Mastering poker strategy is the key to success at any table. Here we will go over the basics of poker strategy including how to play your position, how to win at online poker, how to read hands, how to make the best move, how to play multiple tables simultaneously and how to understand whether the odds are in your favor.
Additionally, we will explore game-specific strategies for Omaha Hi-Lo, 7 Card Stud Hi-Lo, Mixed Games and Texas Holdem Cash Game. Lastly, for those who are interested in entering poker tournaments, we breakdown the various types of tournaments and the must-know intel for each one.
To say position is an important factor in poker strategy is an understatement. Experienced pros know that the extra information you gain by acting after your opponents makes a huge difference to your profits. Seeing what others do before you make your own decision allows you to win more when you are ahead, and to lose fewer chips when you are behind. Adjusting your strategy to allow for position starts before the flop, where this advantage really gets felt is in post-flop play.
This article starts with a look at position in pre-flop betting, showing how you can work out where in the betting you will be post-flop from early in the hand. After this you will find 2 examples of positional play. The first shows how you can make more money using the advantage of acting last. The second shows how you can get away from a 2nd best hand cheaply when in position. Finally, you’ll see how to spot situations where your positional advantage is not as good as it seems.
When you are one of the first players to act at a table of 9 or 10 people, you need to be more cautious with your starting hand selection than you would be acting last. Mid-strength hands, small pairs and speculative hands like suited connectors are difficult to play profitably from early position. The reason is that you do not yet know whether there will be raises and re-raises from around the table. With 8 opponents there is a good chance someone will put in a raise. You will then be first to act after the flop, and you will mostly not have a monster hand.
Compare this with being one of the last players to act before the flop. Most people have already decided what to do, and you can see if there are raises and re-raises already at the table. This means you can ditch your weaker hands when there is heavy action, or play speculative hands without too much risk of a raise when things look calmer.
Your positional advantage lets you act with more information than when acting first. Good players have different starting hand criteria for early, middle and later positions at the table.
If you are on the button before the flop, then you will be last in the betting on the flop, turn and river. This has a built in advantage, especially when your chip-stacks are deep enough for betting on all 3 rounds. Conversely, the players in the blinds will act first after the flop, which means acting without clear information on what your opponents intend to do.
In Texas Holdem, most hands miss most flops. If you are last to act after the flop, and everyone checks to you – indicating weakness – then you can often pick up pots without too much of a fight. Taking a stab at the pot is very effective when your opponents are straight-forward (less likely to check-raise) and when you showed strength before the flop.
You can also use position to manage the pot-size when you have a strong hand, building the pot over several streets to maximize your profits. This will depend on the number of opponents and the likelihood of them calling your bets.
If instead of seeing your opponents check to you, there is a raise and a re-raise ahead before you act – then you can get away from weaker hands cheaply. Say you had middle pair or a weak top pair and were first to act instead. Checking induces bets that you usually do not want to call, and betting out would have gotten re-raised in two places. Acting last has allowed you to get away from a weak hand with the minimum of damage, and the chips you save will add up over time.
Sometimes you will find yourself in situations where you are acting last, but the order of betting before the flop means you are in a risky situation. If an early position player calls (limps), a player in middle position raises, you call that raise from the button and the early position player also calls. Here, acting last is not as big an advantage as before. It is natural for the early position player to ‘check to the raiser’. This means you will need to call any bet from the pre-flop raiser without really knowing the true intentions of the early position player. While you are acting last in the betting, you are actually sandwiched between the other two players. This is known as ‘relative position’ and can be a dangerous situation for players who are not aware of it.
Acting last whenever possible is an important component of poker strategy. By having stricter starting hand requirements from early position than for later position, you will avoid many difficult situations. Position really comes into its own after the flop. By acting last you will be able to get away from bad hands cheaply and maximize your winnings with good hands – as long as you avoid the trap of having bad position relative to the betting action
Many players log on to their favorite site, jump into the first games with seats available and start playing. This is a mistake, or at the very least it is not maximizing your potential for winning money. Spending just a little time seeking out the best games, with weak and predictable opponents, can improve your win rate considerably. If you make table selection part of your regular routine you will find your bankroll gets bigger faster – allowing you to move up to the next levels.
This article shows you how to think about selecting the most profitable poker games online by drilling down through finding the easiest poker sites, finding the best tables and then looking at individual seats.
Here is a simple question: Would you make more money sitting at a table with experienced ‘grinders’ who are multi-tabling for a living – or sat with amateurs and recreational players instead?
Setting bad-beats aside for a moment, the answer is clearly the novices. Most players know this, yet most still continue to sit with the small stakes grinders instead of moving their play to more profitable sites. I strongly recommend that you make this move, however much you like the bigger sites, there are simply not enough completely new players to go around.
For players worldwide I recommend the fastest growing site, 888 Poker. With promotions and offers aimed squarely at the recreational crowd, and cross over traffic from their huge casino brand – you’ll find the tables at 888 wild and loose compared to many others. Tournaments tend to be particularly crazy, with players who are just learning about poker strategy for the first time. You can get $8 in free tournament tokens to check out the games at the moment too.
Once you have found a site with plenty of weak opponents, the next step is to locate the best tables to play at. Instead of jumping into the first free seats, you need to check out the statistics in the lobby. There are two figures to look for:
Ideally, you are looking for tables with both of these numbers higher than the average in the list. This indicates a loose table with lots of bets and raises. If the pot size is big but the ‘players per flop’ is small, the table is likely to be aggressive but tight – which is not the best choice. High players to flop and lower pot size indicates a lot of limping-in trying to hit the nuts and then folding to bets later on. This table might be good for someone prepared to steal a lot of pots (though you’ll need to back-off if you end up getting some action).
One thing to bear in mind is that the nature of games can change fast, especially when one or more ‘action players’ go broke and leave. Keep checking that the table still matches your criteria by returning to the lobby. If your previously loose table goes tight and passive, it is time to leave a find yourself more profitable games.
The final part of finding the most profitable poker games online goes down to the level of choosing the best seat. Sure, you will not always have much choice – though there are plenty of times where you will be deciding which table to choose, and the position of the empty seat can be the deciding factor.
Where you sit depends on your style of play. If there is a big stack at the table who is going crazy with bets and raises you can either choose to sit to his left or to his right. Or, if you are aggressive yourself and live to isolate people who play fast and loose and outplay them post flop, then the seat to the left is ideal. Then again, if you are a patient and tight player, then why not choose the seat to his right instead? When the wild player raises several players around the table may call or re-raise before the action gets around to you – then *boom* you can put in a big re-raise and trap a lot of chips when you have the goods.
Remember, playing at the same old familiar site and sitting in the first game with a spare seat is costing you money. Start actively choosing easier sites and the best tables today – your bankroll will benefit!
Hand reading is a poker skill which can transform you from an average player into a big winner. When you can put your opponent on a specific hand (or more likely a range of possible hands), your decisions will be easier to make thus you will pick off more bluffs. Learning to read hands is the kind of skill that gets easier the more you play. What this article provides is a basic system for how to read hands. It will give you and understanding of the principals behind this skill, which you can use to keep getting better over time.
First you will find a discussion on ranges, that is the entire set of possible hands an individual would play early in a poker hand. Next I will show you how their bets on the flop, turn and river help you to narrow down this range to specific holdings. After this you will see information on the math involved in card distribution. This shows the likelihood of certain hands being dealt. Finally a word of warning, reading the hands of complete novices who do not know how to play properly can be dangerous and should be approached with caution.
Putting someone on a specific hand based on very little information is known as ‘guessing’ rather than hand reading. When an individual raises from middle position, then the best you can do at this point is to assign a range of hands which they might do this with.
An example might be pairs 55 or higher, Ace-Jack suited or Ace-Queen offsuit or better, suited connectors 7-8 or higher and the occasional stealing hand like King-Nine for good measure.
This will be the baseline which you use to narrow down their holding based on bets throughout the hand. If instead of raising, that same player re-raised an opponent who is known to be reasonably tight, you would assign a completely different range of hands.
