Here are 10 tips to use when you are playing Holdem, whether it be a cash game, a satellite, or a tournament.
#1 - Pay attention to other players - this is probably the most important thing you can do. The information you can gain from this is what can make the decision between winning and losing a big pot. Look at how they play each particular situation. If they do something different, ask yourself why? If they show a particular weakness (i.e. they like to limp in a lot but will fold to a raise); try and take advantage of that particular weakness.
#2 - Listen to the story - this is something Jennifer Harman said that I love to borrow. When you're in a hand and deciding whether to call or fold or raise, replay the story in your head and ask yourself if it makes sense. If it does, then it's probably true. If it doesn't, then it's probably not. An example of a story that doesn't make sense: A tight player raises in early position. Two players call and you call on the button with 7-6 of spades. The flop comes 8-5-4 with two clubs. You check raise the flop. He check calls your bet on the turn which is a 3. The river is another 3. He moves all in over the top of your bet. Now you're worried he has a full house.
But ask yourself the story - does it make sense? Here's a tight player who only plays big cards and bigger pairs from early position. He didn't reraise your check raise on the flop. He check called your bet on the turn, meaning he was uncertain if his hand was any good. Then he puts all his chips in on the river. What hands beat you here? Pocket 8's, 5's, 4's and any hand that has a 3. What is the likelihood he has any of these hands? Eights are the only possibility and because his raise came from early position you can probably exclude that. The story doesn't make sense. Call.
Now what about a story that does make sense? You have aces in early position and raise. Two players and the big blind (“BB”) call you. The flop comes Q-6-2. The BB checks. You bet. A player in middle position (“MP”) minimum raises your bet. The player in the BB makes a smallish raise of the MP players reraise. Now you're in a tough spot. It's likely one of the players has just a queen and you're ahead of that.
But let's look at the BB's story. There are probably a lot of hands he would call with out of the BB given the number of people in the pot, but you can probably exclude hands like Q-6, Q-2, 6-2. But here he has not only check raised. He has check raised a reraise of a tight player's bet who raised in early position. He has to have a strong hand here because there are two people left to act and he has no idea how they are going to act, accordingly he's probably not too worried, especially since he knows he will be acting first on the turn if he is called. Further his raise was small - he's not trying to push people out. It would appear the BB has a set of 6's or 2's. And the story makes sense. So as tough as it might be, fold the aces here.
#3 - It's ok to fold the best hand sometimes. Just remember how your opponent played the hand and use that information later. It's also only a small mistake to fold to a raise. If you're uncertain, it's better to fold - especially in comparison to calling.
#4 - Position, position, position. The importance of this can’t be stressed enough. Many players like playing suited connectors and hands like K-Q, Q-J, etc; That's fine - but if you're going to play these hands, make sure you're in late middle position or later. There are many reasons why - but the key ones are, when you play these hands out of position you are at a disadvantage post-flop if you flop a piece of it (while, if you have position, you can at least react to what has already been told to you), plus if the hand gets raised/reraised, you'll probably have to fold it pre-flop and those chips you end up putting in can add up. At least when you are in position pre-flop, you can be pretty certain it's not going to get raised.
#5 - Be aggressive. Imagine you're driving on your local interstate. Imagine the cars are all boxing you in and you want to pass them. What do you do then? You get aggressive. Take that same stance in poker. Don't drive like an old fart or nervous teenager, sitting behind the cars waiting for the opportunity to pass them. Pass them on YOUR initiative. The same applies to poker. It's much better to be aggressive than to be passive. One, it lets you take control of the hand. Two, it has them fearing you. Three, you get more information when you're aggressive than when you're passive. Let's look at an example situation. You have 10's on the button. It's folded to a player in late middle position who raises. If you take the passive approach you'll just call. The flop comes A-J-4. Middle position player bets. You fold.
Now look at the aggressive player with the same exact hand and flop. Except this time you reraised him pre-flop and he just called. He checked to you on the flop. And you bet the flop. And he folds.
Why did he fold? Because 1) you took control of the hand. You represented strength pre-flop. He represented weakness (by just calling your reraise). 2) He doesn't know whether or not you have an ace, a jack, pocket kings, queens, or jacks. He only knows what he can beat. If he can't beat any of those hands, he thinks you might have, he'll have to fold. And if he does happen to call your flop bet, then you have the added advantage of getting a free card on the turn because he's likely going to defer to you.
You might pick up a set or a straight by being aggressive rather than being passive. The last advantage of being aggressive is you're much more likely to get paid off when you have the big hand. When you play passive and all of a sudden are raising, people will tend to not pay you off because they will give you credit for a strong hand. But when you're constantly aggressive, they won't know if you have missed or not.
#6 - Patience and Discipline - There are going to be stretches where you won't play a hand (or should not play a hand) for 30 minutes or an hour. You have to maintain your focus here and be disciplined. Watch what the other players are doing when you're card dead. Look for the weaknesses in their game. Try and guess what hands they might have. Most poker tournaments/cash games are marathons - for you to make the final table or turn a big profit, you're going to have to play a lot of hands. You can't win a poker tournament in an hour. But you can lose it.
#7 – This is more of a live tip. Don't talk to other people while in a hand. There are going to be people who ask you questions while you are in a pot. Stay silent and stare at one spot on the felt. Anything you say and do can be used against you - maybe not in the current hand, but in a later hand. Do the same thing no matter if you have the nuts or are completely bluffing. Also be consistent with your actions. Try and always look at your cards and bet the same. Place your chips out in the same manner. Take the same amount of time to fold pre-flop that you do to raise.
#8 - Be aware of your stack size and your opponents. You don't have to be much of a math person to be successful (although it does help) but you should always be aware of your stack size and the stack sizes of players already in the hand with you or who might be in the hand with you. As far as the math goes, typically avoid draws unless the bets are small, you just aren't likely going to make enough money if you hit your hand to justify the bets you're going to have to call. It's better to pick up pots when you're being the aggressor than to call on draws and hope your opponent pays you off if you hit. In fact, it's much better to be the aggressor with the draws than the caller. So don't worry about the math, but do worry about the ability of your opponent to bust or cripple you.
#9 - Make proper sized bets. If you are reraising someone, don't give them the correct odds to call. This is a hard thing for you to do because of the math, so try and remember this rule of thumb. If you are reraising someone pre-flop, make your total bet 3x what they bet. So let's say the blinds are 100/200 and someone raises to 600. You would want to raise to 1800 (600*3). The same rule can be applied post-flop as long as the person did not make an unusually small bet (a minimum bet for example). If there is 2000 in the pot and someone bets 1500, a proper reraise would be to make it 4500 to go. If someone bets 200 into a 2000 pot, you would generally want to make your raise about half the pot size or in this case a little more than 1000 total. But stick with the 3x rule unless the bet is small.
#10 - Forget about the money. If you don't worry about the money, you won't play scared. If you play fearless, the money will come.
The Main Holdem Strategy Index: The Great Game of Holdem