While “fun-money” poker is a lot like the real thing, it’s also NOT like the real thing in the sense that people don’t care about fun money. That’s why you’re likely to see multiple all-ins on many hands, often when players have less-than-premium holdings. Stay here too long and you’re likely to form a skewed vision of the game and that would be a BAD THING.
So, when you’re done splashing, it’s time to play real money poker. Start at the lowest stakes available online or play for pennies with friends. Essentially, you want to build up the most experience possible, and see as many hands as you can, while losing as little money as possible.
While there are many poker variants, we recommend beginning with No Limit Texas Hold’em, because it’s the most popular game by far and that means it’s always easy to find games online. It also means it’s the most widely discussed game on internet poker forums, like ours, and so there’s a wealth of information to help you in your mission to master the game.
WHAT’S A DRAWING HAND?
In poker, you don’t have to have a made hand to retain equity in the pot. You can have straight draws and flush draws too. Perhaps you have AcKc and the flop comes 6c10c2h. You may not even have a pair yet, but your hand is still strong because you are one card away from making the best hand possible. You can bet this hand, by all means, a move called a “semi-bluff.” This allows you to win the pot in two ways, either by forcing opponents to fold or by making the nuts when they call.
If you intend to call a bet with a draw, it’s important to understand the odds of making your hand and ensure that you’re getting the right odds, or likely future payout, from the pot by calling. Once again, we refer you to our section on pot odds, which we advise you to absorb thoroughly.
Understand, above all, that poker strategy is situational and for that reason you must always pay attention to what other players on the table are doing. That might be a tall order when you’re just starting out, so to begin with, try at least to keep an eye on the player to your right and the two players to your left, as these are the players you will likely be involved with most often.
Are they aggressive or passive? Is the player to your right playing too many hands? He can’t have a monster every time, so call him more often in position, or raise him occasionally and see if he can take the pressure.
POSITION IS EVERYTHING
The concept of position is one of the most important in poker and often overlooked by new players. The dealer button is the most advantageous position on the table because it means you will always be able to act last for the rest of the pot. The spot to the right of the button is the second-most powerful and so on, in descending anti-clockwise order around the table, until we get to the lowly small blind.
Here’s an extra special secret: over your poker career, you will win more money from the button than from any other position.
And speaking of poker careers, good luck with yours.
OUR POKER STRATEGY GUIDES
Our poker strategy articles cover a diverse range of topics and poker-related issues, including advice for new players, tips for tournament and cash play, introductions to online gambling wallets like Neteller, advanced theory, and reference guides on how to play Texas Hold’em and Omaha. Our poker strategy articles also introduce you to strategies for limit play, sit and gos (SNGs), and freeroll tournaments.
You don’t have to play internet poker to benefit from our online poker strategy articles – most of the strategies covered here are applicable to poker in general, both online and off.
If you have further questions about the strategic side of the game, the CardsChat poker forum is the place for you. Feel free to direct any questions you have to our friendly forum members and get advice from numerous skilled poker players, especially in the poker strategies forum.
If you’re ready to learn more about the game of poker, we have a wealth of resources to help you along the way.
POKER STRATEGY: AN ART AND A SCIENCE
We’ve built up an extensive poker strategy section that will help you start climbing the internet poker ladder. We cover all the important topics that online poker players need to learn to become a master strategist and we promise you’ll experience a great poker education within these pages.
Our strategy sections covers topics such as:
Position and how to use it to your advantage
Playing poker variants and how you can improve your win rate by seeking out softer games
How to make poker calculations on the fly without being a math genius
What hands to play, and how best to play them
Studying up on poker and reviewing your games for maximum profit
WHY IS POKER STRATEGY IMPORTANT?
You might hear some say that playing poker is simply a game of chance – that Lady Luck determines who wins and who loses. Well, they’re wrong. Poker is a game of both luck and skill. It’s true that “I’d rather be lucky than good” is a phrase often muttered ruefully by poker players, usually after they’ve just suffered their third bad beat in a row. But the truth is good luck (and bad luck) is a short-term phenomenon and in order to become a long-term real money winner in this game, you need to study.
Texas Hold’em may take minutes to learn but it takes a lifetime to master. It involves a huge amount of strategy and counterstrategy that will put your math, psychology and deception skills to the test. The good news is, though, you only need to be better than the players you’re playing against to be a winner.
HANDLING BAD BEATS
BAD BEATS WORK BOTH WAYS
The first part of dealing with bad beats is to realize it works both ways. Keep track of how many times you hit a card on the turn or the river to win a hand. Knowing that you have done this to others will help you understand the cards are not against you. It’s just poker.
CATCH YOUR BREATH
Another step to take if you are upset about a losing hand is to get up from the computer and take a self-induced break. Get a drink from the refrigerator, take out the trash, brush your teeth – some quick little chore to get your mind off the knucklehead who just called an all-in after the turn with pocket 4s and hit a set on the river to beat your top two pair.
