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How To Play Solid Poker: Concepts You Need To Know

Photo by Hazmat2 // CC BY-SA 3.0 Caption: Position is everything in poker.

Poker is a game of skill. There is an element of variance, but in the long run, the players who use the math well (and read the flow of the game) are likely to win more hands. In poker, you play against the other opponents at the table, not against the dealer or the house. This means that poker is different to other casino games, where the odds are always set by a land-based or online casino.

In order to become a top poker player, it is recommended that you read and learn as much as possible about the maths and the concepts. Professional poker players advocate deliberate practice of situations that you find the most difficult. You really have to push yourself to become the best, and that starts with having experience of the following concepts.

Bankroll Management

All decent poker players have a bankroll management strategy in place to minimize their risk of having to drop down in stakes, or worse still lose the lot! Bankroll management means using your poker bankroll wisely, playing only games you can afford at stakes that you can beat. It is used by slot players too, but it’s more important for poker players looking to go pro.

The exact strategy you use will depend on your skill level, the type of games you play, and your own preferences when it comes to risk. For example, if you are playing single table SNGs, you will want 60+ buy-ins. If you play MTTs, you will want 300 buy-ins or more.

So, let’s say you are playing $10 single table SNGs. You will need at least $600, and this would be a conservative bankroll. When you reach $2,000, you decide to move up to the $15 or $20 stakes, because your bankroll allows for it.

Hand Rankings and Ranges

When it comes to actually playing poker, it’s crucial that you know the hand rankings by heart. In Texas Hold ‘em, and most forms of poker, the hand rankings are: royal flush, straight flush, 4-of-a-kind, full house, flush, straight, 3-of-a-kind, 2-pairs, 1-pair and then high cards. Higher kickers beat lower kickers, so if you have A-K, you have a much better hand than A-6.

Once you understand hand rankings, you can start to think about hand ranges. This is the percentage of hands that you play in any given situation. This is a complicated part of the game, but for now, focus on the fact that new players tend to play way too many hands. On average, you only want to play the top 10% of your hands.

As you develop your skills, you will find that your hand ranges change according to many factors, such as your opponent’s ranges, blind levels, and position.


Caption: Position is everything in poker.

Position is king in poker. When you are on the dealer button, you will act last for every decision of the hand. This means that other players have to act before you, and in doing so give away information, and perhaps their intention for the hand. As poker is a game of incomplete information, being on the button is, therefore, a huge advantage, and allows you to gain more value when you have a hand, bluff to win more pots, and fold your hand when the action gets too heavy.

You can play a lot more hands when you are in position, and the further out of position you are, the fewer hands you should play. This might not make sense right now, but as soon as you start playing a lot of poker you will understand the power of position.

Blind Levels and Stack Sizes

The "small blind" and "big blind" buttons mean that the player has to pay a compulsory bet. This is more than just an annoyance; the blinds actually dictate the pace of play. If the blinds are low compared to stack sizes, then there is less pressure and more opportunity to sit back and play how you want to play.

When the blinds are high, these compulsory bets can eat up your stack very quickly, and so short stacks are forced to act, or they will perish! High blinds also means more money in the pot to steal pre-flop, another reason for the action to pick up. Blinds stay the same in cash games but increase in tournament poker.

New players see their stack in terms of the number of chips they have, but this doesn’t really tell you anything about your position in the game. If you have 10,000 chips, but the blinds are at 500/1,000, you actually have a very short stack, and are in danger of losing it all if you don’t act fast. Learn to view your stack size in terms of how many blinds you have left, so that you can act appropriately.

Value Betting and Bluffing

There are only two reasons to bet in poker. The first is because you believe you have the best hand, and you want your opponent (who you think has a worse hand) to put chips into the pot. The second is that you don’t have the best hand (yet), but you think you can get your opponent to fold by making a bet and representing a made hand.

Be sure about which one of these bets you are making. You should either bet for value, or bet as a bluff or semi-bluff. There is no other reason to part with your chips.