Texas Hold'em famously takes a minute to learn and a lifetime to master. Here at Pokerjolt, we'd never claim you can win simply by following a few simple rules. It takes years of gradually improving your game – and learning from your mistakes – to become a good player. But here are a few basic reminders and 'micro strategies' that we've found useful over the years...
The biggest mistake new players make is getting carried away when they get great hole cards. True, the probability of being dealt a pair of Aces is 0.45%. But that does NOT mean your chances of winning the hand are 99.55%...in fact, it's only actually around 34 per cent in a 10-handed game. Your odds of winning any hand in Hold'em always depend on three variables: The board (community cards), how many opponents you have – and what their cards are! If you make a big bet very early when you have a good hand you may scare people off and lose potential winnings – or commit a lot of your bankroll to a hand you could eventually lose. So take it easy!
Bruce Forsyth knew that life was the name of the game – and so should every good poker player. What we mean is, in life, you make decisions all the time based on experience. You don't just charge around doing reckless things without considering what you're doing first. How many decisions in life do you make on just 28.5 per cent of the evidence? None? Exactly. That's the percentage of your possible hand in Hold'em you've seen before the flop. So get excited by that suited A,Q by all means...just don't ask her to marry you until you've seen how she looks in the morning.
Every game has a cliché which is true and ignored at you peril. In most sports it's 'keep your eye on the ball'. In poker, it's 'watch the board'. Even pros can miss straight or flush draws, that are subsequently hit by their opponents, because they're too busy thinking about their own hand. To win at poker you don't just need a good hand – you need a better one than everyone else...remember that, and think as much about their possible cards as your own.
Sounds obvious, but drinking and poker don't mix. Booze impairs your judgement and leads you to take risks that you otherwise wouldn't. It is true that some ultra-tight players seem to do better when they have a beer or two...but the vast majority of us have lost all our entire chip stack before you can sing 'What shall we do with a drunken sailor?' and stagger to the nearest kebab shop. A good cuppa and a digestive biscuit is a much better bet when playing poker to win.
If you're playing terribly and are on tilt, chances are pot odds and expected value are the last things on your mind. When things are this bad, steady the ship by going back to basics. Only get involved in pots when your hole cards are 'halfway' – ie, alright - or better pre-flop. In head-up play, that means you have at least a seemingly pathetic J,4. Otherwise, it depends on the number of players, but in our experience, Q,8 is a decent halfway hand when you're playing seven or eight opponents, particularly in the latter stages of tournaments. This basically means, if you can get in cheap, it's worth seeing a flop before you decide whether to really commit. Anything less than that, providing you're not short-stacked, don't bother.
Luck favours the fool as well as the master. The beauty of poker is that, unlike sports betting and most other forms of gambling, you don't always have to rely on it. There is a quantifiable 'edge' in poker that means, sometimes, you know you're onto a winner long before showdown. Obviously, if you've got the nuts, that's obvious. But when poker pros talk about the 'edge' they're describing a very real sensation, based on probability and pot odds, that they're clearly ahead in a hand. Everyone who plays poker knows this feeling – and by definition it can only come after the flop, turn or river. Making the most of this and maximising your return from these hands is crucial.
In our Poker Terms section we define all sorts, from loose players to grinders to fish. All of them, apart from maybe the fish, will be studying each hand you play. Do you fold a lot? Do you flat call, or check-raise often? Are you stealing the blinds? Do you have a tell – people give away tells in both online and live play. You, of course, will be analysing them in the same way. But you can give yourself an advantage by being deliberately inconsistent. Mix it up, make some daft calls, raise with nothing – but do it cheaply. In online poker in particular, the more unpredictable your play on any given table the less risks people are likely to take against you. Be anything but predictable, because predictable poker players are easily beaten.
Despite incontrovertible evidence that it is baloney, many poker players – even good ones - 'believe' in hot streaks. Just as things go inexplicably badly when they are on tilt, so they are unbeatable when going through a purple patch. This is jibberish. Poker is a game of probability, nothing more, nothing less. Yes, there are inevitably many 'coin flip' situations in tournaments and yes, you will have periods where you win many...and periods when you don't. But the thing that led to you to win is also the thing that led you to lose. It is called chance – and chance does not show favouritism. Never, ever, ever make a call or a bet because you 'feel' like you're going to win. Ironically, over the long term, this is a sure fire way to guarantee you lose.