If you have played any poker at all, or even just watched some on television or stream, you will have doubtless been offered some advice. Sometimes these alleged nuggets of wisdom are clearly not intended to be serious. “Deuces never loses,” for example, tramples on the laws of probability as well as common sense.
There are other idioms that have some connection to reality. But should we really “never go broke in a limped pot”? More generally, are there useful tips and tricks that a rookie poker player can absorb and employ, and which actually help our newbie play better?
In this article we have scoured the poker literature, discussions on our Discord server, and used the collective experience of our coaches to bring together some actionable tips and tricks for you to use as you start your poker journey. We have also included some more advanced tips for players who have already put in a few hundred hours of seat time. Ultimately, we would suggest that there is no real substitute for a coherent poker training program such as our CORE course. But until you’re ready to commit to such a path, the following tips will improve your game.
If you are completely new to poker in general and no-limit hold’em in particular, you may find our beginner’s guide helpful. This will walk you through the rules of the game, the mechanics of play, and some basic poker terminology.
Preflop Poker Tips
The solidity of your poker game rests firmly on its foundations. One can think of the foundation of any poker hand as occurring preflop, with the critical decision of whether to play it at all. If you do decide to enter the pot, do you meekly call the big blind, or do you raise? If you raise, how much? How do your decisions depend on other players in the hand?
Solid preflop play is absolutely crucial if you wish to be a winning player. Fortunately, there are some simple tips that you can employ to provide a robust foundation. More importantly, perhaps, new poker players exhibit characteristic errors that can be easily corrected through such tips.
Poker Is A Game Of Skill (That Starts Preflop)
Let’s start this section by noting a common misconception about poker. Many low-stakes players assume that the goal in poker is to make good hands. Such players may further reason that starting with strong hands makes it more likely you will end up with a good one. While this latter point has some merit, such an approach to poker is fundamentally flawed.
Beyond having discipline in choosing the hands you play at all, making a good hand involves no skill. The cards are going to peel off the deck forming the flop, turn, and river, and try as we might, we have zero control over that board run-out. To put it another way, simply relying on chance to make your good hand reduces poker to a game of luck. And it is not one.
The reality is that poker is a wagering game that happens to use playing cards for its mechanics. The skill of the game is therefore not magically making hands; it is making the correct decision in any given scenario. Knowing when and how much to bet, when to call, raise, or fold. This is the heart of poker. And the skills you need to play poker well have strong theoretical foundations. As many poker authors have noted over the decades: if I know more (poker theory) than you, I win.
We would add that it is not always sufficient to be simply knowledgeable, applying that knowledge at the table is also necessary. But in a game of skill, knowledge and winning are, almost by definition, highly correlated.
You may object to poker being a game of skill given our lack of control over the distribution of cards. It is certainly the case that whenever you win a poker tournament, or have a particularly profitable cash session, you likely benefitted from the run of the cards. One interesting consequence of this is that it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that poker is a form of gambling. Specifically, on any given day we may use our skill to play almost perfectly against our less-skilled opponents, and yet we lose. However, taken over the long term, that skill advantage will eventually play out, and skilled players will beat less-skilled ones.
Play A Tight Range
You will hear a lot of talk about “ranges” in modern poker discussions. A poker range is just a collection or group of hands that typically get played the same way. Your “opening range,” for example, are the hands you play at all by entering the preflop pot.
Most of our tips will be succinct and to the point, but we could find no adequate alternative to giving you the following charts as a guideline to which hands you should be playing. If you are unfamiliar with poker hands presented in this way, we suggest you check out our article on preflop poker charts.
Each position at the poker table has its own opening range, as indicated on the below charts. Are you surprised by how tight these ranges are, particularly from the early positions at the table? If you are sitting to the immediate left of the big blind and acting first preflop, these recommendations have you folding 93% of the time! But don’t worry. You get to play far more hands when you’re further round the table.
The charts are far from the last word on the matter, and are simply designed as a baseline to get you started. As you gain more experience, you may be able to add some extra hands, but it won’t be that many more. Poker simply does not work like that. Strong starting hands are easier to play profitably. You can find more preflop charts including some free ones on the GTO Ranges app developed by Red Chip Poker.
Never Open Limp Preflop
You will notice the charts above are for “RFI” or “raise first in.” In other words, when nobody has entered the pot in front of you, these are the hands with which you enter the pot. But you always do so with a raise.
