Archive for category Poker Strategy Tips & Advice

Tip: Pay attention to escalating bets; a small mistake speculating pre-flop can be a huge mistake later

When the blinds are still relatively low, it’s only a small mistake speculating pre-flop. Sometimes you can afford to splash around with a marginal hand, hoping to hit an unlikely flop or to steal the pot away from a tight opponent. As long as you don’t do this consistently, you add variety to your game, make yourself more difficult for your opponents to read, and can win a huge pot from an unsuspecting opponent if you flop lucky.


But the further into the betting you go, the more expensive the betting gets. Texas hold em has four betting rounds, and the betting gets more and more expensive the further you go with the hand. In fact, for the mathematicians out there, the betting in no limit hold em can expand geometrically. This means that it’s only a small mistake to splash into a pot, but it can become a huge mistake to stick around with a marginal hand.


This is how loose players can profit from their play: by speculating with weak hands, hoping the implied odds if they make a big hand will allow them to get paid off by the river. As a tight player, you need to try to deny them those implied odds. Or if you’re playing loose, you need to extract maximum value with aggressive betting on the turn and river. You’ll make the most money by pushing your hands hard on the final two betting rounds. Just remember: you’ll also lose the most money sticking around for the final two, most expensive betting rounds. The turn and the river are the most important parts of a hand, and usually define whether the hand is profitable or a loss.

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Winning Poker Play – Playing the River in No Limit Hold em

Hold em Poker Strategy, Tips & Advice Section


There are four betting rounds in Texas Hold em. If there’s no limit betting, that’s four opportunities to earn an opponent’s entire stack. The fact that there are so many opportunities for high-stakes betting is why Doyle Brunson called no limit hold em the “Cadillac of poker” in his original Super System. With so many opportunities to extract value from your hand, a talented poker player can make a lot of money playing this game vs. traditional draw poker with only two betting rounds (one before and one after drawing).


To be a winning poker player you need to have a unique strategy for each of the betting rounds: pre-flop, on the flop, on the turn, and finally on the river. Your bets should tell a consistent story: either representing strength or weakness as the cards continue to fall. Sometimes you’ll want to represent a strong hand as weak, or a weak hand as being strong. But either way, by the time the river rolls around you need to have a clear goal in mind for your hand. You need to judge the strength of your hand, the likely strength of your opponent’s hand, and the size of the pot, and then determine how you want to play the river.


After the river card has fallen, you and your opponent will have one of three types of hands. Playing the river in no limit hold em effectively is a matter of categorizing your own hand strength and matching it up to that of your opponent:

  • A weak hand, like a busted draw – If you’ve missed your draw and have nothing (except possibly ace-high), it’s bluff or check-fold time. You can’t bluff by calling, and you probably can’t win a showdown unless your opponent has also missed some type of draw. You now need to judge how likely a bluff is to work on the river, and whether it’s worth taking a chance. This is where most inexperienced players make their biggest mistake: novice players bluff too much on the river when their opponent has shown clear interest in the pot. The river is not a good time for a last-minute bluff, especially if you’ve shown strength earlier in the hand. An opponent that has invested in three prior rounds of betting is looking for a showdown. He likes his cards and isn’t going to fold to a random, last-minute show of strength. This is especially true if he called a healthy bet on the turn. Most players are not chasing a draw after a healthy bet on the turn, since they aren’t getting the express pot odds to continue drawing. Tricky (or incompetent) players may be hoping the implied odds of catching a miracle card on the river will more than make up for overpaying on the turn, but this is usually unlikely.


    Summary: If you have a weak hand and your opponent also has a weak hand, you should bluff. But note that your opponent is only likely to be weak if he’s shown no interest in the pot (i.e. he hasn’t bet or called on earlier rounds of betting). You should also avoid bluffing unless the river card could have plausibly given you some kind of hand. A big bluff on the river after passively checking earlier streets isn’t very believable if a card like the deuce of diamonds comes on the river.


    If you have a weak hand on the river and your opponent has a medium-strength hand (one-pair, perhaps not even top pair), you should bluff only if the board is very frightening and a scare card has come on the river. Scary boards include boards with likely straights, flushes, or if a card like an ace falls on the river. If you’re going to bluff on a scary board hoping your opponent can lay his hand down, make sure you bluff a healthy amount: 2/3 of the pot or more. The stronger your opponent is, the more you’ll need to bet to force a laydown. You also need to make sure you’re up against a tight player that can actually lay a hand down: you should never try to bluff loose, calling stations.


    If you have a weak hand and your opponent has a strong hand, you check-fold. You were probably chasing with some kind of draw, and your opponent has been consistently aggressive throughout the hand. You cut your losses and fold, even if your opponent doesn’t have the nuts. It’s too risky to bluff if your opponent is likely to have a hand like two-pair or better.