Here Aces, Kings, Queens, Jacks and Ace-King or Ace-Queen might be the entire range.
Note that re-raising a looser and wilder opponent could involve a wider range of hands. You need to think of these ranges in terms of position, situation and the different players at the table. This becomes easier with practice.
Your objective is to get to a smaller range of hands by the time the big bets go into the pot. You can do this by gradually narrowing down the possible holdings based on the betting. I will use a simplified example of an extremely predictable player to demonstrate the principals involved. You can practice this when not involved in the hand, as it becomes easier the more than you apply it.
This time there is one caller on the button and the flop comes down with very few potential draws. Our straightforward player bets half of the pot, which he would probably do with most of his hand. What we can do is remove the suited connectors, the smallest pairs and the missed Ace-Queen from his hand at this point.
Now the button raises – effectively stating that he has a strong hand. The initial raiser flat calls, which allows us to narrow his range further.
He would certainly do this with a flopped set or an over-pair to the board like aces. It is far less likely that he would do this with a missed ace-king or random hands which just contain a single pair. We have effectively narrowed his range significantly.
Ok, this example is a little contrived, though it does demonstrate the process of asking yourself what parts of someone’s initial raising range justify their behavior on the flop. You can rule out a surprising number of hands from an opponent’s initial range this way.
Certain hands are more likely to be dealt than others based on how many cards of each type there are in the deck. The clearest example is to imagine a player who 5-bets all-in. You know that this guy is a nit, and would only do this with Aces, Kings or Ace-King. The question is how many times does he have each hand?
There are 12 ways to deal Aces based on suits and the same for Kings. When it comes to Ace-King there are 16 ways that this can be dealt. This means that, from the math alone he has Ace-King 16 times for every 24 times he has a pair. 40% of the time he makes this raise he turns up with Ace-King and the other 60% one of the pairs.
Once you know the proportions you can work out the chances of your own hand winning the pot against these hands in relation to how often they are dealt.
Hand reading works best against players who understand poker strategy and make ‘rational plays’ based on the situation. Against complete novices it is more difficult, since their play is by its very nature unpredictable. You can easily work out when these guys are strong or chasing a draw, and I recommend you focus on getting the maximum value from your own monster hands against them instead of tying yourself in knots reading their hands.
Very good players are also difficult to read. They will deliberately vary their bets a small proportion of the time to stop themselves becoming predictable. Make sure you know who has the experience and ability to do this – and make sure you mix up your betting a little against good hand readers too.
Everyone gets dealt the same proportion of good and bad hands in poker over the long run. You’ll find your Kings run into Aces just as often as the other way around. People who end up big winners in this game do not already rely on the strength of their hands to win pots. Making moves at the table is an art form which requires a keen awareness of the situation – as well as an understanding of poker math. This article shows you how to make moves like bluffs, check-raises and slowplays in such a way as to minimize your risk and improve your chances of making a profit.
First up you’ll find information on bluffing, the best known ‘move’ of all, explaining how successful players like to bluff when they have a little in the way of backup. Next the check-raise is covered, followed by the slowplay. Finally I have covered some more advanced moves including the ‘float play’ and how to induce a bluff from an aggressive player.
Many new player think that successful bluffing is all about going all-in with no hand and hoping your opponent sees your big stack of chips and folds their hand. This bluff might be daring, but it will cost you a lot of buy-ins very quickly indeed in today’s online poker games.
Nowadays, poker players like to make sure that the odds are in their favor before starting a bluff. There are many factors to consider including how likely the flop is to have hit an opponent’s hand, your position in the betting and whether there has already been a bet ahead of you.
Bluffing is at its most effective when you have some backup. This can take the form of a draw to a flush or straight, or maybe a small pair and an over-card which might improve you to the best hand if you are called. Bluffing when you have outs is known as a ‘semi-bluff’. You are happy for your opponent to fold and to take the pot, and those times they call you still have chances to improve to the best hand. The best thing about the semi-bluff is that this move can be profitable even when the individual components (bluffing with nothing and calling to try and make your hand) would not be.
Looking out for flops with few potential straight and flush draws, straight forward opponents and position (acting last) will improve your chances of successful bluffing even more.
Check-raising is a power-move in poker, you are telling your opponent loud and clear that you have a great hand and that you intend to build a big pot with it. This move works by first feigning weakness by checking, then, when your opponent bets to try and take the pot away, you jump in with a re-raise. This will often win the pot immediately, and when it does not it will increase the pot size so that you can bet significantly more on the next betting rounds.
The problem with check-raising is that you are relying on your opponent betting to make it work. If they do not bet then not only have you failed to get any more chips into the pot, you have given away a free card which they can use to try and beat you.
The best time to try a check raise is actually when you think your opponent does not have much of a hand and is the type to take a stab at the pot to see if they can win it. Since they were likely to have folded when you bet out, the extra ‘stab’ bet can be seen as a bonus – you expect them to fold to your check-raise. If you find a stubborn opponent who calls a lot, then you could have found an ideal situation to get more money into the pot.
Slowplaying is more or less the opposite of bluffing. Instead of betting out when you have a weak hand, you are checking and calling when you have a very strong hand. Your intention is to let your opponents build up the pot for a couple of streets, then you bet big on the river when the pot is so large that your opponents do not want to give it up.
This move works best when you have aggressive opponents and when there are few flush and straight draws possible on the flop. If there are draws then it can be dangerous to slowplay, and you are more likely to get called by someone who feels they have some winning chances – so you should bet out. On a safe flop, letting someone try and push you out of the pot for a couple of rounds can be one of the most satisfying moves in poker.
Once you have mastered the 3 moves above, there are some more advanced moves waiting for you to try. One I personally love is known as the ‘float’. This is a form of bluff where you call a bet while in position on the flop with no hand (or not much of one). Your intention is to see if your opponent gives up on the hand on the turn, at which point you will bet to take the pot away. If it is not overused this is a useful weapon to have in your armory. You can also try checking behind on the turn when you do have a good hand, this can make your opponent think that you are weak and induce them to bluff into you on the river.
Remember that if you make moves every time, observant opponents will soon spot that you are acting inversely to your real hand strength. This is very easy for a good player to exploit, and the situation should be avoided where possible. Simply mixing up your moves with more honest betting according to your strength can sew enough confusion into the minds of your opponents to allow you to get away with stealing a few extra pots.
Many online poker players are playing 6, 10 or even more tables at the same time. This means they are playing more hands each hour, and can make a lot of money by winning just a few dollars each hour over many games. The problem with multi-tabling is that it splits your attention, meaning you’ll often miss profitable opportunities against individual players. This article shows you how to build up the number of games you are comfortable playing – and what the major options are for your screen layout.
First up you should have a think about your motivations for multi-tabling. While this is a great way of increasing your profits, it is difficult to learn the game while keeping an eye on so many games. You’ll need to schedule learning time away from the games, or just accept that poker is a cash-machine and stop moving up the levels for a while!
You should also be aware that your site needs to have a good volume of games running and smooth-running software. Without these your multi-tabling will be severely constrained.
The guide below starts with a look at how increasing the number of tables decreases your profit from each game while still improving your hourly rate. Next the main display options of tiled or cascaded are looked at. After this advice on adding tables in manageable steps and information on some poker tools which are designed to help you multi-table.
I will use a simplified example to show how adding tables affects your overall returns. The starting point is 2 tables, which – on average – make you $5 each per hour for a total hourly rate of $10.
You decide to add 2 more and find your attention split enough that you miss the odd profitable semi-bluffing spot and miss a bet size tell or two from your opponents. No big deal, you still manage $4 per table for a total of $16 per hour.
All goes well and you decide to go for 8 games, learning to cope with the massive amount of information by folding a few of your more speculative starting hands and folding early in unclear spots which would require detailed reads. Your per-table rate is now almost halved to $2.75c per table per hour. The extra games keep your hourly rate going up to $22 per hour.
