Develop Your Basic Poker Strategy
By Zac Ormley
Poker is a game that comes in many different formats, each of which has its own subtle quirks and styles. Let's take a look at all of the main forms of poker, explain the fundamentals of how each game works, and outline a few basic tips to get you started. Remember, with just a few basic tips under your belt you can clean up the online games in no time.
No Limit Texas Hold'em
Often referred to as "The Cadillac of Poker", No Limit Texas Hold’em is the game popularised by the World Series of Poker and one of the most widely-played formats in the world.
Players are dealt two hole cards and must combine one or both of them with five community cards to make their best five-card poker hand.
Betting takes place over four rounds (pre-flop, flop, turn and river) and a player can push all of their chips into the middle at any given point in a hand. This 'no-limit' element makes the game so exciting.
Top 3 Tips:
- Strong starting hands (e.g. big pairs, aces with strong kickers and good Broadway combinations) are easier to play over multiple rounds of betting as they connect better with the majority of boards.
- Coming into a pot with a raise is nearly always preferable to limping (just calling a bet). It allows you to win the blinds there and then, while also maintaining the betting lead in the hand if an opponent does call.
- Your position at the table is really important. The closer you are to the button, the more likely you will be to see a flop in position. This means you get to see what all your opponents do before acting yourself.
Typically played in both No Limit and Pot Limit variations, Omaha is essentially the same game as Texas Hold’em except all players are dealt four hole cards instead of two.
Unlike Texas Hold’em, a player must combine exactly two of these hole cards with three community cards to make their best five-card poker hand.
Naturally, with more cards in play, the value of your hands decreases, meaning hands like straights, flushes and full houses are more desirable than pair combinations. Don't get attached to hands you love in Hold'em like trips as they are always in danger of being beaten.
Top 3 Tips:
- In Omaha, the "connectivity" of your hand is really important. Hands like 7-8-9-10 double-suited are best because all cards work together and can flop a variety of draws to the best hand.
- While big pairs are valuable hands heads-up, in a multi-way pot hands like A-A-5-10 with no suits drop in value dramatically. This is because they usually only make one-pair type hands with no draws.
- With four hole cards, players will nearly always have decent value when all-in. As such, Omaha requires a much bigger bankroll than No Limit Texas Hold’em because all-in variance is so high. Out-draws are common in Omaha, and you just have to cope with them.
Originating during the American Civil War, 5-Card Stud is the oldest form of Stud poker.
Typically played as a Limit game (though also available in No Limit and Pot Limit variations), 5-Card Stud sees players dealt one card face down and one card face up. The player showing the lowest face-up card is then required to pay a 'bring-in', which all players wishing to continue must match or raise.
A further up card and round of betting follows until there are four up cards for each player in total, with a round being won by the player who shows down the best five-card poker hand.
Top 3 Tips:
- Given you have the advantage of seeing four of your opponent's five cards, 5-Card Stud is a game of more complete information than Texas Hold'em. Good hand-reading is a vitally important skill in Stud.
- By the same token, you should bluff less frequently in 5-Card Stud than you do in Texas Hold'em. This is because you will typically be representing a far narrower range of hands when only one card is hidden.
- With so many cards open, it is important to keep track of which cards have already been dealt when considering your own hand's chance of improving. Keep track and adjust your betting accordingly.
As the name suggests, 7-Card Stud plays much the same as its five-card counterpart, albeit with a slight difference in the number of down and up cards.
In 7-Card Stud, players begin a hand with two down cards and one up card, with betting conducted in the usual manner.
Second, third and fourth up cards (each with a round of betting) follow, with a final down card being dealt before the last round of betting. Players then combine their down and up cards to make the best five-card hand.
Top 3 Tips:
- With so many cards being dealt in a round of 7-Card Stud, starting hand selection is vitally important. Look to raise with big pairs to thin the field and call with drawing hands like three-flushes.
- Even with drawing hands raising is often preferable to calling on the later streets in 7-Card Stud. The increased number of down-cards enables you to represent a wider range of strong hands.
- As with 5-Card Stud, it is very important to remember which cards have been dealt (even those folded by players earlier in the hand) to determine whether your outs are truly "live" or not.
Played in much the same way as 7-Card Stud, Razz is a Stud variant in which players instead seek to make the best low hand.
As straights and flushes do not count, the best unpaired five-card combination is therefore A-2-3-4-5 – known as "the wheel" or "the bicycle".
Betting is conducted in Limit format in the same way as 7-Card Stud, with the only exception being that the player showing the highest (rather than the lowest) up-card is responsible for bringing in the action.
Top 3 Tips:
- As with all Stud variants, starting hand selection is very important in Razz. Given its low-draw potential, A-2-3 is the best starting hand, but any three unpaired cards under five are very strong
- In Razz, playing tight is generally right. Waiting for good starting hands but playing them for the maximum bet (cap) is the best way to maximise your profits and steer clear of troublesome spots.
- Having said that, there is still some scope for bluffing in Razz if your opponent pairs up and you miss your low draw. Even getting a great price to call, they should fear your board and fold more often than not.
No Limit Texas Hold'em MTT
Multi-table tournaments, or MTTs, are one of the most popular formats for No Limit Texas Hold'em. They often enable players to secure a big prize for a relatively low buy-in.
