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Once you’ve learned how to play poker, it is essential to develop strategies that will help you maximize your winnings and minimize your loses. Poker is all about consistently making the right decisions and that’s where poker strategy comes into play. In this section, we’ll go over general poker strategies (they’re applicable to all games) which will help give you an edge over your opponents. Be sure to also check out our sections on game-specific strategies, like Texas Hold ‘em.

Also read our section for strategies for positional advantage, starting hands and tells.

CHOOSE A TABLE YOU CAN BEAT

Yes, before you even sit down at a table, you should be thinking about strategy: pick a table whose game you know well and has players you can beat. You should never sit a table where the other players are better than you they’ll probably end up with most of your money. You want to find a table where the players have the same ability or less than you if you want to win. Don’t let your ego force you into games you’re not good enough to play.

The same applies to the betting limits at tables: if you’re consistently losing, switch to a table with lower stakes. If you keep losing at a $5-$10 game, move down to a $2-$4 game where your skills are probably better-matched and you risk losing less money. Have patience when it comes to moving up betting levels just because there are $150-$300 tables doesn’t mean you should play them.

THE ODDS

Another factor you need to consider before staying in a hand is the pot odds and the odds against your hand. To figure out the pot odds, compare the size of the pot and the size of the current bet it’s like weighing the reward (the size of the pot) to the risk (the bet). If the size of the pot is $18 and the bet is $3, the pot odds are $18 to $3, or 6 to 1. You then compare the odds against your hand to the pot odds, and if the odds against the hand are higher, you should fold.

For example, if the pot odds are 6 to 1 and the odds against your hand are 11 to 1, you should fold. However, if the pot odds are 6 to 1 and the odds against your hand is only 4 to 1, you should stay in the game as you have a greater chance of winning more often.

Be sure to check out the hand odds for Texas Hold ‘em, Stud and Draw.

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GOAL IS TO WIN MONEY NOT POTS

Beginner players tend to play more hands, which mean they stand to win more pots. But the size of the pots they win is not usually very big. If they’re playing against seasoned players, those numerous small pot wins will not be enough to protect them against the huge losses they suffer when an expert player plays aggressively and gets everyone to put chips in the pot. When the game’s over, you’re not going to compare which player won more pots the winner is whoever won the most money. Make sure that winning money is your goal not pots.

In order to do make the most out of a hand, you need to establish some betting strategies.

BETTING STRATEGY

Your success in a hand is not decided by winning or losing the hand, but by how well you played it. What matters in poker is if you consistently make the right decisions winning pots is just a result of having made the right ones. Betting strategy is a vital component to playing a hand well and getting chips in the pot if your cards are strong and minimizing loses when they’re weak.

Whatever strategy you develop, make sure to vary your play so you don’t become predictable. If you always check, call or bet the minimum and suddenly start raising, other players might think that you have a strong hand. You don’t want them all to fold right away when you start raising, so be sure to mix up your betting habits.

The same applies to you watching other players: if a person who normally folds or checks suddenly starts raising, you know they might be holding the nuts (the strongest hand at the table). This is where ‘player profiles’ come in handy (more on that later) so you know how to bet according to other players’ actions.

Raising is very potent in poker. A strong raise right before community cards are dealt may scare off some players and get them to fold. There are pros and cons to this: the pro is that you’re getting rid of players who may beat you once all of the community cards are dealt. The con is that if you do have the strongest hand, you just eliminated some players who could have been putting more chips in the pot for you to win. If you raise too strongly before the community cards are dealt, everybody might fold and you only win the antes when your strong hand could have earned you way more chips.

When you do have a very strong hand, you should begin betting small and gradually increase the size of you bets so you have more people contributing to the pot. Knowledge of other players’ betting habits will help you determine how far you can push them before they fold.

