Here is the original version of this “quick poker tips” article, which was a bit more advanced (originally published July 6th, 2018). You will notice some overlap between these tips and the ones in the updated version.
Tip #1: Tighten up your preflop game.
Developing a solid preflop game is by far the easiest and fastest way to improve your game. However, while developing solid preflop ranges is relatively easy to do having the discipline to stick to them is difficult.
This is especially true if you play live poker, since the number of hands you play per hour is very low compared to online. A live player can expect to play 20–25 hands per hour, while a multi-tabling online player can play 400–600 hands per hour.
So, when playing live, stay disciplined and use your extra dead time to study your opponents’ games. Pay attention to their tactics and which hands they are showing down. Don’t allow yourself to get impatient and play a hand not worth playing.
Tip #2: Don’t be afraid to pull the trigger with your bluffs.
Too many players don’t have the guts to fire big bluffs, which leaves them exploitable to attentive opponents who will stop paying them off. In turn, they lose a lot of value.
You need be the player who rouses fear and anxiety in your opponents by applying pressure in big pots despite not always having the goods.
Being able to do this effectively will make you a better and more versatile player overall, and will increase your win-rate tremendously.
Of course, against weaker opposition you needn’t bluff as much, since they won’t be as attentive to your strategy, know how to exploit it, or have the discipline to follow through with a counter-strategy. Unless, of course, you’re up against a weak player who folds far too often–the perfect type of player to bluff relentlessly.
Further reading: Bluffing in Poker Explained (by Doug Polk)
Tip #3: Don’t change your bankroll management or study habits when things are going well.
Every professional poker player has a friend who won big money in a large tournament, then proceeded to blow their winnings in cash games or by registering tournaments at stakes way higher than their usual.
It’s important to remember that poker is a game of peaks and troughs. To survive the troughs, you need to act responsibly during the peaks.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t celebrate, or be proud of your success. To the contrary, it’s important to savor the results you work hard to achieve. Just remember that going on a heater doesn’t mean you’ve suddenly become a poker god, and that downswings are inevitable.
Tip #4: Don’t bloat the pot with medium-strength hands.
Medium-strength hands should usually be played passively, since they are rarely the winning hand in big pots. The exception is when they should be played a bit more aggressively to deny equity.
These types of hands tend to play better as bluff-catchers, as they protect the weaker hands in your range–like ace high or weak pairs. This is very helpful because your opponents will not be able to easily bluff you once you check.
And playing these hands passively is another key to a well-rounded playing style. It will give you confidence in having good hands in every scenario, so that you won’t feel the need to make marginal-at-best hero calls with ace-high.
Tip #5: Game select, game select, game select!
You should always put yourself in positions where your edge is the largest. This is why it’s important to leave your ego at the door when playing poker.
It’s much better to be crushing a smaller and/or weaker game than barely beating a larger and/or tougher game. This is not only because it’s more profitable, but because it’s less stressful, and playing against weaker opposition brings lower variance.
Moreover, only barely beating a game might be a sign that you’re not yet ready to be playing there. And it will still be there when you are ready.
Tip #6: Lean towards fast playing your strong hands so you can build the pot and make more money.
It’s a sad sight when a player checks their flopped nut flush three times, and then has to awkwardly table their monster when their opponent checks back the river. Slow playing is a mistake common among players who are afraid of chasing their opponents out of the pot.
In most cases, it’s best to bet your strong hands to build the pot and protect your equity. That’s not to say you should always bet/raise your strong hands. You can check your strong hands if:
- It’s unlikely that you will be outdrawn.
- There aren’t many scare cards to prevent you from getting paid on later streets.
- Your opponent’s range is heavily weighted toward hands with no showdown value.
However, when you feel uncertain, just bet. Yes, it’s disappointing when your opponent folds, but that’s not nearly as disappointing as getting outdrawn or missing out on potential value.
Further reading: Fast Playing vs Slow Playing Revealed
Tip #7: Play poker about twice as often as you study poker, but make sure to study!
Studying is essential to becoming the best poker player you can be, but at the same time, poker is a game that requires practice. Without practice, we can’t apply what we’ve learned off the felt, and we’ll begin to lose our innate sense of the game.
Many of the decisions you make at the poker table are automatic. However, you’ll find that the longer you go without practicing, the less automatic these decisions become. This, of course, only gets worse as the decisions become important. For this reason, it’s necessary to regularly play poker in order to stay sharp.
But it’s very important you set aside time to study. Reading poker articles, playing around with poker tools, and talking over hands with friends are a few of the many ways you can improve your game away from the table.
Tip #8: Do you know definitively whether your river bet is a value bet or bluff? If not, you shouldn’t be betting.
This is a mistake many new players make, but also some more experienced players.
The situation usually plays out as follows. Their opponent checks to them on the river and they have a medium strength hand, so they bet…
…But they weren’t paying close enough attention to how dangerous the board was, or to how the action went on the turn, or to how their opponent plays in general, and so they end up losing when their opponent calls the bet and tables a slightly better hand.