  • A medium-strength hand, like a pair – One of the key rules to playing the river in no limit hold em is this: don’t bet a medium-strength hand on the river. If you have a hand that could win a showdown, but there are a lot of hands that could beat you, you don’t want to invest any more money in the pot than you have to. Your objective with a hand like one pair (even if it’s top pair, depending on how threatening the board is) is to see a showdown as cheaply as possible. Now, if you’re out of position against a loose, aggressive player, it might be cheaper to lead out with a bet, trying to cut off a larger bet from your opponent (which could be a bluff). So you might bet a medium-strength hand on the river defensively, to head off a larger bet. But the goal remains the same: you want to see if your hand is any good by going to the showdown. You don’t want to risk a big raise on the river that will keep you from seeing the showdown if you can help it.


    Summary: If you have a medium-strength hand on the river it doesn’t matter what your opponent holds. Playing the river with a medium-strength hand means limiting the size of the pot and seeing the showdown as cheaply as possible. Usually this means checking and calling any reasonable bet from your opponent if you’re out of position, or checking behind your opponent in position. If your opponent puts you to the test with a very large bet, you’re faced with one of the toughest decisions in no limit hold em. You have to have some sort of read on your opponent to know how to play in this spot.


  • A strong hand, two-pair or better – If you have a strong hand relative to the board (not necessarily the nuts, but cards that are probably better than any hand your opponent is likely to hold), you want to extract maximum value from your hand. A lot of novice players think that winning poker play is mainly a matter of bluffing. The truth is that winning poker play is more a matter of effective value betting than aggressive bluffing. One or two extra value bets over the course of a session — especially on the river where the bets are largest — can make the difference between a winning and a losing session. So if you find yourself with a strong hand on the river, you need to try to get an extra value bet in.


    Summary: If you have a strong hand on the river and your opponent has a weak hand, you should check to your opponent to allow him to bluff. Very few players will try a huge check-raise bluff on the river (it’s simply too expensive and unlikely to work), so if you bet into your opponent and he’s weak, he’ll fold without paying you off. If you have a strong hand on the river and your opponent has any kind of hand, you should bet right into him for value, perhaps even hoping for a raise. The risk is simply too great that your opponent will check-behind you with a medium-strength hand, fearing exactly the type of strong hand that you have.


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This article extracted from Poker Tips that Pay: Expert Strategy Guide for Winning No Limit Texas Hold em (author Jonathan Gelling, Play to Pay Publishing).

Love poker, but want to earn some money from the game? Visit PokerTipsThatPay.com and preview a sample chapter from Poker Tips that Pay: Expert Strategy Guide for Winning No Limit Texas Hold em, by poker author Jonathan Gelling.

Hold em Poker Strategy, Tips & Advice Section

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Daniel Negreanu vs. Gus Hansen on Playing Small and Medium Pairs

Mitchell Cogert over at his “How to Win a Poker Tournament” blog has put together a couple of excellent summaries of Daniel Negreanu and Gus Hansen’s approach to playing small and medium pairs. You can read Gus’ advice here: Gus Hansen on playing small and medium pairs and Daniel’s advice here: Daniel Negreanu on playing small and medium pairs. It won’t surprise you to hear that Hansen advocates a more aggressive style of play than Daniel.

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Yes, He CAN Read your Poker Face! Your Online Internet Poker Tells

Just because he can’t see your poker face, doesn’t mean he can’t read you like a book! Many poker authors claim that physical tells are a big part of the game of poker, and that by playing online poker over the Internet you’re missing vital information on the other players. Mike Caro, for example, would complain that you couldn’t see the other players’ posture, their respiratory rate, how often they blink, obvious signs of a quickening pulse or adrenaline buildup. All of this is true: but in fact physical tells are rarely decisive even in a live game. Generally, your own card strength and your opponent’s betting patterns will guide your decision-making. It’s only on the margins that such apparent physical tells will influence your betting decisions.


There are also Internet poker tells that are almost as reliable as the physical tells. When you’re playing online poker, you read your opponent based on their betting patterns — information gleaned by watching each and every hand they play. You should notice when these patterns change in a particular hand, and what that would mean. Here are some of the online poker tells to watch out for when playing on the Internet:


  • The insta-call – When your opponent is able to call instantly, that means he doesn’t have much to think about. You can see this before or after the flop. If a player instantly calls along before the flop, that means he wants to enter the pot with some type of speculative hand. It also means that he didn’t give any serious thought to raising. What types of hand will insta-call before the flop? Typically drawing hands, like suited connectors or small pairs. Big cards (like AK) or the larger pairs would have at least considered a raise. By insta-calling before the flop, your opponent has helped you narrow down his likely holding.


    What about an insta-call on the flop? What kind of hand would an opponent not even think of folding or raising with? This is most often a draw, and sometimes a lesser made hand (such as second or third pair). Your opponent knows that he’s willing to pay the price being charged to stay in the pot, but doesn’t want to risk a raising war. Note that not all calls on the flop will be with a draw or a weak made hand, but an insta-call usually will be — especially in a multi-way pot.

  • The delayed reaction – On the other end of the spectrum, if your opponent takes an unusually long time to act on his hand, he’s genuinely unsure of what to do. Unless you’ve really put him in a tough spot (say, for all his chips), this usually does NOT mean he’s unsure of what to do because he’s holding a marginal hand. Usually the excessive delay is because he’s made an unexpectedly strong hand. He’s pondering how to get maximum value out of it. An unusual delay (and it may only be for a couple of seconds) is rarely a good sign. An unusually long delay followed by a raise is a very bad sign!