Betting isn’t always done when you have the strongest hand. You can use it to gain knowledge about other players’ hands. If you want to see how strong your opponent’s hand is, try re-raising. That might scare them into folding, so you know the hand might not have been too strong. Or you can bet defensively early so you can avoid calling a bigger bet later on.

KEEP RECORDS

Keep records of your poker wins and losses in a notebook. After every game, record how much you won or lost and the reason why it happened. Analyze it from time to time and learn from your errors. If you’ve been on a losing streak, ask yourself what are you doing wrong? Have you been playing too loosely? Were you giving away too many tells? Also try to figure out why this happened you’ll probably realize you’ll need to change your strategy. You can’t become a better player if you don’t learn from your mistakes and adapt and improve your play.

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PLAYER PROFILES

If you end up playing the same people repeatedly, see if you can determine what their strategy is. You can do this by making a profile of them by answering these questions:

• What makes them fold?

• What hands do they bet strongly on?

• How much do they bet and in what position?

• How do they bet when they have a strong hand?

• How much do they bluff?

• What kind of tells/body language do they have?

It’s a good idea to watch the other players when you’re not in the hand so you’re not distracted and can make better observations. The better you know your opponents, the more chips you can coax them into putting in the pot.

VARY YOUR PLAY

Don’t be predictable and stick to one type of playing (aggressive, loose, etc…). The best poker players are hard to read because they change their style.

If you play the same way all of the time, other players will pick up on this and will know immediately if you have a weak or strong hand based on how you bet. You want to keep the strength of your hand secret (poker is a game of deceit, after all) so you don’t scare everyone into folding if they know you only raise when you have a really strong hand. You need some of them to stay in the game to contribute to the pot. So mix up your style and keep your opponents guessing!

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PRACTICE

Practice isn’t exactly strategy that you use at the poker table it’s strategy that you employ when you’re not. It’s the single most important thing you can do to improve your game.

Also, you need to be able to look at your hand and immediately see the highest-ranking hand you can make. You can practice this at home by dealing out five cards and identifying the best hand. Remember, most games have a time limit in which you must act, so you need to be able to see the value of your hand quickly.

There are numerous online poker sites where you can practice. We recommend PokerStars.com and Absolute Poker. They’re both hugely popular sites with free tables where you can practice without losing your money.

STRATEGIES FOR PLAYING LOOSE PLAYERS

Loose players enjoy the action of being in a hand and will play more hands than they should. They stay in games when they should have folded, which makes bluffing them very difficult. For that reason, you should avoid bluffing loose players. When playing against these kinds of players, you should play a little looser than usual yourself and play aggressively only when you have a strong hand.

STRATEGIES FOR PLAYING TIGHT PLAYERS

These are players that call and bet only when they have a really strong hand. These people are easy to force out early since they usually fold average hands. To do that, just bet aggressively and they’ll fold. If they bet, however, fold if your hand isn’t very strong as there’s a good chance theirs is. When you decide to call their bet, make sure you do so with strong cards. If they raise, look at the pot odds and your hand odds and decide if it’s worth calling their raise.

STRATEGIES FOR PLAYING PEOPLE WHO BLUFF OFTEN

People who like to bluff often are great for getting chips in the pot especially if you have a stronger hand than them. If your hand’s pretty strong and the bluffer’s doing their best to play aggressively and try to get everyone to fold, just play along quietly while they build the pot for you.

Strategy for playing hyper-bluffers is to call their bets more often when you have a decent hand.

STRATEGIES FOR PLAYING PEOPLE WHO DON’T BLUFF

When playing people who never bluff, fold if you have an average hand. You’ll lose less money if you call less with average hands. One advantage to playing people who never bluff is they’re predictable you know their hand might be strong if they’re betting or raising.

Put your new strategies to work right away! Sign up at PokerStars.com or Absolute Poker today where you can play for free against people from all over the world. Once you’re ready to play with money, they both have tournaments starting every few minutes with buy-ins as cheap as a few pennies.

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