4 more tables get added, and you lose some more opportunities to make moves or act on player specific information. Now you fold all but the strongest starting hands from the first few positions and play cautiously after the flop. Your rate per game goes down to $2, but the 12 games give you an hourly rate of $24.
You can add on a lot more bonus money to these hourly rates, which can make a significant impact on your returns at the end of each month. The key point here is that returns are diminishing as you add more games – but your hourly rate goes up.
There are two main schools of thought when it comes to multi-tabling. One group like to see as many of the games at once as possible, and achieve this by minimizing the games and having them all visible in a matrix setup on the screen. The other school feels that this is too much information at once and prefer to lay the tables on top of each other. They pop-up when it is your turn to act and if anything interesting happens they can be pulled from the stack so you can watch them.
Which you choose depends completely on your personal preference. I recommend you try both for a while and see which suits you best. My preference is for tiled – I find you can spot betting size tells easier this way.
Before you heroically attempt 12 games, stop and consider how dangerous missing information or tilting can be when you are overwhelmed. I strongly advise you to build up slowly, adding just one table at a time and then making sure that you are comfortable before adding another one. This may seem like a slow process, but it could save the very poker bankroll you are trying to grow.
There are tools which help with multi-tabling by collecting statistics on your opponent’s play and displaying them next to each player’s avatar. These numbers can effectively replace your own observations and are great for spotting players at the extremes of loose, tight, aggressive and passive. Popular versions of this ‘Heads-up-Display’ software include Poker Tracker and Holdem Manager.
In real money online poker games, disciplined starting hand selection is a core skill which every successful player has mastered. You’ll start with a list of hands to play, then learn to adjust this based on several key in-game factors including position, raises ahead of you and the known tendencies of players who are still to act. You will also be able to use assumptions on starting hand strategy as the basis for reading your opponent’s hands – a skill which can boost your win-rates significantly.
This article starts with the basics, going through the different types of starting hands you might want to play. Next, you will see how your position at the table affects the range of playable starting hands. Situations where there is a raise ahead are covered after that, and then how to account for different kinds of players who act after you. At the end of this article you will find advice on how beginners can progress with different starting hands as they gain experience.
Thinking about starting hands in groups can help keep your decisions easy while you are learning the game. I have divided starting hands into, pairs, high card hands, speculative hands and junk.
Pairs: We need to make a clear distinction between premium pairs (aces, kings and to a lesser extent queens) and the rest. Premiums are playable most of the time, while mid-pairs can be dangerous when there is action ahead – particularly if this comes from a tight opponent. As pairs get lower, they become less playable from early positions and are more like speculative hands that need to improve to become valuable.
High Card Hands: Unpaired high cards include strong hands like Ace-King or Ace-Queen suited, right down to some dangerous hands like King-Ten. As the cards get lower, there is more danger of “domination” by a high card hand with a higher side-card. Since people rarely play King-Eight or lower, hitting top-pair on the flop with King-Ten is more likely to get action from a hand which has you crushed than one you beat.
Speculative Hands: Aces with suited side cards and suited connectors (cards close in rank and the same suit) can flop big hands, or more often draws to flushes or straights – or even both. These are good hands when you do not have to pay too much to enter a pot. Since they miss most of the time, you need to have enough chips still in your stack to win a very big pot those times you hit a monster hand.
Junk: Pretty much everything else is junk. If you are a new player then get used to ditching that Queen-Nine or Ace-Seven, especially when there has been a raise ahead. The times you hit a lucky two pair will not make up for all the times you hit your second pair and have no idea whether you are ahead or behind on the flop.
When you are first to act at the table, you have no idea how many raises and re-raises there will be from players still to act. This means that speculative hands, the smallest pairs and the lower end of the high-card hands can‘t be played profitably. Save these hands for when you are closer to the button position and have seen most of your opponents act. Calling bets with suited connectors or small pairs can give you a hidden monster on the flop while you are last to act.
Playing from the blinds might mean you get to see a flop ‘cheap’, however you will be first to act after the flop. Calling just a couple of dollars to see a flop, hitting middle pair with a bad kicker and being out of position is not a great situation in poker. Get in the habit of folding those junk hands from the blinds; you will save yourself a lot of chips on later streets.
The biggest single adjustment you should make with your starting hand selection occurs when someone has already bet into the pot before you act. Here you have to tighten up your range, and think in terms of ‘should I re-raise, or should I fold?’ Some hands can be called with, for example small pairs or suited connectors. What you do not want to do is find yourself with a fairly strong hand after the flop and an opponent betting into you. Solve this problem early by folding the weaker part of your starting hand range when someone bets ahead of you.
When the players acting after you have shown that they are the quiet, tight and passive types – then you have a lot of freedom to play speculative starting hands. Conversely, when you are faced with players who like to re-raise, or call and then lead out on the flop a lot, then you are more constrained in what you can do. This can be useful when you are faced with a marginal decision on whether to play or fold. Those aggressive opponents could tip you in favor of waiting for a better spot.
You need to have an elastic starting hand range in online poker games. Start with a list of the hands you would like to play, for example 55 or better, Ace-Jack+, King-Queen Suited and suited aces down to Ace-eight with the occasional suited connector. Next chop off the weakest of those hands for situations like early position, someone betting or wild opponents still to act. You can add a couple of more speculative hands at when you are on the button.
As you gain experience, you can start adding more hands to your list depending on each unique situation you encounter. New players tend to make more mistakes playing too many hands, I advise you to start tight – there will be plenty of opportunities to add hands on later.
Poker math is such a fundamental aspect of the game that without a basic understanding you’ll be leaking chips every time you play. Fortunately, you do not need to be a math-wiz to grasp the basics. In fact most of the principles require only basic arithmetic, and even the advanced concepts can be understood easily with the help of a poker calculator.
This article introduces the key poker math concepts, starting with the different types of odds. After this you will see the related concepts of outs and equity, which are especially important when it comes to playing draws to flushes and straights. Poker math can be used to help read your opponent’s hand, and I cover 2 ways you can do this in this article. Finally, I have introduced the more advanced concepts including NASH equilibrium and the Independent chip model.
If you peel away the layers of complexity involved in poker, you will find the concept of odds at the very heart of this game. Every time you act in poker, you are either taking odds or offering them to your opponents. If you bet $50 into a $100 pot, your opponent needs to call $50 to win $150 more, getting odds or 3-to-1. Instead of assessing his absolute chances of winning the pot, he should assess this in terms of the odds being offered. If he wins more than once for every 3 times he loses (or more than 25% of the time) then this is a profitable call. If he wins less than this, then calling will lose money over time.
Of course, assessing your winning chances is a skill to be learned in its self. What you need to be aware of is that you can’t separate poker thinking from the odds that you take on your bets or offer to opponents.
With multiple streets of betting, the immediate odds (known as ‘pot odds’) are not the only factor. There are many situations where you can win a large amount of chips on future betting rounds. The classic example is when you face a raise holding a small pair before the flop. You are probably behind at that point, though if you catch a set (3-of-a-kind) on the flop, you stand to win a lot of chips.
Calling this raise can be said to have ‘implied odds’, you will hit the set approximately 1 in 9 times (odds of 8-to-1), and so you need to ensure that your chip stack is deep enough to make more 8 times the bet you call before the flop.
‘Outs’ are the cards in the deck which will improve your hand. For example, you have 2 spades, and there are two spades and one heart on the flop. You have not seen anyone else’s cards, so there are 47 unseen cards to account for. Since 4 of the 13 spades are out, there are 9 left out of 47. This gives you odds of 47-to-9 (approximately 5-to-1) of hitting a spade on the turn and if you miss this then a similar number (46-to-9) on the river.
As you gain experience at tables, counting outs will become automatic. The real skill comes in comparing the immediate odds and implied odds with the number of outs you have. Bear in mind that when the 3rd spade hits, many opponents will be wary that you have a flush. If you instead hit a straight this is far better hidden – your implied odds will often be higher.
