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Poker Strategy : Turn into a winning player

Poker is a game of skill and strategy that can be learned quickly. Reading and practicing the game will improve your skills and make you a pro player. After learning the basic rules of poker and understanding what different hands of poker are, it’s time for some basic poker strategies to turn you into a winning poker player.



The primary poker styles -

As a poker player, it is good to not just understand the game, but also the playing style, of others as well as self. It is a game of tendencies and observations, coupled with a few poker strategies. Every player will adopt a style as they go along, and will usually master the same.

Primarily, there are two poker styles that most players go with, namely, tight vs loose, and aggressive vs passive. If you fold more hands than play them, it is obvious that you are a tight poker player. On the other hand, if you tend to play more than fold, you are the loose type. You are an aggressive poker player if you are willing to up the ante, raise more than call, and risk more chips. They bet more and believe in raising a lot. On the other hand, If you prefer to call and check, more than betting and raising, it means that you are a passive player. 

The combinations :

 Primary Poker Styles

  • Tight Passive - These players rarely win, and are easy to spot on any table, as they play very tight and hence, when they do play, others usually fold.
  • Loose Passive – You may be called this if you fall into a number of pots, and end up calling raises, in the hope of seeing flops. 
  • Tight Aggressive – Very selective, and strategic, if you are a tight-aggressive player, you won’t play many hands, and usually, stick to playing only the best hands. But, when your hands do come, you become aggressive.
  • Loose Aggressive – If you find yourself betting on most flops, or re-raising them, you may be a loose aggressive one. You obviously believe in playing a wide many hands, believe in bluffing, and apply constant pressure on the opponents. 

However, whether tight or loose or aggressive or passive, ultimately, it is the playing style that determines what kind of a poker personality you are.



Position in Poker -

Position in poker refers to where you’re sitting on the table in relation to the dealer button. It is one of the most important factors in a game of poker. Playing out of position makes the players vulnerable to moves made by players in position. Similarly, playing in position allows one to impose his/her will on others as they are the last ones to act. 

 Position in Poker

  • Dealer: The dealer sits on a crucial position as he is the last to make a move in every round, other than pre-flop. The dealer can wait and watch the game of the entire table before he has to decide on whether to call, raise or fold.
  • Small Blind: Small Blind is a good position to start with, for half the amount, you can watch how other players are moving as to decide whether to call or not.
  • Big Blind: The big blind has to call last on the pre-flop. So unlike the rest of the hands, where the button has the chance to play last, the big blind can wait and watch, to see whether to call or raise.
  • Under the Gun: Under the Gun, or UTG makes the first call after the big blind. So the UTG can, by making a strategic 3-bet or straddle, change the course of the entire game. 
  • Middle players: The middle players are not much of stake-holders in the action in a hand. But their importance is seen when they make sizeable bets and raises, to throw the other players off their course. 
  • Cut-Off: The cut-off is the last to play before the dealer. So, when the dealer is making his plans of calling or raising and is basing his play on the moves of the other players, the cut-off can throw the dealer off completely by making a 4-bet or 5-bet. 

Thus, each position has its distinct importance in each hand. There is a reason why the dealer keeps shifting clockwise throughout the game. Poker is also a game of equal opportunity. So, the game does not distinguish between players. It allows each player to bank upon his skill along with his position to take the pot. 



Pot odds in Poker -

Pot odds are basically the ratio between the size of the pot and the size of the bet which has been put forward by another player. Pot odds are compared to the probability of winning the hand. If your odds of winning the hand is higher than the pot odds, then your opponent’s bet is responded to by a call or a raise. 

Pot odds are divided into effective odds and implied odds. While facing a raise, the odds that a player is getting to make a call with one card to come are effective odds. Implied odds, mostly used for drawing hands, are used to calculate the amount of money that you expect to win at the end of the hand if you hit one of your outs. 

Here’s an example of effective odds. 

 Pot odds Poker

Player 1 has a flush draw on the flop, which means roughly, they have a 19.1 % probability of hitting the flush on the turn. A 19.1 % probability means they are getting 4.22 : 1 card odds. Now, let’s assume two situations: 


Situation 1  

There are 300 rupees in the pot, and Player 1 is facing a pot raise, that is, a raise of 300 rupees. Now there are 600 rupees in the pot, and Player 1 has to make a decision. If you call, you are putting in 300 rupees to win a pot of 900 rupees. 

