Poker strategy, how it works

26.02.2024
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Updated 02.04.2024
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Poker strategy, how it works

What it is? Poker strategy is a line of action at the table. Numerous factors affect the choice of a playing framework: tournament or cash, pot size, level of opponents, hand.

Which ones to use? There are basic strategies or rules that are important and must be implemented in every hand. But also there are more subtle techniques, styles and tactics, and they need to be studied and developed in order to improve your level of play.

Difference between tactics and strategy in poker

Let’s first figure out how poker strategy differs from tactics, so that we no longer get confused with these terms. Tactics are basically certain techniques for specific game situations. For example, tactics are a check-raise, a continuation bet, stealing the blinds, slowplay and, of course, a very famous one, bluffing. The effectiveness of using all these tools characterizes the professional level of the player.

Poker strategy, how it works

Tactical techniques mainly develop in those varieties of poker where there are open common cards: Texas Hold’em, Omaha. Texas Hold’em is by far the most popular game; it is the core of the most famous poker competitions like World Series of Poker and so on.

Strategy, on the other hand, is a more abstract concept and plays a huge role in game. In poker, strategy is the optimal order of actions. In the most famous type of poker game, Texas Hold’em, quite a lot of strategies have been developed, since the starting conditions (number of participants at the table, type of opponents, stack size, etc.) are very diverse.

Poker is a game of incomplete information. Until the very end of the game, players do not know exactly who has which cards, and are forced to draw conclusions and make decisions only based on their own set of cards, as well as those cards that are laid out on the board.

The quality of decisions is largely depends on the playing distance and is based on a probabilistic approach. This approach is all about calculating expected value for particular action, be it a raise, a check, etc. The poker strategies described below are based on accurate calculations, and not on fortune telling. Many poker players of various levels who use these strategies have achieved success in the game.

Required conditions for applying strategies and tactics in poker

Poker strategy

Any poker strategy (be it cash poker, be it Omaha, or even Triple Draw) is created with one single goal of generating maximum profit for as long as possible.

Poker strategy, how it works

To do this, poker player must strictly follow a number of rules:

  • Thoughtful bankroll management: you should manage your poker capital in a way that allows you to realize your expected value. Simply put, no wise strategic plan will help if the money suddenly runs out and you go bankrupt.
  • Responsible tournaments and table selection. Look for the playing conditions that are comfortable for you. For example, you can select table based on the level of opponents, number of players or their stack sizes. If at least one condition does not meet your requirements, you will not only not see any income, but also lose everything.
  • Choosing and managing starting stack. Sit down at the table with a stack that allows you to achieve optimal profit. When your stack size changes throughout the game, you should bring it back to starting point (either top it up or quit the table).
  • Proven game style. Practice the style you are used to and use a starting hand range that suits it. However, you also need to be able to adjust your style in order to adapt to specific conditions (the behavior of your opponents, first of all).
  • Poker mathematics. Any decision of a poker player during the game should be based on math calculations that determine which actions are profitable and which are not. Only sheer math can help you actually play profitably in a long run and make wiser decisions.
  • Analysis of opponents’ game and gathering statistics. Of course, it is important to carefully watch other players’ game and use stats to define optimal strategy. You can either manually make notes or use special software to gather data.
  • Analyzing your own strategy. Watching your own hand histories helps you find mistakes and blunders and eventually hone your skills to make more money.
  • Managing emotions. Making impulsive decision is a bad idea when it comes to poker. You need to control your emotions at the table. Try different methods, look for what works for you and try to avoid tilting.
  • Poker sessions schedule. A professional poker player arranges his gaming schedule in a way he can get the volume he wants and do not get tired at the same time; fatigue does not contribute to good results.

These aspects cover not only the gameplay itself, but also time you spend away from the tables. Pay attention to all of them, your performance depends on it.

Poker tactics

At any given moment of the game, conditions may change, be it the size of the pot, new runouts, dynamic of the game, or bet sizes. Unfortunately, it is not possible calculate the correct solution in every situation. If, for example, you have a clearly losing hand, but you suspect villain’s hand is just as bad, then you can use certain tactics that will help achieve the following goals:

  • Increase the pot. In situations where victory is guaranteed, you can try to increase the pot by not betting or carefully choosing bet sizing.
  • Cut your losses: You can minimize your losses by trying to guess the next card.
  • Improve your situation at the table: you can improve the value of your hand by pushing some of the opponents out of the pot.
Poker strategy, how it works
  • Win in a situation where you are seem to lose: If you are able to convince your opponent that your hand is best and successfully bluff, you can win even with trash in your hands.