The best poker players are adept at reading their opponent’s hands. This involves estimating their starting hand range, then refining this based on the betting over several streets. It is hard to put someone on an exact hand. However, by the river many people can narrow down the possibilities significantly and even assign weightings based on the likelihood of different combinations.
Math can help with the initial ranges of hands. Some extreme examples will illustrate this point. If a player is super-tight, and only ever raises with 4% of hands, then you can assign the following range:
If they are super-loose and playing 40% of hands, then: All pairs, all aces, most kings and suited queens and many other suited and connected cards are in their pre-flop range.
Ideally, you will work this out using a poker calculator when away from the tables. Once you have practiced assigning ranges, you can use that same calculator to show how much equity your hand has against the possible range held by your opponent. With this information, you can then use the pot-odds to decide whether you can profitably play the hand.
Card distribution can help you assess the likelihood of certain hands within a range. For example, there are 6 ways you can be dealt a pair of aces based on suits. If you instead look at Ace-King, there are 16 ways of this hand being dealt based on the suits.
Applying this is a matter of assigning a range of hands – then working out the probability of each hand within that range. For example if you think your opponent would raise with Aces, Kings, Queens or Ace-King only in a certain spot, then you know there are 18 ways he could have a pair, and 16 ways he could have Ace-King. You can then work out your equity against these different hands in proportion to their likelihood, and make your odds decision based on this.
Poker math gets more advanced than this, with concepts like the Independent Chip Model (which handles the changing value of tournament chips), SAGE (a system for heads-up play at low blinds) and NASH Equilibrium, which works on a ‘he knows I would play X, so he plays Y, but if he plays Y, I should adjust again and play Z’ system.
Poker is a game that will take even experts a lifetime to master. These math concepts will help you make a lot of money from players who are not using them. While you are winning, I recommend you take the time to study the more advanced concepts to increase your edge still further.
Omaha High-Low is unique in that it plays great with fixed betting limits, with pot-limit betting or with no-limit betting rules. With each pot getting split between the best high poker hand and qualifying low hand at showdown, the strategy for this game is fascinating too. This article covers key strategy tips for players new to Omaha Hi-Lo. These will stop you making classic beginners mistakes and help you win money at the tables.
First of all, a big error is covered – playing far too many starting hands. This is followed by a section on what starting hands are the best to choose. Next the importance of scooping the pot is discussed, there are two different methods of doing this. Getting ‘quartered’ is a big problem in Omaha Hi-Lo and spotting situations where this can happen will save you a lot of chips. Finally you will find some words of warning about drawing to a low hand when heads-up.
With a low pot and a high pot up for grabs in most hands, many players play too many starting hands in this game. They take everything with the potential to make a high hand, then add in those with low potential on top. This can leave new players with 50% or even more of all hands being played.
It is even more important when you are new to a game to stop the big leaks of chips, and playing too many hands is the biggest leak of all. Instead you should play only the very best high hands and make sure that the low hands you choose have some potential to make good high hands on top.
Hands which contain aces and small cards which match their suits are the real premium hands in this poker game. For example A-A-2-3 with just 2 suits is a monster that can win both the high and low portion of the pot. The worst hands to play contain medium ranked cards which are not coordinated. These can get you in trouble with both the 2nd best low and 2nd best high hand at showdown – an expensive combination.
Winning both sides of the pot in Omaha Hi-Lo is key to making a big profit in this game. There are two ways of achieving this. When there is no qualifying low hand (30% of the time), the high poker hand will take then entire pot. Remember to choose only the best high-only Omaha hands, it can be expensive ending up with the 2nd nuts in this game.
The other way to scoop the pot is to hit the low and high hands at the same time. This is where the suited babies come into their own, with the ability to win both sides from opponents who are only going for one. There is nothing better in Omaha Hi-Lo than to find yourself with the nuts for both the high and the low hands at the same time.
Oftentimes you will tie for one side of the pot, while another player wins the opposite side. This is most common when 2 players both hold A-2 in their hand and split the low side of the pot. One of those players also hits the high (though this could also go to a 3rd player). Danger signs of this occurring include times when someone wakes up betting when a high card hits, or only ever gives heavy action when they are confident in scooping the pot. I also recommend that you have something in the way of backup with a 3rd low card A-2-4-X for example. This can help you to avoid yet another big danger in Omaha Hi-Lo poker – being counterfeited on the turn or river.
My final new player mistake is to pay money to draw to a low hand in a heads-up pot. If you have no chance of winning the high side of the pot (for example with a low straight) and you feel your opponent is ‘going high’, then the current size of the pot should help you decide whether to continue.
If the current pot is small, you are putting bets into the pot with the best-case scenario being that you get them back with no profit. This is an obvious losing proposition when you see it written down, however many new players ‘chase the low’ in this way without realizing their error.
When the pot is already large you can profitably call, the overlay of chips already in the middle should be assessed in relation to the number of outs you have to make your low hand before you start calling bets though.
Omaha Hi-Lo is a great game and is available at many US Poker Sites as well as European rooms.
7-card Stud Hi-Lo is a split pot Stud game. At showdown half of the pot goes to the highest poker hand and the other half the lowest hand with 5 cards 8 or under. This makes the strategy more complex than a high-hand only game – and also a lot more fun. This article takes you through the key poker strategy considerations for Stud Hi-Lo and shows you how to take advantage of common mistakes your opponents will make at the tables.
First up some information on starting hand selection, including the best starting hands to play and the types of hand to avoid. Next, how the folded cards affect your strategy, and why you should fold early in this game when there is heavy betting action. Getting trapped between a high hand and a low hand when you are weak is covered next, before some final words of warning about making sure that your board tells a good story.
New players play way to many starting hands in this game. All of the hands which were considered playable in the high-only game are added together with small card hands with the potential to make lows. This is a big leak, and good players who are more selective with their starting hand requirements have an in-built edge against those who overplay hands.
The best hands in this game have the ability to ‘scoop’ both sides of the pot at the same time. Premiums include suited small cards, especially with an ace. These can make the nut-low and the highest flush at the same time (aces count low for the low side, and high for the high side of the pot). 70% of hands will include a qualifying low, for the rest the high hand will win the whole thing. If you do play high only hands then you need to make sure these are very strong, such as A-A-X or 10-J-Q suited. In Stud Hi-Lo, hands which make the 2nd best low and non-nut high are the danger hands. Folding hands which have 7, 8 or 9 in them is a great way to stay disciplined.
In all Stud games you should remember the cards which have been folded during the hand. In the Hi-Lo split version this is even more important, as some of those cards will go into both low and high hands. A good starting point is to track all the low cards folded, that way if an opponent is drawing to a low you will have an idea of how many cards are already gone from their potential outs. Sure, you will not know what their hidden cards are – though even an idea that 7 or 8 potential outs are dead will give you a useful advantage. Keeping track of the number of each suit folded can also be profitable. If you have an opponent who appears to be drawing to a flush, and you have seen 30% of his outs hit the muck, then you have all the more reason to bet.
There are 5 betting rounds in Stud games, meaning the pots can grow very large. With people hanging around hoping to improve both high and low hands, the pots can grow even larger in the split-pot version.
For this reason it can pay to ditch speculative hands early, especially when there is heavy betting. 3rd and 5th streets are the time to let go – the bet size doubles on 5th and calling here can lead to the situation where the pot is so big that you care compelled to continue by the pot odds alone.
One of the biggest mistakes new players make is to find themselves stuck between a player with a high hand and one with a strong low hand while they hold a weak draw. What happens is that the high hand bets, the beginner calls and then the low to the left raises, if the high re-raises the unwitting player can be left calling 3 bets not knowing whether the 4th raise is going be put in behind them when the action returns to the player who looks like they have a strong low!
This is an uncomfortable situation and one which can be avoided by making sure you are only drawing to the nuts (or maybe a nut hand for one side with possibilities for the other) when you get to later streets in a multi-way pot.
