Basic Poker Concepts
This section is meant to be a “jump-start” of sorts for the beginning player. The strategy items that follow are very general and apply to any poker game you play. For more detailed strategies sorted by game, view the sections on Texas Holdem Strategy and 7 Card Stud Strategy.
While entire books can be filled with tips and strategies, the ones listed here are fundamental blocks upon which to build your game. You must apply these principles if you are to have any success at all in the game of poker.
In the game of poker, patience = money. Patience as a poker virtue simply means waiting on a good starting hand before throwing money into the pot. A good poker player only plays about 20-30% of his dealt hands. This means that at least 70% of the time, you'll be folding your cards and watching someone else walk away with a pot. If this waiting proves too much for you, then seriously consider bagging your chips up and heading over to the slot machine...poker is not for you.
Starting hand selection is the #1 reason players either win or lose money. Develop a clear set of hands that you will “go in” with. I give several good examples of starting hand selections in other sections of this page. If you don't have a clear starting hand requirement strategy, start there as you look to develop your own list.
Meanwhile, if you have already been playing poker online and notice you are losing money, take a look at the statistics that most of these online poker rooms calculate for you. Check your “see the flop” percentage. If its greater than 30%, then you may have found the source of your problem.
2. Be Aggressive
Once you get the cards you're looking for, play them aggressively! You have folded alot of cards to get that pair of Aces, so squeeze every cent you can out of them. Do not be a “calling station.” If you have the best hand, bet it and force the weak players out. To many new players make the mistake of slow playing those aces, allowing someone to stay in cheap, and that someone ends up drawing out to a better hand. Make them pay to play. You want them to cringe when the action comes to you, knowing they are going to be forced to put more money into the pot while they pray for their miracle card.
The only exception to this might be when you have the “nut” hand, (the best possible hand), and you are attempting to build the pot by letting others limp along, getting a few good cards that will entice them to stay and call you on the last couple of expensive “streets.” But do not overestimate the strength of your hand and allow people to limp in and beat you on the river. Its much better to pick up the blinds or antes, than put a fortune into the pots in the final streets, only to lose to a miracle draw from someone who would have folded if you had played aggressively from the start.
Again, statistics come in handy here. Look at your “call” “raise” and “fold” percentage. “Fold” should rank #1, followed by “raise” and finally “call”. If you're pretty sure you have the best hand currently, raise it. If you think you're beat, fold it. The only time you should be calling or checking is when you're drawing to a flush or straight, or you're calling what you think might be a bluff.
3. Conservative Table Image
Table image is so important, and something that many beginners never think about. You want to build for yourself a reputation at your table that says: “This player plays good cards!” How do you accomplish this? First, simply play good cards, as in strict starting hand requirements. The other players should see you throwing away junk cards, and winning with good starting hands. Second, do not bluff early! If you get the reputation as a bluffer, people will call your bluff 100% of the time, figuring they probably have you beat! Work on getting the reputation as a solid player, and then when you decide to bluff, people will fold, knowing that the majority of the time, you've got the cards to back it up.
4. Study the other Players
Do not make the mistake of getting so caught up in your own cards that you fail to observe the actions of the other players. What are their starting hand requirements? Do they bet aggressively or typically call, even with strong hands? Do they ever fold when bluffed? What card are they betting on? In certain games, these powers of observation will win you serious money. In 7 card stud, it is of utmost importance that you know how many of “your cards” or “outs“ are showing in other players' hands, as well as how many were in hands that were folded.
The fact that you fold 70% of your starting cards gives you ample time to study and observe your opponents. Don't sit back and zone out...lean forward and see what can be learned about them that will help when its you heads up against them.
5. Study your Game
The fact that you are reading this web page means you are on the right track. The strategy you see within the pages of this web site are my own eclectic systems, taken from books I've read, and sites I've browsed as well as my own personal playing experience. Keep doing your homework, and it will pay dividends at the poker table. Practically all of the players you see at the World Series of Poker have written commentary or a book on their play style and strategy. A good book from your favorite player is a worthwhile investment.
6. Know when to Quit
Poker players have a term for when a player has become emotinally unable to play a good game. Its called “tilt.” Many things can cause you to go on tilt. Fatigue and frustration to name just a couple. If you feel tired, or you have taken several bad beats and are feeling frustrated, it might be wise to call it a night. At least take a break! You need to have your mind completely sharp and focused at the poker table.
7. Pick your Game
Do not go into a higher limit game because “your” limit tables are all full. Do not go into a game where you feel you would be the “fish” or worst player. The ideal situation is a table that you are comfortable with the betting limits, and you believe you're one of the top players sitting down. If you ever get the inclination that you're the weak link, do not hesitate to get up and find another table. Wait patiently on a table that you can sit down and begin harvesting chips.
8. Consider your Bankroll
Your bankroll stipulates where you should play. If you bring insufficient funds to the table, you will not be able to survive a run of bad cards early on, and may find yourself broke. What is sufficient funds? Preferably, in the high action game of Texas Hold 'em, you should have 100x the minimum bet. That means $100 at a $1/$2 limit table. In 7 Card Stud, you should have at least 40x the minimum bet. Always keep at least 20x the minimum bet on the table, even if that means sitting out a few hands while you get more chips. Why so high? Because one of the worst feelings in the world is getting 4 of a kind Aces, and you only have enough money to go all in before the flop. You win a $5 pot while someone with a pair of jacks wins a $200 side pot. Keep enough money on the table so that when the big hand comes, you can bet it aggressively!
9. Do not Play with your Rent money!
First, if you're foolish enough to do this, you're probably not a very good poker player, and you'll be losing those chips. Secondly, research shows that players who have this much at stake in their chip stack, play much weaker. Its simply an emotional block to good play. Yes, you can make alot of money from the game of poker, but fund your bankroll with your extra cash and your winnings!
10. Have a “holistic” Approach
Poker should not be measured in single games. It should be looked at as a lifelong endeavor. If you won $100 tonight, but you lost $500 last night, you are not up $100...you're down $400! On the flip side of that thought, if you had a bad night tonight, losing $70, but you won $200 last night, you're most definitely up $130. Keep track of your wins and losses. Even good poker players have slumps, but if over the long haul, you're losing money, then you need to take a serious look at your game to find and correct your weaknesses.
I can't help but include some of the more interesting gambling quotes I have stumbled across, that warn us as well as inspire us as poker players.
“If you ain't just a little scared when you enter a casino, you are either very rich or you haven't studied the games enough." VP Pappy
"The smarter you play, the luckier you'll be." - Mark Pilarski
"I am now eased in my finances and replenished in my wardrobe." - Andrew Jackson after winning a horse race.
A Smith & Wesson beats four aces. - American Proverb
"He had the calm confidence of a Christian with four aces." - Mark Twain
"A dollar picked up in the road is more satisfaction to us than the 99 which we had to work for, and the money won at Faro or in the stock market snuggles into our hearts in the same way." - Mark Twain