Tip #1: Think about ranges and frequencies, not specific hands
You’ve probably seen pro’s make comments about their opponents having just a single hand on a televised cash game or a tournament and ending up being right on their guess. However, there is a clear distinction between your average poker player and an elite winning pro: The average player tries to put the opponent on an exact hand, while the winning pro think in terms of hand ranges i.e. all the hands their opponent could play that way in some specific situations.
A player’s range might include only nutted hands like the highest set, flush, boat or a straight flush on a specific board, a polarized selection of nutted hands and complete bluffs, or anything in between. The important point is to cut down the possible hand combinations while in hand according to the previous actions this player has taken preflop, on the flop and so on. If you can correctly figure out the frequencies and ranges of your opponents taking a certain line, you can make a much better decision against them.
Tip #2: Play fewer hands, play them aggressively and preferably in position
Intuitively many new players come to the conclusion that winning more pots is better – the more pots you win, the more money you make in theory, right? Surprisingly, the biggest winners in ring games and especially full-ring, don’t win a lot of pots. Instead, they only play a solid selection of hands and win huge pots when they have the odds on their side. Mathematically it’s MUCH better to the favourite to win a few large pots, than to try winning many pots with disadvantageous hands.
The simple yet best approach in poker is to play a solid, rather tight range of hands aggressively. In poker you want to find advantages, and playing tight & aggressively gives exactly those: You usually have a card advantage when entering a pot and you have two ways to win the hand when playing aggressively: By making the best hand or forcing your opponent(s) to fold their equity. If you can combine these with the third advantage, being in position, you’re well on your way to maximizing your profits at the tables!
Tip #3: Know the real two reasons for betting (no, they’re not value betting and bluffing!)
Tip #4: Fast-play your monsters & semi-bluff with your draws
Slowplaying and generally playing too passively with your monsters and draws is one of the most common leaks among average players. This mostly comes from the belief of opponents folding to their aggression every time you have a strong hand. Of course it can be disappointing when you flop a great hand and your opponent folds to a bet, but the even bigger disappointment is missing out on the potential of winning a huge pot instead of one or being outdrawn by not betting aggressively enough.
There are some exceptions though. For example, on dry flops such as A♣9♠4♦ it can be okay to slowplay your strong hands, as your opponents might take this as a sign of weakness and try to bluff you off your hand. On this kind of boards, the bluffs of your opponents are quite unlikely to improve enough to beat your strong hands and it’s very rare they have a draw here. Let’s say you had pockets nines for a middle set on that flop – it would be actually great if your opponent hit trip aces holding one ace in his hand to lose to your hand that would be improved to a full-house, or otherwise improved to the second best hand, meaning they would keep betting more money into the pot. If he has the higher set with pocket aces, you will lose a lot, but that’s not our main concern in the hand since the probability of this set over set situation is really low – the most important point is think how to maximize your EV against the whole range of your opponent.
On a wet flop like J♣T♠9♣ it’s much better to play more straightforward with your strong hands, because many turn and/or river cards might improve your opponent to a winning hand or stop them from giving you action, if the board gets too scary for their second best hand to continue.
Tip #5: Defend your Big Blind frequently
Each time you’re dealt a hand in Big Blind, you’re getting better odds to call against a raise preflop since you already have 1BB invested in the pot. Due to this discounted price to call preflop, you can profitably call more hands preflop last to act than you would from other positions like Small Blind or Cut-off. To give you some guidance in how to approach this situation, you should follow these 3 points:
Point 1. Position of the raise and other callers: You should play much tighter against early position raises, and if there are 1 or more callers already you should only choose hands that play well multiway.
Point 2. Raise sizing: The smaller the size, the more hands you should defend. The larger the size, the less hands you should defend.
Point 3. Effective stack sizes: Effective stack size is the smaller of the two stacks of yours and your opponent. When effective stack size is small like 20-60BB, you should fold most of your speculative hands and aim to play higher cards. When effective stack size is bigger, +100BB, you can play a wider range of hands.
Additionally, you should consider the skill difference between you and your opponent. Against superior opponents, you need to play tighter as they’re less likely to make mistakes. But, if the raiser is a recreational player, you should be able to outplay them postflop more often than not, allowing you to call a wider range of hands.
Tip #6: Fold when you’re likely to be beaten
Is folding a great hand fun when you know you’re beaten? Not at all. But is it profitable in the long run ? Absolutely. In any poker game, every dollar saved with a good fold is as valuable as every dollar won by betting. Making good folds is not the most satisfying experience in poker, but you would rather lose a small or medium pot than a big one.
Yet, laying down a good hand when you should is one of the hardest things to do, sometimes even for professional players. Human beings tend to be curious and you can’t win the pot by folding. Rest assured: You actually can outplay the other player by folding in a spot where he would pay you off, if the cards were reversed. You might lose an individual hand, but you will win the war by playing better than your opponent.
Tip #7: Play in a good state of mind
The main reason for recreational players to play poker is having fun and enjoying the social aspect of the game while having a thrill. Whether you are playing to win or not, you should always try to enjoy yourself at the tables, even if play a disciplined game and are looking to make money by playing. Many of the long-time biggest winners in poker are very strict about playing only when they feel balanced and are in a good state of mind. Playing when you’re fatigued, frustrated or simply having your mind elsewhere is a quick way to lose your edge at the tables, so don’t do that!
If the possibility of losing money in your next session is on your mind and bothers you, you should probably skip playing and take some rest & do other activities instead. Your bankroll will thank you later!
Tip #8: Table select and only play in good games
No matter how good you are at poker, if you play against competition better than yourself you will lose in the long run. Selecting good games is maybe the most important single discipline that will greatly affect your long-term results.
When looking for good games, you want to have such players at the table who limp or play passively, are playing a lot of multiway pots, and 3bet & 4bet very rarely. Alternatively, if they 3bet & 4bet pretty every second hand, this is also a game you want to play at, as they will be putting too much money in the pot with weak holdings!
Some might argue that you never get good if you don’t play against better players. While this is somewhat true, you can get the best of both worlds by playing in a good game and becoming a better player if you play in a game where most of the people play terrible so you have an edge, but a few players are really good at what they do and you can observe and learn from the hands they play. Still, in most cases you should just go for a game with the absolute worst players you can find.