Essential Basics on the Game of Poker

It's never too late to revisit the fundamentals and adjust your poker game
It’s never too late to revisit the fundamentals and adjust your poker game

Poker is one of the most fascinating skill-based games in the world.

One of the things that make it so fascinating is the mix of short term variance and statistics based on a 52 card deck of playing cards. Many players mistakenly call the short term variance luck, but poker doesn’t have anything to do with luck long-term. This is true whether you’re playing in a brick-and-mortar cardroom or using a bonus code at an online poker site.

Example of Skill in Poker

When you and your opponent are both all in with only the river to come in a Texas Hold’em game, there are a limited number of cards that can appear on the river. You’ve seen your two cards as well as four community cards. If you and your opponent turned your cards over when you got all in you’ve seen two additional cards.

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The Use of Odds in Poker

At this point you know the value of 8 cards out of the 52 card deck. This leaves a total of 44 cards that can land on the river.

If you have a made hand and your opponent needs to hit her open end straight draw to win, you can determine exactly how many times out of 44 you’ll win and lose.

Luck has nothing to do with it. If you enter the exact same situation hundreds of times the statistical values will play out correctly.

Straight Draws in Hold’em

In this example, an open end straight draw has 8 cards that will complete it, assuming you don’t hold one of them. This means that 8 out of 44 times your opponent will win. You can look at this a couple different ways.

8 out of 44 is 18.2% of the time. This works out to almost 1 out of every 5 times. When you realize that in the long run you lose this hand almost 1 out of 5 times it doesn’t seem like such a bad beat.

The other way to look at the numbers is 8 outcomes are bad for you and 36 outcomes are good for you.

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How to Be a Winning Poker Player

Winning poker players recognize and understand these numbers. They use them to win more money in the long run than they lose.

When you get into a situation where you win more times than you lose in the long run the more money you can get in the pot the better.

On the other side of the equation, if you’re the player who is drawing to the straight you want to put as little into the pot as possible until you hit the straight.

Poker is a Game of Incomplete Information

Of course poker is a game of incomplete information so you won’t always know when you’re the favorite and when you’re the underdog. But part of becoming a winning poker player is using all of the information you have to make an educated guess about where you stand in the current hand.

As you gain experience you improve your ability to make the right decisions more often than you make the wrong ones.

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Winning Poker is Making the Right Decisions More Often

This should be the goal of every poker player. Make the right decision more often than not. Because if you make the right decisions more often than you make the wrong ones the percentages will take care of everything else.

Play at a level where you can always make plays based on the one that gives you the best chance to win the most money in the long run. If you start thinking about your bankroll while playing you need to play at a lower level.

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Texas Hold’em

Every Texas Hold’em hand starts with your two hole cards on the felt. In the long run if you start the hand with a better two card hand than your opponents you’ll win more hands than they do. Of course you’ll need to consider dozens of other factors throughout the hand, but every single thing you can do to gain an edge brings you closer to profitable play.

Considerations for Every Poker Hand

  • Your position relative to the button
  • The size of your stack
  • The size of your opponent’s stack
  • Who raises and calls before the flop and on every betting round
  • The experience and expertise of your opponents
  • How your opponents view your playing style and abilities

Always remember to focus on making the best play. Let the numbers take care of your long term profit.