In order to use these tactics wisely and in the right time, you need a number of specific skills, the main one of which is an accurate and realistic assessment of the situation: your chances of winning, your opponents’ cards and number of opponents in the pot. Now you know that in a game like poker strategy and tactics are not the same thing. However, both serve to make a profit.

Basic Poker Strategies

Among all card games, poker is one of the most popular and it is not just about having fun. A poker player must be able to think strategically, analyze the situation and grab luck by the tail. No matter your current poker experience, understanding the key strategies will definitely improve your game.

Let us briefly look at ten basic poker strategies (for beginners and pros) that will increase your chances of winning.

  • Read the rules of the game carefully. This recommendation is the most important for any poker player. By understanding the rules, you will be able to find the right solutions and avoid mistakes.
  • Stay unpredictable so your opponents can’t read your cards. Introduce some variety.
Poker strategy, how it works
  • Take advantage of your position. Leave strong cards for late position, and use the weakest ones first. This will allow you to gather information about what your opponents are holding.
  • Don’t play too many hands. Give preference only to the strongest ones.
  • Bluff smartly. Bluffing really works, but if you use it too much, your opponents will stop trusting you.
  • Keep track of what cards are on the table and remember what cards has been revealed; this will make your future decisions more informed.
  • None of the poker strategies involves acting on emotions. Poker is a competition of cool minds. Hysterical antics and attempts to recoup the losses will lead you to a dead end.
  • Get ready for a long run. In poker, the longer the game goes, the more strategy and intelligence influence its outcome. Of course, the outcome also depends on luck, but if you did not have any, do not worry and just continue playing.

If your poker game is not chaotic, but subordinated to strategy, then the chances of success increase. However, remember that this is a game after all, and a lot depends on fortune. Do not panic if you cannot win every game.

If you are a beginner, any strategy could be tough to put into practice. Before you start using the strategy, study it well and also get some practice. For example, you can play poker online or take part in local tournaments that take place in many cities: this will allow you to take a closer look at the game and improve your skills.

Poker is a real art, not just precise calculation. Enable your intelligence, gain knowledge and do not forget to enjoy the process!

Pros and cons of using premade poker strategies for beginners

In poker, for every ten weak and average players there is only one truly successful one. Most of the players just use a starting hands chart, which they get from a regular who plays more or less successfully and beats micro stakes, and nothing else.

And only after a lot of time and several deposits wasted people begin to think that it would be a good idea to try to master at least some basic techniques, not to mention poker strategies.

A number of poker sites offer premade strategies and beginners can use them at first. Poker schools are especially useful in this regard. Don’t expect to find a universal strategy on those sites that will work in every spot; if you have little experience, you can always face a more experienced opponent at the table.

Poker strategy, how it works

Analyze successful plays and strategies from every angle and develop your own strategy. However, we advise you to start by studying those premade techniques in order to grasp the general principle of how strategies are built: this will allow you to dive deeper into the theory. Poker strategies developed specifically for beginners have both pros and cons:

  • The biggest advantage is that it’s easy to master;
  • Another advantage is the ability to choose a methodology for a specific poker room and conditions;
  • The biggest disadvantage is that for experienced regulars those strategies are very easy to read;
  • Simplified techniques cannot be developed or refined (also a disadvantage).

Therefore, premade methods are a good trampoline for a beginner when he makes his first steps in learning theory. To become a professional and consistently make money playing cards, you need to not only learn all the theory, but also create your own effective strategy.

Without strategy, consistent winning is impossible. Therefore, we advise beginners: once you master the rules, start familiarizing yourself with the theory of poker by reading textbooks and articles, watching educational videos, or attending poker school. And, of course, put new knowledge into practice, otherwise you will not see success. Keep in mind that there are no unbeatable strategies, since for any good player there’s a better one.

Main types of poker players

Playing styles are basically common strategical types. Each style has many varieties, its own disadvantages and advantages. The main thing that any poker player must learn is to adapt his playing style to specific conditions and opponents.

Poker strategy, how it works

The effectiveness of any poker strategy in a hand is determined by:

  • The level of aggressiveness in the hand;
  • The strengths of the hands.

You should pretty much do the opposite of what your opponents do, if everyone is loose, you should play tight and if everyone is tight, you should play loose.

