You have a hand with a pair of tens, an Ace and King, Ace and Queen suited, Ace and Jack suited, or a King and Queen suited.
When to Call
Whether you call or not will depend on what the previous action was as well as your hand. Of course, if you have a weak hand, you normally won’t want to call a raise. But if you have a strong hand, it’s much less risky to call a raise. Ultimately, you’ll have to use your own judgment and your knowledge of the player who made the raise. Do you suspect that they might be bluffing? Is it possible that they have a very strong hand already?
The amount raised will also change how you react. Remember the pot odds and to only go ahead with the call if you’re sure that your winning odds are greater than the pot odds. Some players are completely against the idea of calling at all due to its passive nature.
If you followed our previous Poker guide, you’d know that passive play is generally discouraged. As we talked about earlier, the game will generally go a lot better for you when you take control, and avoiding passive play is part of that. If you feel like calling the bet will be too passive, you can fold or even raise yourself.
When to Check
Checking is another example of playing passively but doesn’t mean it doesn’t have its uses. In fact, it’s exactly because it’s often considered a sign of weakness that it’s so useful. A good player will know when to check while holding a strong hand, bluffing, and encouraging their opponents to raise and increase the pot.
Checking can also be useful in working out what kind of hand the players behind you in the position have. Once you check, you’ll get to see their actions and judge whether they have a strong or weak hand.