Therefore, Pot odds → 3:1 & Card odds → 4.22:1 

The basic theory of poker says that when pot odds are lesser than card odds, a player must fold while facing a raise. On the other hand, when pot odds are greater than card odds, a player should either flat call or raise. Therefore, in the aforementioned example, a player must fold.  


Situation 2

Player 1 cards - K ♠️ Q ♠️ & Flop - 2 ♠️ 5 ♠️ J ♣️

Again, the card odds are 4.22:1, that is, a 19.1% chance of hitting a flush on the turn. But now consider the pot to have 1500 rupees. Your opponent bets 300 rupees. Now the pot size is 1800 rupees. Player 1 is now facing a bet of 300 rupees, which means player 1 will be putting in 300 rupees to win a pot of 2100 rupees. 

Therefore, Pot odds → 7:1 & Card odds → 4.22:1 

Since pot odds > card odds, a player facing this bet should at least call or raise as he is getting really good odds to win the pot. Effective odds are extremely important because they maximize our profits and minimize our losses. One should always remember that poker is a game of math, not pure chance.  



Hand reading in Poker

Hand reading in poker is a skill that basically allows a player to predict and correctly assign a range of hands to the opponents on the poker table. It’s an important skill which helps a player make better decisions and make more money in the game but is extremely player dependent. 

1. Pre Flop Action

Entering the pot pre-flop by raising, instead of limping is a proven profitable strategy.

If the opponent limps, it might mean they don't have premium hands like AA, KK, QQ or strong aces like AK or AQ. They might have suited connectors and gappers, broadways, weak Aces, Kings and Queens, sometimes hands that they want to see a cheap flop with.

Essentially, this means that the opponent’s range is wide and is devoid of the topmost hand categories.

2. Bet Sizing

Weak players give away the strength of their hand based on their bet size. Their bet size is directly proportional to the strength of their hand.

Instead, the bet size should be based on the range of hands that one can have, and not on the exact hand.

3. Timing Tells

The amount of time a player takes to call a bet is a reliable source of information.

When the opponents snap call your bets, it allows you to exploit them by applying pressure on some turns and rivers and forcing them to fold their medium-strength hands.

4. Player Type

The hands a player can have in a spot changes based on their type. 

  • Loose-Passive - They play a lot of hands by calling instead of raising. This makes their range wide and allows the player to value bet more hands.
  • Loose-Aggressive - They play a lot of hands by raising. Their range is still wide and we can bluff-catch and trap with more hands. 
  • Tight-Aggressive - Their range is narrow and one has to be careful with the hands that they play because these players will regularly apply pressure and show good hands quite often.
  • Tight-Passive or Nits - They play very few hands and do so by calling instead of raising. Do not bluff them and try to value bet only on strong cards. 

5. Meta-Game

A good player not only plays a good strategy, but they also try to get into the head of their opponents.


With this poker strategy, you are one step closer to becoming an experienced poker player and winning the games. 



Bluffing in Poker

Bluffing is a technique learned by playing a lot of hands. One does not learn to bluff in the first few games. So, below are a few tips on how to bluff to win a pot against good hands.


  • Use bluff sparingly - Do not bluff all the time. Bluffing should be done occasionally. If you bluff all the time, the pros will have you beat in no time. 
  • Do not bluff when you have nothing - Only in rare occasions should you bluff when you have nothing. 
  • Do not bluff against newbies or bad players - Newbies and bad players have a habit of playing any and every hand. So you never know when they might call your bluff, and due to that, they might win the pot. 
  • Calculate the pot odds before bluffing - Bluffing a large pot holding a bad pair is a bad move. So, it is advisable to read and calculate the pot odds before bluffing. 
  • Bluff when only a few players are in the game - If you’re playing against eight players, it is advisable that you do not go for an all-in, or bluff blatantly. If you’re bluffing against 5-6 players, someone might call it. 
  • Bluff smartly - Do not bluff on any occasion. If there is a player who is calling your bets, then do not bluff unnecessarily. Look for the calling patterns of the other players before bluffing big.
  • Look out for the cards on the board - A lot of times the cards on the board create a good opportunity for you to bluff. For example, a pair on the board, or three cards of the same suit may deceive the other players into believing that you have a three-of-a-kind or a full house, but there is a chance that another player may be holding the other one or two cards of the same value. So, bluff smartly.

So, now that you are privy to some good bluffing techniques, it’s time to learn the other basic poker strategies. 