Another common mistake is to get heads-up drawing to the low when the pot is small. In this case you are putting bets into the pot, and you will only get those bets back if you make your hand – which will not happen every time. When the pot is large this can make mathematical sense. When it is not, then it is more profitable to fold and move on.
Mixed poker games rotate different games after a set number of hands. These are very popular and include games like HORSE (Holdem, Omaha, Razz, Stud, Stud/8) and 8-game (which mixes 2-7 Triple Draw, Holdem, Omaha/8, Razz, Stud, Stud/8, No-limit Holdem and Pot-Limit Omaha) and other even crazier mixes.
With a big recreational following, mixed games are very profitable. Even when an individual knows the rules of every game – which is far from guaranteed – the nuances of strategy are often not known about at all. The most popular mixed game of all is PokerStars’ 8-game, which can be found in cash game, sit n go and multi-table tournament format. The games used also cover HORSE and HOSE – which are also popular mixed game variations.
2-7 Triple Draw: In this game you have to hit the best low hand and have 3 chances to swap as many cards as you wish in order to get there. Aces are high (remember this!) and straights or flushes also count as high hands. The best hand is 2-3-4-5-7. Since this is a closed card game, position and knowing your opponents tendencies are very important. You should also try and choose starting hands which contain both a 2, a 7 and one card in between whenever possible.
Fixed Limit Holdem: Many players are more familiar with no-limit Holdem nowadays, and do not adjust properly for this game. Speculative hands are fine, but in limit games you will rarely be able to make up for early bets. What often happens instead is that a player partially hits the flop, and by the time the turn comes they are kept in by compelling pot odds. If you are unfamiliar with this game it is better to stick to high cards and ditch the suited connectors.
Omaha 8-or Better: Another fixed limit game which appears in both HORSE and 8-game. Again the biggest mistake is overplaying weak hands. With both high and low hands looking great before the flop, many people play 50% of more of their starting hands. This is suicidal, you should aim to be very selective and choose hands with an ace and two other low cards minimum where possible – if you have 2 suits that is all the better.
Razz: The low variation of 7-card Stud is often abused by bluffers. What happens is that an aggressive player with a low card showing keeps on firing representing the low hand when they have high cards in the hole. Simply making notes on opponents should uncover one or more of these types in most lower buy-in games. That note will come in very handy next time you meet them and then build a big pot while you are holding a nicely hidden low hand.
7-Card Stud: The classic stud game is played high-only with the lowest card bringing in with the first bet. Hidden pairs are much more valuable than spit ones in Stud and experienced players like to fold on 3rd street or 5th street (when the betting doubles). Many mixed game players become calling-stations in Stud games, going way too far with 1-pair hands. The extra betting round compared to Holdem makes this a very expensive bad habit.
Stud/8: The ‘E’ in HORSE is for the ‘Eight’ in Stud 8 or Better, also called Stud hi-lo. Players again take too many starting hands too far in this game. One common mistake is to chase the low against a player who is obviously going high. This means putting bets into the pot in the hope that you are going to get them back again (half the pot goes to the low). You are drawing to a refund, and the pot needs to be big to justify this investment.
No-Limit Holdem: Again you will be facing opponents who over-value hands like aces with small kickers and unsuited high cards. ABC poker should win the chips, bet big when you have a hand, many mixed-game opponents will call down surprisingly light in this round.
Pot-Limit Omaha: In PLO High your starting hand needs to be coordinated to maximize your chances of hitting a nut or near nut hand on the flop. Draw only to the nuts, as making a bad flush or the low end of a straight can be extremely expensive in PLO. I recommend you study the strength of hands being shown down, full-houses are far more common in this game, and a paired board should be a danger sign.
Mixed poker games can be difficult to multi-table. This is because the games quickly get out of sync, meaning players have to adjust their thinking between tables – which can get tiring. For this reason you get fewer ‘pro grinders’ in these games – making them ideal for recreational and amateur poker players. I recommend you check out the awesome 8-game at PokerStars for yourself!
In a Texas Holdem cash game, the chips you have in front of you are valued in real dollars, when you bet a $5 chip – that’s the equivalent of a real five bucks from your pocket. This means that decisions you make cumulatively win or lose you that money. Any player can hit some nice cards and walk away with a profit in the short-term. Over the long-run, successful players are those who understand and study poker strategy – finding weaknesses in their opponents play and betting in such a way as to take advantage of these weaknesses. This article covers the fundamentals of Texas Holdem cash game strategy, outlining the building blocks that you can use to consistently beat the games.
First up you will find information on the swings inherent in poker games and how to overcome this using bankroll management and focusing on making ‘good’ decisions. Next the fundamental concepts of position and starting hand selection are discussed. After this an overview of the need-to-know poker math – followed by some ideas for areas to explore once you have learned the basics.
Poker has a large element of luck over the short-term. You can run Kings into Aces, lose those coin-flip hands and your drawing hands can miss. You could have played ‘correctly’ and still end up with a large loss.
Even the best players in the world suffer from short-term swings.
To counter this you need to make sure you only play with a small proportion of your bankroll in any one game. 1/20th (5%) is the accepted level to overcome the short-term swings. If you are able to easily reload your account then you can loosen up on this. However, if you are serious about your poker then bankroll management is an important factor.
All you can do in poker is make the best decisions possible based on the information you have available. If you do this over and over again, and manage your bankroll sensibly, then you will end up a winner.
If 2 players of equal skill and experience sat down to play, the person who played more hands when they acted last after the flop would win in the long-run. This is known as having ‘position’ and is far more important than most new players realize.
Positional strategy includes folding speculative starting hands when first to act at the table, and playing more of these hands from the button position. You should also tend to play tighter from the blinds – even though it is ‘cheaper’ to enter the pot – since you will be first to act after the flop from these playing positions.
A big leak for many beginning poker players is to play far too many hands. This can include any Ace-x hand, any 2 suited cards or even worse holdings! If your opponents are being more selective, then you would need to be a fantastic post-flop player to even come close to making up for this.
Instead you should find a tight range of starting hands and adjust this based on several factors. For early table positions and after someone already raised you should fold the weakest end or your range. When first to enter the pot and in late position you can loosen up a little bit.
It is extremely difficult to beat online poker games without knowing the basic math. Most of this is easy to learn – and even the advanced areas have special tools and calculators to help you out. There are several aspects of math to learn including pot-odds and outs, implied odds, prize pool equity models and how to assess what hands people are playing and the equity that individual hands have against those ranges.
Spending just a few hours learning the different aspects of poker math will have a huge effect on your profit – this will allow you to make more ‘good’ decisions and to spot those opponents who are making bad ones.
Once you have understood the basics of cash game strategy, you can start to branch out into the more advanced topics. First on my list is bet-sizing, and how to adjust this for specific situations and opponent types. After that you can focus on the process of reading your opponents hands – and spotting ‘leaks’ in both your own game and that of your opponents.
Remember, poker is a game of relative skill. However good you are, there will be people who can beat you. This holds true at all levels of the game, and if you take the time to find soft games with inexperienced opponents, your profits will improve significantly.
Poker tournaments are a great way for beginners to get a lot of value from a fixed price buy-in. Tournament poker is huge online – with games kicking off literally every minute around the clock. There are many variations in speed, betting rules, game type and variation. You will find discreet phases of play as each tournament progresses that require you to adjust your strategy. This article gives you the main things to look out for to help you reach those all-important final tables and come away with a big score.
First up you will find a reminder of your objective in each tournament. Next I have given a quick overview of the different stages of a tournament, noting how you can profitably adjust your strategy at each point. After this some words on the importance of making moves and staying active – which will prevent you becoming an ‘easy target’ for steals and re-steals.
Prizes are very much skewed towards the final table in online poker tournaments. While you will make small profits from the lower positions reasonably often, these alone will not compensate for the times you bust out. The majority of your profits will come from the occasional top 3 finish, and you should focus on reaching this goal even if it means finishing out of the money slightly more often. Players who stay tight and quiet to make the money – and only then take a shot at the big prizes – are usually too late. Their opponents have built huge chip-stacks which are very difficult to catch by this stage.
