Poker is by far the world’s most popular and famous card game. This trend has continued in the modern age, with any online casino showcasing countless options for an online Poker game where skilful players can look to test their mettle. However, while there are many forms of Poker, by far the most popular choice is Texas Hold’Em, a community card-based form of the game which involves a certain amount of luck and a whole lot of strategy.
It’s a the strategy that we’re going to focus on here, because there’s not much we can do to improve your luck – that’s something that is between you and whatever lucky charm you might turn to when playing Poker online. We can, however, provide a little guidance on how to outwit other players, including those who may have drawn better cards than you, by using the rules of the game to your advantage. You may well be aware of which hands are the best and which aren’t so much use, but these core basics are just a starting point; by learning about the strategy of Poker, you should be able to expand further, and increase your chances of success.
So let’s look at the way a Poker game develops, and see where you can eke out an advantage on the best online casino sites by making the most of what the dealer gives you.
There is no one way to play online Poker; a certain amount of your strategy will always be driven by the form of the game that you’re playing. However, as we have mentioned, the most popular form of online Poker – by a long way – is Texas Hold’Em, so we’ll base our analysis on learning how to win more often at this specific version of the game.
The first thing to be aware of with Hold’Em is that the cards are dealt, and the game played, in a clockwise rotation around the table. You will receive your cards, and will make your plays, immediately after the person sitting on your right. As we will discuss in more detail in a moment, the position you are sitting in during a game of Poker is important to your strategy. Certain positions confer certain advantages – and for this reason, the rotation changes between games in order to ensure fairness.
Your preferred position in any game, whether in your kitchen with a few friends or at a land-based stylish new casino, is to be the last person in the rotation. This position is known as the Button. We’ll get to why that is shortly, but if you remember nothing else, remember that one fact, because it is fundamental to smart betting and winning at Poker.
If you had to guess why it is best to be last in the rotation, what would your guess be? If you’re thinking “it gives me more time to think”, you’re part of the way there, but the real advantage to being on the Button is that everyone else will need to play before you. Not only do you have the time to look at your cards and think about what you can do, you also have the chance to assess your opponents, judging who is behaving confidently, who is unsure, and who is likely to fold.
In fact, as folding is an option right from the start of betting, sitting in the Button position is all the more advantageous because by the time the bet reaches you, there may only be a few players left in the game. This means there are fewer variables in play, which should make your own choices far simpler.
As well as being a catchy slice of Country and Western, Kenny Rogers’ classic 1978 single “The Gambler” contains a decent piece of advice. “You’ve gotta know when to hold ‘em/Know when to fold ‘em.” says the card player in the lyrics of the song – and he’s right. Although folding is often seen as a cowardly move, sometimes it’s the right decision. Being successful in a game of Poker requires the ability to make the smart decision, and a key part of being “smart” is acting on the information you have available to you.
It stands to reason that the people playing last in a hand, and seeing the actions of all those playing before them, will have more information than those playing early on. Therefore, if you receive your cards and they aren’t very good, and you’re in an early position, you know one thing for sure: you’re not in an advantageous position. Now, sure, the further rounds of betting might deliver cards that would improve your hand significantly – but to get to those further rounds, you’ll have to make a bet, and there’s a decent chance that will be a losing bet. There’s nothing at all wrong with immediately folding and waiting for the next round if this helps you avoid sustaining a significant loss.
If you do fold, take the time to gather your thoughts for the next round. Watch everyone else. See what they do, who else folds, and who decides to play. When people decide to go all in, check to see what hand they play when the reveal comes. This enables you to profile all the players at the table, and gives you valuable insight into what they might do in a later round.
Your bankroll is a sacred part of any online Poker strategy, not just in the game you are playing right now, but in all aspects of life. It’s helpful to see your bankroll as part of your general budget – after your living costs have been ring-fenced from your monthly income, have a sensible amount that can be used for online Poker. Once you have that amount – let’s say it’s £80 – you should use half of it for deposits at online casinos; deposit £40, and keep £40 back for later deposits. Never dip into your living costs to play more Poker. If you’ve lost your bankroll, by all means take the opportunity to play free games and improve your strategy for a future point when you can safely fund your account.