This is where your time bank comes in handy. Don’t click the sit out button, just let your time bank expire. If you are deep in the tourney, you may have as much as 90 seconds or two minutes of saved up, which means you can take a 3-4 minute break and probably miss no more than two hands. When you feel settled again, sit back down and resume playing.
If you’re playing live, leave the table, go to the bathroom and splash cold water on your face. Text a buddy about the idiot next to you, and then return to the table ready to make amends.
Many players force themselves to tighten up for a few hands and only play monsters, like AA/KK/QQ or AK/AQ, until the urge to shove all their chips into the table passes. This is not a bad strategy, but if you are not in the right frame of mind, regardless of what your cards are, your odds of making a bad decision are still higher.
Another tip is to focus more on the process than the results. For instance, let’s say you got it all-in pre-flop with QQ against a player with QJ suited. You are more than an 80 percent favorite to win the hand. But this means the other player will win about once every five or six hands. In other words, it’s going to happen more than you think, and it’s going to happen to you sooner or later.
This is what the pros call variance. At moments like these, you have to ask yourself, “Did I make the right play?” Getting it all-in when you are an 80 percent favorite is never a bad play, regardless of the results. Don’t let variance undermine your confidence, and don’t let it send you on a downward spiral, either.
The pros at the World Series of Poker almost never show emotion – one way or the other. They will take a bad beat or rake in a big pile of chips with basically the same expression. They know that losing control generally precedes losing all your chips.
Luck runs both ways. It is not skill when you hit a two-outer on the river. And it’s not luck when your opponent does the same. It is just poker. The quicker you learn to handle your emotions after a bad beat, the more quickly you will become a profitable player.
AVOID THE TILT EXPRESS
Swiss psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross first identified the Five Stages of Grief – anger, denial, bargaining, depression and acceptance — in 1969 (coincidentally, the same year as what is now known as the World Series of Poker begun). Kübler-Ross came up with her five stages of grief after studying how people reacted to the loss of a loved one.
A similar concept can be applied to the poker phenomenon of tilting. Let’s call it the Five Stages of Tilt.
IT STARTS WITH A BAD BEAT OR TWO
Going on tilt is usually preceded by a trigger event. For the Five Stages of Tilt, the trigger event is usually a bad beat. Most players can handle a bad beat or two. You can’t expect your hand to hold up every time. If you feel yourself starting to lose it, it’s probably time to get up from the table and take a self-induced break.
PUT A MUZZLE ON IT
The first sure sign you are going on tilt is when you feel the need to berate the player who just sucked out on you. If you feel this urge coming on, put a muzzle on yourself. Sure, you might feel temporarily better by calling your opponent a freaking moron or a donk, but it’ll only make you look worse than you already feel. Type out what you want to say in the chat box, but delete it. Then, just type in ‘Nice hand.’ Taking the high road will make you feel better about yourself and help the good vibes return even quicker.
PARANOIA WILL DESTROY YOU
After you have successfully complete the second stage, the Tilt Express has officially left the station – and there is no turning back. The next stop is Paranoia.
“The cards are against me.” “I can’t catch a flop.” “Every time I get AA, everybody else folds!” Raise your hand if you’ve thought this before. Of course, this isn’t true. The universe hasn’t singled you out for a lifetime of gloom and despair. There is no mystical force that ensures your opponents will constantly hit runner-runner flush to knock out your flopped set. It just happens. The more you play poker, the more it’s going to happen.
HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PROBLEM
After a series of bad beats, missed flops and monster hands that only win small spots, the inevitable meltdown ensues. The Tilt Express is on autopilot by this point. Signs of this stage include playing bad hands in early position, C-betting every flop, and shoving the river with nothing more than a King high. Of course, the strategy ultimately fails, and the meltdown ensues.
IT’S JUST POKER
The final stage is acceptance. This occurs after you have lost all your chips. You must convince yourself that you played well and that the other players were just luckier than you. This stage is crucial. If you can’t get to this stage, you will find yourself trapped in a never-ending cycle of bad beats and blow-ups.
Recognizing the Five Stages of Tilt early is key, because once that train leaves the station, it doesn’t come back until it reaches its destination, a little place known as “Losertown.”
Established in 2004, CardsChat is now one of the biggest poker forums on the internet. The CardsChat team looking after things are all experienced poker players, passionate about their subject and eager to share ideas with players old and new. You can catch them at the WSOP event in Vegas every year, and get poker tips and player experience from the strategy guides they write here.
WE’D LOVE YOUR CONTRIBUTION
If you want to contribute to our online poker strategy article section, feel free to get in contact with us using the link towards the bottom of the page.
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