When to Stick to Your Strategy or Improvise

min read
BetMGM Sep 16, 2021, 9:52 AM

Whether you play poker for fun or want to be a big-time winner, you’ll get more enjoyment out of the game if you improve your skills as a player and who knows you might even learn a few life lessons. Yes, it takes time and effort but it isn’t as hard as you think. Let’s take a look at a few strategic poker tips that can help dramatically improve your game.

Basics of poker strategy

Elite poker players will tell you that the quickest way to up your game and keep improving is to take an attitude to the table every time that is unemotional, mathematical, and logical. With that in mind, let’s get going on strategy.

Starting hand selection

If you’re just starting out, the starting hand selection means choosing good hands and folding the bad ones when you get them. The logic goes that when you enter the pot with a good hand more often than your opponents, you’re likely to win more than your opponents.

A rule of thumb for a novice is to stick to the big cards. This offers the best chance at winning. Then the more experience you clock up, the more you can experiment and expand your starting hand requirements.

Middle and end game

two hands shuffle falling cards

When you have a firm understanding of starting hand selection and how they change your position at the table, your next focus will be on how to play the rest of the hand. Our next poker tip from elite players is that even though starting hand decisions are important, it’s how you play the rest of the hand, and especially the end, that determines whether you win or lose.

Your middle and end game includes working out pot odds, spotting betting patterns, bluffing, and using position. Keep in mind that it takes many years to get on top of these skills but it’s worth it if you want to know how to win poker tournaments.

The appeal of poker for die-hards who keep playing through the years is all the many different ways you can play, although game styles typically fall into four categories. See if any of these describe you because your style will impact your strategy:

  • Tight – is a cautious approach to a game, so you’d play fewer hands and damp down the risks.
  • Loose – means you’re playing many hands and are more willing to gamble.
  • Aggressive – includes lots of big bets and opening pots to put opponents under pressure.
  • Passive – would see you calling more than betting and allowing your opponent to dominate the action.

For the novice, you’ll want to concentrate on just one or two styles while you learn the ropes – tight/aggressive is the best combination to begin with. An aggressive style eases you into a long-view essential of poker – aggressive betting. Meanwhile a tight style of play conditions you to play mostly good hands before the flop so you stay out of bad situations with negligible hands. Once you’re more comfortable with your game you’ll want to switch up your style to avoid being predictable.

Now you’re ready to get to grips with position. Here goes: The dealer, or if you play online poker it’ll be the ‘button’, is almost always last to act in a betting round. This is a tactical advantage that clues you in to how your opponents have acted. For the sake of fairness, this position rotates to the next player after every hand so each participant shares the advantage. It’s an opportunity you don’t want to waste so play more hands when you’re in ‘late’ position than when in ‘early’ position.

Even if you’re starting out, you’ll probably know that a good bluff can help you win a pot you might have lost without a bluff. The aim of a successful bluff is to get another player to fold the best hand. Bluffing essentially gives you a chance to convince other players that you hold winning cards when in fact you have bad hands that you want to fold before the flop or marginal hands you don’t want to spend too many chips on.

Be warned though that if you simply put a last-hope bet out there to win the pot, a savvy player will most likely call your bluff. To be convincing you’ll need to think about how your play looks to your opponent and you’ll need to put on your acting hat by thinking about how you would play the hand if you really had the cards that would beat them. Think through the entire hand so your actions are consistent and believable. If you’re new to the game, online poker is a great way to practice your bluff because your opponents can’t read your reactions.

Odds – or the probability of something happening – is an important part of your game strategy. So for example, the odds of getting a six on a six-sided dice are 5/1 because for each time the dice lands on a six, it could land on another number five times. You’ll find the mathematics of poker in working out the odds. Here goes. You hold four clubs and when the final club falls on the river, you’ll make your flush and win the pot. As you know, a deck of 52 cards has 13 clubs. Now two are in your hand and two others are on the board. This leaves nine clubs. Subtracting the two in your hand and those on the board, there are 46 that could fall on the river, nine of these will win the pot for you. So these nine cards are your ‘outs’. Your odds of making the flush are 37/9 and the probability of making your flush are about four to one.

Stay with your strategy or improvise?

Player at the Poker table.

Here’s another poker tip from elite players. Always stay with your successful strategies unless you have a very good reason to improvise. Never improvise because you’re bored. Only deviate from your strategy if you’ve thought things through and have a solid rationale for switching things up. If you’re new to the game avoid improvisation because without a fair amount of experience it’s going to be hard to assess different situations accurately.

One of the main reasons players abandon their strategy when they shouldn’t is tilting or steaming. This is when you allow your emotions to get the better of you and it almost always harms your game. If you do find yourself getting emotional over your game, walk away, take a breather and come back when you’re in control again. Accept that not every game will go your way. Negative emotions or fatigue can push you to abandon your strategy and that can hurt your bankroll and you, personally. Keep things in perspective and take the stress out of playing by making sure you always bet responsibly and can afford to lose every cent you play with.

When to balance your play

If you’re unfamiliar with the term, ‘balanced play’ is when you bet hands that have no real value in the same way you’d bet hands that do have value. You’d switch your strategy from unbalanced play to balanced play if you were trying to stop observant opponents from accurately gauging your betting range. This is an effective tactic that may shut down their ability to take countermeasures against you. Adding a weaker hand which you’d raise in early position or re-raise, is one way to hide the strength of your hand and prevent experienced opponents from playing effectively against you.

Keep in mind when playing less experienced players that they might not be capable of accurately assessing your playing habits, and you could end up losing money by balancing your range of hands.

Switch from hands to ranges

Elite poker players think of a game in terms of ranges instead of a specific hand. The strategy behind this is to understand that a particular player will have a range of hands with various frequencies. Once you’re thinking in this way, you can start to work out these frequencies and make the best play based on this.

You will also want to switch up your strategy if you’re playing to a favorite hand. Too often that hand that gets your heart pounding is in effect a second-rate hand so by all means play it in late position in an unopened pot or else fold in early position.

Play with different opponents

Young beautiful blonde bluffing

If you’re working on the strategies that are going to be successful for you, you’ll want to switch up your opponents often. This will allow you to assess your true abilities when at the table with players who have games that are both weaker and stronger than yours. This also allows you to get better at the strategies that will be successful for you when faced with certain situations. As we’ve said before, the appeal of poker is in the many different ways it can be played and how the game pushes you to keep making good decisions and meeting new challenges.

So whether you’re a novice or want to brush up on your skills, BetMGM is full of guides, cheat sheets, charts, and the rules of popular poker games, from Texas Hold'em and Omaha variations to Spins and FastForward. You can also sign up to start playing any of our live online poker tournaments at Borgata Poker Online. Find freerolls, seasonal tournaments and more, and start winning real money.

Actress Vanessa Hudgens flipping casino chips next to the text "The King of Casinos"
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Our BetMGM editors and authors are sports experts with a wealth of knowledge of the sports industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news, previews and predictions, fun facts, and betting.

Our BetMGM editors and authors are sports experts with a wealth of knowledge of the sports industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news, previews and predictions, fun facts, and betting.