    Note that you shouldn’t confuse an unusually long delay with the case where an opponent is just consistently slow to act. Some players, usually the better ones, are very deliberate about a pot they’re seriously contesting. It may be strange and unusual in the Internet poker world to spend more than two seconds before acting, but some wise players will take their time. The tell you’re looking for is when a player’s actions are delayed for an unusual length of time. This is when you need to be cautious!

  • Offering unsolicited advice – There is no surer sign of an inexperienced, barely competent player than one who offers unsolicited advice on how to play poker. Consider: why would an experienced, tough poker player offer GOOD advice to his opponents? Presumably his objective is to win the game – not to show off what a winning poker player he is. If you actually have good advice to offer, keep it to yourself. You don’t want to educate your less-skillful opponents!

  • Playing the hand right after a bad beat – This is usually a sure sign of tilt. A strong, tight player should be selective in the cards he plays. What are the odds that a player who just suffered a particularly bad beat really has a playable hand the very next deal? Unless he’s in position or playing out of the blinds, he’s probably just playing angry and on tilt. He’s liable to play foolishly aggressive, trying to win back the money he lost at any cost. Exploit this weakness.

  • Showing an uncalled hand that went to the flop – Another sign of a gravely inexperienced poker player. It’s almost always a mistake to provide information about how you play a hand. An aggressive player might have a case for showing an uncalled hand that DIDN’T see a flop (to show how allegedly “tight” they are). But showing a hand that’s gone to the flop when you don’t have to is just giving the other players ammunition (information) they can use against you. It’s a sign of inexperience, or some sort of need for validation at the table.

  • Massively overbetting or underbetting the pot – This is one of the most reliable online tells that you usually won’t get in live play. A massive overbet or underbet of the pot in LIVE play often means little more than that your opponent lost track of the pot size. When playing poker online, however, a massive overbet or underbet always tells you something about your opponent’s hand. It’s different between players: sometimes an overbet is a sign of weakness (e.g. a flush or straight draw); more often, it’s a sign of great strength (e.g. jamming the pot on the river with a lock hand). You need to observe your opponent to see what this tell means by keeping notes on their play.




Whether they know it or not, every player has certain betting patterns that will tell you all you need to know about their hand. When you see these patterns, you’ll be able to read right through his poker face… even in online poker over the Internet.


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This article extracted from Poker Tips that Pay: Expert Strategy Guide for Winning No Limit Texas Hold em (author Jonathan Gelling, Play to Pay Publishing).

Love poker, but want to earn some money from the game? Visit PokerTipsThatPay.com and preview a sample chapter from Poker Tips that Pay: Expert Strategy Guide for Winning No Limit Texas Hold em, by poker author Jonathan Gelling.

Hold em Poker Strategy, Tips & Advice Section

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No Limit Hold em Starting Hand Selection Guide – No Charts Please!

Hold em Poker Strategy, Tips & Advice Section

Some books on Texas Hold ‘em include extensive charts on exactly which hands should be played from which positions. Occasionally these charts are made more complex by offering tighter or looser styles of play in response to table conditions.

You shouldn’t follow this “starting hand requirements” conventional wisdom. There are three very good reasons not to: (1) there are many factors beyond showdown potential and seat position to account for in selecting starting hands; (2) the mathematical models they rely on are based on a limit betting structure that fails to account for the much greater upside potential in no limit hold ‘em (i.e. you can earn the entire stack of one or more opponents in every no limit hand); and (3) a table-based mechanical approach makes one too easy to read.

Instead hands should be judged by their profit potential. In theory the tables are supposed to take profit potential into account, but they overestimate big starting hands and underestimate the profitability of draws in a no limit betting environment. When you’re playing for all the marbles each and every hand, you can afford to make some speculative gambles if the price is right. At low stakes, do not assume a standard raise will clear out all the trashy hands.

Here are some general guidelines to consider in starting hand selection:

1. Big cards (AK, AQ, AJ, KQ) have big showdown equity but little potential to profit from the flop.

Too many people go broke with AK and AQ because it is such a treacherous hand. When it wins, you’ve usually made a small raise at the pot, hit your ace, king, or queen, gotten respect for exactly the hand you represented, and made a small profit. Occasionally a continuation bet bluff will also lead to a small win. Or you might play a small pot down to the river and win with ace-high or one pair.

When it loses, however, you can either get raised off a continuation bet bluff (which will cost you both a pre-flop raise and a post-flop bet) or, in the worst-case scenario, lose much of your stack if you flop big but your opponent flops bigger. These hands win a lot of small pots fairly often, but lose disastrously, and miss the flop more than twice as often as they hit.

What differentiates big cards from other unpaired hands, like QJ, JT, or even a lowly 32 or 43? While they lack much of the straight or flush draw potential (unless suited), they do have showdown equity. That’s the key to these hands: the mechanical charts rank them so highly because they are 60-40 favorites over most hands (or roughly 50-50 vs. most pairs) if they see the showdown.