If you’ve played any poker, you will have noticed that many players do not follow this rule at all. They will frequently enter the pot by simply calling the big blind. This is called “limping” (and “open limping” when the player is the first in to the pot). Many players will do so with a wide range of hands, including some holdings which are frankly garbage.
It is rare that one can use the word “never” when discussing poker strategy, but until you have a considerable amount of poker sophistication, we strongly suggest that you never open limp. It’s simply a bad play. Why? For one thing, you give up the possibility of winning the blinds by raising. Additional problems include the likelihood that other players will limp in after you. Unless you open limped the button, this means you will be out of position to at least one player for the hand. We will return to the importance of position later in this article.
Now you have a solid range of hands and when first in will only do so through a raise. How much should that raise be? In online games, we suggest 2.5x the big blind, so in a 5c/10c game you would make it 25c. Live open-raise size are larger. In a $1/$2 casino game, for example, an open to $10 is typical.
What if several players have already limped into the pot? Is it okay to limp then? Under certain conditions, this can be acceptable, but in most cases there is a better option, as we now discuss.
Raise Bigger Over Limpers
As you read through this article, you will notice a common theme: aggression. In the context of poker, aggression refers to any action when we raise a bet or bet ourselves. Passive preflop limping, calling preflop raises (discussed next), and calling bets postflop are often weaker plays than an aggressive alternative.
If several players have limped preflop and the action is on you, it is tempting to look at the bloated pot and decide to follow the herd by limping in too. But your first thought should be to attack that preflop pot with a raise. This allows you to win the pot immediately, and will at least encourage players behind you to fold, making the play of the hand simpler moving forward.
How big should such an “isolation raise” be? Let’s return to a $1/$2 casino game. If you typically open to $10 in such a game, your sizing over limpers should be that $10 plus another big blind for each limper. Three players limped in and you wish to iso, then make it around $16. Depending on how your opponents respond to such aggression, you may want to raise larger still.
Call Less Often Preflop
When it’s folded to us and we have a playable hand, we come in for a raise. When several players have limped, and we have a playable hand, our first instinct should be to isolation raise. But what if someone has entered the pot for a raise and we like our hole cards?
Experience again shows that far too many players adopt the passive option of calling, whereas the objectively-better play is the aggressive one of reraising (also known as 3-betting in this preflop context). Here is a video discussing the topic in more detail:
In the context of 6-handed online play in particular, research by Red Chip and others indicates that a 3-bet-or-fold strategy is a workable simplification. In other words, when facing an open raise, we either 3-bet or fold our hand depending on its strength. The only exception is when we are in the big blind when calling can be the best play. Such a strategy is ideal for newer players, since all one has to do is remember which hands are 3-bet, rather than having to remember calling and 3-betting ranges. Such ranges are provided in our CORE program, as well as on the Red Chip ranges app.
Whether you choose to adopt this strict strategy, or choose to mix in some calls, we are confident that your current default play includes far too much calling. So call less preflop for an immediate improvement in your game and your results.
Defend Wider Against Smaller Open Raises
As noted above, the big blind is unique in preflop play in that calling a single preflop raise will close the action. In other words, only the big blind when facing this scenario knows that a call (also referred to as defending the big blind) will see the hand proceed immediately to the flop. Further, the big blind has already contributed 1bb to the pot. Thus if in a live game the initial raiser has made it 5bb, the big blind gets a discount and only needs to call an additional 4bb.
This second reason for the big blind being incentivized to call has an important corollary. The smaller the open raise is, the wider the big blind can defend. Although not the full story, one can appreciate this through the fact that smaller opens mean the big blind is contributing a smaller fraction of the preflop pot.
To put some numbers on the idea, again consider a live game in which a player opens to 5bb and the action is folded to the big blind. They have to call 4bb into a resulting pot of 10.5bb (remember the small blind is in there). In other words, the big blind contributes 4bb/10.5bb or about 38% of the preflop pot.
What happens if the original raiser opens to a lower figure? Suppose they min-raise to 2bb, for example. Now the big blind only has to call 1bb into a total pot of 4.5bb. This represents only 22% of the preflop pot; much less than the previous case. This smaller contribution means the big blind can defend with a wider range.
Here is quick video by Red Chip co-founder SplitSuit discussing other tips on accurately defending your big blind.