In poker theory, there are four main types of play. These are two dichotomies: aggressive and passive play, tight and loose play. Players who prefer these methods have their own characteristics.

Loose poker players

They have limitless ranges of hands. These people’s motto is “we have to reach the flop and then decide what to do on the spot.” They resort to folding very rarely.

Bluffing against them practically does not work, because they are bluffing themselves. However, when it comes time to showdown, their hands are not often good.

Tight poker players

These are the opposite of loose players. The list of hands they are willing to play with is very short.

A bluff (or at least a semi-bluff) works well against a tight player. These players are risk averse. You can beat them in one or two hands, it’s not difficult. It is difficult to get a lot of money from them.

Aggressive poker players

Such players actively build the pot, making large raises and re-raises in order to intimidate their opponents and create the impression that they have as many as five aces (of the same suit) at their disposal. Opponents do not even dare to ask whether this is possible.

The aggressive style is becoming generally accepted in modern poker, and it is precisely these players that the audience sympathizes with.

Is it profitable? Well, this is determined by the player’s ability to control his aggression.

The best-case scenario for an aggressive player is inflating the pot of on nothing really and then squeezing everyone out of it.

Passive poker players

They mainly use check-call and act on the principle “Slow and steady wins the race.” A passive player always doubts whether his hand is strong enough (except, perhaps, in cases of a royal flush).

Poker Playing Styles

These four approaches form four game styles in poker, differing in the number of hands played and the style of betting.

Poker strategy, how it works

These are tigh- passive, tight-aggressive (TAG), loose-aggressive (LAG) and loose-passive styles. The abbreviations LAG and TAG also characterize players committed to these styles of play.

Tight-aggressive.

TAGs only play with the strongest starting hands. 80% of their action preflop is folding. However, having received a strong draw, these players go on full offense: they make check-raises, raises, and put bets. They have a reputation of poker sharks. For many poker players who consistently earn a lot of money from the game, it is the TAGs who make them suffer. TAGs are like brokers on the stock exchange, monitoring the situation and reacting to the slightest change in quotes.

Why is the tight-aggressive style so beneficial? Because aggressiveness and patience are valued most in poker, and these qualities are combined in the TAG game. The tight-aggressive style has virtually no downsides.

Well, except for the games with small stacks, which is not favorable for TAGs, since they have to fold a lot and still have to pay blinds and antes. This leads us to the tight-passive style.

Tight-passive

These players seem to be made of stone with nerves of steel, looks as if nothing fazes them. This can be both an advantage and (more often) a disadvantage; they take decisive steps only when something unpredictable happens. Then they are willing to take risks.

Poker strategy, how it works

However, since such a style of play exists and is quite popular, it means that it is probably good for something. When playing against loose-passive opponents, a tight-passive player can make good money.

However, the predictability of their actions and a range of starting hands that easy to read make tight-passive players easy targets for the pros. It is not hard to identify this strategy after watching just several hands, which is what TAGs usually do. And after identifying tight-passive opponents, they start stealing blinds and antes from them. Tight-passive players usually raise or bet with a strong draw or a strong hand and TAGs just fold to it. So even when tight-passive player wins, he doesn’t get much money.

The difference between a tight passive player and an active player is that the TAG will try to get the most out of a strong hand (and he will probably succeed), while the passive opponent will act hesitantly and timidly, even with a flush draw on the flop.

Loose-passive

In contrast to TAGs, who correspond to the stereotypical image of a good poker player, loose-passive ones are usually considered recreational or fishy (which means they are an easy prey at the table). They usually start with limping or calling preflop and play almost every hand. In poker, aggressive strategies are more effective, but loose-passive players do not like them, which makes beating them more satisfying.

According to experienced players, loose-passive comrades do not even play poker, but simply play cards for fun. As poker spreads throughout the world and global library describing various game nuances forms, the question increasingly began to arise as to whether it is correct to consider the loose-passive style a specific style of play or whether it is simply a lack of experience and a poor understanding of the rules.

When players become more experienced and skilled, they switch to LAG or TAG playstyle, other ones cannot provide consistence winnings in the long term.

When playing against a “fish”, you do not have to strain at all, all you have to do is bet with strong hands and check when in doubt. Do not worry, the loose-passive opponent will definitely check back with mediocre hands. Of course, there is a luck factor involved and even fishy players can make good hands from time to rime.

Loose-aggressive

This style of play is characteristic for many professional poker players. It is because of them, most likely, we have live broadcasts of poker tournaments; when a viewer watches these guys play he always wonders how they manage to get away with it all the time.

