Winning poker players have one thing in common, they have invested numerous hours to master the game of poker and shrink luck to a minimum size possible. Their play is based on skills, odds, probabilities, and very important, proper bankroll management.
They haven't been stubborn while developing their skills, nor did they blame online poker sites for rigging the game (they know better, and so will you the moment you start winning), but they have been patient and did their homework, analysed their pitfalls, and became better a step at the time. And really, learning to win online poker is a lot easier than it looks like. But before we continue, it's important to know the poker rules and understand how the game is played.
Starting today, March 3 2011, we are reorganizing the poker strategies section on PlayFreePoker.org. All content in the three main categories will be reviewed, improved, as well as extended with examples. Most significant change will be the introduction of Ken's Guide to Winning Poker - a journey any poker player who's looking to improve his poker skills should take. Be prepared though, as Ken's articles are very comprehensive, but most definitely a great read!
Besides the strategies categorized on this section of PlayFreePoker.org, we also offer a fine selection of poker strategy articles written by various poker players, including some of our own members, in our site's blog. In case you are looking to find an explanation of a specific poker strategy, but can't find it, we recommend you to pay a visit to our friends' poker strategies and tips section at Max Poker Bonus.
Poker Strategy for Beginners
Whether you've just started playing poker or you're just a spectator who's been following the professional circuit of the game, you've probably noticed that poker is a game that's all about strategy. The strategy involved in a game of poker between skilled player is so multi-faceted and highly-developed that it can be difficult for a player who's just starting out to get a handle on exactly what he or she needs to learn first. Watching other people play poker and playing poker yourself will only get you so far-- to be a real expert at poker, you'll need to spend some time doing an in-depth study of the strategy of the game.
The first stop for any new poker player is picking the right game, followed by understanding the fundamentals of the game. Beyond just the card rankings and rules of the game, players need to understand the value of different positions, different hands, and the various actions they can take during a round. As their skills develop, beginning players will be able to spot tells in other players that will allow them to determine another player's course of action, and they will be better about hiding their own intentions so that they can master bluffing, protection, and slow-playing.
As a new player, it's important to pick the right game. Pick something to easy, and you have a limited amount of room to grow, but pick something too difficult, and you risk being taken advantage of by more experienced players. For this reason, you need to find a type of poker that will provide you the perfect balance-- one that will allow you to hone your skills slowly and safely, one that doesn't force too many concepts on you all at once. Many poker players go through a certain progression when starting out playing, starting with tried-and-true rookie games and moving on to more difficult variations when they're ready to step up their game. Check out our game selection guide for more information on picking the right poker variant for you.
New players often overlook the significance of the various positions in poker that players have while playing a game of poker. Your position is where you sit relative to the dealer when you play a round of poker, and this (usually) determines when you'll bet-- whether you have to make your decisions about how you're going to play before or after the other players. Players can have an early, middle, or late position, and this generally determines how and what you want to play.
It's a well-known fact that some hands have a higher value than others, but did you know that your starting position is a big determinant of what hands you should play? Your position in the game determines which cards are worth betting on and which should be folded. Many beginning poker players making the mistake of overlooking the role of position in hand selection and maintain the same "keep versus throw away philosophy" regardless of whether they're sitting in one of the blinds or under the gun-- our guide to hand selection will help you avoid this mistake.
As the Kenny Rogers song "The Gambler" tells us, "You've got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em". Never have truer words been said about the imporance of understanding the different actions you can take in a poker game. Folding, checking, calling, betting, raising, re-raising and check-raising all have their unique places in a poker player's toolkit, and a skilled player will not only understand the difference between each, but will understand the ideal time and place for each. No poker game has ever been won by a player who didn't have expertise in all of these actions, so it's best to get well-acquainted with our page on poker action strategy to get a handle on improving your game.
Bluffing is one of the hardest things for new poker players to master, which is why so many of them start with fixed-pot games or poker variants that involve very little bluffing. New players (professional players too, to be honest) often bluff either too much or too little. The former leaves them over-invested and means a lot of risk with very little chance of success, while the latter keeps them from making substantial wins that can easily change the standings of the players in the game. Once you've learned to master bluffing, you'll see that you game is vastly improved, and you'll be well on your way to advanced poker playing.
