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Beginners Poker Strategy Guide

Getting the Poker Fundamentals Right

Unless you have the fundamentals of a solid poker strategy in place, then many of the more advanced strategies will not make you money. When you first start to play online poker, your focus will often be on your cards.

As you gain experience, this focus will naturally shift to your opponents and to specific potentially profitable situations.

This page takes you through three of the fundamental building blocks of online poker strategy. These are, hand selection, position at the table and bluffing.

Once you have had a chance to practice these, you’ll be ready to take on some of the more advanced strategy concepts. I have used No-Limit Texas Holdem in these examples, as this is the most popular game. The same concepts apply to all poker formats with the right adjustments

You will also find a list of the various strategy articles on isonlinepokerlegal.com. Our strategy guide covers Sit N' Go tournaments, bubble and final table play as well as a variety of tips for beginners.

View All of Our Strategy Articles

Choosing Starting Hands

If you play too many hands in Texas Holdem, you will find it very difficult to overcome the disadvantage of having weaker hands (on average) compared to opponents that are more selective. On the opposite end of the spectrum, playing only the strongest hands can also be dangerous. When you do that, your opponents will know that you have a strong hand when you do bet. They might call for a single bet, though if they do not improve to beat you, then you will rarely get much in the way of betting action.

You need to balance you starting hands in such a way as to play enough hands to get action, though not to play so many that you are behind too often.

You also need to play a different range of hands when there is a raise ahead of you compared to those times you are first to enter a pot. One more factor to keep in mind. If there are a lot of players still to act, then you might face a reraise and need to fold your hand after you bet. To counter this, experienced players stick to a tighter range when first to act, compared to those times when they are one of the last players to act.

A quick win for most new players is to cut out hands with a high risk of being behind on the flop. The most dangerous of these are hands with an ace and small side-card (kicker). Hands like Ace-Seven might pair the ace on the flop, or might pair the seven. Unless you hit 2 pair or better, you will never know if an opponent hit an ace with a stronger side card, or holds a pair over 7. If there is a lot of betting, you are more likely to be behind than ahead in this spot.

Unsuited picture cards and small pairs are also tricky post flop. A good rule of thumb is to fold this kind of hand when one of the first players to act in a hand. If you are in later position, then you can add them back in to your betting range.

When you have seen a raise ahead of you, then you know your opponent has at least a decent holding. Your starting hand selection criteria needs to account for this. Instead of ‘any pair, any ace with 10 or above and any 2 picture cards’ (or whatever range you usually play), then you can tighten up. Exactly how much will depend on how often that particular opponent raises.

Position at the Table - In Texas Holdem, the player that has the dealer button (which moves left after each hand) has a big advantage after the flop. This player gets to act last on the flop, turn and river betting round. Having information on your opponent’s bets can save you money. For example, if you have a decent, though not super-strong hand and are first to act – you would normally bet with this. If you are last to act, and see a raise and a re-raise, you might realize you are beaten and save your money!

The opposite occurs when everyone checks and you are on the button. You can often take a stab (bluff) at the pot, knowing that your opponents have shown weakness.

Position is a key strategy element in poker. Any time you get to act last relative to your opponents in the hand, you have an advantage. As you gain experience you will learn that this is such a powerful concept that all else being equal, playing more often in position will win you the money over time.

Beginners Poker Bluffing Strategy

Like it or not, you are going to have to bluff sometimes in online poker games. If you only ever bet when you have a solid hand, opponents will notice this. They will not only fold when you do bet (unless they think they can beat you), they will also bet into you when you check, since you are telling them you do not have a strong hand!

To balance those times you bet for value, you need to bluff. This does not need to be with a big all-in type bet, half the pot will often get the job done. Make sure you are not using one bet size to bluff with and another for value bets (opponents will spot this sooner or later).

The best time to bluff is when you have some chances of winning the hand if you are called. This is known as a ‘semi-bluff’. Examples are when you missed the flop, and have a flush draw. If you get called, a 5th diamond (for example) can come and make your hand. If your opponents fold, you get the chips right away, which is a decent result.

You will find more details on this topic in our poker bluffing article.

Getting the Most from Online Poker Games

Once you have decided on a poker site, checked that it is not rogue and made your first real money deposit – it is time to focus on getting some tips for maximizing your profits! One of the reasons we love poker is that you never stop learning. This page focuses on players who know the basic poker rules, and are venturing to the online games for the first time.

