Although it might not sometimes feel like it, at its heart poker is a very simple game. Yes, there are all the different values of the hands to learn, but that’s something that you can pick up relatively quickly, especially as you play. But it’s a game that always follows the same format with the dealer dealing and everyone else around the table receiving their cards in order.
Even the fact that you can only play the hand that you’re dealt adds to the simplicity, not to mention that, on one level, it gives you very little room for manoeuvre. So how come so many millions of words are written about the game and why do a few brilliant professionals make so much money from this beautiful, simple game?
The answer is that beneath the surface, it’s an endlessly complex and engrossing game in which everything from psychology to tactical play create the infinite number of variations that can dictate every hand.
While rising to the very top of the poker world is within the grasp of very few players, there are strategies that anyone can employ to improve their game. Not only do these have the potential to increase winnings, they also make playing the game an even more pleasurable experience.
Here are seven of these strategies that you can start to use right now. Best of all, they’re as relevant whether you’re playing round a table or enjoying a little online poker instead.
Folding’s often the best option
One thing that all of the world’s most successful poker players have in common is that they fold many more hands than they play. This might sound counterintuitive. After all, you’ve got to be in the game if you want to win it. But the reality is that you should only be playing when you’ve more than a 50% chance of winning. Of course, judging when this is the case only comes with experience, apart from in very obvious examples. But playing the long game is the way that you’ll keep your stack reasonably intact so you’re ready to make hay when the sun shines.
Start aggressively, and then ease off
This is an especially useful strategy to employ when you’re in tournament play mode. As the first few hands are played, you’ll all be checking out each other’s’ styles of play. So, the worst thing anyone can do is present themselves as a weak and indecisive player. By hustling along and stamping your authority, you’ll be marking yourself as the player that the others have to beat. But don’t be reckless – because excessive aggression will mean substantial early losses if you’re not careful.
Always have a reason
Some players seem to believe that by playing erratically will serve to un-nerve their opponents and keep them guessing. While there’s a certain grain of truth in this, it’s a dangerous strategy of it’s not backed up by logic. For example, say you have a middling sort of hand like a 9 and 7 of clubs. In normal circumstances you wouldn’t be raising unless you were certain that there wasn’t much going on for the other players. But if it feels like a sort of sluggishness has come over the table then it could be a justifiable action – and it might even encourage some of your opponents to fold.
Stick to the same strategy
This is something that you can only do after you’ve gained a considerable amount of experience at the poker table. Maybe not the 10,000 hours recommended by some to become truly proficient in an activity, but certainly several hundred. It’s got to have been long enough to establish that it really works and have provided the empirical evidence to prove it. But, like all strategies, there will be games when you’re losing hand after hand and this is definitely not the time to change course. Remember, it’s worked in the past and it will in the future.
Don’t have favourite hands
It’s human nature to have favourites, favourite foods, favourite bands, even favourite people. And we’ve usually developed these feelings because of associations that they have for us. But somewhere this has no place is round the poker table. Just because it’s a combination of cards that’s helped you win big in the past, each round you play is completely different. You wouldn’t bet on the same number in roulette again and again and expect it to be a winning strategy – and poker’s no different.
Don’t get beaten by tilt
Losing runs are a fact of life in poker. Even the best players experience them from time to time. But the difference between the pros and the rest of us is that they’ve learned to roll with the punches. Undoubtedly, the best course of action is to step away from the table for a little while to clear your mind and give it a bit of a reboot. Don’t talk to anyone about the game – and don’t think about what’s just happened. Just restore your mental equilibrium and go back fighting.
Use your position wisely
They say that knowledge is power, and that’s certainly true in poker. So, when you’re sitting to the right of the dealer and are the last person to receive your cards, be ready to make the most of it. You’ll have had time to observe your opponents’ reactions to the cards they’ve been dealt and how they’ve chosen to bet. Use this to make more informed decisions, or at least have a greater idea, of what their positions may be. And remember that this is an advantage that only occurs every once in a while, so seize it while you can.
So, hopefully, all these tips will help to make you a better poker player. While they won’t turn you into a Hossein Ensan overnight, they’ll help you to enjoy your game even more and, at the end of the day, that could be the greatest prize of all.