This section outlines how to aim for the final table through the different stages of a poker tournament.
Early Stages: Deep-stacks and bad players are an excellent combination. While inexperienced opponents will sometimes get lucky, in general they will donate their chips to better players. You need to play as many pots against the worst players as possible, value-bet your strong hands like crazy and make sure you get your fair share of the chips. I like to remind myself how much more difficult it will be to take those same chips from the better players later on during the early stages.
Middle Stages: As the blinds start to creep up the size of your stack starts to become an important factor in how you play. You need to keep accumulating chips in the mid-stages, and will be stealing a lot of pots. Opponents with mid-sized stacks are ideal candidates to steal from. They are in a comfortable situation and often do not want to risk getting short-stacked without a monster. Conversely, big stacks are hard to steal from and small stacks might just be desperate enough to take a hand and put you to the test.
The Bubble: Just before the paying places start, most players will tighten up – not wanting to bust just before the money. Here you can take advantage by stealing a lot of small pots. Remember that big stacked players will be trying to steal often, so you can take advantage of their looser ranges with the occasional timely re-steal.
After The Bubble: Once the paying places start things often get pretty wild. All those players who did not want to bust out pre-money now go crazy, desperately trying to accumulate chips. You should take advantage of people looser starting hand requirements here – if you get dealt a premium hand do not be afraid to play it aggressively. I should also note that there is usually a second ‘bubble’ situation just before the final table is formed.
The Final Table: Here you should watch to see who is going for 1st and who is staying quiet and trying to move up the paying places. With so much more prize money for 1st place, it really does pay to go all out for the win over the long-term. If there is a ‘micro-stack’ at the table then you can often steal from the mid-sized stacks once this player has folded. Nobody wants to be next to bust when simply waiting for the micro-stack to go out will move them up a pay spot.
Success in poker tournaments involves adjusting from deep stacked play to shallow-stacks later. Since you will not be dealt enough strong hands to stay ahead of the blinds, antes and your opponents – you will need to stay active and make some moves.
Examples include re-stealing pots in situations where you feel your opponents are raising light to steal themselves – and not being afraid to semi-bluff all-in when you have a strong draw. When you do hit a monster I recommend betting out, as this will disguise all those continuation bets you make when you whiff the flop very effectively.
You’ll need to defend your blinds more regularly in a poker tournament than a cash game too. Otherwise you’ll quickly become a target, and find yourself raised every time.
Tournaments are a great way to gain poker experience and hopefully walk away with a big win. Make sure you stay focused on your goal of the occasional big win!
There are many formats of poker tournament to choose from nowadays. These include different poker games, speeds, betting rules and many quirks like knockout bounties or qualifier games which award entries into bigger online tournaments. This article shows you the key strategy changes you’ll need to play the major variations profitably.
First you will find advice on handling rebuy poker tournaments, which are one of the most popular variations online. Next turbo games, where the blinds increase very quickly, are covered before you will the knockout bounty games are looked at. Satellite qualifiers have their own strategy considerations and you’ll find that last.
In a rebuy tournament there is a set period – usually 1 hour – where you can buy additional chips when you have your starting stack or less. This ensures there are a lot of chips in play, with people rebuying after they bust and most players starting with a double-sized stack. You will also get the opportunity to purchase an additional ‘add-on’ stack of chips at the first break.
Since you can rebuy, there is less pressure to avoid busting out in this tournament variation. This keeps the games loose and wild. In any wild game you have the opportunity to bet for value more often with good hands, but are less likely to succeed with bluffs. I like to play hands with high ‘implied odds’ value, such as small pairs in rebuy-tournaments. When they hit a hidden set, you stand to win a big pot. With so many chips in play it is easy to get left behind in this format, you really can’t afford to stay too tight.
Some players go crazy in these games, pushing all-in often in an attempt to buy a big stack for themselves in rebuy games. Make sure you watch these players closely once the rebuy period is over. They will often revert to ‘normal’ play – and calling big bets from them could be a mistake.
In my experience many players do not speed up their play enough in Turbo tournaments. With 5 minute blind levels you really do not have the time to wait for good hands. Instead stealing and re-stealing become the key strategies.
I recommend you practice putting opponents on ‘ranges’ if you plan on playing turbo poker tournaments. By estimating what percentage of hands an individual would push all-in with in a given situation, you can work backwards (mathematically speaking) to find what range of hands you can profitably call with. You’ll need to be able to spot situations where you can profitably push a wide range of hands – these are more common than many people think.
Even if you get an early double-up in a turbo game you should keep your foot firmly on the gas. It only takes a couple of opponents to double up and the blinds to eat away at your stack and you’ll be right back on average. For this type of game you need to work out how fast to go, and then speed it up even more!
In this game, the prize pool is split. In addition to a regular prize structure, each player gets a bounty on their head. Whoever knocks you out will win your bounty. In general the bounties are between 25% and 50% of the total buy-in.
The real strategy adjustment for these games comes when a player is short stacked. Many people compete to play against the short-stacked player in order to get their bounty. You will often find big raises and re-raises with speculative or weak hands when this occurs.
When a player is all-in against 2 or more opponents, it is normal in tournaments to use the ‘cooperation play’ and check a hand down. This does not happen in Knockout Tournaments, where pushing your opponent out of the hand will give you a shot at getting the bounty payment. You should be aware of this and not call a bet expecting to cooperate later in the hand.
These games award tickets to bigger online tournaments or sometimes to big live events like the World Series Of Poker.
Your main strategy adjustment comes at the bubble, when there is just 1 more player to bust before everyone else gets the prize. Since the prizes are all equal, adding extra chips does not have any benefit. This means that risking your own chances when someone else is all-in or close to it (for example will be all-in the next time the blinds come around) can be a losing play. For example, someone is all in next hand and you have a comfortable stack with several people much shorter stacked. The big blind raises you all-in and you have K-K. Here you can fold. While you undoubtedly have the best hand (75% against his range), the 25% of the time you lose is not worth it. The reason is that you can wait for someone else to bust instead.
This seems extremely tight to many new players, however the math clearly shows that risking your ‘equity’ on the bubble of a satellite when others will bust soon is a losing play.
Sit N Goes continue to increase in popularity and are perennial favorites among new poker players. These games give you the chance to build up a big poker bankroll, and offer a lot of play for your buy-in. Sit N Goes are also very easy to multi-table, meaning you can use them to access bonuses and loyalty rewards from your favorite poker site.
This article takes you through the standard strategy for single table tournaments with 9 or 10 players. There are many variations in betting, prizes and the number of seats that you can enjoy in addition to the 1-table games.
First I have outlined the key concept of where your profit comes from in this type of poker game. Next a stage-by-stage walk-through, highlighting different strategies along the way. Finally some notes on the math involved in ‘ICM’ and prize pool equity calculations – and how understanding this can help you win even more money,
In 1-table tournaments the biggest mistakes are made at the bubble. When there are 4 players left and 3 spots paid, the math clearly shows that calling ‘light’ is an expensive mistake. This is exactly what novice players do. In addition they are too tight with raises when first in, and do not properly account for stack size variations.
With so many math mistakes at the bubble, good Sit N Go players base their entire strategy on getting to this point in the game with enough chips to cause someone damage. They know the math and are able to take advantage of the mistakes of less experienced opponents. This causes good players to be super-tight early on in the game – their focus is bubble, bubble and bubble!
A debate which comes up fairly often is whether to play to win in Sit N Goes or play to cash first, and only then play to win. Both ideas are incorrect. In this form of poker you simply make a series of ‘good’ decisions based on your prize pool equity gains and losses. With more good decisions you will win more often anyway. Adjusting away from this balance will cost you both chips and money.
