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Poker Strategy

Unfortunately poker doesn’t have a basic poker strategy like blackjack or video poker do. The best way to play a particular hand will change with every game and every player. For example, a showdown is not necessarily the preferred outcome. Conservative (tight) players with poor hands will quickly fold rather than put money in a pot that someone else will win. A good poker player with a bad hand may sometimes try to turn this to an advantage with aggressive betting and steal the pot. The same player with a good hand may try to lure unsuspecting bettors into the pot with tentative betting. There is always a chance that other good poker payers will recognize this obvious ruse and wager accordingly. It turns into an intricate game of, “He thinks that I think that he’s thinking that I think that he thinks that I have four kings. But I know that he knows that I know that he knows…” And thus the game goes on.

As a result, poker strategy inevitably becomes a series of instructive stories and examples. Here are a few to consider when playing seven-card stud:

Seven-card stud: bluffing and tells

It’s the start of a new hand and your first three cards include a pair of aces and a four. One of the aces is face up. It’s a nice start, but if the hand doesn’t improve there are a lot of ways you can lose. One poker strategy you could employ would be to place bets that suggest you indeed have two aces, or maybe even three. The purpose of this poker strategy would be to drive other players out of the game and lessen the chance that you would lose in a showdown. Of course, if the other aces are face up in someone else’s hand this semi-bluff won’t work.

Now lets change you opening threes cards to all hearts, five, six, and nine. The nine is exposed. It may seem very exciting, but your chances of making the straight flush are not good. You have better odds at making a flush, but they are still not overwhelming. In this situation you would want everyone in the pot because you just may develop that killer hand. The poker strategy here is to draw the other players in. How exactly are we going to do that? This will depends on whether they are playing loose or tight. You should also be ready to bail if you’re holding rags on Sixth Street.

Now let’s put these two examples together. It’s Fifth Street and the situation appears reversed, the other person has three hearts exposed on the table. You’re holding the aces from the first example, and you’ve been extremely lucky to catch a third ace. You’re trying to push him out or the hand, and he seems determined to try to keep you in. The two of you may be locked in a little betting war if you don’t fold. Of course he may not have the flush. Take a look around the table. Do you see nine cards with hearts? If you do then he will never have a flush. If you don’t see many hearts, his chances are good, perhaps even better than your chances of catching the fourth ace or a pair to make a full house. This might be a ruse. The smart move may be to fold or is it? Is your opponent the kind of player who frequently bluffs or the kind that rarely bluffs? Maybe his two down cards are spades. Now multiply this scenario by every person at the table.

Poker players gather information about their opponents’ hands by analyzing betting patterns, paying attention to exposed cards, and by being able to read player tells. Tells are unconscious movements or body positions that indicate what a person is thinking and therefore playing. A tell can be as simple as an ear scratch, a lean forward, or a heavy sigh. It can be the way someone fiddles with the chips or sips a drink. It can also be the absence of any of these or some other action. Some people nonverbally scream, “I’m holding aces!” and for others it’s the message “I’ve got trash!” Poker pros see this and use it.

Hold’em: holding the nuts

Texas hold’em is somewhat more volatile than seven-card stud. There is no ante and therefore there is no reason to stay in the hand if the first two cards are not good (unless you’re the big blind). On the flip side, this makes pot stealing much easier. Betting aggressively tells everyone you have two aces or two kings. Sometimes the other players will bow out, or they might thing you’re bluffing and call you.

The most promising and occasionally the most dangerous situation is believing you hold the required cards, the nuts, to the best hand. Let’s say you have two acres in the pocket. You bet aggressively. Some people flop out, but a few stay with you. The flop reveals another ace, a ten, and a four, all unsuited. You have the nuts, so you decide that you want to draw the remaining players in so you change your poker strategy. It works, and nobody folds. The turn brings a two. Everyone checks to you, and again you bet modestly to which everyone calls. You still have the nuts, and you are prepared for the kill. The river reveals another ten. Suddenly there is a problem. One of the remaining players could have four tens. Thankfully, there is no indication that this has happened because everyone checks you. You push out a big pile of chips, and the first live player to the dealer’s left raises. Everyone folds to you. Now you must either fold with a lot of money in the pot, or you pay even more too possibly lose.

At times like this, an ability to read other payers is crucial.

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