It’s difficult to remember much about when I started playing poker because it’s been so many years ago. But I remember struggling for many years because I simply wasn’t very good. Eventually I improved through trial and error, and once I started reading about and studying the game, I was able to improve faster.
While there were books and articles available, when I started playing the internet wasn’t available. I realize this makes me seem extremely old to many readers, but the internet hasn’t been widely available for 30 years yet, and I started playing when I was quite young.
The problem with finding poker books when I started playing was the only place to find them was at a local book store. In addition, there weren’t many good books available.
I decided to put together a list of the most important things I learned as a beginning poker player. This is the list I wish someone had given me when I was learning how to play poker.
Of course, I might have refused to listen to the advice, and instead continued to struggle through trial and error. Don’t make this mistake. When you use the 7 magic poker strategies listed below, you’re going to quickly see results at the poker tables.
1 – Ignoring Position Is Costly
It took me several years to understand how important position is while playing poker. I remember reading about position in a few books, but ignoring the advice. This cost me a great deal of money over the years.
Eventually I started taking position into account with every decision I made at the poker table, and my results instantly started improving.
Your position is always related to the blinds. Most forms of poker, including Texas holdem and Omaha, have a big and small blind. The blinds act last on the first round of betting, but on all other betting rounds the blinds are forced to act first.
The button is the most powerful position at the table. The strength of your position goes from weak to strong moving from the blinds around the table to the button. The first position to the left of the blinds, called under the gun, is almost as weak as the blind positions. As you move around the table towards the button, your position strength improves a little bit.
The problem I had before I started using position was I thought that a hand was either strong enough to play or it wasn’t. While it’s true that some hands are strong enough to play in any position, the truth is many hands that can be played for a profit from late position lose money when you play them from early position.
The reason position is so important at the poker table is because of the order in which you have to act. Every time you have to act before your opponent you give them additional information. When your opponent has more information than you, it costs you money.
This also means the opposite is true. When you have more information than your opponent, it helps you make money because you can make better decisions.
When you’re playing with positional advantage you also have the opportunity to check behind your opponent to see a free card and it gives you more power to control the size of the pot. You can check behind a check or call a bet if you want to keep the pot small while you’re drawing to a better hand, or you can bet or raise when you want to build the pot.
2 – Is Your Hand Good Enough to Raise With?
I’m not saying that you need to raise with every hand that you enter the pot with, but you need to ask yourself this question every time you think you should enter the pot. If your starting hand is good enough to raise with, then you should raise most of the time.
When you ask if your hand is good enough to raise with and the answer is no, you need to have a clear understanding of what you hope to accomplish with the hand. If you have seven five suited, of course you want to flop a straight, but this is unrealistic. You need to understand how your hand can make money, and understand how likely the hand is to make money.
A pair of sevens isn’t strong enough to raise an early position aggressor, but it might still be profitable to play. To determine if you should play, here are the things you need to consider.
The only real hope of winning the hand is by hitting a set. The odds of your middle pair being better than an early position player’s starting hand are low. So if you enter the pot you need to figure out if you can make enough money when you hit a set to overcome all of the times you call and end up having to fold after the flop.
You’re playing no limit, so you need to look at the stack size of your opponent and how much you have. If the stacks are both deep, you might be able to win a large pot and make a long term profit on the hand.
But if one of the stacks is small, it limits the amount you can win when you hit a set. In this case, the best play is usually to fold. This is why it’s often correct to fold in limit Texas holdem in a situation like this.
You also need to consider everything you know about your opponent. Are the tight and usually only play their best hands with a raise from early position, or are they loose and wild?
Make it a habit to ask yourself questions on every hand you play. The more questions you consider, the better your decision making is going to be.
3 – Don’t Be an Action Junkie
It’s boring to fold hand after hand at the poker table, waiting for a strong hand to play. It’s more fun to play in a bunch of pots and get as much action as possible. But you need to figure out if you want to win or chase action. It’s almost impossible to be an action junkie and win in the long run.
Almost every beginning poker player plays too many hands. Almost every beginning poker player loses more than they win. These two things are closely related, so you can learn something from the relationship.
At the base of everything that happens at the poker table is simple math. Your starting hand is formed from two different cards from a set of 52 cards. This means that there are a limited number of possible starting hands.
If you look at starting hands from a strictly mathematical view, the fact is that the player starting the hand with the best hand wins more often than the player with the inferior starting hand. The flop, turn, and river all have something to do with the outcome of the hand, but the better starting hand wins more often.
This means that every time you enter the pot with an inferior hand it cost you money, and every time you enter a hand with the best hand you make money. The profit and loss often doesn’t show up in the short term, but in the long term it plays out.
The way to enter more pots with the best hand is to play fewer poor starting hands. In order to do this, you need to have tighter starting hand requirements. Stop playing average starting hands, and only play your best starting hands.
This single strategy will help you win more.
When you combine tighter play with position you quickly improve your results. You can play a few more hands from late position than early position, but you still need to play fewer hands than you’re probably playing now.
4 – Expected Value Is the Key to Riches
It took me years to understand expected value at the poker table. But once I figured out what it was and how to use it, my results instantly started improving. Everything you do at the poker player has an expected long term value. When you make more positive expected value plays than negative ones, you start winning.
The expected value is the average value of any decision you make. The problem is that when you have to make decisions at the poker table you don’t usually have all of the information. This means that you have to learn how to make an educated guess when you make decisions.
Some decisions are easy to understand. It’s easy to learn that raising with pocket aces is profitable. It’s also easy to learn that raising with unsuited seven two is unprofitable. But most decisions aren’t this easy.