At the start of an MTT, each player is given a stack of chips and they are eliminated from the competition once those chips have been lost. The aim of the game, naturally, is to be the player with all the chips at the end (earning you the biggest share of the prizepool) but typically MTTs will pay the top 12 percent of the field.
Top 3 Tips:
- Players should avoid committing their chips with one-pair hands in the early stages of an MTT when the blinds are low. Instead, look to hit big with speculative hands like suited connectors.
- As the blinds increase, stealing from the later positions becomes increasingly important. When you do, you can keep your stack afloat even when you aren’t picking up any premium hands.
- In an MTT, the size of your stack is often more important than your cards. Work hard to identify the stacks that you can apply pressure to with raises and attack them when close to the money. Weak players will be terrified of big stacks and generally respect big raises from them.
Hold'em Sit n' Go's
Sit 'n Go's or SNGs are another form of tournament poker, but unlike MTTs they take place over just one table.
An SNG begins when all seats have been filled, rather than kicking off at a scheduled time, making them a fast and fun way to play lots of poker. If you’re eliminated you can simply jump into another one and try again.
As in MTTs, players in SNGs are issued a set number of chips to begin with and their goal is to win them all. This time, however, the top 33 percent of the field receives a share of the prizepool.
Top 3 Tips:
- Unlike in MTTs, where you are prone to being moved from table to table, you will be playing with the same opponents for the duration of a SNG. Therefore, studying their strengths and weaknesses is key. Taking notes on players online is a good move as the same SNG players tend to appear regularly.
- While MTTs can take several hours to play down to the money, SNGs approach the bubble very quickly. The optimal strategy, therefore, changes considerably based on the size of your chip stack.
- Although your chips don’t have a monetary value, they do entitle you to a share of the prize pool. For this reason, big stacks should be discouraged from taking on other big stacks on the bubble.
A freeroll will typically award cash prizes or seats in real-money tournaments to the top end of the field. Players further down the field may also pick up a few pounds so that they can share in the spoils.
Top 3 Tips:
- If you’re a new player, freerolls are your poker training simulator. You can use freerolls to hone your game and try out new moves without financial risk, so don’t be afraid to experiment in them.
- Having said that, as they have not paid any money to enter, players tend to be looser and more reckless in freerolls. Be prepared to adjust the hands that you call with, and gamble more with big draws.
- At the start of the freeroll, you will typically find a lot of players sat out who have registered for the event but forgotten to play. Take advantage of their tardiness by stealing their blinds regularly.
Unlike in tournaments where you are playing with chips, in No Limit Hold'em cash games you are wagering real money with every bet that you make.
While that may sound daunting at first, the advantage of this is that if you do lose your stack you can reload at any time. As such, cash games can allow you to gamble in slightly advantageous spots without fear of elimination.
The blinds never rise in a cash game, meaning play is always deep-stacked. This is a factor that favours the more skilled players.
Top 3 Tips:
- As blind stealing is less advantageous in cash games than it is in tournaments, you should generally be more disciplined with your starting hand selection. This is especially true in the earlier positions.
- Perhaps more so than in any other form of poker, studying your opponents' tendencies is vital. Bad players will make more mistakes with deeper stacks and you need to capitalise on any leaks. With most poker sites, you can take player notes on regular players. Refer to your notes when you come up against an opponent again.
- If a situation will win you chips in the long run, it will win you money in the long run. Unlike in tournaments where you may pass up a slight edge, you should always take a favourable spot in cash.
Live No Limit Hold'em
As well as playing online, you can play No Limit Texas Hold'em in both cash game and tournament formats in bricks and mortar casinos around the country.
While the game is the same, there are certainly subtle differences between playing live and online, namely because you have so much more information available to you in a real life setting.
This should help inform your judgement and enable you to make better decisions at the table, although there are obviously some pitfalls to avoid.
Top 3 Tips:
- People generally play tighter live than they do online. It's a lot easier to bluff behind the safety of a computer screen. So, if you see big raises pre-flop live they are generally good hands unless you're up against an aggressive player.
- Physical observations can be used to roughly estimate an opponent's playing style. It’s not particularly accurate, but generally a retiree is likely to be more conservative than a younger player.
- Studying your opponent's mannerisms when they bluff and when they have a hand is always a good idea. Beware players who throw out false tells when they know they’re being watched, however.
Rush Poker/Fast-Fold Poker
One of the more recent innovations in the poker world, fast-fold poker is a format only found online. These cash games enable a player to immediately begin a new hand at a new table as soon as the previous one has been folded. This removes the need to wait around for a pot to be played out and allows players to see more hands per hour than any other format. Fast-fold poker is primarily used for cash game play, but some sites do also offer fast-fold MTTs.
Top 3 Tips:
- As premium hands come around so much faster in fast-fold poker games, players generally discard their marginal or poor holdings when facing aggression. This is especially true in three-bet pots. If you can, then, target the soft players and play your own marginal hands strong.
- An extension of this is that the vast majority of players will be less likely to defend their big blind. This means that you can raise a greater proportion of your buttons and also size your bets smaller.
- Despite the slight differences, fast-fold poker is still poker and the usual key concepts still hold true. Play tighter in early position and take as many notes on opponents as you possibly can.