In limit hold ‘em, you only need to call a few small, fixed bets to guarantee you see the river. In no limit hold ‘em, in contrast, it could cost you everything. At any moment, your opponent could put you to the ultimate test for all your chips. With this in mind, unpaired high cards can be very tricky to play. Unless we hit our hand right on the flop or guarantee a showdown with an all-in pre-flop move, their potential is more theoretical than practical.

So how do we play them? The answer is a bit contradictory: both very cautiously and very aggressively. We need to play these hands very cautiously if we’re in a ring game or the low-blind phase of a tournament where it’s too risky to get married to them. And if these hands see a flop, we should play them softly, not looking to build a huge pot without good reason to think we’re ahead.

On the other hand, where possible, we should jam the pot with these hands pre-flop to force out cards that have superior profit potential if they can see a cheap flop. When the blinds rise to 7-10% of average stack size or more, or we’re short-stacked in a cash game, err on the side of pre-flop pot commitment. Don’t fool around with small raises and let a drawing hand stick around. Go for the jugular and flush out drawing hands that can bluff or semi-bluff us after the flop.

2. Pocket pairs are your strong suit, and should be folded only in the face of a big re-raise.

Perhaps misled by the mechanical tables of starting hand requirements set out in much of the poker literature (largely parroting Sklansky and Malmuth, who designed them for limit hold ‘em), many players undervalue “small” or “medium” pairs. I can’t think of the number of times I’ve heard the inane commentary that “medium pairs are the toughest hands to play in no limit hold ‘em.” Malarkey!

Yes, they can face tough decisions, but high cards are often forced to fold when they’re still the best hand, earn little when they connect, and lose a lot to sets or drawing hands that get there. In contrast, pairs are a favorite over all high cards and possess overwhelming profit potential. You have a made hand before the flop, and while you’re unlikely to improve your hand, you don’t necessarily need to.

Many players are absolutely giddy when they stare down and see AK or AQ, suited or otherwise, and fairly nonplussed about looking down and finding a pair of 2s. My reaction is precisely the opposite: I almost dislike being dealt a hand like AK or AQ, particularly in a position where I have to open-raise and all but announce the strength of my hand.

Big cards are usually “must-play” hands, but they have by far the least profit potential of all playable hands — in fact, unplayable oddball hands are often worth more if you get in free and make a hand.

The pair of deuces are more likely to be the best hand at the table pre-flop, don’t need to connect with the flop to still be best, can be played aggressively pre-flop (or not), and can garner an opponent’s entire stack with a well-concealed set. I would take one pocket pair over three ace-kings. Make no mistake: pairs of any rank are the strongest, most profitable starting hands in no limit Texas Hold ‘em, period.

How to play them? I generally hate limping from an early position with small pairs, since that just screams “weak hand.” Instead, if I’m first to open, I’ll raise just as though I had AK. This provides multiple ways to win: (1) your opponents can fold to the early position raise (usually thought to represent great strength by textbook players) and scoop a small pot; (2) you can get called and represent top pair if an ace or face card hits; (3) you can hit a set and win big money if an opponent makes a hand; (4) you can bet at a ragged board and represent an over-pair; or (5) you can value bet a really ragged board and win a fair bit of money against a tight, aggressive opponent who gets out of line with ace-high. That’s a lot of ways to win — and a lot of pure profit potential.

If someone has raised before you, call a standard (or even somewhat oversized) raise if it’s less than 10% of your stack, but never flat call a strong re-raise. A re-raise is a sign of great strength, and you don’t want to risk getting involved in a situation where you could be dominated. Domination (pair over pair) is the pocket pair’s greatest fear.

The rule of thumb is that a raise may be a bluff, but a re-raise seldom is. Even if you suspect theft it’s not worth it to find out, and you don’t want to get caught in the middle of a bidding war with two players without a premium pocket pair (AAs, KKs, or QQs, and even queens may be folded).

If you have a small or medium pair and your opponent’s raise is more than 10% of your stack, I wouldn’t favor just calling too often unless it’s part of a move to take the hand away on the flop (which you’ll remember is more than twice as likely to miss your opponent if he has two unpaired hole cards). If you’re short-stacked, or this is a short-handed situation, don’t hesitate to take your pocket pair to war. It’s unlikely there’s a bigger pair out against you, and if you get action from a couple of overcards at least you’re a slight favorite.

3. Don’t fall into the trap of playing unsuited connectors, one or two-gappers suited or otherwise, or suited cards (even weak suited aces) unless you’re playing in position, in a big pot with several other players, or at a discount out of the blinds.

Drawing hands do best in multi-way, unraised pots, played in position so you know how much it will cost to draw. Unlike with high cards, drawing hands want to see more players in the pot, to make drawing cheaper and to maximize the chances of getting paid off.

Not all drawing hands are created equal. Realize that you’re speculating with these hands. As with any speculative investment, you want to be sure your winners occur with enough frequency, and provide sufficient yield, to compensate for all the losers (which will be the vast majority of such bets).

There’s a well-known curve that occurs with Texas Hold ‘em players. When we first start playing the game, we’re much too loose, overvaluing weak aces and a variety of suited cards with little real profit potential. We usually lose a lot of money with this approach, and this causes us to study the game, read about starting hand requirements, and tighten up substantially.