The best way to understand expected value is to figure out the average return on a decision if you make the same decision many times. This is easier than most people think f you know how to do it.
If you played this exact same situation 46 times, with each of the possible cards landing on the river once, you can determine the expected value if you call. Here’s how to do it.
In order to see the river you have to invest $100. Since you have to do this 46 times, your total investment is $4,600. When you win, which happens nine times when you complete your flush, you get your $100 back and the $700 in the pot, for a total of $800. When you multiply the nine times you win times $800, you get $7,200.
Subtract the total amount you invest from the total you win and then divide by the 46 hands to get the average expected value.
This gives you a positive expected value of $56.52 every time you make the call in this situation. When the expected value is positive you should play.
What happens to the expected value if your opponent bets $100 into a $200 pot?
It still costs you $4,600 to play the hand 46 times, but you only get $400 back when you win. The nine hands you win return a total of $3,600. This produces a negative expected value of $21.74. This means that you lose $21.74 on average every time you make the call.
5 – Specialize
Though there are only a few popular variations of poker, each one is available in different formats and limits. Texas holdem is available in cash games, single table tournaments, and multi-table tournaments. It’s also available in limit, pot limit, and no limit. In each type of limit, there are many different levels of blinds and buy-in amounts.
In addition to Texas holdem, Omaha, Omaha hi-lo, seven card stud, and seven card stud hi low can also be found. Each of them also has different formats and limits. This creates many different possibilities.
While variety is good in many ways, when you’re a beginning poker player it’s bad. The fastest way to winning is to focus on one specific thing and master it. It’s not enough to focus on being the best Texas holdem player you can be. You need to focus on being the best no limit cash game Texas holdem player you can be, or the best no-limit Texas holdem multi-table tournament player you can be.
Or even better, focus 100% of your energy on being the best $500 buy in cash game no limit Texas holdem player you can be.
Once you master one specific thing, you can start adding other areas to your game selection.
The mistake many beginning players make is believing that they can become a great Texas holdem player and master cash games, single table tournaments, and multi-table tournaments at the same time. While you might be able to become a winning player in all three areas eventually, the truth is that as a beginning player there are too many differences between the three things to do them all well at first.
Pick a single game, variation, and limit, and focus all of your time and energy on it. By specializing, you give yourself the best chance to succeed.
6 – Put Yourself in the Best Position to Win
This isn’t talked about much in poker books, but one of the biggest jumps in my poker career was when I figured out that I wasn’t putting myself in the best position to win. I’m not talking about position like you learned in the first section. What I mean is that you have quite a bit of control over the quality of your opponents.
I used to log into my favorite online poker room and grab the first seat at an open table I found. When I played in a land-based poker room, I did the same thing. This wasn’t putting me in the best position to win.
What you should do is take some time and look for a table that gives you a good chance to win. Instead of ending up at a table with several good players, don’t you think you’re going to win more if you play at a table with mostly bad players?
The next time you want to play poker, take some time to try to find the most profitable table. Never try to play against the best players. Always try to find the worst players possible to play.
If you have a hard time finding profitable tables, start looking elsewhere for games. If you know bad players, consider starting your own private game.
It’s much easier to be a winning poker player when you play against bad players. Make this one of your main goals and you can quickly start winning more.
7 – The Most Important Odds
Most beginning poker players don’t use pot odds. They’re either afraid of the math, don’t know what they are, or don’t understand how important they are. It took me a long time to start using pot odds because I didn’t really understand them. But once I started using them, most decisions after the flop became much easier.
If this sounds a lot like expected value, it’s because the two things are closely related. If you learn how to calculate and use one, you can easily start using the other.
One of the reasons some poker players don’t learn how to use pot odds is because they don’t think they can run all of the numbers in their head while they’re playing. This can be an intimidating thought, but the truth is that you don’t have to do it while you’re at the table.
You can run all of the numbers you need before you play and use them when the situation comes up. In addition, you’re going to find that the most common situations come up over and over, so once you learn the numbers you use them over and over.
When you determine the pot odds, you start with determining how many outs you have. Then you create a ratio of remaining cards in the deck to the number of cards that can help you. In the expected value example, the deck had 46 unseen cards and nine of them win the hand for you. This means that nine cards help you and 37 don’t. This is a ratio of 37 to 9.
It’s easier to work with ratios when you reduce them to something to one. You do this by dividing the first number by the second one. In this case, you get 4.11 to 1. The truth is that you can round this off to 4 to 1 without hurting your results.
The 4 to 1 ratio tells you your odds or chances to win. Now you compare this to the odds or ration offered by the pot and the bet you need to call. If the pot is $400 and your opponent makes a $100 bet, it means that the pot is $500 and you have to call $100. This is a ratio of 5 to 1.
When the pot is offering a higher ratio or odds than your chance to win, the call is profitable. In this case, you’re getting paid at 5 to 1 and your chance to win is 4 to 1, so this is a profitable call.
Make a list of the most common drawing hands and the number of outs so you have the correct odds of completing your hands. Once you have this list, all you have to do is quickly determine the odds the pot is offering and you know whether a call is profitable or not.
It’s hard to figure out the best way to improve when you’re a beginning poker player. Today you can find hundreds of books, thousands of articles, and thousands of videos about how to play poker. It’s difficult to know where to start and not be overwhelmed.
Wouldn’t it be nice if someone could give you a few of the most important things you need to know to get started?
This list of magic poker strategies for beginners is exactly what you need. Each of these strategies is fairly simple, and once you master each of them you’re going to find that you’re a much better poker player.
Everyone needs a place to start, and this list is the best way for any beginning poker player to quickly learn what they need to know. Once you master everything on this list you can start adding new strategies and continue improving your results.