There is only one goal in poker, whether you play Texas Hold’em, Pot Limit Omaha, or any other variation. Even so, you’d have a hard time figuring it out if you observed an ordinary novice player play poker. Because, even today, the majority of people have no idea what their ultimate goal at the table should be. As a result, a large number of bankrolls are currently diminishing.
Poker is a game in which the goal is to win money. The goal is to execute the most profitable actions (bet, raise, or fold) depending on the available information, with the purpose of maximizing the long-term expectation of each move.
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The Ultimate Goal in Poker
The devil, like with anything, is in the details. Let’s talk about why we play poker in the first place before we go into the mechanics of what style of play leads to winning. If your goal in poker isn’t to win the greatest money possible in your lifetime, you can stop reading right now and go back to schedule that Donkeyland trip. Unfortunately, no part of this article will be useful to somebody who is solely interested in having a good time.
Don’t get me wrong: playing poker for fun can be a lot of fun. I just want to make sure you understand that playing poker for pleasure often leads us to make decisions that aren’t the most profitable. Let’s imagine you’re in a casino and you decide not to wager your strong hand on the river because you like or feel horrible for one of your opponents. Sure, you’ll gain popularity among the boys and gals at the table, but your wallet is going to be irritated. And believe me, you’ll wish you hadn’t soft played all those times you were “running well” when you hit a massive downswing.
Another point I want to emphasize is that playing to win does not imply that you are trying to win every hand. That type of thinking will turn you into a maniac and achieve the exact opposite of what you want. When I say “play to win,” I simply mean that you’re attempting to maximize how much you win when you do, while minimizing how much you lose when you don’t. Our expected value, or EV, is the sum of all of our wins and losses in any given situation.
It’s “Easy” with Expected Value
Okay, I may have exaggerated the headline a little; allow me to explain. When I claim that EV makes poker simple, I’m not referring to the game’s actual strategy or moves. What I mean is that if you get to the point where you’re evaluating each move you take on the basis of whether or not it’s the most profitable decision you can make, winning becomes second nature. That doesn’t imply you’ll win every time, but this type of serious EV thinking will usually lead to others wanting to do better. As an example, you are probably certainly one of those people if you are reading this post.
It’s all about how you think. Every move you make in poker should be viewed through the lens of a single lifetime session. Situations, the way hands play out, and the decisions you have to make all seem to repeat themselves throughout your career. Even while you are unlikely to encounter the exact same circumstance twice because there are so many various hand combinations, other players engaged, and different board runouts, etc., you will find yourself in a similar position over and over again.
We may take advantage of this knowledge by creating typical hand ranges and lines of play based on the most common scenarios we encounter. We may then devote all of our mental energy to our opponents and current scenario by making modest tweaks to the standard or vacuum plays that we have cataloged for ourselves once we have these rules in place. Adjusting to the table dynamic is what it’s called.
A People Game Based on Situations
A table dynamic refers to all of the past and present elements that contribute to the uniqueness of the scenario you’re in. This covers your cards, your location, the other players, and your recent and previous interactions with them. By recent history, I mean the hands that have played out during the current session, as well as how other players will react to that knowledge and how they believe you will react to it. Doesn’t it appear to be difficult? Fortunately, you can learn this knowledge in little chunks and build on it as you get expertise. Learning the fundamentals is the first step on this trip.
What Makes Poker a Sport?
Every sport has a set of established and well-documented basics that teachers instill in students in order to increase their chances of success. I’ve used golf as an example many times, but all sports, and any meaningful pursuit for that matter, have a fundamental set of standards for properly executing the action. There is a fundamental posture and grip involved with grasping the ball in golf, basketball, football, baseball, or any sport for that matter. While there are variances, when they contradict fundamental principles, they are invariably referred to as “unorthodox.”
Fundamentals exist in poker as well. We’re not talking about how to hold the cards or advance our chips; in poker, it’s all about increasing our odds of sliding chips into our bankroll more frequently than our opponents.
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The Three Fundamentals of Poker
For years, I’ve lectured about the foundations of poker and used them in my own play to keep a fair win percentage. In reality, I constantly go back on the fundamentals when I’m “running terrible,” much like other athletes. Here are the three most crucial poker principles.
Being in position means acting last in a hand’s post-flop phase. Following this fundamental allows you to play in a way that maximizes your chances of being in position while avoiding actions that put you in no man’s land. The two most common examples are raising more hands in a late position and calling fewer hands in a late position than our opponents. If you only do this and all else is equal, you will win more money than your competitors. That is how strong a position is.