This style of play is usually good enough to win at the lower levels, and our winning streak encourages us to play more and more hands, based on our supposed superiority over our opponents.

At the same time, we may begin to move up in stakes or play multiple tables. Gradually, our winning edge declines, we become too loose, too aggressive at the wrong times, allow our attention to become distracted by the multiple tables, or generally become complacent and thus play losing poker again. Hopefully we learn to tighten up before the downward spiral leaves us blaming online poker sites, “cheaters”, or the cruel, foul poker gods themselves.

Here’s an important point: no matter how great your hand-reading skills, no matter how aggressive your playing style, no matter how perfect your post-flop judgments and decisions, if you start with inferior cards you are giving your opponents an edge. The worse the hand, the lower the return on your investment (equity) will be. If your opponents are sufficiently competent, you don’t have to give them much of an edge to end up with a negative return on equity.

Don’t be the guy who brings a knife to a gun fight.

Here are the four keys that will give your opponents an edge and cost you money: (1) you start with bad cards with little upside potential; (2) you play the hand out of position; (3) you telegraph information about your hand, allowing your opponent to make optimum decisions; and (4) you fail to earn money, or worse yet fold, when you have the best hand, or bet or call when you have the worst hand. Of these four mistakes that cost you money, by far the easiest mistake to avoid is playing bad cards with negative profit potential.

We saw in the odds section above how unsuited connectors, one or two-gappers, or suited cards without both straight and flush draw potential are “unlucky”; such hands are less than 12% to flop a draw and only 5% to make a big hand by the river. It’s true you’ll still make a pair or better 32.4% of the time as well, but then you’re playing the hand not for its drawing potential but for its high card value.

Even if you flop a pair with these lower-ranked cards, how much will you then like your hand? You’ll often be playing second or third pair without a very strong kicker. Playing these lesser hands is NOT justified based on their drawing strength alone, without one of the following:


  • You’re in position – Never underestimate the power of that button! I would often play unsuited connectors and perhaps suited one-gappers on the button against one or more of the right opponents. I may be giving up some edge on my starting hand strength, but I’ll make up for it by getting to act last after the flop, when I’ve seen how the betting goes relative to my own hand.
  • It’s a huge, multi-way pot – Pot odds are always your friend! If you’re getting paid 3:1 to see the flop, why not call along if there’s a reasonable chance you won’t get raised out of the pot? Calling with 3:1 odds, you’ll only need to win 25% of the time to make a profit on the hand, and it’s more likely you will win that often because your hand has at least some potential to make a monster by the river. It will also be cheaper to draw in a multi-way pot as there are several people who may be calling bets with you. Again, you’re giving up edge on your starting hand requirements, but you’re being paid by the pot (i.e. given odds) to do so.
  • You’re in the blinds – Any hand is worth a free check, and a hand with any drawing potential is worth a half-bet from the small blind. A hand with significant drawing potential is worth calling another big blind if the pot’s been min-raised. And a one-gap suited connector or unsuited connector (or better) is worth a min-raise call out of the small blind. This is a case where the pot is laying you odds to see the flop, and you should use your best estimate of whether its profitable to play it out, given the particular drawing hand and number of opponents you’re facing. Remember, with drawing hands, we want to see more players involved in the pot so we can draw more cheaply and get paid off if we eventually hit.
  • Suited aces close to position – Ace-high has great showdown potential and high card value. That is to say, it’s not strictly a drawing hand. You don’t want to fall in love with every ace, but it may be playable on or near the button, even in a raised pot. With this type of hand, you really don’t mind if you play it heads-up or in a large multi-way pot, but adjust your expectations accordingly. The more players in the hand, the less your ace is worth (with your kicker problems) and the more you’re looking to connect on your flush draw.

4. Most other cards are unplayable based on their hand strength alone.

Most hands other than those outlined above (i.e. big cards, pairs, suited connectors and the occasional suited ace) are generally unplayable based on their own potential strength. Of course, you will sometimes need to move at a pot with any two cards. Also, you might lower your standards and call a very loose, aggressive player with a weak, unsuited ace in position.

If you’re playing short-handed you’re much less interested in card strength. Short-handed play is like a game of chicken with a lot of head-on collisions. But at a full table, you don’t want to invest too much with other types of hands, unless the circumstances are favorable for some kind of move.

When you consider how profitable it is to play a hand in a given situation, rather than playing hands based solely on their “strength”, you’ll improve your results at the table. There are many times when “strong” hands like AK and AQ are easily folded. And complete garbage is often much more profitable than a real hand. When you’re playing with trash, it’s easier to get away from real danger.

Some hands are simply more profitable than other hands overall. But the situation is more important than the absolute strength of your cards or how playable they are. Pick your cards according to the spots you find yourself in.

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This article extracted from Poker Tips that Pay: Expert Strategy Guide for Winning No Limit Texas Hold em (author Jonathan Gelling, Play to Pay Publishing).

Love poker, but want to earn some money from the game? Visit PokerTipsThatPay.com and preview a sample chapter from Poker Tips that Pay: Expert Strategy Guide for Winning No Limit Texas Hold em, by poker author Jonathan Gelling.

