“In the long run there’s no luck in poker, but the short run is longer than most people know,” famous poker books author Rick Bennet once said.
In his book “King of a Small World,” Bennet says that experienced poker players don’t depend on luck to win. They depend on their skills and experiences. That’s a powerful statement for a game where chance is an essential element.
But as history shows, poker legends like Stu Ungar, Phil Hellmuth and Phil Ivey play (or played) the game so meticulously you would think they didn’t need luck to edge out opponents. Maybe they are good at the game, or they use some of the following strategies.
#1: Playing Fewer Games Vigorously
Players have different opinions on how to approach poker. Some say you should call as many hands as you can and hope you win some. But that comes at the expense of draining your chips faster than everyone else at the table.
Playing fewer hands aggressively is a better way to maximize your wins. This is particularly important when calling blinds before the flop. When you only have two cards, there's no reason to beckon a full pot or a half pot.
But after you discover you have a potentially winning hand, play aggressively. It doesn't matter if you have a pair of aces or a royal flush. When it's your time to call blinds, be as vigorous as you can. Most opponents won't know whether you have a weak hand or not, which gives you an edge over them.
#2: Don’t Limp First
Limping is a poker term that refers to calling an enormous blind before the flop. People limp for all sorts of reasons. Maybe they have a pair of aces, or they have a gut feeling they will win. Don't be that player.
You can’t know whether you’ll win until you cross to the flop. That’s where your hand strengthens or loosens. There’s one scenario where limping is okay, though. If someone else already called a sizeable blind in the pre-flop round, you can follow suit under one condition. You have a strong pair that could lead to a flush, threes, or a straight.
If you don't think your first card pairs will form a strong hand, fold your cards. This will save you from losing a colossal amount of chips unnecessarily.
#3: Play a Strong Hand Aggressively
One of the worst mistakes people do when playing poker is to underplay their strong hands. Someone may have a flush at the flop, but they will check their cards up to the river. Sure, a flush draw is not the strong hand in the game, but it has a high chance of winning you're the round.
When you have such a strong hand, be aggressive. Raise your bet continuously unless someone goes all in and you believe they have a full house or a superior draw. Of course, raising your stake too high can also force your opponents to fold their cards. But it's better than to remain conservative and get outdrawn in the end.
#4: Bluff Skillfully
Bluffing is like a spice. There's a right amount of it. If you overdo it, it can cost you the whole game. Without bluffing, you'll never maximize your wins. So, when is the best time to deceive? When you have cards that can lead to a strong hand; call a bluff.
If you have aces, straights, a flush or a better hand, call and even bigger bluff. The purpose of bluffing is to scare away your opponents. But that doesn’t mean you should bluff all the time. You should only call a bluff when you have a potential game-winning hand.
#5: Know When to Fold
Kenny Rodger's "The Gambler," said it right. Know when to fold. In this case, fold when you are not sure what to do. In an example, let's say you have a weak pair on the fourth street. An opponent then calls a full pot. You only have one chance to draw three of a kind.
If you find yourself feeling confused about what to do, fold your cards. There's a small chance your opponent may be bluffing, but it's not worth risking a significant fraction of your chips to a weak hand.
After all, playing fewer hands vigorously is a better strategy than calling too frequently. By contrast, making calls all the time drains your stake as fast as making thoughtless bluffs.
#6: Attack, don’t play to Survive
There’s a difference between folding to avoid losses and folding to survive a tournament. The former is recommended. The latter has a time and place. At the initial stages of a poker tournament, you should be attack-minded.
Consider that you want to win the tournament, and that means you must accumulate your chips as frequently as you can. Playing with survival in mind can be costly because every time you don't win, your stack reduces.
By the time you're playing big blinds, you'll usually have too few chips to call bluffs or to play until the end effectively. The only time you should fold to survive is toward the end of the tournament. That's after you've already stacked your chips and you have enough of them to play effectively to last blind.
#7: Play when you’re not distracted
Poker is an intensive game that you should only play when you’re away from distracters. Regardless of whether you play for fun or the money, your chances of winning a tournament are highest when you’re fully committed to it.
If you're heading to Las Vegas, consider going alone. Your friends may make the trip more enjoyable, but they will likely distract your mind. When playing online, close other tabs and switch off the TV. Give the game all your attention.
Poker is an easy game, so most people think they can win it. But continually, people who thought were skillful at poker ended up losing. That calls for being humble at a poker table. Know your strategies and use them effectively.