Early: When the blinds are small many players are tempted to play a few speculative hands, make a few bluffs and try and win a few pots. The best Sit N Go players do not turn down free chips, but they do not speculate either. Since the bubble is the key goal, chip preservation gets priority over accumulation early on. If you do play speculative hands, make sure your investment is tiny and that you have the advantage of position through the betting rounds to enable you to control the size of the pot.
Middle: Paramount here is to ensure your stack does not get diminished by the blinds. You need to steal at least your fair share of blinds and antes to keep ahead. If one or more of your opponents is stealing too often (which means it is likely with weaker hands), then a timely re-raise can win you a nice pot.
Bubble: By the time there are only 4 players left you will usually be short stacked, with an average of 10 times the big blind there is no room left for post-flop play. This means you should push all-in with any hand you intend to play. The reason is that raising will commit you to calling a re-raise, due to the big pot-odds on offer. Since you would usually prefer not to take a coin-flip at the bubble, shoving works to get rid of the hands that might have re-raised you but are too weak to call for a full stack. Learning the math will make you a lot of money at the bubble, and if you want to take this poker format seriously this is a must-know.
In-The-Money: Things often get wild once everyone left is guaranteed a payout. I recommend you observe the hands people are playing here and make a chart of those chosen by different players. You will soon see a pattern, and can adjust your own starting hand selections accordingly. Remember to stay positive and aggressive heads-up – many players are too passive in this situation.
The ‘Independent Chip Model’ underpins Sit N Go math. This accounts for the changing value of chips in these tournaments. Since the player who gets all the chips can only win 50% of the total prize pool, a single players stack can never be worth more than this – creating a non-linear relationship between the number of chips in your stack and your stake or ‘equity’ in the prize pool.
With the help of an ICM calculator, you can work out whether a particular bubble play increases or decreases your overall equity. By basing decisions on this you have mathematical advantage over your opponents which is very hard to beat.
Sit N Go tournaments have expanded in many directions. There are many sizes, ranging from 1-table up to 20 tables. You will also find many variations including faster blinds, different prize payouts and many games. This article covers the most popular multi-table Sit N Go tournaments, giving you insights and strategy tips on how to beat each type.
I have ordered the tips from smallest to largest, starting with the most popular MTT Sit N Go format of all – the 18-player 2-table games. After this the 45-player 5-table Sit N Goes are covered, then the 90-player games. The biggest regular Sit N Goes online are the PokerStars 180-player games, which are covered last.
Many people specialize in these fun games, which have 4 paying places. There are two major differences compared to the 1-table Sit N Goes. You will play short-handed just before the tables break to form a ‘final table’, with 5 players on each table. The blinds are often increasing to the 100 or 150 range by this point – and they will be coming around much faster. Stay active and take advantage of anyone passive who looks like they are waiting for a strong hand.
Your other main adjustment is with the ICM and bubble math calculations. There are 4 people paid in these games, which means your bubble strategy will start with 6 players and then peak when you get to 5. If you are going to play more than a few of these games, you should get hold of an ICM calculator and play with the ranges. This will give you a profitable edge over most of your opponents.
These are the smallest games which follow the 3-phases of Multi-Table Tournaments, with distinct early, middle and late periods. Unlike the smaller Sit N Goes where you stay tight early on, the emphasis is definitely on chip accumulation in the 45-player games. If you do not keep up then you will find some big stacks ready to put you under a lot of pressure during the later stages of these games.
45 player Sit n Goes generally pay 7 places, with the first 2 spots getting significant money compared to the buy-ins. You need to focus your efforts on reaching those top spots, even if this means you have a risk of busting out now and again.
These games have a definite ‘final table’ with 9 players all getting paid. They also follow a more defined stage-by-stage format than the smaller games do. If you are not yet familiar, I recommend you study strategy during the different phases of Multi-Table tournaments before playing many of these. Considerations include taking chips from the bad players early (since they are far harder to get from good players later), taking stack sizes into account when making moves during the mid-game and exploiting your opponent’s fear of busting out close to the bubble.
These games are massively popular, and are kicking off every couple of minutes around the clock. You can buy-in for as little as $1, with lots of mid buy-in games. While they meet the strict definition as Sit N Goes (no fixed starting time, kick off when they are full), these really are like mini-tournaments.
27 players get paid, with the lower paying spots getting just a little more than their buy-in back. The big prizes are all at the final table. Strategy for these games is a definite ‘play to win’ mentality, as one win will make up for many mini-cashes. When you hit the final table you need to take two key things into account: Stack sizes and who else looks like they are playing to win.
Stack sizes make a difference in several ways. If there is a tiny stack at the table, you will often find people trying hard not to bust out before that player does. This gives you plenty of opportunities to steal chips from the ‘comfortable’ stacks. If a big stack is pushing the table around, how you play will depend where this player sits in relation to you. For example an aggressive big stack acting right after you will mean you have to be patent and selective with you starting hands.
Many players will try and sneak up the payouts, and will be very passive at the final table. Make sure you try and work out who these players are and take advantage by raising and re-raising them when possible. Bear in mind that if one of these types suddenly decides to go all-in you have better have a hand to show down against them.
You can improve your win-rates dramatically in Sit N Go tournament using math. With the help of unique calculators which you can use between playing sessions, you can get a whole new perspective on play at the bubble – which will help you make better decisions than your opponents. This look into the math of Sit N Go tournaments focuses on 1-table games, however you can easily adapt these ideas for other variations including Multi-Table SNGs and variations like Double-or-Nothings.
First up, I have outlined how to think of the bubble in terms of ‘prize pool equity’ – which shows your average winnings for different stack sizes over 1000’s of games. Calculating this involves math known as the ‘Independent Chip Model’ which is covered next. In order to get the most out of this math, you need to assess the ranges of hands different opponents are likely to play. I discuss this and the concept of equilibrium between two or more players considering playable ranges at the end of this article.
Even if you prefer to play by ‘feel’, understanding Sit N Go math is important – this will help you see how your opponents are thinking and the logic in their plays.
To demonstrate how prize pool equity changes your thinking at the bubble of a Sit N Go, I have created a simplified example of a bubble situation with 4 players left. In this example everyone has the same stack size, the blinds are ignored and the prize pool is a nice round $1000.
3 people will get paid in the standard 50%, 30%, 20% format with the 4th place finisher getting nothing. With 2000 chips each, on average each player will win $250 over 1000’s of games – enough time for short-term variance to even out. That is to say their ‘equity’ in the prize pool is $250 each.
Now we imagine an all-in between two players. Player 1 shoves all-in, player 2 calls and one of them busts out.
The question is – what does the equity of each player look like now?
This is where the math comes in. I’ll show you the answer and then explain it.
First player (1) – $0 (This player is just busted.)
Second player (2) – $375 (He doubled his stack to 4000 chips.)
Third player (3) – $312.50c
Fourth player (4) – $312.50c
What happened here is that player 2 doubled his chips, but did not double his average equity in the prize pool. To do this he would need to win 100% of the time after doubling, and poker is never that simple. The other players gained $72.50c each in equity without doing anything. They are now guaranteed $200, and at least one of them will win $300 or $500.
The key point to consider is that in order to increase his prize pool equity by $125 (50%), player 2 had to risk his entire current equity of $250.
This is important, he risked twice as much as he gained.
Because of this disparity in risk and reward, in order to call the all-in he needed to be sure that he not only beat the hand of player 1, but beat it enough times to justify the lop-sided risk and reward.
The question is, how do you know which hands are good enough to justify this gamble?
Fortunately, there is a mathematical model which gives you the answer to this. It is too complex to use at the tables, so you will need to use a special calculator while offline. Examples include SNG Wizard and ICMizer.
What you do is plug in the stack sizes and the range of hands you expect your opponent to play. The calculator then shows you what hand(s) you can call the bet with and which ones you can fold. You will be surprised how few hands justify calls at the bubble. Even if you ‘know’ your opponent is pushing all-in with a wide range of hands, you need to fold most of the time. Remember, calling with the ‘best hand’ is not enough – you’ll need to have enough of an upside to justify risking more equity than you gain.
