As a player starting out it is easy to be overwhelmed by the rules, poker terms, poker etiquette, understanding your hand, reading the board, recognising what hand beats another, and much much more. Learning as you go along helps but it is a crash course. You are bound to lose many pots and not understand why. While beginner’s luck does happen, it does not hold up every time so here are our Top 10 beginner tips and basic strategies to help guide you:
1. Review the hand rankings
Before you play the game of poker you must know which hand combinations will win over others.
2. Study the best starting hands
In Texas Hold’em, players with big starting hands (AA, KK, QQ, AK, and JJ) are usually in an advantageous position. Yet, how the hands are played can be crucial – especially given that players are likely to get paid more money through them if played really well.
AA and KK
Players with AA and KK in the pocket should try to get their entire stacks into the pot on pre-flop – as getting opponents to commit to the pot against these hands before the flop will likely ensure the most profit for the advantageous players.
Betting in small amounts or calling with the goal of trapping opponents can be a risky move in situations where one has an AA or a KK in the pocket since the flop opens up a lot of options for your opponents, particularly if there are numerous players involved in the pot. Hence, it is best to go all-in on pre-flop.
Of course, the possibility of losing an all-in pre-flop even when one has an AA or a KK is still there – specifically, in situations where the opponents hit a flush or a straight, or when your KK is cracked by opponent pair their Ace on the board.
While AA, KK, and QQ are the three highest hands in poker, AK comes in as the fourth. If, however, neither an A nor a K is hit on the flop, then one’s hand would merely be an A-high. The probability, though, of hitting an A or a K on the flop is as high as 30 per cent – meaning, the way to play the said hand is to make sure that one raises on pre-flop.
If, however, an opponent decides to go all-in, then folding one’s AK might be the best option if you put your opponent on AA or a KK in the pocket as these hands have AK dominated.
QQ and JJ
A lot of poker beginners hate having a QQ or a JJ as their hole cards – they often see it as a monster pre-flop, only to get disappointed upon seeing a K or an A on the flop. The problem, however, is that players tend to overplay their cards when they are equating their QQ/JJ hand with an AA/KK. Depending on the situation, it may not be advisable to go all-in on pre-flop with a QQ/JJ hand, but these are still premium starting hands.
3. Be patient
If you don’t play too many hands your win percentage will increase. Despite the excitement you see on televised games, players should fold the majority of their hands. Be selective on the hands you play. Don’t just waste away your chips because you aren’t getting the quality cards. The objective of poker is to accumulate chips and not give them away.
4. Focus on the fundamentals
Be in the game whether or not you are in the hand. Pay attention to the board, the action and the players. If you are playing with skilled players, observe their body language, listen to what they say, keep a mental record of their betting patterns. On showdowns, look at the cards. This will help you understand the other players’ strategies: what starting hands they play, how they play them and why they play them.
5. Learn when to fold
Sometimes it is okay to give up your cards even if you’ve invested some of your chips. If you are asked to call a big bet and you feel you are already dominated then fold. Live to fight another day.
6. Always consider your position
Most players will tell you that position is everything. Often you will hear players say “I’ve got position on you” or “I’m in a bad position”. In poker, where you are seated (position) can determine both your advantage and disadvantage when playing certain hands. As a novice, there are four vital positions to remember:
The Dealer/Button position is the position on the poker table through which all other positions are distinguished. This is also considered the best position as the player on this position will be the last to act. In other words, you get to see what everyone else does before it is your turn to act. Players also use this position to steal the blinds.
Blinds are forced/required bets. There are two Blind positions: the Small Blind and the Big Blind. At these positions, you may be the last two positions to act pre-flop, however, you are also the two positions to act first after the flop is dealt. Because of this disadvantage, it is advisable for beginners to be careful on the hands they decide to play from these positions.
Under the Gun (UTG)
UTG is the seat immediately after the Big Blind. This is considered one of the most difficult positions to play because a player on this position has to act first once the hole cards are dealt. Most players only raise or fold in this position.
