The goal of poker isn’t to win pots – it’s to maximize the money you win (and minimize what you lose) by knowing when to fold and when to bet, raise and call. All poker games involve a degree of luck, but knowing when and how to play the cards you’re dealt is where skill comes in.
There are two key elements in successful poker strategy:
- knowing which cards are worth playing and which you should fold in a particular type of poker game, from the outset
- knowing how to judge your opponents
Poker Strategy: Knowing When to Fold
The single greatest lesson in poker is knowing when to fold. It pays to learn the starting card combinations – and combinations for later rounds – that are generally considered worth playing for a particular type of poker, and to fold when you’re dealt anything worth less. See Texas Hold ’em, Omaha and Seven-Card Stud for details of card combinations you should consider playing in these games.
If you haven’t folded at the outset and bets and raises are in, poker strategy is about judging the strength of your hand – or the risk that you’ll lose – in relation to the size of the pot. For example, if you hold a good but not outstanding hand, and the value of the pot is high, it might be worth calling.
If you bet or call, it may help encourage players with weaker hands to fold. So you have a better chance of winning. If you bet and lose, you will have lost the amount of the bet. However, if you fold when your hand would actually have won the pot, you will have lost a much larger sum.
In general, it pays to choose which hands to play very carefully. But once you’ve decided to proceed, play aggressively.
Poker Strategy: Observing other Players
Poker is a subtle game. It requires more than just being able to identify whether your hand is worth playing in relation to the size of the pot because it’s not just the cards you’re playing; it’s your opponents.
Poker Strategy: Position
The actions of other players will give you clues about the hands they’re holding. For this reason, it’s always valuable to have a late position in the table. If your turn to play comes late, you’ve already had a chance to observe other player’s behaviour – who has placed a bet, who has raised and who has called.
Poker Strategy: Bluffing
If a player tends to call on almost every bet, take it as a warning that you shouldn’t bluff – a win will come down to the value of your cards, so you should fold unless your hand is very strong. For more on how to bluff successfully, see poker bluffing.
Poker Strategy: Varying Playing Style
Good poker strategy is also about varying your behaviour to keep your opponents guessing (and preferably guessing wrong!) about the strength of the cards you’re playing. If you always play tight, folding on every occasion except when you have a hand you’re almost certain will win, your opponents will be more cautious about adding to the pot – and will take you on only with strong hands that may beat yours. If you always play too loose, your bets will be called and other players will capitalize.
For even more poker strategy check out the Lair of Lucypher