Loose-aggressive players get the biggest share of antes and blinds, they win astronomical pots, and opponents with good hands are not a problem for them, LAGs easily bypass them. The secret to success is skillful bluffing. Nobody knows what LAG has, is it a hand he represents or something completely different?

Poker strategy, how it works

Sounds attractive, doesn’t it? However, in terms of sheer profit, this poker strategy is far from the best. There is a chance to hit a huge jackpot, but the risk of losing is also very high. The amount you can win by playing loose-aggressive is determined by the probability theory.

Any passive players, especially those with a short stack, are powerless against LAGs. However, competent and advanced TAGs can easily compete with them and end up winning without much effort, really. LAGs often intimidate opponents with huge bets on the river stage, and you need to watch the hand carefully and estimate the odds you require to make a profitable call.

Beginners consider a loose-aggressive poker strategy to be a magic pill that will help them win huge amounts of money in Texas Hold’em in no time. However, this style is anything but recommended for beginners.

First, you have to learn how to read your opponents by mastering both math and psychology of poker, and only then, there is a chance you will not burn all your money in the first few hands and maybe even win some.

All these styles are just general algorithms that include basic functions and help you understand what playing techniques exist today. A true poker master knows how to choose and change his style during the game as needed; this is the pinnacle of the game’s art. No one can predict his actions; he is simply beyond all frameworks and categories.

Poker strategy, how it works

The more knowledge and practice a player has, the more techniques he has tried and applied, the easier it is for him to choose the appropriate and most profitable one. To develop your own personal playing style, you need to try all existing poker styles first.

Strategies for playing poker depending on the stack size

There are two types of poker strategies:

  • Tournament;
  • Ring games (cash poker).

In tournaments blinds are constantly growing, which leads to the changes in strategy. In general, tournament play is based on a tight-aggressive approach with an emphasis on aggressive plays with strong hands. All tournament poker strategies belong to either the SNG (Sit and Go) group or the MTT (Multi-table tournament) group.

In a cash version of Hold’em, the strategy is determined by the size of the starting stack. There are three possible poker strategies:

  • Short stack strategy (SSS);
  • Mid stack strategy (MSS);
  • Big stack strategy (BSS).

The first thing to consider is the people you are playing against (both in tournament as a whole and in a certain hand). Usually the player finds himself among complete strangers, and he needs to take a closer look at them, which takes some time. But before you have enough information, you need to focus on the size of the stack.

Deep stack

This stack sizes are characteristic for early stages of a tournament or cash games. Here you can be creative and get an unreadable hand. Try to enter the pot more with suited connectors and gappers, hands with nut potential.

The dream of any Texas Hold’em player is royal flush, the strongest possible hand. However, making a royal flush does not mean you win a lot of money. It is actually easier to get opponent’s stack by making a nut flush with A5s or by hitting a nonobvious straight.

If the blinds are not particularly large compared to the stack size, then it is recommended to play more hands. However, there is no point in increasing the pot without having a monster draw with a lot of outs or a nut hand.

Middle stack

As the game progresses, the stacks decrease in size, in relation to the blinds. Total number of chips in the tournament stays the same, but the blinds grow. Here you need to act more carefully and avoid playing borderline and marginal hands. 

Poker strategy, how it works

Use tight-aggressive playstyle, as if you were waiting for a very strong hand that you want to use to the maximum and double up.

Short stack

It’s ambiguous, it’s easier and harder at the same time. You are not going to reach the flop most likely, which makes the game easier. However, you have to decide whether you go all-in or fold preflop and it is tough for many players.

Of course, there is a temptation to wait, in hopes that you magically get pocket aces and stack off in good shape. But often you can’t afford to wait for many rounds. Experienced players study push-fold strategies for short stacks, which are based on math calculations.

3 strategies for playing poker without position

Position influences decisions in poker both preflop and postflop.

Being in position (IP), means that you get to act last and it is more profitable.

Poker strategy, how it works

Being out of position (OOP), means you act before your opponents, which is not great and overall less profitable.

Usually players in early positions (EP) and players on the blinds are the ones to play OOP postflop.

In poker, information is always incomplete, and being OOP is bad because level of uncertainty reaches its peak; you have to act knowing almost nothing about opponent’s hand.

So you act based on your hand strength preflop and postflop you also consider the board.

Bluffing in poker is profitable, and this is important to remember. However, when playing out of position, this is extremely difficult to do, which is another disadvantage of being OOP.

