Winning at poker isnít about winning the most pots, its about winning the most money. You can do this by winning more and bigger pots and by losing less money. Here are a few tips on how to do both:
Donít call with any old cards!
Some people will call with anything, with the belief that any two cards have the same chance of winning. This is essentially true, but some are much more likely to get you the pot than others - why waste money time after time calling to see the flop when you might hit a straight? Save that money and watch as other players waste theirs! Youíll be ahead just by not calling! See the section on starting hand ranking for good starting hands. Remember that checkingís free, so unless youíre playing speed or turbo hold Ďem, always check, no matter what the cards.
If you are playing speed or turbo and you donít have many chips left, its probably best to fold bad hands rather than checking, so you can get better hands in before the stakes are raised.
If the flop doesnít fitÖ.
If you decide to call and the flop doesnít fit (if the flop doesnít help your hand), fold.
Donít call with the hope that youíll hit that third ace on the turn, youíve already seen three cards and it didnít turn up, so what makes you think it will turn up when just one card is dealt? A good starting hand doesnít mean a thing if the flop doesnít improve your hand! Also remember that calling the flop gives you three cards for the price of one.
Letís say you had two aces (say diamonds and spades), then the flop comes, and its something like 2 clubs, 7 clubs, 8 spades. Someone on your table could have flopped two pair, or be one away from a flush or a straight. There could be someone with a pair of twos whoís itching to take your money after he flopped three of a kind!
You donít have to defend your small blind!
When you pay the small blind, and then you get the opportunity to call, donít think of it as only paying another 50% to see the flop. Its actually an opportunity to save 50% on bad hands. Fold if you havenít got a high ranking pair of cards. Youíll soon see your chip level increase.
Bluffing wonít always work!
Donít bluff thinking that youíll always scare the other guy away. Iím not saying donít ever bluff, just be wise about it. If the flopís three diamond cards, and youíve got two spades, chances are someoneís flopped a flush. And if you bluff that youíve got the same by raising huge amounts, you better hope he doesnít have an Ace of diamonds in his hand because he knows he has the nuts, and it wonít matter to him if youíre bluffing or have two diamond cards - he knows he canít be beaten!
Of course this also works the other way: say three club card are flopped, and you suddenly go from checking the first hand to going all in, people are going to assume youíve flopped a flush, and most will fold.
Or, say you check the flop, and your opponents check too - this indicates that all have bad cards. Then the turn is revealed to be a king, you could raise at this point, pretending to have a pair of kings, or three of a kind, and the others might fold. Another good time to go ďall inĒ is when a pair is revealed in the flop. This might hint to people that you have three of a kind, maybe even quads or a full house.
You can also bluff to improve the pot. Imagine you have Ace, King spades. Donít raise, just call (check if given the opportunity). Imagine the flop is three spade cards and you now have ďthe nutsĒ - the best possible hand. By checking/calling you will have made sure that you donít force anyone to fold and some may now have the confidence to raise you, thinking they can push you out of the game. If this happens you could keep calling them or raising them with small amounts. This will ensure that when you win the showdown you will have a lot more money in the pot!
Figure out if your opponents are good or bad players
Donít raise or go all in with bad players, unless you have a good hand! They tend to call anything thrown at them, and so canít be bluffed!
Donít give in to your gambling gremlin!
Try not to find excuses to play badly. If you find yourself reasoning with yourself as you push all your chips to the centre that the other guy is probably bluffing and your pair of twos can take him, take a step back, have a drink and say to yourself: ďIím tilting!Ē
The phrase ďtiltingĒ is taken from the world of pinball, where players who have lost yet another ball tilt the machine in order to try and get the ball back in play. This also happens to poker players after a bad beat (where someone gets lucky on the river and beats their quad aces with a royal flush!) and they try and win their money back by playing stupid hands.
Go all in when you have to
When playing tournaments and youíre down to quite a small amount of chips, think about going all in. To make the point clearer, hereís an example:
Letís say Iím in an online tournament and weíre down to two people. My opponent has 3000+ chips and I have 940. The stakes are about to be raised to 300/600 (300 for the small blind, 600 for the large blind), so in about two hands time Iím going to be out of chips whether I want to play or not. I go all in with a Jack, six unsuited (something that should never be done under normal circumstances!). He calls, because (a) he has plenty of chips, (b) my chips didnít hit the 1000 mark and so no 1k chip is on the table (this chip has an amazing ability to make people run away), (c) he knows its my last attempt at getting some chips back and he thinks (or knows??) that Iím tilting.
Anyway, he has something like king, jack, and the flop reveals three Ďnothingí cards. Itís the same with the turn, and it looks like heís going to win with king high card, when the river reveals a six. I win nearly two thousand chips with a lowly pair of sixes. This evens out the playing field and he now tilts because I win with a lucky river card!
Iíd love to finish this story by saying that I won, but if I remember correctly he went on to win a place in a $50,000 final and I got a pop up window saying ďYour position: 2nd.Ē
Poker isnít fair
Well, actually it is, but it will seem like it isnít many times. Statistics prove that if a group of poker players play for an infinite amount of time they will all have the same amount of chips at the end. But no poker game lasts an infinite amount of time, and even a lifetime doesnít scratch the surface of infinity, so people will seem to have lucky and unlucky streaks. These lucky streaks can be explained by way of another example.
Say you toss a coin ten times. In theory it should land heads up 5 times, and tails the other five. But it will probably be more like 8 heads and two tails, because the amount of coin flips is so small that probability doesnĎt get a chance to show its face. Now do it a thousand times and probability will win out and it will be much closer, more like 55:45. Itís the same with poker. A poker game is equivalent to the ten coin tosses. The game is so short that the probability of discrepancies in the predicted card pattern are very high. So one guy could get all the good hands and another guy could get nothing but garbage all night!
The trick is to not let yourself get dragged into a situation where you lose money because of this. If youíre on a losing streak, go home. Maybe tomorrow, youíll be the one with four aces every hand!
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