On the river, you should be betting with a polarized range. That is to say, bet with a range that contains both value bets and bluffs, and check everything in between.
You do this because there are no more cards to come after the river, and so there’s no need to protect your equity. Either your hand is the best, or it isn’t. All you have to do is check and showdown with these medium-strength hands and hope to drag the pot.
Tip #9: The earlier the street, the more often you should be bluffing because that’s when the equities run closest.
Poker expert and game theory wizard Matthew Janda says we should bluff the most on the flop, slightly less on the turn, and the least on the river. He provides a mathematical proof for this in his advanced holdem strategy book, Applications of No-Limit Hold’em.
Applications shows that in order to bet with a balanced range (a range composed of the optimal number of value bets and bluffs) on the river, we need to bluff less on each progressive street. This is because our bluffs will have more equity on earlier streets, as well as the opportunity to bluff again on a later street.
Think about it… When you bluff preflop, on the flop, or on the turn, you usually do so with a hand that has potential to improve–like 6♠ 5♠ on J♠ 7♣ 2♠. So, because we have more equity, we can bluff more often while still remaining balanced.
Betting with a balanced range is most important on the river, because that’s when the pot is largest.
If you’re unaware of the benefits of betting on the river with a balanced range, read How You Should Think About Poker (But Probably Don’t).
Tip #10: Think of the early stages of a tournament like a cash game. Don’t worry about survival and focus on playing solid poker.
There’s a time and a place for stack preservation, and the beginning of a tournament isn’t it. This is one of the most misunderstood aspects of advanced tournament poker strategy.
Consider that in order to finish in the money, you’re going to have to at least double or triple your starting stack (usually more). So, instead of playing defensively, you should be playing solid and aggressive poker early on in order to build up a stack for a deep run.
If you find yourself short-stacked and near the money bubble or a pay jump, then you can start using a more survival-oriented playing style.
Further reading: How to Build Stacks & Avoid Spewing Early in a Tournament
Tip #11: Take your time on each decision.
Poker is a complex game. You have to weigh many factors in order to choose the best path of action.
Bet sizing aside, the choices themselves are not many: you only need to choose between checking, calling, betting, raising, or folding. But figuring out which one of these actions wins the most is seldom obvious.
This is why you should always avoid rushing when making a decision. An extra moment’s thought could provide the crucial insight needed to make the right choice, and it’ll help you keep emotions out of your decision making. Do this and you’ll win more, and learn more while playing.
That said, it’s important to avoid all unnecessary tanking. You should never, for example, take 15 seconds to fold your 9s5c preflop from under the gun. Not only will it piss off your fellow players, you will actually hurt your own win-rate by reducing the number of hands played per hour.
Tip #12: Make poker friends.
Building a network of poker playing friends will advance your understanding of the game. You’ll bounce ideas off of each other, and gain new perspectives on every situation.
The problem with going it alone is that you’re more prone to biases. With another 2 or 3 or 4 different poker minds around you, you can more easily find what’s right about your thought processes and thus eliminate most of the bias.
Another benefit of having poker friends comes into play when those inevitable downswings occur. Your friends can provide an amazing source of support during the hard times, and since they are poker players themselves that support will be all the more helpful. But don’t forget to be there for them to and share your quick poker tips.
Tip #13: 3-bet more often.
Most players are too passive preflop. To take advantage of them, you need to 3-bet to build big pots from the get-go with your premium hands, such as QQ+ and AK.
But in order to get paid with them preflop, you also need to add in an appropriate amount of bluffs. Sure, 3-betting only premium hands will work at first, but your opponents will soon catch on and start folding. Bluffs add depth to your preflop strategy, and help you to build more balanced range.
Additionally, many low stakes players are not accustomed to playing versus 3-bets. This inexperience leads to many mistakes on their part, and the benefactor of those mistakes is you–the 3-bettor.
Further reading: This is Why (And How) You Should 3-Bet More Often
Tip #14: Check more when out of position.
There is no harder spot in poker than playing out of position with a high stack-to-pot ratio. The situation is so complex that even solvers use almost exclusively mixed strategies which are impossible to execute as a human.
One trick to bypass this is to play more defensively and check more of your good-but-not-great hands. This will prevent opponents from stealing pots from you once you check, since you will no longer be check/folding as often. Additionally, those hands that you would typically check/fold, but which still have equity in the pot, will get to realize their equity once your opponents see they cannot bluff you off so easily.
Tip #15: Avoid bluffing on the river with Ace-high when it checks down.
I know you love to bluff when it checks down to the river, and I don’t blame you. It’s such a good spot to fire, since many players clearly signal that they’ve given up and won’t often defend their ranges when they arrive in that situation.
That being said, one of my favorite quick poker tips is that you should remember that Ace-high often still has a decent chance to win the pot even if you check it down. Turning this hand into a bluff in that spot not only opens you up to be exploited by loose calls, it also wins less than checking because you are not actually folding out that many better hands.
What often happens is your opponent holds a worse high-card hand, which you beat, but which you don’t get to see shown down because you’ve bet.
So, next time you get into that spot, just check it down!
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