We will wrap up this preflop section with some tips that also apply postflop, hence they provide a useful transition to play on the later streets.
Exploit Risk-Averse Players
Many low-stakes players are extremely averse to risk. They simply do not like investing a lot of chips into a pot they might lose. In fact, this is a major reason why such players open limp instead of raising, and call raises instead of 3-betting them. They want to see if they hit the flop before making a large investment.
We hope that the material above makes it clear to you why such an approach is a bad idea. But in order for such risk-averse play to be a genuine mistake, you have to punish these players for their actions. Preflop, the isolation raise is a key example of how you exploit these passive players. In the postflop material below, see if you can spot how our recommendations are exploiting risk-averse players.
Poker Is Positional
This is another topic already touched upon above when we stressed the importance of sticking to solid opening ranges. The earlier the position at the table, the tighter you must play. There are two primary reasons for this, both of which stem from the fact that from early position you have no idea what the other players are going to do. Contrast this with making decisions on the button, where you have seen the action of everyone but the blinds.
The second related reason is that, when we open from up front, there are simply more players left who have the potential to wake up with a premium hand. Further, with the exception of the blinds, the players left to act will have position on us postflop as well. They have the huge advantage of seeing us act first on every street. The practical upshot of this is that the positional advantage increases your chances of winning any poker hand.
Play Your Big Hands Fast
When we talk about playing big hands fast in poker, we mean betting and raising with them aggressively. In a preflop context, our strategy of never open limping gets you half the way there already. Beyond that, when you pick up a preflop monster like AA, don’t be afraid to keep putting in raises with it.
A subset of live players love trapping with premium hands, particularly AA. They will limp into the pot hoping someone will raise, so that they can spring the trap and put in a reraise. One problem with this approach is that they frequently trap themselves. Playing AA 6-way and out of position is no picnic.
You will also find players who will call a preflop raise rather than 3-bet with AA preflop. Often their rational is that they do not want to lose value. In other words, they are afraid that if they 3-bet, then the original raiser and anyone else in the hand will fold, so that money the player with AA figured to make on later streets is lost.
When you become a highly-skilled poker player, there may be situations in which trapping is the best play. Even then, such opportunities are rare. And until you’ve obtained that level of experience, it is simpler and more profitable to always play your big hands fast.
Avoid “Loss Leaders”
Related to slowplaying big hands preflop is the use of weaker hands as loss leaders. Suppose you have followed our advice and play your big hands fast. You will be told by some old-school players that you also need to play a few trashy hands in a similar way so that your opponents cannot simply fold when you show preflop aggression. In fact fifteen years ago, including some weak variety hands in your preflop range was fairly standard advice.
As our theoretical understanding of poker has improved, one thing that stands out is that playing weak hands to make ourselves harder to read is simply a poor idea. Modern theory dictates that we should play every hand to maximize EV (expectation value). In other words, we do not include some demonstrably bad hands in our preflop ranges. Profitable poker simply does not work like that. The same principle of always taking the highest-EV line also applies to postflop play.
If you would like a summary of all these ideas in video format, here is SplitSuit discussing the poker concepts that we have explored so far.
Poker Tips For Flop Play
It is often noted that the flop is the most important event in a no-limit hold’em hand. 60% of the final board appears all at once. Further, the way the texture of the flop interacts with the ranges of the players contesting it has a profound impact on the subsequent action.
What do we mean by flop “texture” in this context? Basically this term refers to the distribution of flop cards. The preflop action invariably produces an asymmetry in ranges of those contesting the pot, and certain flops favor some ranges more than others.
Consider, for example, a situation in which a player in early position open raises and only the big blind calls. The fact the big blind called rather than 3-bet indicates they have a capped range that does not include premium hands. Similarly, the fact the original raiser is in early position indicates they have a strong and uncapped range.
Many flops will favor one of these ranges over another, determining which player has range advantage. It turns out that the player with range advantage should invariably be the one driving the betting in the hand.
In addition to the postflop tips below, please enjoy this video on the topic:
The Flop Range C-Bet
The application to poker of a branch of mathematics known as game theory had revolutionized our understanding of the game over the last few years. While some of the results of these game theory optimal (more commonly simply “GTO”) studies take us well beyond the scope of this article, there are others that comfortably fall into the category of simple tips and tricks.