Tells are those little (or sometimes not so little) mannerisms that a person has that gives away their thoughts or feelings about their hands and give other players insight into what they're doing in a hand. Discovering another player's tell(s) can help you determine whether the player is bluffing or really does have the nut hand, and the better you get at reading other players, the better a poker player you'll be. Our guide to common tells will give you some insights into common tells as well as tips and pointers for spotting bluffs, slow-plays, and the like.
Poker Strategy for Advanced Players
Players who have mastered the basic concepts of poker strategy are ready to move on to advanced techniques. While getting a handle on the beginner concepts will really step up your game, if you want to be a serious contender on the tournament scene, whether online or live, you really need to not only practice the beginner techniques as much as possible, but also add some of the more advanced strategy to your toolkit. If you want to play more difficult poker games like Omaha Hi/Low, you'll want to be quite comfortable with the whole range of poker skills before you sit down at a table with seasoned players who are more than comfortable exploiting gaps in your knowledge.
The advanced techniques that you'll see most often in serious poker games include trapping other players, especially those who limp into a hand, stealing a pot, changing the pace of one's play, and employing a series of different kinds of bets which may or may not have anything to do with the cards in one's hand. Some of these techniques are the continuation bet, the value bet, and stop and go (one of a series of go plays which also includes "limp and go" and "go and go"). If you want to be a serious poker player, try studying advanced strategy and then observe some professional games-- with your knew knowledge, it will be a lot clearer what the various players are doing, and that will help you learn how different people play poker.
One of the most common mistakes that inexperienced players make is calling or raising on too many hands pre-flop, or limping into a hand-- calling with a hand that's weak, relative to the nuts hand. While hitting a pair of eights may look nice after hitting nothing at all for a while, that doesn't necessarily mean that you should throw into the pot after it! Persistently chasing weak hands is a sure-fire way to lose lots of your chips, and advanced players know how to tell the difference between a hand worth playing and one that makes him or her limp into the pot.
Stealing, or stealing the blinds, happens when a player makes a raise, generally while in late or middle position, and forces other players to fold, thereby taking the money that's been put into the blinds. Players can use the same tactic to steal the button by forcing players after them to flop, thereby essentially "stealing" last position. Our section on stealing as an advanced poker tactic will tell you everything you need to know about what stealing is-- and how to make it work for you.
A good poker player knows how to set traps for his or her opponents and how to avoid falling into traps that other players set. Some of the most popular methods for trapping an opponent include slow-playing and check-raising, both of which aim to draw extra money out of opponents when you're pretty confident that you have the better hand. Players can also be trapped when they feel like they're committed to the pot, regardless of whether or not they actually have a good hand, so it's important to know when to bow out. You can study these and much more in our section on trapping (and avoiding traps)!
One of the most widely used advanced strategy techniques in poker is the continuation bet, where you pretend to have made the flop and bet accordingly, instead of backing off when you don't make it. Since the chances are good that your opponent missed the flop as well, this technique allows you to intimidate your opponent into flopping (even if he or she has a hand that's better than yours). It's almost impossible to watch a game of poker without seeing multiple players making continuation bets.
Stop and Go
Stop and go (along with "limp and go" and "go and go") is a method used for protection-- the goal is to make your opponent think that you've made a hand that you haven't. It's similar to the continuation bet, except in stop and go, you call an opponent's raise (to demonstrate that you have a hand comparable to theirs) and then throw out a bet at the next opportunity. This only works if you're betting before them, so stop and gos are a good tactic for players in early position. Our guide to stop and go and its sister techniques will serve as a primer for exactly how to make these tactics work to your advantage.
Unlike the previous techniques, value betting isn't geared towards tricking your opponent via protection. Its purpose is the opposite. Value bets are an important part of any poker game, and they serve a single function-- to draw as much money as possible out of an opponent when you know (or are pretty sure) that you have the better hand. With value betting, you size up your opponent and determine exactly what value they place on their current hand-- and then you get them to commit that much to the pot. To find out exactly how, check out our guide to value betting.
As valuable as it is to know the ins and outs of advanced poker strategy, it doesn't mean anything if your opponents can read you like a book. For this reason, you need to change up the pace and keep your opponents guessing in terms of what you're trying to do. If you always make button raises in an attempt to steal the blinds, your opponents will start to call you whenever you raise-- if you change up your tactics, you can keep the other players on their toes and refuse to give them the advantage of being able to read you.