When to fold in Poker?

There are four rounds of betting in poker so the player has four rounds to either win the hand or fold. If the player doesn’t have a good hand, folding becomes easy because the hole cards will go unseen and usually the player’s strategy is well hidden. ‘But when does a player fold?’ 

  • Pre-flop - If a player has 2-7, 2-8, 2-9 or 3-8, 3-9 off suited, its an instant fold unless the player wants to bluff! Generally, the win percentage of the above cards is extremely low. Further, if the player has hole cards that do not justify raising 4x blinds on pre-flop, fold. There would be players raising pre-flop, so, the best way to save your chips is to fold.
  • Post-flop - After the flop is turned, the player now has five cards open ( 2 hole cards and 3 community cards). Now, the player has a better understanding of the game and can continue playing or fold. If the flop turns face cards, and the player doesn’t have any, then fold if there is a raise because there’s a high probability that someone on the table has a face card. So, it’s better to fold, after assessing the bets and raises.
  • After the turn - The turn is where the least amount of bets take place. This is because of the high value of the flop and the river. But, if another player bets 3x-4x of the pot on the turn, and you are bluffing, it’s a good time to fold. 
  • After the river - Once the river card opens, the entire hand becomes evident. There are no probabilities. Just certainties. In case of draws, its best to fold but if the player has good cards, its best to check for bets and raises. 

Always remember this poker strategy: A good fold is a well played hand. 



When to go All-in in Poker?

Isn’t it just one hell of a feeling when you go all-in against a good player who has more chips than you, and you win the pot, thereby doubling your wallet? 

But when to go all-in, and when to avoid it? Let us evaluate a few strategies revolving around going all-in. 

  • The nuts - It’s needless to say that if you are holding the nuts, and there are a few players in the action, and the pot has increased sufficiently, there is no reason you should not go all in. 
  • Fewer chips - At times, when you have fewer chips, and a few more blinds would reduce your chance of getting back in the game, having face cards as your hole cards is good enough for an all-in. 
  • Straight or flush draws - When there is a straight or flush draw on the board, and the flop has been opened, it is the best time to go all-in, to stop the other player (s) from hitting the nuts. 
  • Coordinated board - If there is a coordinated board, then unless you have the nuts, do not go all in. A coordinated board implies that more than one player has a strong hand. So, if there is a coordinated pot, in general, make it a strategy to play carefully, and slow play, to check the pot odds.
  • Low pot - Do not go all in if there is a low pot and most of the players have any way folded. 
  • Bluffing - Sometimes, it becomes very advantageous to play cautiously, only to take the entire pot with an all-in. In this manner, when you call or bet a nominal amount to create a perception of a fish or a noob, you can strategize your all-in. However, do not go all-in if there is any chance another player is holding nuts. You’ll lose the entire buy-in.

Now you have learned this effective poker strategy of going all-in if winning a hand or when bluffing. However, remember that all-in should not be a regular move and should be used sparingly in favorable conditions. 



Poker Bankroll management

Poker bankroll is the amount of money you keep aside just for your poker transactions. It does not, and should not, include the money you have in your bank account for necessities like rent, transport, and other leisure activities. Below are some of the tips to help you manage your poker bankroll. 

  • Never invest more money in a game than you can afford to lose. No matter how good you are, you CAN still lose. Usually, it is advisable to have 15-20BBs of the stakes you want to play in your poker BR. But don’t spend more than 25% of your poker BR in one game. One bad day doesn't mean you’re never going to win.  
  • Choose the right games. If your BR has X rupees, do not sit at a table that demands a minimum buy-in of X/2. It may disrupt your natural play because, in the back of your mind, you will be scared of losing half your BR in one session. 
  • Set a target about getting up before sitting at the table. Winning 3x or 4x with respect to your buy-in is a very reasonable target. Do not confuse hot streaks with good play. So get up while you’re still up. 
  • Do not have high expectations. Poker is a grind, it is not easy money. Winning little amounts is so much better than losing huge amounts. 
  • Have a separate savings account just for your poker winnings. This will ensure that you don’t play recklessly, thinking that you have enough money saved for situations where you’re losing too much. 


Now that you are familiar with some of the basic poker strategies, why don’t you play a game?  


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Author

Sakshi Misra

A social media strategist and an avid poker enthusiast, she loves taking risks and so is naturally aggressive on the poker table.