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5 Reasons You Bust Out on the Bubble – Poker Tournament Strategy for Success

Hold em Poker Strategy, Tips & Advice Section



It’s a frustrating experience. We’ve all been there. It’s the middle stages of a poker tournament, the blinds are starting to eat into your stack, the cards aren’t coming, and you don’t want to bust out on the bubble. Anything but busting out on the bubble! What could be worse than wasting two hours of your life and barely missing the payout? The only thing worse than that is knowing it might have been different, if you’d avoided the five major mistakes that leave you exiting right before the money.

  • Playing too conservatively – Hand values change as the blinds increase. What might have been a marginal hand at 10/20 blinds becomes a must-play stealing hand at 100/200 blinds. Particularly when the antes kick in and up the reward ratio on a successful pre-flop steal, you simply must apply maximum aggression during this bubble phase. It will never be easier to steal a pot before the flop than it will be during the bubble phase of a poker tournament. All your fellow players are equally anxious to avoid elimination on the cusp of the payout, and they will not push back at you in a marginal situation. It’s true that unrestrained aggression will occasionally have you leaving on the cusp of making the money, but unbridled folding will have you walking away empty-handed far more often.

  • Raising more than necessary – A lot of players will reflexively raise three times the big blind regardless of the stage of the tournament. They reason that a smaller raise will simply invite the blinds or button to call with marginal holdings. This may be true, but it’s also true that as the blinds escalate, a standard pre-flop raise will increasingly commit you to the hand. As a poker player, you always want to maintain flexibility. If making a standard raise tends to commit you to a hand you don’t want to play for all the chips, you shouldn’t make it. Of course, you always want to apply pressure on your opponents. So you will continue to raise with both your strongest and your marginal hands in favorable situations. But you should raise less than three times the big blind… perhaps 2.5 or even just doubling the big blind will do at higher levels. When the blinds ratchet up and the antes kick in, even the loosest players will begin to back off flat-calling raises. Most players are generally going to re-raise or get out of the way, and you can play the hand appropriately, confident that you’ve minimized your losses and maximized your returns by making a cheaper raise.

  • Playing drawing hands – Drawing hands like suited connectors lose more and more value in no limit Texas hold em as the blinds increase. Increasing blinds mean fewer players per pot and increase the cost of seeing the flop and drawing on the turn and river. All those factors make suited connectors and even small pocket pairs looking to flop a set unprofitable. While you may be able to speculate with these hands at the low blinds, you’ll whittle yourself down if you remain attached to them in the middle and late stages of a poker tournament. If drawing hands are to be played at all in the later stages, you should play them aggressively pre-flop to steal uncontested pots. Do not call and passively hope to hit some kind of miracle hand late in the game.

  • Playing against extreme stacks – There are two types of players you want to avoid on the bubble: the extremely large stacks and the extremely short stacks. The short stacks have nothing else to lose, and they’ll be looking to gamble with a variety of hands. While eliminating players is good for the remaining players as a group, you don’t want to volunteer to play sheriff against these short stacks. The risks of being whittled down in all-in confrontations against a short stack simply aren’t worth the marginal reward of knocking a player out, unless he’s either extremely short or the very last player before the payout. As to large stacks, you generally don’t want to stand between them and a pot, unless you have a premium hand or believe you can raise them off their hand. On the bubble, the big stacks are usually loose, aggressive players who aren’t afraid to gamble. It’s usually best not to try to out-muscle these players unless you can do some damage to them. You also want to make sure they respect your play and are able to fold a hand before you try to bully a large stack out of a pot.

  • Failing to play position – Always raise in position (unless you’re facing an extreme stack). If it’s folded around to you in the small blind, you will almost always want to attack the big blind unless you’re extremely weak and the big blind is extremely loose. On the bubble, it’s often the first player to bet that will take down the pot. When it’s folded around to you and you’re acting in position, it’s a huge mistake to fold. Pay no attention to your cards. Instead, look at the relative chip stacks and what you know of the players at your table. If there’s a better than even chance you can steal this pot, then make your move. You might get challenged, but if you make a less than standard raise you won’t lose too much if you have to fold. Plus, when you really have a hand, you’ll get paid off nicely. By being constantly aggressive, your opponents won’t know when it’s safe to make a stand against you.

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This article extracted from Poker Tips that Pay: Expert Strategy Guide for Winning No Limit Texas Hold em (author Jonathan Gelling, Play to Pay Publishing).

Love poker, but want to earn some money from the game? Visit PokerTipsThatPay.com and preview a sample chapter from Poker Tips that Pay: Expert Strategy Guide for Winning No Limit Texas Hold em, by poker author Jonathan Gelling.

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6 Reasons Why You LOSE at Poker… and How to Become a Winning Poker Player

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In any endeavor, long-term success or failure is based on the existence of a competitive advantage over your opponents. If you enjoy such an advantage, you can weather the turbulence of temporary setbacks — what statisticians refer to as variance, or noise, from an expected result. If you’re playing at a disadvantage, however, the cards can’t save you. In the long run, you’re going to be a losing poker player. You’ll constantly have to reload your account, and you might end up blaming the poker sites, online cheating, bad beats, your parents, and basically anyone or anything except yourself. Here’s the top six reasons why you LOSE at poker – to become a winning poker player, don’t make these mistakes!