Probably the best-known example is the “small, full-range, HUIP c-bet.” Let’s unpack that terminology and the fundamental idea through the same example we introduced in the last section.
Once again, a player in early position opens and only the big blind calls. Given the importance of position in poker, this is already a good spot for the opener. They are heads up and in position (HUIP). Typically in this configuration, the big blind will check. What should the player in early position do?
You might answer it will depend on the flop, and the hole cards, and possibly the playing tendencies of the big blind. These are all perfectly reasonable considerations. But it turns out that GTO studies reveal a powerful simplification that serves as an excellent tip to newer players. Simply continuation bet (c-bet) for a small size of around one third the pot every single time. You need not worry about what you hold, nor the board, just bet your full range.
Is this an ideal strategy? No, it’s a simplification. But it is one that gives up very little EV (or if you prefer, poker profit). In fact, for newer players in particular, these simplifications may be the most profitable approach, simply because they avoid more complex strategies that the inexperienced might mess up.
Here is James “SplitSuit” Sweeney with some more tips and advice on c-betting.
C-Bet Less OOP
The flop range bet discussed above is a strategy we can employ when heads up and in position. How about c-betting all our hands when we are out of position (OOP), as occurs when we open from early position and the button calls?
This would be a terrible strategy. When our opponent has the advantage of the positional advantage, they are typically the favorite to win the pot. We do not want to be pumping money into it under such conditions.
This is a complex issue in detail, and whether we c-bet at all OOP depends sensitively on the cards that have flopped. If the board interacts well with out range, a c-bet can be the best play, particularly on textures when we can hold the nuts (the best possible current hand) and our opponent can not. But as a rough guideline, when OOP we should be c-betting less than half the time.
C-Bet Smaller (And Less Often) Multiway
In low-stakes, live games in particular, you will often see several players hanging around for the flop. This is a sign of a profitable game, since it implies at least some of these players are entering the pot with insufficient hand strength. However, despite the fact such players are making a mistake, many people new to poker find it difficult to exploit the error.
Suppose you were the preflop aggressor and head to a multiway flop. You will invariably be OOP to at least some of your opponents. Hence, based on the recommendations of the previous section, you should not be c-betting too often. But there is another factor at play here.
In multiway pots, it will take a strong hand to win if the hand gets to showdown. Further, while a standard c-bet has a good chance to obtain a fold from a single opponent, you’re far less likely to take down the pot with a flop bet when you have several opponents. When you “bet into a field,” you are therefore representing considerable hand strength. This has two immediate consequences.
If you were fortunate and flopped a strong hand, you want to get paid off. Because betting into multiple opponents looks strong, and most of those opponents will have someone behind them to worry about, a big bet with a strong hand may struggle to get the call(s) you usually want. Contrariwise, because a bet into multiple opponents looks so strong, there are occasions when you are set up to try a cheap bluff. In both cases, you want to bet small.
The Most Powerful Flop Metric: SPR
The stack-to-pot ratio, usually abbreviated to SPR, is probably the most important flop concept that is unfamiliar to inexperienced players. If you have heard of SPR, that already gives you a leg up on the competition, but let’s make sure you’re getting the most benefit out of it.
First, what is it? As the name suggests, the SPR is simply the ratio of the effective stack to the size of the pot on the flop. For example, in a heads-up battle in which the pot is 10bb and both players have 95bb, the SPR is 95bb/10bb = 9.5. If the stacks are not equal, the effective stack is the shortest stack in play and is used to calculate the SPR. Note that in multiway situations, it is possible, and indeed common, to have different SPRs against different opponents.
What can you do with this SPR? Its most important use is to determine if you have sufficient hand strength to commit all your chips. For example, if you flop top pair, top kicker, such as AK on a A72 flop, you will typically be happy to get all in if the SPR against a single opponent is 3 or less. If the SPR is in the range 3-6, you may be happy getting stacks in, but other considerations can come into play; notably the flop texture. Facing an SPR above 6, your default postflop play should generally not commit all your chips.
If you wish to take your poker study more seriously, there are many resources that employ SPR in informing our flop decisions. Here is James “SplitSuit” Sweeney looking at a couple of spots in which SPR gives us a clear postflop plan.
We cannot do full justice to the topic of SPR in an article of this length, so if you would like to read more about it, we highly recommend this article.
