Stages of Learning Poker Strategy - Learning the Mechanics of the Game
As with any game the basis to understanding any strategy is knowing how the game works. In this way poker is fantastic in its simplicity, as learning how the game plays and which hand beats another is fairly straightforward.
Each hand follows a set pattern, which is repeated as the game goes on. For example in Hold'em the two players left of the dealer place the blinds, everyone is dealt 2 cards then a round of betting commences. Then the flop, turn and river are all dealt, with a round of betting between each, assuming players are not all-in. The winner is the person who is left in with the strongest hand, once all the betting is completed.
While the actual details of Hold'em or other poker games can be found in any introductory book or online article about the subject, the key is every hand follows the same pattern and wins according to set rules.
Often at this time players start to incorporate basic poker odds, and determine how likely hands are likely to be the best or improve. This way you can start to judge how strong or weak your hand is.
Stages of Learning Poker Strategy - Introducing Your Opponent
Of course poker is not a solitary game and incorporating other players hands possibilities into your own decision is vital. When players first start out they will often cling onto high pairs, as these are regularly winning hands against random cards. As a result these hands end up cost new players a lot of money, as they fail to take into account how their opponents actions, combined with the board cards, may indicate a stronger holding.
At first this seemingly impossible task may be put down to the mysterious ability to 'soul-read' people, or spotting some subtle tell. While physical tells are important to some established live pros far more value can be gained from the art of hand reading and picking up on betting patterns.
While you will rarely be able to put your opponent on an exact hand, learning to figure out what type, or range of hands they will play in certain situations will help you here. This is done by applying logic to you observations and is a skill which is developed with experience. Fitting this range in with the board texture and how your opponent is betting will, with practice, help you figure out where you stand.
Tip: Certain poker formats are aimed at recreational and novice players, and are (comparitively) easy to beat when compared to traditional cash games. I recommend you check out the Lottery Sit N Goes or the range of Fast Fold Poker games available online.
Stages of Learning Poker Strategy - The Right Time and Place
Even the greenest novice knows that poker is not just about matching hands, bluffing is a key element of the game that everyone is familiar with. When you first start playing there may be a tendency to bluff too much or believe your opponents are bluffing you often. Then players normally switch to being too tight once they have learnt about how strong their hand actually compared to what is possible. By improving your hand reading skills and gaining experience through play you can then start spotting the right places where you can throw in the odd bluff, or see through those of your opponents.
Knowing the when to make certain plays, not just bluffs, also depends on choosing the right time. While this applies to all poker it is particularly key to understanding tournaments. Here the increasing blinds enforce a constant pressure on your stack, you have to know when the right time is to push, fold, raise and call. There are many occasions where the same hand in the same position will be played in completely different ways due to your stack size and that of your opponents, regardless of reads or any other influence.
Stages of Learning Poker Strategy - The Next Level
While you are already aware of your opponents holding, understanding their thought process normally comes later. The main point to remember is all players have different levels of poker knowledge and while it is easy to assume your opponent knows the same things you do, this is rarely the case. There will be many times where your opponents knowledge is far less or far more than your own and this will change the way they approach their hand.
When you face an advanced opponent you also need to realise they are thinking about you too. If your opponent capabilities to your own it may even get into a 'leveling war' where you are trying to out-think each other so he knows that you know that he knows that you know...etc. The next stage therefore is normally understanding how to balance your play to protect you from being out-thought in this manner. Of course this can only be used when you have history with opponents and you are better off taking the a simple route with unknowns.
More Poker Articles That Will Get You Off to a Profitable Start:
Common Poker Mistakes (come 'clangers' to avoid)
Way Ahead / Way Behind Situations (common spots in poker games, and how to cope)
Poker Tournaments (a great way to get experience for a small outlay, with the chance of a big prize on top!)