  • Play weaker cards than your opponents in order to get in the “action” as quickly as possible. Here’s a crowd favorite. If you’re playing poker in order to get some action, you need a more adventurous life! Or at the very least, you need to discount the possibility that you’ll ever be a winning poker player. The object of poker is NOT to see as many flops as possible, but to extract as much value from the cards and situations that do happen to come your way. Often, that means patience. Sometimes, a great deal of patience. If you’re looking for some action, maybe you need to take up one of the other games offered in the casino?



  • Pay no attention to position – the same cards can be played from any position for any amount of money. If you think that button is just a plastic disk marking passage to the blinds, you’re costing yourself money. An AK in first position isn’t worth half what an AK in late position is, where you have the option of playing aggressively or calling and seeing what develops. Poker is a game of information, and every round of betting provides additional information as to your opponent’s likely hand. At the very least, it provides a great deal of information as to the hand your opponent is trying to represent, and you can judge for yourself how likely he really holds the hand indicated by his betting. But in any event, it’s always an advantage to see what your opponent will do before acting – you can save a bet if you think you’re behind or earn additional bets if you’re confident that you’re in the lead. You MUST tighten your standards out of position and loosen them in position.



  • Play passively, calling along with your hand to see what develops. You never know what kind of unlikely draw might get there, and you want your opponent to “show you” what he has. The object of poker again is to maximize return on your good hands and minimize losses on your bad hands. You can’t afford to play sheriff on every hand just because you think there’s a chance, however remote, that another player is bluffing. Mostly, players are NOT bluffing when they show a great deal of interest in a hand. You need a very good read on your opponent to discount the hand he’s representing if he’s playing consistent, aggressive poker from beginning to end. If your opponent’s actions tell a consistent story that he has a big hand, it’s usually wise to believe him unless you’ve seen similar bluffs in the past. And even if you suspect larceny, merely calling is still usually a bad move. It’s much better to challenge your opponent early in the hand, when the betting is still cheap, then call along through four separate rounds of increasingly-expensive betting. Put your opponent to the test early, and you’ll put more pressure on your opponents at a lower cost than passively calling along to see their hand.



  • Focus on your own cards, and ignore what your opponent’s betting patterns and the table situation indicate as to his holdings. This is a favorite of the multi-table crowd. It’s true that by playing conservative, lock-down poker, you can often best players at the lowest levels without taking the time to size up your opposition or watch the other hands at the table. You might be able to get by simply playing your own hand, and judging how likely you are to be ahead by gauging your own hand strength relative to the board. But at higher stakes, you need to have some kind of read on your opponents: are they tight or loose? do they tend to overbet the pot with a big hand or merely a draw? how often do they bluff? do they respect your play? If you’re not paying attention to the hands being played at the table (where you’re not involved), you’ll have no idea of the other players’ betting patterns. You’ll be left playing your own cards, and left guessing what your opponents might be up to. That’s fine for ABC poker against incompetents, but as your opponents’ skill increases, so too will their powers of observation. If you allow them superior information (by not paying attention to the other players’ – and your own – betting patterns) your tunnel vision will cost you dearly.



  • Pay no attention to bet sizing and maximizing returns on winning hands and minimizing losses on your losers, based on the play of the hand. Professional players spend a great deal of time trying to figure out how they could have “gotten that extra bet” out of a fellow, and analyzing if they could have “bet a smaller amount [on a bluff] and gotten the same information.”
    They do so because they know that most your winnings at the table will come from maximizing winning hands and minimizing losses on losing poker hands. You will NOT make most of your money from absurd and audacious bluffs, regardless of the table conditions (loose tables will call anyway, and tight competent opponents will look you up at the worst times). You make most of your money on
    your value betting (and by saving money with tough folds). Just acknowledging that the secret to winning poker play is NOT bluffing will put you on the fast track to being a consistent, winning player.



  • Ignore game selection. Here’s an obscure one, and in real-life it’s difficult to actually execute. In real-life cash or tournament play, it can often be difficult to choose the ideal table to maximize your winnings. Online poker sites, however, give you the statistics on flops seen. All else being equal, you want to go to a loose table, where lots of players are paying to see the flop. This can make for some initially wild action, but the tight, aggressive player can capitalize on this to get paid off on his top hands. You can also patiently wait to pick your spots. Most of your profit at the poker table will come from one or two loose, weak players, and you want to be seated at the table that allows you to exploit such players. As Jesus showed, it only takes a few fish to feed an army.



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This article extracted from Poker Tips that Pay: Expert Strategy Guide for Winning No Limit Texas Hold em (author Jonathan Gelling, Play to Pay Publishing).

Love poker, but want to earn some money from the game? Visit PokerTipsThatPay.com and preview a sample chapter from Poker Tips that Pay: Expert Strategy Guide for Winning No Limit Texas Hold em, by poker author Jonathan Gelling.

