Three Simple Things

If you cannot find the sucker at your poker table, chances are you are the sucker.

Have you heard of that expression? It is usually true, but in the world of online poker, especially when you are playing for low stakes or for play money like on, a simple yet solid grasp of poker fundamentals can keep you grounded, and can most definitely keep you from being ’the sucker.’ To get your skills moving in the right direction, I’ll give you an example from my own life.

I enjoy the game of golf. One problem I have is that I find myself thinking about a million things: tips I read in a magazine, a random piece of advice from a lesson 5 years ago, and other ideas all jumbled up in my head. What was the result? Usually, a bad golf shot. In order to resolve this, I decided that I needed to limit my focus on three simple things; those things would become the only things I would focus on for the full 18 holes. Afterwards, I would re-evaluate my progress and decide if I successfully followed the three pieces of advice. I would also determine what I should focus on for the next time I play.

Let’s try that with three basic poker tips that will help any novice poker player who is overwhelmed by the myriad of advice available.

Learn to Fold

Easy, right? Just press the ’Fold’ button. Well, that is not exactly what I mean.

Folding can be its own art form and once you master it and learn to appreciate the simple grace of it. If you have been reading the Academy articles, you have a good understanding of what makes a good pre-flop hand. IF you have that understanding, though, why is it that we often feel an impulse to limp into a hand with 10-2 offsuit in early position just because it is Doyle Brunson’s favorite hand (or some other rationalization)? That’s no good reason to play 10-2 offsuit, especially for a limp (see #2 below). Pre-flop hand selection takes discipline, which leads to a good understanding of how to just toss those cards away.

Likewise, once you are in a hand, don’t chase a hand that might not have the right odds to pay you off (read Jordan’s article about POT ODDS for a better understanding of this). Also, don’t press your good hands pre-flop when you can see by a Villain’s bet sizing that he clearly has the flush, or the Jack that makes his straight. We often get married to a hand quickly and don’t adapt, and that is where we must learn how to fold, and fold without regret. Better opportunities will present themselves.

Play Your Position Wisely

Position is everything, yet we often tend to forget that. The opportunity to see how our opponents enter the pot before we act is a tremendous asset that you should take advantage of. Practice good pre-flop discipline, when you are first to act. A10 off-suit might not be a good hand to enter with when you are first to act with aggressive players behind you. Similarly, it may be weak when a very tight player three-bets you, since you will surely be behind a tight player willing to three-bet preflop? In late position, however, you already know what you’re facing — that very tight player has already acted, or the aggressive player has already made his bet — and you can determine whether that A10 is worth playing with all of that information readily available. Even better, we get to see what they do post-flop before we act. Our position is directly correlated to the amount of information we receive, and that information can determine our playing style. We can open up our hand range in late position if the odds are right to set-mine with, say, 55 or 66., or a suited connector like J 10. Keep abreast of where you are at the table, and keep thinking about Thing #1!

Bet For Value

Let’s say you have a strong pre-flop hand. Often novice players like to get tricky. We’ll slow-play our QQ to keep more people in the hand, only to get devoured on the turn or river by a flush, a made straight or a set. While there is merit to slow playing a hand (like hitting a set post-flop on a dry rainbow board), more often than not, the shortest distance between two points (speculation and profit) is a straight line. In other words, don’t be afraid to bet and potentially take the pot down early. Make a solid post-flop continuation bet, and fire another barrel on the turn if you get action. Sure, aggressive players might look you up from time to time, but because you read our Academy articles you’ll know if you’re beat or if they’re bluffing, right?

Don’t muddle your play with a million ideas. Keep it simple, and once these things are second nature, you can expand your repertoire and focus on more complex styles of play.

Oh, and don’t forget to fold.

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