The Cutoff position is the seat immediately to the right of the Dealer/Button. This is considered the second best position in poker. At this position players can steal the last to act position from the Dealer/Button by raising. If the Dealer/Button folds, then the Cutoff has the chance to steal the Blinds.
7. Look for tells
The best way to do this is to pay attention. In poker, a “tell” is defined as an action or a pattern of behaviour that gives clues and information on a player’s cards or intended actions. It is common among beginners and inexperienced poker players to give away obvious tells; yet, even the more experienced players are prone to giving away tells – hence, the usage of sunglasses and other shielding disguises like hats in an attempt to hide actions and facial expressions is common. Also, most poker pros have honed their skills on giving out false tells when wanting to deceive their opponents.
Below is a list of the common tells that poker players should be aware of:
Betting, being the most accurate cards-related tell, reveals the most information on an opponent’s playing style. For example, a player may check whenever he has made the best possible card combination of a specific kind, or regularly fold after being re-raised.
The trembling of one’s hands is perhaps the tell that many players find hard to prevent. This trembling of the hands is a byproduct of anxiety – usually, as a sign of nervousness due to having a really good card combination in hand.
Re-checking pocket cards on flop
Usually, a player takes another peek at his pocket cards after the first three of the community cards are laid on the board. This is done when a player wants to check if his pocket cards are connecting well with the flop.
Glancing at one’s cards then at the stack
A player glancing at his cards for the first time and then immediately diverting his sight to his stack of chips would normally indicate that they have good hole cards and are planning on how much to bet.
A player thinking before making a move could either mean: (1) they are really thinking on whether their card combination is worth the call, or (2) they are making their opponents think that they have a weak hand when in fact they are very strong.
Relaxing after the cards are dealt
A player leaning back in their chair, as if showing how relaxed they are, after seeing their pocket cards for the first time is often a sign they have been dealt undesirable cards and have no interest in playing their hand.
If an opponent is holding their breath while betting, it can be a sign that they are bluffing.
A player’s utmost concentration in a hand would normally suggest that he plans to be a part of the current action at the table.
Most of the time, the player’s posture changes depending on the strength of their hands. A dropping or slumping of the shoulders could mean that a player loses confidence due to having weak cards in the pocket; conversely, sitting in an erect position might suggest that a player has strong cards.
Strong means weak
Players tend to apply reverse psychology in poker tells: strong means weak/weak means strong – it is done when players try to intimidate their opponents and make them act in a way that would be beneficial for them.
8. Learn when to bluff
Novice players have a misconception that poker is about bluffing. Although there are a good amount of bluffs that win sizable pots, the act of bluffing takes a lot of skill, guts and instinct. Below are five tips on when to bluff:
● Bluff when drawing cards land on the board that would complete a strong hand. This way, the other players might think that you actually have the cards in your pocket to, say, complete the card combination of a straight or a flush.
● Bluff when you are mostly aware of your opponent’s habits so as to lessen the risk of your actions being exposed. If they are the type of player to call raises with marginal hands all the way to the river then it might not be a good idea to try to bluff them.
● Bluff high limit tables only. The chances of being called are greater in tables where small amounts of money are being wagered; making high limits, especially No Limit games, ideal for successful bluffing.
● Bluff from late position only. It is more ideal to bluff when the other players at a table have already checked, called, or folded; as bluffing from an early position isn’t advisable since your opponents’ hands can’t be guessed yet.
● Don’t bluff too much. This might create a bluffing pattern, which is recognisable to the other players. A good bluffing strategy is something that the opponents do not spot easily – you must keep them guessing.
9. Avoid becoming predictable
Playing and raising only when you have a good hand is a good start but players will immediately recognise this and most likely fold to you. You may have won the pot but it will only be a small one. Same goes with always folding on a raise or re-raise. Add a little creativity to your game, like bluffing once in a while, or raising with a mediocre hand in a good position, these plays will help elevate your game.
Learn from your mistakes. Remember, the objective is to accumulate chips. As any poker player knows, it is much more fun leaving a poker table with winnings.