5 Beginner Tips to Significantly Improve Your Poker Game
By no means am I a good poker player, but I believe that these five tips that I follow have significantly improved my game. By understanding and implementing these tips, I believe that you’ll be able to improve your game too.
The five tips are…
2. Understand what ranges are and stop playing every hand
3. Pay attention to positioning
4. If you don’t know how to bluff, don’t.
Let’s say some charges you $2 for a coin toss.
If it’s heads, you win $3.
If it’s tails, you lose.
If you were a rational person, you wouldn’t play this game because you would lose money on average.
Since the odds of it being heads or tails is 50%, then your expected payout would be as follows:
E[payout] = 0.5 * $3.00 + 0.5 * $0.00 = $1.50 – $2.00 (initial cost to play)
E[payout] = -$0.5
If we changed it so that you won $5.00 if it landed on heads then your expected payout would be positive and you should play the game.
E[payout] = 0.5 * $5.00 + 0.5 * $0.00 = $2.50 – $2.00
E[payout] = $0.50
This is how pot odds work. You compare the cost to play (pot odds) with the expected payout (expected value).
Let’s look at another example.
- You and Bob are at the flop. There are two dollars in the pot and bob bets $1.00.
- If you called, you‘d be betting $1.00 for a $3.00 pot (This is the cost to play). In this case, your pot odds are 3 to 1 or 25% ($1/($1+$3)).
- You should only call when your odds of winning are higher than the pot odds.
- If you flop an open-ended straight draw, this gives you eight outs which means that you’ll hit your hand by the river 31.5% of the time.
- Since 31.5% (expected value) is higher than 25% (pot odds), you should call Bob’s bet.
A range is a combination of hands a player might have at a given time. This is useful during the pre-flop and post-flop.
There are many books, like the Grinder’s Manual, that suggest specific ranges of hands that are positive EV (positive expected value). In simpler terms, there are hands that are generally profitable to play and hands that are not.
You don’t have to play by the books and can loosen or tighten your range to your liking, but you should generally follow these ranges. You should also keep in mind that there are different ranges for different positions and different scenarios (we’ll talk about positioning in the next tip).
After the flop comes, thinking about hands in terms of ranges and probabilities will take you to the next level. Instead of thinking “Do I have a good hand?”, start to ask “What are the possible combinations of hands that my opponent can have and what percentage of those hands can beat mine?”. By adding that extra layer of questioning, you’ll be putting yourself in more favourable scenarios and less unfavourable scenarios.
Because information is so limited in poker, every bit of it counts. That’s why playing as the button is the best position in poker. As the button, there are many benefits in addition to being the last person to act after knowing your opponents’ actions.
- You have the power to control the pot. Too big? Simply fold. Too small? Raise the bet.
- Playing in position allows you to bluff easier.
- By being the last person to play, you can calculate finalized pot odds
Overall, playing in position gives you more information and control and puts you in higher EV situations.
Bluffing definitely adds a layer of complexity, and it’s what makes poker so interesting, but it needs to be executed properly. You need to consider factors like:
- The sequence of events
- Your opponents’ range
- How aggressive your opponents and you play
- How many hands your opponents and you played
For example, the average percentage of hands that you’re supposed to play is 18 to 22%. If you’re the type of player that plays less than 9% of your hands (high pairs, AJs, AQs, AKs), your opponents can narrow the number of possibilities to around 12–16 different hands out of 169 and will know if a bluff doesn’t make sense.
To be honest, you shouldn’t bluff much to start with. Most beginners get wiped out because they think that they have to bluff every other hand. You don’t and you shouldn’t.
But if you decide to, remember that every move you make tells a story, and if the story doesn’t make sense, a decent player will catch you.
If you REALLY love bluffing, you can try something called semi-bluffing. Semi-bluffing is when you bet when you have the potential to have the best hand but have nothing when you bet.
A common example of semi-bluffing is a situation like this:
- You have A2 suited, let’s say hearts.
- The board is 3H, 4H, 9D.
- Everyone checks on the flop.
- You can bet on the turn as a semi-bluff since you don’t have anything at the moment but have the potential to have the best hand, a flush.
Finally, be rigid and develop your own set of rules that works for your playing style. Figure out your range that you want to 3-bet on. Develop rules that will force you to fold when you’re in unfavourable situations and rules that will force you to bet in favourable positions. Rules are important because it ensures consistency and poker is all about consistently putting yourself in positive EV scenarios on average over the long run.
At the same time, you must be flexible. For example, if you’re 3-betting preflop to force opponents to fold and everyone calls then you should consider 4-betting instead. If your losing money on weak hands, tighten your range. If your opponents never fold, stop bluffing.
Overall, by understanding and incorporating these five tips into your poker game, I can guarantee that you’ll see major improvements.