Poker Tips For Turns And Rivers
As we get deeper into a poker hand, the number of times various scenarios occur naturally drops. After all, hands can end on any street, including preflop. However, it is also the case that the pot naturally grows as more streets are played. Thus bad decisions on turns and rivers can often involve substantial amounts of money for the stakes being played.
To help you better negotiate the expensive streets, here are a few poker tips for turns and rivers.
Don’t Pay People Off
At Red Chip we receive a great deal of feedback from our subscribers. One of the most frequent comments we get is about a video made by co-founder Ed Miller titled “Don’t Pay People Off.” Many people have told us that by following the central poker tip in this video, they have saved a huge amount of money and transformed from a losing to winning player.
This powerful tip can be expressed as follows: Do not pay off large turn or river bets unless you have a very strong hand.
There are a couple of important caveats here. The first is that this tip only applies at lower stakes where we expect newer players to play. It is based on the fact that most of your opponents at these stakes do not bluff enough. Thus if you face a large bet on either of these streets, the odds are your opponent is heavily-weighted towards strong hands. Calling off with top pair in such spots can be an extremely expensive mistake.
Note, however, that we are talking about the typical low-stakes player. Even in an entry-level game such as live $1/$2, you will come across players who really like betting, and betting large. Against such players, you will have to call some big bets with one-pair type hands.
But against the typical, passive low-stakes player, their big turn or river bet will invariably mean they are holding a monster. If you cannot beat a big hand, do not pay it off.
Bluff Rivers Way More Often
This tip stems directly from the previous one. As a newer player, it is likely that you currently under-bluff rivers. That tendency in the population is precisely why you should fold medium-strength hands to large river bets. But it also implies that you can profit by increasing considerably your current bluffing frequency on the river.
As is so often the case in poker, there are opponent-specific exceptions to this rule. If you know your opponent is a calling station who will cling on to third pair in the face of bets on all streets, trying to bluff them is simply setting money on fire.
But as we noted previously, most low-stakes players are risk averse. And in live play in particular, they do not want to appear foolish in front of the table. If you jam into them, they will dread putting all their chips in the middle with top pair, only for you to show them the “obvious” set. Understand how your opponents think, and exploit them accordingly.
For an explanation of bluffing frequency in the context of GTO poker, we invite you to watch this brief video on the topic.
General Poker Tips
The following poker tips do not fit particularly cleanly into any specific street, but are nonetheless important.
Never Go Broke In A Limped Pot?
This is one of those pieces of poker advice you likely have heard at the table. We put a question mark after the header, however, because this well-worn tip requires some significant qualification.
What is so wrong about going broke in a limped pot? What differentiates such a situation from, say a raised pot?
Let’s set up a specific example to better explain what is going on here. Consider a $1/$2 game with with $200 stacks. A player in early position limps, the button overlimps, the small blind completes, and you check with 86o in the big blind. Not a well-played hand so far based on our previous tips, but an action sequence you will see very commonly in live, entry-level games.
The flop comes T86. Yippee! You’ve flopped two pair! That’s a strong hand. But do you want to get all your chips in the middle here?
Against certain opponents, it may be profitable for you to commit all your chips in this spot, but in general it will not be. And the reason for that starts with the concept of SPR that we discussed above. With four people seeing the flop for $2 each, leaving $198 behind, the SPR in this example is $198/$8 ~ 25. That is a huge SPR. Compare it to a situation in which the first player had made a standard raise to $10 and got the same callers. The SPR in that spot would be $190/$40 ~ 5.
Recall that the lower the SPR, the more readily we should stack off. With bottom two and an SPR below 5, you’re probably committed to this pot. At an SPR of 25, you most definitely are not.
Ask yourself what kinds of hands other than your bottom two-pair will want to commit a lot of chips on the T86 board. Will AT want to shovel chips into this pot? Not if they are competent. We don’t stack off with one pair at an SPR that high. If top pair, top kicker is too weak to commit, what will? T8 maybe. Sets? A made straight? But all of those hands beat you! It is the case you may get action from straight draws. But if all the money goes into this pot particularly early in the hand, you would have to be in an extremely soft game to table your cards and win.
Note that a related issue is that limped pots are frequently massively multiway. Whenever several people are contesting a pot, the winning hand is going to be much stronger. Thus not only do we need to worry about the high SPR, the presence of multiple opponents requires us a to have a hand that is close to the nuts to commit all our chips.