With an ICM calculator you can adjust the stack sizes of the different players and work out the ranges that you can profitably push all-in with yourself, and call bets with. It does take some time to get to know all the numbers, though once you have done this you will have a significant edge over your non-mathematical opponents.
The output you get from an ICM calculator is only as good as the information you put in. For example if you work out the math assuming an opponent pushes 60% of hands in a given spot, but their real range is just 25% – then you will make mistakes which cost you money.
This means you have to start with default ranges and work on fine tuning them. This can be achieved using a method known as ‘NASH Equilibrium’. Here is an example:
Your starting point is a range of hands you think a knowledgeable opponent would push all-in with. Let us say 50% for the sake of an easy example. You can then use an ICM calculator and work out that you can call with 8% of hands in this situation. The next step is to assume that your opponent knows you worked out that you can profitably call with 8% of hands. Working backwards from here, he sees that this can be exploited by cutting his range down to 35%, giving him a profitable edge. You know that he has considered this, and so calculate a profitable calling range against this instead – and so on.
Eventually the differences get smaller and smaller, and you reach an equilibrium point.
Remember that this only works against thinking opponents. Against average players you have to get inside their heads with the ‘I have an ace, so I’ll call’ and work out how to best play against that.
Using math in Sit N Go tournaments will give you a huge edge at the tables as long as you make good assumptions about how each opponent will behave. I recommend you study ICM, and watch your bankroll grow.
Just before the paying places in a poker tournament, you will see play slow down and players tighten up. Whether they are conscious of it or not the thought process is, ‘the money is so close now, I’ll just make sure I get into the paying spots before making any big moves’.
Since most players follow this pattern, there is an opportunity to steal some chips and generally increase your chip stack at this point in the game. As long as you are prepared to take on a little risk, there will be many small pots there for the taking.
This article starts with stealing blinds and antes, which is the simplest way of taking advantage of the bubble. Next, re-stealing is covered – this involves coming over the top of someone else’s raise, hopefully winning a bigger pot. Finally, a note on the ‘cooperation play’, including my thoughts on when and when not to ‘check-down’ a hand with a 3rd player all-in.
When the bubble starts depends on the size of the tournament. In a smaller tournament things might not really tighten up until there is just one more player to bust before the money. In a huge tournament there may be as many as 20 or 30 players to go when things start to slow down and people get tighter.
Players tighten up so much at the bubble that stealing blinds by raising from late position becomes very easy. There are usually also antes in play by this stage of a poker tournament – making the steal even more profitable. I like to mix up my raise sizes a little and to not get into a pattern of hitting on the same people every single time. This ensures that I do not get anyone fighting back out of frustration or anger.
When stealing blinds the best stacks to pick on are those who have a comfortable amount of chips and are not either too short-stacked or too deep. The mid-stacks will not want to risk their easy chance to make the money without a hand, and will let the blinds go more easily. While most short stacks will fold to pressure at the bubble, you’ll find the occasional player who feels desperate enough to fight back – especially if they feel that you are raising them light to steal. Big stacks have enough chips to look you up, and if these players suspect that you are stealing they might well put in a big re-raise to turn the pressure back onto you.
Also known as ‘3-betting’, this move is designed to win the blinds and antes plus the full amount of a raise put in by another player. Since many people know that the bubble of a poker tournament is an ideal spot to accumulate chips, you will find certain individuals keep on raising the pot. The chances are that their hand is not strong enough to take too much action. This means that if you are brave enough to make a big re-raise you will often win a nice sized pot. I like to make this move with hands with a little showdown value if called – something like a Queen-Nine, which would not usually be playable, though has some chances if it is called.
If you see a big stack raising every hand then a re-steal is a great way to pick up some chips. If you see a good player in the blinds doing this, it could be because they know that you would raise light to steal blinds from a ‘comfortable stack’ – so your best bet might be to make a 4-bet bluff!
If a short stack goes all-in at the bubble, many times the other players in the hand will check the hand through to showdown, rather than put in any more bets. This is called the ‘cooperation play’ and is perfectly legal as long as it is not discussed between the players (both will understand what is happening, only discussing is would be considered collusion). The advantage of increasing the chances that the small stack busts out is considered to be worth the missed opportunity to gain chips by betting into a side pot.
If you have a strong hand then there is little need to cooperate in this way. The other time you might not want to cooperate is when you are a big stack who is happy with the bubble situation. Since you are happy stealing everyone else’s blinds, it might not suit you to break the bubble and give up your advantage. Here you could keep the bubble going by betting your opponent out of the hand with nothing at all. This is an advanced play, so please make sure you have seen a few bubble situations before attempting this.
I like to take a few risks at the bubble, those extra chips and occasional double-up more than make up for the occasional bust. This is particularly the case with today’s ‘shallow’ payouts where a lot of people get just over their buy-in back.
If you mix up steals and re-steals, and keep an eye on situations where a player who knew the strategy could be ‘re-raising light’ then you can use the bubble to your advantage over and over again.
Hitting a final table never gets dull. All the hard work navigating different stages of the poker tournament have paid off and you are in contention for the big prizes. Knowing what to look for and what adjustments to make can make a big difference at this point. This article covers the different strategy adjustments to make to make sure that your final table experiences are positive ones.
First of all I have explained how the prize pool distribution affects your decision making, including why you can afford to bust early a couple of times in order to get the coveted first prize more often. Next assessing the stack sizes is discussed, including where the different stacks are positioned relative to you. Figuring out who is happy to climb the payouts ladder and who is going for the win is covered next – then finally some words about practicing and adapting to short-handed play.
You will usually find that the top 3 places have large payouts compared to the rest – and that the first place prize is the biggest of them all. I like to demonstrate the importance of aggressively aiming for 1st place with an example using the following payouts.
Imagine you have a chance to double-up early on in final table play, this is a 50% / 50% and you might well bust. If you do not bust, you will be chip leader at a reasonably passive table and give yourself a great chance of hitting one of the top prizes. How many 9th prizes would you swap for a much bigger chance of the top 3?
With 9th being $100 and 8th $150, you should be happy to give it a shot. No need to take a negative expectation gamble, but you should be willing to end up with a ‘disappointing’ payout a couple of times to balance against the times you win and have a real shot at the big money.
Things are rarely so clear. In fact multiple factors interact to decide your final table strategy. A key factor is stack sizes. The first thing you should do is look for small stacks. If there are one or more players with very small stacks (just a few big blinds) then people will naturally tighten up waiting for this player to bust in the lower paying places. If there are several reasonably small stacks, then they will all be eyeing each other up for a double-up, and are less likely to fold after entering a pot.
Next look out for the big stacks. Is there a single giant stack who will be controlling the final table? If so, where does this player sit in relation to you? If the big stack is to your immediate left, then you will have to be patient. There is a big risk of a re-raise when you enter a pot. However, if they are to your right, this is better. You can see what they do before you act. Mid-sized stacks to your left is a great situation, you’ll have plenty of opportunity to steal blinds!
Many players get tight and passive at the final table, they are trying to move up the payouts ladder and do not want to risk busting out. You can take advantage by stealing lots of small pots from this type of player. However, you you be ready to fold when they move all in, as they are much more likely to have a monster.
Simply watching the action for a round of blinds will give you a clue as to who is trying to accumulate chips. These players make great candidates for a timely re-steal.
Many novice players know that they should adjust their starting hand ranges when heads-up, but do not realize just how much the strength of hands goes down. You need to keep pushing edges when you go to 4 and then 2 handed, but the time you get heads up you should be opening a huge range of hands from the Small Blind / Button position. You will have position after the flop and the lead in the hand, a powerful combination heads up.
Summing up final table strategy: Play to win, even if that means busting out in 9th or 8th now and again – the times you do make it to the top few will more than make up for this. Make sure you are aware of the stack sizes around you and try to figure the intentions of each opponent. Once you have this information you will find multiple spots to keep accumulating enough chips to get you to heads-up – and hopefully to victory.