The key is to avoid burning through your bankroll, which tends to mean you should ensure your bankroll is split, so you can’t use it all in one go. In fact, the amount that you set aside for deposits should not all be deposited with one casino. You should deposit enough in one place to trigger their deposit bonus, then repeat the process with other casinos too – effectively dividing your bankroll between different brands. This tactic has two immediate benefits: firstly, it maximises the amount you have to play with by generating multiple bonuses, and secondly, it means that if you have a bad day at one particular casino, you’ve still got a portion of your bankroll left elsewhere.
Additionally, it is wise to have a stop-loss amount in mind which, if you lose it, will trigger your departure from the game. It’s up to you what that amount is, and you should set it cautiously. It’s better to walk away while you feel you could still win something than to leave the table when you have nothing. Also, have a set win amount and leave the table when you reach that amount. If you turn £10 into £20, you’ve had a good day. Walk away before you turn it back into £10, or even less than that, courtesy of a few bad hands.
If you’re playing Poker in a brick-and-mortar casino, the moments where you aren’t doing anything can be used profitably to glance around the table, see who looks confident and who is despondent, and get an idea of each player’s approach – all of which comes in useful when judging whether to play or fold, and how much to bet. In online Poker, that’s a tad more difficult – you can’t see whether the guy on the Button is grinning broadly, or notice that the person to your right has broken into a nervous flop-sweat.
You can still read the other players’ hands, though. Even when playing online, players will have their own approaches. Some will fold if there’s so much as a suggestion they have a bad hand. Others will keep playing, and raising others’ bets, to the extent that you can only conclude they’ve got a clear winner. Remember, though, that until you see their cards, you can’t be sure of anything. Take the time during early games to watch how your opponents approach the game, and what kind of hands they’ll play on. In later rounds, knowing how they act means you’ll be able to surmise the quality of their hand just by seeing what they do when asked to bet.
How to improve your hand reading skills in Poker
There is just one way to get better at hand reading – practice. Bear in mind that if you’re playing at a six-person table, there are five separate personalities around that table apart from yours. Each of these people could be cautious, cavalier, deceptive, impassive or just plain having a bad (or good!) day. There is no point assuming because one player folds on the first three hands that they are simply risk-averse. Some of the best Poker players in the world will fold, again and again, because there is no point committing good money to a bad hand.
Instead of assuming what a player’s hand is on the basis of how they behave in a single game, take a whole cycle to witness who does what and when they do it. If someone who has been folding repeatedly suddenly gets bold in the fourth or fifth game and goes all in, you can be fairly sure they’ve got something worth betting on. If someone comes out right away and bets aggressively, they may win a hand without ever having to reveal their cards. If this happens, don’t assume they had a solid-gold hand. They might have been bluffing – a concept we’ll look at shortly – in the hope that they would force less confident players to fold.
The only way to be genuinely confident you are reading other players right is to observe them over a period of time. Every Poker player has a “tell” – something they do that betrays their bluffing. When you know what that tell is, you’re more than halfway to beating them as an opponent.
How to bluff in Poker
Bluffing is the act of making your opponents believe your hand is something other than what it actually is. Or, at least, trying to make them believe that. This can mean making tentative bets throughout the rounds up until just before the Showdown (when you have to reveal your hand), hoping to make an opponent over-confident so they’ll keep betting, only to then discover you held a Royal Flush all along.
Equally, bluffing can also involve betting substantially at each opportunity so that your opponents think you’ve got a great hand – forcing a few, ideally all, of them – to fold and avoid a big loss, when in reality all you had was a pair of 3s. It’s easier to bluff in a real-world game, where people can see your facial expressions, but it’s also easier to detect a bluff (because you’re poker players, not trained actors). Online, bluffing is all about how you behave when the bet comes around to you.
Perhaps most importantly, if you plan to bluff in a game of Poker, don’t always do it one way. If people cotton on to your tendency to raise bets when in possession of a mediocre hand, they’ll literally “call your bluff” (that is, after all, where that expression comes from), and can end up skinning you for an easy profit. Mix things up a little – be cautious with one hand, cavalier with the next, and also play things completely straight from time to time. Some people around a Poker table will be predictable; it’s essential that you are not.
There is an assumption among non-players that Poker is a game of luck, but this simply isn’t the case. Sure, a lot of your success and failure at the table will be governed by the luck of the draw, but this alone doesn’t decide a winner. Success is actually controlled by your ability to ride on your knowledge of the players around you, your capacity to mix your game up, your bluffing skills, and your management of your payroll. Get that figured out, and you’re on your way to being a successful Poker player.
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