Winning Poker Strategy


All players can win the pot with the strongest hand, but sophisticated players can win a little bit more. Just taking the pot home is not enough. The advanced poker strategy is to take advantage of the hands’ whole potential and to build the pot up.

Usually, maximization of profit implies maximization of risk, too, and vice versa. The advanced poker strategy reduces the risk slightly more than the profit. In investing, this can be attained with the portfolio theory and different option strategies. In poker, profit can sometimes be maximized at the same time as the risk is minimized. These win-win situations are very profitable plays.

The Flush

According to the basic rule, draws must be played as cheaply as possible: just checking and calling. Suppose you have A-7 in the pocket and the flop is K-8-2. Next time, 3 turns to the board and the flush glows on the table.How to play it? A newcomer delays for some time – as if hesitating – and bets hoping some fool will call. At best one opponent has drawn to the flush as well and calls. The others fold. The beginner may win the pot, but the advanced player had won more.

Well played, a flush draw requires thorough preparation.Suppose A-7 is in the pocket and the flop is K-8-2. The odds are 1:4. The goal is to win as much as possible if the flush is made and to lose as little as possible if the draw is missed. The way to go is to disguise the hand by betting or raising. This can be done best from late position, sometimes from other positions, too.

Suppose you are sitting in late position on the draw mentioned above and all the opponents have checked on the flop. According to the basic rule,you should check as well and take a free card. The advanced play is to bet. On the next round, all the others probably will check to you again. If the draw failed, you can now check and take the free card. It is more advantageous to take it here on the turn when the bets have doubled and this way save a half bet. If the flush was completed, the opponents will misread your hand, supposing you bet with a pair of kings, and they will call. If someone got a lower flush, he will raise. Nice!

If the first player has bet, you can raise. On the turn, the opponents are probably afraid of a new raise and will check to you. You can now get a free card or bet. When raising, you have to be sure the bettor won't reraise. Also, the opponents have to sit between the bettor and you, so that they have to pay first one single bet and then the raise separately. Forcing the opponents to pay two bets at the same time is a serious mistake, because it will kick them out of the pot.

You can try this play from other positions as well if there has been a raise preflop and the raiser is sitting next after you. Since the preflop raiser routinely bets on the flop, you can check-raise on the flop hoping that the opponents are afraid of a new check-raise on the turn and will check all the way and you can take a free card, if needed.

If the pot was not raised preflop, it is very difficult to know who the bettor will be on the flop. In that case it is better to bet yourself because if there is a king on the board, someone will usually bet anyway. Betting isn't therefore more expensive than calling, but it will disguise and build up the pot later on. Even if it would drive someone out, it wouldn't reduce the pot, since this player would fold anyway if the flush is made.

When Less Is More

If you have the nuts, you may want to raise to the sky. However, the advanced strategy is to raise only as much as the opponents can afford to call.

Suppose you have three opponents on the river. You hold A-6 and the board is K-9-2-Q-4. The first player bets, you have an unbeatable hand and raise. The other players may fold and the first one calls. You have earned two bets. If, instead of raising, you had just called and the other players had called as well, you had won one bet more. In addition, there is a small chance that someone else would have raised with a second-best hand and the play would have paid really well.

If you haven't the nuts, raising in situations as above can be disastrous. A smaller pot is won with greater risk. These kinds of plays are the opposite of the advanced win-win plays.

Bet, Raise, or Fold

Advanced poker is aggressive. You have to bet, raise, or fold. Calling is the worst alternative. Checking is the winning strategy only when check-raising or when the pot odds don’t allow betting, but you need a free card.

Suppose the blind has 8-9, the last player has raised preflop and the flop brings 2-4-9.
This kind of situation is regularly checked to the preflop raiser, who bets. The advanced poker strategy is to test the field and bet yourself. Betting is not more expensive, because the last player would bet anyway. On the other hand, it gives more value for the money. When the blind is betting, he usually has a strong hand like two pair or a set. If the last player raises again, you may realize that he has a high pair and you can consider foolding. If you had just checked and let the opponent bet, you would not have gotten this information and would have risked additional bets.

In principle, when someone has bet, you have only two advanced plays: raise or fold. Calling will do only when slowplaying or on a draw. Raising is especially important onthe turn, because the bets have doubled, one card is still coming and the draws are willing to pay. Postponing the raise to the river is a serious mistake, because if missed the draws won’t pay any more.

With the highest pair, two pair, or trips, raising is the advanced strategy against draws. Suppose you have in late position Q-T in the pocket and the flop comes with Q-6-7. The player immediately before you bets. Because T is an average kicker, folding can be the best decision. Another possibility is to raise as a semi-bluff and destroy the pot odds for draws. In addition, raising has the extra benefit that the opponents will probably check to you on the next round and you can get a free card if needed. In other words, raising maximizes your chances of winning (driving out the draws) and minimizes the financial risk (the free card). Calling is the worst and most expensive alternative.

Savings are worth as much as winnings. A correct folding is always a strong play. Suppose you have K-K in the pocket and raising sounds fine. On the flop, an ace turns up and there is betting. Time to learn to say good-bye.

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