You were the last aggressor before the flop if you had the initiative. This allows you to collect a lot of the dead money that has been left in pots where no one else is interested. C-bet bluffing is well-known for its profitability; this is an example of putting the fundamental of the initiative to good use.
When considering a course of action, it’s always best to go for the most aggressive option initially. In general, a +EV aggressive move will win out over a +EV quiet activity. There are exceptions to the norm, but erring on the side of aggression is usually the better strategy.
It’s no surprise that all of history’s greatest successful poker players have used extremely aggressive strategies. When was the last time a major calling station took home a WSOP bracelet? Do you think the best cash game players just sit around and play passively? No way, they pound away incessantly, their chips constantly moving.
For The Win, Fold Equity
Fold equity, to put it simply, is the money you make without going to showdown when you play aggressively and someone else folds. It’s what allows marginal hands to become profitable; otherwise, they’d lose too much at showdown to be worth playing. In fact, even if we don’t always want our opponents to fold, fold equity improves the profitability of every hand we play.
The sum of your showdown and non-showdown winnings in poker is your long-term profit from all 1,326 hand combinations. Our earnings would only come from one source if we only played passively and never raised or reraised. As a result, the game’s least profitable participants are always the most passive.
Defending Against Your Enemies
All that’s left is to make the real decision once you’ve mastered the principles and understood that every move you do is aimed at maximizing your expected value. So, what is it that governs our precise decisions? It’s the table dynamic, which we’ve already touched on briefly.
Remember that, after the fundamentals, making modifications to the table dynamic is the most crucial topic. The subject itself may be the basis for a very long book, or a series of very long volumes. Nonetheless, I will not overburden you with facts in this section. Instead, I’ll give you some pointers on how to fight some of the most prevalent opponent strategies.
Against opponents who frequently fold
The essential adjustment while playing against highly selective opponents is to increase the aggression. We’ll make all of our money from non-showdown revenue because they’re playing fit or fold poker. Against these opponents, the quality of your hands in the showdown will need to be higher.
Against opponents who make frequent phone calls
Aggression alone is a recipe for disaster when dealing with sticky players, often known as calling stations. You’ve probably heard the phrase “never bluff a calling station,” which refers to the lack of fold equity and futility of bluffing these players. Because there will be more showdowns than usual, you should tighten up your pre-flop range when you know you’ll be dealing with these individuals. You’ll have a better chance of flopping a hand that connects with the board this way. After the flop, you’ll want to broaden your range of hands on which you bet for value. They won’t fold since they don’t like to fold, therefore they’ll call with very weak hands. As a result, the value of 1 pair of hands rises dramatically when compared to someone who folds occasionally.
In the face of excessively aggressive opponents
I realize this is a wide term, but there are a few things we can do in general to combat over-the-top aggro gamers. If you suspect an opponent is acting erratically, tighten up pre-flop and then broaden the range of hands with which you wish to put money into the pot, similar to calling stations. The difference is in how the money is put into the pot. This is one of the few times where passive play is preferable. Allow them to bluff their way to oblivion as you call down with a decent chunk of the board. It’s crucial to play in position as much as possible against these types of players. You’ll have the final say this way, and you’ll be able to pot control flops. Playing aggro players becomes considerably easier when each hand is reduced to a two-street game.
In the face of extremely powerful opponents
You’ll come across some pretty good opponents every now and again. Assuming he realizes your decency, the best course of action is to avoid each other for the most part. There are plenty of fish in the sea; there’s no point in fighting over who gets to do each other’s clothes. However, if you do end up with a tough reg, I feel it’s usually preferable to avoid leveling fights and instead play a simpfle, fundamentally good pot control game.
It’s possible that you’re noticing a pattern here. Every change we make is a retaliation against the players at our table. In fact, we make a lot of these changes before we even put a chip in the pot. If you remember nothing else from this article, remember this: Unless you’re playing on a table with complete strangers, you should never play in a vacuum or on autopilot, because 99.9% of the time, there is one or more relevant pieces of information that can improve the quality of any decision we make.
Poker is, at its core, a game of information. The final game becomes how well we exploit the easily available clues that offer themselves to us during the course of play once we’ve mastered the foundations and basics. Finally, how well we play and adjust in comparison to how poorly our opponents play and adjust determines who is the greatest at achieving the game’s goal: making money.