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The Secret to Winning Poker Tournaments – It’s All About Timing

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Anyone can win a poker tournament by getting the right cards at the right time, or by playing against terrible poker players. And we all know what the ultimate secret to winning poker is: aggression. But how can you more consistently win poker tournaments when the cards aren’t falling your way, your opponents are decent, and without risking your tournament life with over-the-top aggression? After all, the all-in move will work every time but once: then you’re walking past the rail.


The secret to winning poker tournaments is to recognize the three key periods in any tournament: (1) the early game; (2) the mid stages; and (3) the late game. The secret to winning Texas hold em tournaments is to have a distinct strategy for each of the critical crunch times in the poker tournament:

  • The early game – There are two schools of thought to playing the early game in a poker tournament. The conservative approach, what I will call the Harrington school, is to buckle down, play tight, and wait for the right spots to come to you. The goal is to preserve your chip stack for the later stages of the tournament without risking any dangerous, early all-in confrontations. This is not to say that you won’t play your premium hands (the top 5% of all cards dealt), but you don’t ever want to invest the majority of your stack without a very strong hand. You certainly don’t want to speculate and gamble without a strong advantage. The advantage of this strategy is that it reduces your beta: you’re unlikely to build a big stack early on but you’re also much less likely to stage an early exit. This strategy should be preferred at the lower limits and at tables full of loose, inexperienced players. Let the loose, erratic players bust out without engaging in reckless gambling yourself.


    On the other hand, you might apply maximum aggression in the early game with the goal of doubling up early. You do this by speculating with a variety of hands, in or out of position (including suited connectors, all pairs, and complete trash if you can push a tight player off their hand after the flop). The key to this approach is to be a balanced loose player. You can absolutely not afford to be a calling station: loose play is only justified if you’re willing to turn up the aggression to compensate for playing these weaker hands. But while loose, passive play is the worst possible poker strategy, becoming a maniac and going all-in without rhyme or reason is (nearly) as bad. Loose, aggressive players looking to build a big stack early will raise and re-raise frequently, but preferably pre-flop and on the flop when the betting is cheap. When you start seriously gambling, you should either have the best hand, a lot of outs, or a good reason to think your opponent will fold. This loose, aggressive double-or-nothing approach is best-suited for a table full of tight aggressive players schooled in the Harrington strategy of preserving their starting chip stacks for the later stages. You can exploit these players’ conservatism to garner an early chip lead.


  • The mid game – If there is a single secret to winning poker tournaments, it’s found in your mid game play. This is when most players begin to tighten their game, afraid to risk their remaining chips as they edge toward the payout. This is a natural tendency: while it’s cheap to speculate with low blinds in the early game, the rising blinds cause players to reassess the value of speculating with marginal hands. If this happens at your table (and almost always it will), you should once again take the opposite approach. You need to view the mid-game as make or break for your tournament life: you absolutely must build a big stack heading into the high-blind late stages by any means necessary. You must raise in position, re-raise pre-flop, and gamble aggressively, especially against tight medium-stacked opponents. You also need to pull out the occasional big bluff on the turn and river on a board that turns scary after the flop. If you can steal two or three big pots with the worst hand and steal more than your fair share of pots without a fight by constantly raising in position, you’ll give yourself enough chips for the late stage. Since the high-blind, late-stage of the tournament will rapidly devolve into pure gambling, you need this big stack to maximize your chances of winning the tournament. If you’re going to come in one of the top spots, you can’t risk your entire poker tournament on one big gamble. Without building a big stack in the mid-stages, you’ll end up getting all your chips in for one big gamble sooner or later. If the cards don’t fall your way (and there’s always a good chance of that happening), you’ll bust out in one of the lower-tier payouts. Even if you finish in the money, you’ll miss the lucrative top payouts.


  • The late game – This is all aggression, all the time. Ideally, you’d like to pick on tight, medium-stacks. Alternatively, gamble with short stacks that are forced to make desperate all-ins. The only real rule to follow is to avoid a big gamble with another big stack. You never want to put your poker tournament life on the line on a single deal of the cards, if you can help it. That said, you’ll be forced to make some gambles in the late stages, and it’s better to be the aggressor. Challenge the other players to fold to your aggressive plays. With a big stack, you’ll intimidate the other players and can afford to lose a couple of coin flips. If you find yourself short-stacked, use the best opportunity to push all-in. Never allow yourself to sink below 5x the big blind without moving in, regardless of cards. This is the most random part of the poker tournament, but if you’ve built your stack in the mid-game
    you’ll maximize your chances of placing in one of the top-tier payouts. Dominating the mid-game is the ultimate secret to winning poker tournaments.

Divide your play and adjust your strategy for the three key phases of a poker tournament, and you’ll profit from the result. The secret to winning poker tournaments is to have an appropriate strategy for each phase, and building the biggest possible chip stack before the blinds rise to prohibitive levels in the late game. Sometimes this means an early exit, but you have to be willing to die in order to live (and profit).


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This article extracted from Poker Tips that Pay: Expert Strategy Guide for Winning No Limit Texas Hold em (author Jonathan Gelling, Play to Pay Publishing).

Love poker, but want to earn some money from the game? Visit PokerTipsThatPay.com and preview a sample chapter from Poker Tips that Pay: Expert Strategy Guide for Winning No Limit Texas Hold em, by poker author Jonathan Gelling.

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