Below you will find tips for playing online poker which cover several different areas. First, how to select the right buy-ins for your skill level and bankroll is covered. After that you will find tips on choosing a game, taking notes on your opponents, avoiding tilt and how to get a balance between playing multiple games at once and making good decisions. I have used the most popular poker format – Texas Holdem – as the basis for these tips. Note that the same ideas apply to many other formats including Omaha Poker, Stud and even Draw.

5 Tips for Getting the Best from Online Poker

Choosing the Right Buy-Ins - If you are used to sitting in a $1 / $2 or $2 / $5 blinds poker game in your local live casino, then you will need to step down in buy-in levels when you first play online. While those levels attract recreational players in casinos – online they are almost exclusively populated by skilled pros and semi-pros.

What you will find is that the ability of good players to multi-table, often with the help of software tools, makes them more prevalent than the fish at those mid-stakes.

When you first play online poker, you’ll need to find a level which suits both your skill level and your poker bankroll. I recommend you start much lower than you are used to with live play. In many cases this will be 10% of your live buy-in. For example, if you are a regular $1 / $2 player live, online you should start at the 10c / 25c blind levels ($25 buy-in). Once you are used to the game, and are regularly beating your opponents, you can start to move up.

The recommended poker bankroll for each level is 5% on any one table. For example, if you have a $2000 roll to play online poker, you should be playing $100 buy-in games. If you play tournaments, sit and goes or fast-fold poker variations, then your bankroll strategy should be even stricter.

Choosing a Poker Game - When it comes to tips for online poker concerning choosing a game, there are 2 distinct parts. First, you’ll need to choose a poker format. Second, once you decide what to play, you’ll need some method of finding the most profitable table.

The basic poker formats are cash games and tournaments. With cash games your chips are worth real money. Tournament games have you buy-in for a set amount, after which you play with tournament chips for designated prizes. Within each type there are many variations. For cash games, you get regular tables in different sizes (from 2 players through to 10), plus pooled ‘fast-fold’ formats. For tournament play you get bigger multi-table tournaments, smaller (fixed size) sit n goes and many variations on speed, game type and rebuy rules.

Your goal with any poker type is to find the easiest poker games. While some sites are fishier than others, the main factor is to find games with wild action – and fewer tight / solid ‘regulars’. Notes will help you spot individual players (see below), though mostly you’ll be relying on more general table stats.

For cash game tables, you’ll usually see statistics showing the number of players seeing the flop on average, plus the average pot size. If both of these are high, you have found a wild and crazy game. Your next step is to check out the seat. If you can sit in a spot where you act after the wildest players, you have a potentially very profitable table and should join right away. Remember to keep reassessing. Many profitable games go flat after one or two key players leave. If this happens, head back to the lobby and choose another game!

Take Notes on Your Opponents - Knowing who at your table is a solid pro or semi-pro ‘grinder’ and who is a weak ‘fish’ can give you a huge edge in the games. While it can feel like there are too many players to keep track of, taking just a couple of notes per hour will quickly add up. Next time you face that big all-in bet, you might have a note which says your opponent will only do that with a nut-hand. This would allow you to safely fold, saving money. Of course, the opposite is also true. If you see someone bluffing a lot, take a note – that information might win you a big pot later down the line.

Avoiding Tilt - There is a lot more to the ‘mental game’ of poker than first meets the eye. This can include having the discipline to stop playing when you are tired or not playing well. It can also mean having the discipline to study hands between sessions! Most important is preventing tilt.

Tilt describes the anger you feel after a bad beat (or maybe everyone folding when you finally get aces). This can be very destructive, leading to bad play and going after specific opponents. Tilt affects most players, even pros, at some point or other. The biggest tip for dealing with tilt is to be aware of the signs. If you find yourself calling bets against the odds to try and get back at an individual, or simply feel rage building inside, then you need to stop playing. A 10-minute break and breath of fresh air is all it can take to regain composure. While this tip for playing online poker is easy to dismiss, it can save you several buy-ins.

How Many Tables to Play - For many players, a single table is slow and dull. Online poker sites make it easy to play multiple tables at once. Some players take this to an extreme, playing 8, 10 or even more tables at once. They eek out a profit on each table – making for a good hourly rate.

What happens is that your focus, and so the quality of your decisions, goes down the more tables that you add. When you first play, one or two tables is usually enough. As you get more experience, adding extra tables can increase your hourly rate, even though the profit from each individual game is reduced.

For players who are new to online poker games. I recommend making sure you are profitable over a good sample of hands before you move on to multi-tabling. If you find that the extra tables take away from your enjoyment of the games, then you can always move up buy-in levels instead.