Poker is arguably the most strategic game in existence. This classic casino attraction successfully combines the luck of gambling with the skill of betting. There are countless books and essays that analyze poker strategy, but this is not a full strategy article. Rather, this is a brief look at three essential elements to remember when playing poker: the A-B-C's of poker.
Adapt to the hand
Always adapt to the hand; this is the first vital principle of poker. This strategy is especially important to poker games with multiple rounds of betting, such as Hold'Em and Omaha. These types of poker consist of several rounds during each hand with central community cards that can be used by every player to make the best hand possible. Thus, as each new card is turned, any player's hand can drastically improve or deteriorate.
It is the constant changes of the hand that forces the need to adapt. When reading your opponent, you can only play the odds. Unless you are holding the "nuts" (the best possible hand), there is at least a small percentage that your opponent could beat you before the poker hand ends. This is why you must adapt as each new card is turned over. Always anticipate the fact that the "one card" your opponent needs could actually come.
You do not need to except to lose, but always be prepared that it could happen. Gambling in poker naturally requires a degree of risk taking, but take strategic risks. Play the best possible odds and always leave yourself an out.
Bet with a purpose
Betting, or raising as it is called in poker, is more than a simple barbaric gambling action. You should bet with finesse. Betting should not just be a way of bullying your opponents. The top poker players do not arbitrarily raise at random; they carefully plan every bet based on the size of the pot, the number of players involved, and the strength of their hand.
Betting should take place for a variety of reasons. It can be useful in the bullying method mentioned above, or even in bluffing. When making a bluff, or pretending you have the best hand, do not randomly bet a high amount when you realize you cannot win. Many players back themselves into a corner and attempt to use a bluff to find their way out. This is terrible poker strategy and a bluff should never be used in desperation. Bluffs are most successful when they are pursued from the very beginning of the hand. The easiest way to master the art of bluffing is to convince yourself as well as others that you have the best hand at the poker table. Bet the entire hand as you would if you knew you could not lose.
Another goal of betting is to raise the pot. When you truly have the best hand at the poker table, you want to leak as much money as you can from your opponents. The types of bets you make are dependent on how far along you are in the hand.
When betting in the beginning of a poker hand, the goal is to weed out the weak hands that may get lucky while keeping the stronger hands that will be willing to call future bets. This is accomplished by raising enough that the players with lower cards fold, but not raising too much to scare everyone off. The idea is that, when the flop (community cards) is dealt, high cards will help everyone remaining in the hand, but will leave you with the best poker hand overall. This will create a situation where other poker players think they have the best hand, and can score you a large money pot. If lower cards are dealt in the community, they will not help anyone and thus you will still have the best overall hand at the table. If you had not scared off the weaker players, they could have made their hand and you would no longer have the best overall cards.
If the poker hand is almost over, your betting strategy should change. If you feel you have the best hand, bet enough to raise the pot but not enough to force others to fold. If you do not think you are holding the winning poker hand, do not bet. It is best to simply cut your losses.
Call with the intent to raise
The best poker players are actively involved in the action. It is foolish to call for no reason. If you are willing to call a hand, you should be raising. This is a good method for gauging the strength of your hand. If you are not willing to be the aggressor, one of your opponents likely has you beat. The only time you should call a hand is if you are calling with the intent to raise in the future. Calling is merely a strategy to hide the fact that you want to raise the pot; it is in no way a method to limp into a hand.
Now that you have mastered the A-B-C's of poker, you are ready to further advance your education in poker strategy. There is a cornucopia of existing poker strategies, but the best strategies follow these three important elements. Always remember to adapt to the hand, bet with a purpose, and call with the intent to raise when playing poker.
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