You can put pressure on weak hands postflop when in position. Hands like 3rd pairs or underpairs your opponents most likely would fold before the river.

You can follow different lines in poker.

“Bet on the Flop” Scenario

For preflop-raiser on low stakes it is reasonable to put in continuation bets both for value and as a bluff:

  • For dry boards use 1/3 of a pot bet;
  • For wet board and T-hight and lower boards use half pot bet.

For a continuation bet (both as a bluff and for value) to be profitable, the following conditions must be met:

  • if there is only one opponent, then a continued bet is always profitable;
  • if you are playing against two, then only bet on a dry board (an uncoordinated board where flush draws are not possible);
  • It is not advisable to bluff against three or more opponents.

On turns and rivers, you have to act according to the strength of your hand and evaluate if the board is suitable for bluffing. For a value hand, go for bet-bet-bet line (3 barrels, 50-70% of the pot).

You can bluff if the board is dry and there is only one high card (A, K, Q). Keep an eye on your opponent’s stats; bluffing when opponent has high WWSD or Fold vs C-bet is more profitable.

“Bet-Check-Bet” Scenario

This is a more balanced scenario, suitable for both bluffing and value. The preflop raiser here can choose between medium value hands (which he does not want to bet 3 streets with) and strong semi-bluffs (which he wants to check/call on the turn).

Poker strategy, how it works

However, there are still some complete bluffs in hero’s range (which he used as a bluff on the flop and then decided to give up on the turn). If your opponents doesn’t bluff the turn, you can often take the pot by betting the river.

“Flop check” Scenario and balancing the checking range

The higher the stakes, the more the strategy of a preflop aggressor changes when OOP.

Over time, your opponents will get more and more information about your opening ranges. Therefore, once in position, they are less likely to fold to our continuation bets on the flop.

Therefore, there is no reason to always C-bet flop when OOP and we have to check more and make sure our checking range is balanced. Balanced means we protect our checking range by check/calls and check/raises.

Our flop play OOP is balanced when we have stats of around 40-35-25 (25% check/raising flop).

Poker strategy, how it works

Check-call on the flop. The goals of this action for the preflop aggressor are as follows:

  • Get value from villain’s bluffs.
  • Protect your checking range.

Check-raise on the flop. It is a profitable line if you play 22$ and higher. This will allow you to kill three birds with one stone:

  • Give an impression of a weaker hand.
  • Get value from someone else’s bluff.
  • Get protection against draws.

Check/calling is more difficult. Opponents can keep on betting, which makes our life harder. In the beginning, it is better to learn how to defend your checking range by check/raising.

You can use check/raises on low wet boards, which you can actually attack relentlessly on lower stakes. You can use pretty much any overcards with backdoor draws.

You can also check/raise draws mixing it with your value hands.

Poker Strategy FAQ

How tournament strategy is different?

Compared to cash games, in MTTs different strategies and techniques are applied. Stack size changes at different stages of the tournament, going from deep to medium and then often reaching push-fold levels.

In addition, there are additional factors which effect decisions we make:

  • ITM (In the money): Every player wants to get in the money and when we come close, people play more cautiously.
  • Final table: a small number of players at the table means slow hands. Those whose stack is small try to stay in the tournament as long as possible, because of the significant pay jumps.

What is the point of playing with the fish?

In the early stages, it is usually difficult to stick to a tight style and push your opponents out of hands. Inexperienced poker players only look at their own stack (ignoring other players’ bets and pot size), so their chips drain very slowly at first. You can and should turn this into a positive. For example, by using implied value.

Why is Implied Value so good?

JTs and other similar suited hands are marginal. However, in tournaments, in some cases such connectors turn out to be very strong, since the implied value is high. For example, if there’s a draw on the board and a lot of loose limpers in the pot, it’s a great spot for our speculative hands. The position allows you to play this hand based on the odds. In addition, you can also be aggressive and add some fold equity.

Poker strategy, how it works

The key thing to consider here is that you need to mask your hand with fold equity. Having doubted that your hand is strong (failing to accurately evaluate and calculate it), your opponent will pay you handsomely if you hit a draw.

Such an error in calculations can bring a good profit (including implied value). Therefore, if you want to play effectively and keep your opponents guessing learn different poker strategies and control your aggression.

Hide the strength of your hand when opponents think you are just pushing them out of the pot. And at the same time, learn to bluff and create an impression of a strong hand to intimidate your opponents, even when this is not the case at all.

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