The following is meant to be a basic outline of poker strategy in online games (and, to some extent, in bricks and mortar casinos). So get the ball rolling, let me impart the most important lesson in poker for a beginner: NOTHING SUBSTITUTES FOR EXPERIENCE AT THE POKER TABLE. You will notice that we have provided a section on poker books in this website and while many of them will sharpen your poker game, reading books is not enough. Dealing out cards on your desk and working out what you’d do in a given situation helps a lot, but it doesn’t perfect your poker game. Reading blogs and speaking to other poker players can be of great benefit, but even that doesn’t do it! The only thing that will really improve your poker game is playing a lot of poker… for real money. Many players know what to do and when, but they fail to do so because it means putting their money on the line. They back away, just in case they are wrong. As such, lacking the confidence to bet and fold correctly is the major downfall of most poker players and this problem is only alleviated by experience at the table.
Online Poker Tells
The most challenging aspect of poker is learning to read players. Now all the old films and poker books will make us believe that a person is bluffing when they’re scratching their nose or smiling and they have the nuts when they open an Oreo biscuit next to their ear.
While this may be true to some extent, it doesn’t help much when you are looking at a computer screen rather than a live person. So instead of physical tells, you must rely on betting patterns in online poker. To get you started, you should first look at how an opponent bets a strong poker hand. Do they simply bet and bet and bet or do they check with the intention of check-raising when they have a big poker hand? Do they bet top pair on the flop automatically or will they check top pair if they have kicker concerns? If they have A-K and raise preflop, but the flop doesn’t help them, do they bet and bet and bet or do they simply check (and either call or fold)?
Next, look at how they play draws. Do they bet and/or raise when they have a draw or check and call? When they make their draw, do they raise or do they go for a check-raise?
Finally, look at how they bluff. Do they decide to bluff on the flop and just keep going the whole way or do they wait until everyone checks before bluffing? Do they attempt to steal a lot of pots when they have position or is position irrelevant when they consider bluffing?
These are some general guidelines, but the more your watch their betting patterns and how they play certain poker hands in certain situations, you will be able read their game with a fair degree of precision.
Books and poker websites are a great way to learn how to calculate odds in poker. Sometimes, you have very limited information to work from and if you have a solid mathematical understanding of poker to fall back on, you won’t go wrong very often.
Keep it simple. Play good solid cards and fold rubbish. It’s a simple rule, but one that is often ignored by even experienced poker players who know better. But there is no other way around it: your win rate is directly proportional to the quality of your starting cards. The only exception is when you are in a late position. Here, you can play a few more marginal hands like K-10 and 6-7 suited. In late position, most (if not all) your opponents will act before you do which should give you enough information to avoid potentially sticky situations with marginal cards.
Bluffing in poker is all about timing. Bluffing for “advertising” purposes is an erroneous notion for beginners. Wait until you’re playing the tightest toughest mid-high limit games in Las Vegas before worrying about ‘advertising.’
When you bluff, your primary objective is to win the pot, not to advertise. If you get caught bluffing, advertising is merely a small consolation prize! As a result, you should be choosing the best time to bluff. Let’s say you are on the button with Ac-10s, no one raised before the flop and it comes 3c-Qd-Qs. This could be a good time to bluff if everyone checks to you. Since no one raised preflop, it’s unlikely that you’re up against A-A or K-K. If no one has a Queen in the hole, they’ll certainly find it difficult to call if you bet. Therefore, this bluff has a reasonable chance of succeeding. On the other hand, if you have Ac-5c on the button and the flop is Js-10s-9d, it is virtually impossible to bluff everyone out since that flop will make a lot of possible poker hands and a lot of possible draws.
Playing Poker Hands
The best way to play pairs is aggressively. If you flop top pair and you think you are in front, bet it. If a player bets before you, fire in a raise. The most important thing about strong hands off the flop is to protect them as much as possible by betting strongly. Even if you don’t manage to knock out unpaired overcards, you may clear out weak poker hands that could out draw you, such as A-2 or a middle pocket pair. The more people you can force to fold, the more safe cards you will have for your poker hand on the turn and river.
If the turn or river looks like it completed a possible draw (for example, a third suited card), then you may be beaten. If everyone checks to you and you have position, it is probably worth betting again. If someone check-raises you, you’re probably behind. But if someone bets in front of you when a danger card falls, it’s a judgement call. While they may have made a flush or a straight, they may also use the danger card to try and scare you into folding.
Middle pair is a difficult hand to play well and requires much experience. If your kicker is good and everyone checks, it may be worth betting. But if your kicker is weak, it’s a bit too tricky. If you have good reason to suspect that another poker player is trying to steal the pot and everyone else folds, it may be worth calling with middle pair, but don’t get too fancy. As a beginner, it may be better to wait for better opportunities to put your money in.
Bottom pair on the flop is virtually unplayable. Only very experienced players who read their opponents well can play bottom pair with any degree of profitability.
Many beginners have heard that you should bet draws. I disagree. If the pot is a good size, it’s probably better to simply check-and-call. Let the pot swell so that you get good odds for your draw. Raising may force out potential callers and, worse still, you may end up facing a re-raise heads-up. There is nothing wrong with checking and calling with a good strong draw. Occasionally, you’ll check, everyone else will check and you’ll make your draw at no charge.
When you make your draw, it is probably better to bet that attempt or to check-raise – especially if you make your draw on the river. Even if it seems like you are giving your poker hand away by betting as soon as you make your draw, you’ll be amazed at how many people will call you out of curiosity… “just to be sure!”