You Need To Know (Some) “Poker Math”
How we play poker is sometimes presented as a (false) dichotomy between “feel” players and “math” players. Why do we assert the dichotomy is false? Because you cannot hope to be a winning player without understanding some basic poker arithmetic. And successful old school players who claim to operate by feel can also instantly tell you the odds of making a flush draw with two to come.
Two things have changed in the modern era of poker training. First, sites like Red Chip Poker provide a streamlined, organized way of learning essential poker arithmetic, rather than the haphazard approaches used by most players twenty or more years ago.
Second, actual math (rather than simple arithmetic) has become the bedrock of modern poker theory through the application of game theory to poker. Take the research carried out at Red Chip Poker, for example, in which we calculate the opening ranges described earlier in this article. Those calculations use complex algorithms that run for weeks on extremely powerful cloud computers. That is heavy-duty computational mathematics.
The good news is you do not need to understand the mathematical theorems due to the late John Forbes Nash upon which such calculations are based. But as you become a more sophisticated player, you will increasingly use the results of such studies in your game.
Value Bet Calling Stations (But Do Not Bluff Them)
The last two poker tips of this section are really opposite sides of the same coin. They are simple and self-explanatory, and we never cease to be amazed how frequently these principles are violated in low-stakes games.
Online poker allows us to track the tendencies of our opponents accurately. Live play requires careful observation to reach similar conclusions. And one type of low-stakes opponent that will always be with us is the calling station.
It is not entirely clear what drives such people and their decisions. Maybe the emotional turmoil induced by being bluffed is too much for them. Maybe they simply have a poor understanding of relative hand strength. But a subset of your low-stakes opponents will catch a piece of the flop, and grimly call down bets irrespective of the run-out with hands as weak as third pair.
When you find yourself in a pot with such an opponent, it is the green light to bet more streets, and potentially make larger bets, with hands which would not usually warrant such play. Your opponent is trying to give you their chips. It would be impolite to disappoint them.
It follows immediately from the above discussion that calling stations are the last players against whom you should run a bluff. There will be plenty of risk-averse players who you can push around with that play.
More Poker Tips From GTO
We mentioned in the context of poker math that GTO studies are the driver of modern poker theory. Such GTO work leads to many results and strategies that are genuinely complex, both to fully understand and to implement. As such, they are beyond the scope of an article on poker tips for newer players. That said, we do feel it is important that you know what is possible in poker training, and where your own path may lead.
If this is your first exposure to the idea of GTO poker, this quick video will get you up to speed.
Below we introduce some of the key concepts being uncovered by GTO studies and how to use them in practice. These and many other ideas are discussed in far more detail in the recently-published “GTO Poker Gems” which we highly recommend.
Humans Are Incapable Of Perfect GTO Play
That may seem like a pretty useless tip. Why discuss a strategy that human beings cannot implement?
Here’s the key point. We now know that there is a solution to poker. A perfect, unbeatable strategy. We do not know what it is in detail, because the amount of parameter space that must be investigated is vast. But we do have some pretty clear ideas of what an ideal poker strategy looks like. In fact all the poker tips in this article have been passed through the “GTO sniff test” to ensure they are applicable.
As you study poker theory more, you are likely to come into contact with output from GTO solvers. Such output includes, for example, recommendations for how to play every hand in your range on a given board. Such solutions are invariably mixed. A given hand may raise a bet 50% of the time, call 20% of the time, and fold 30% of the time.
You may be able to remember that mixing fraction for a given hand, but could you do it for all hands on a specific flop? How about all hands on a range of flops? Of course you couldn’t remember all that. Humans are incapable of playing perfect poker. But you are capable of playing the best poker at any given table.
The important takeaway is that useful work with GTO solvers must lead to strategies that a human being can actually implement at the table. So keep that in mind if you do take this advanced step with your poker education.
GTO versus Exploitative Poker
For the last few years, there has been an endless and, in our opinion, mostly futile discussion on whether GTO or exploitative poker is “better.” The debate seems to center on GTO being in some sense perfect (thus better), versus exploitative poker making more money (thus better).
The reason we regard this debate as silly is that, in modern poker, exploitative poker is simply a deviation from GTO poker that maximally exploits a given game texture or opponent. In other words, in order to develop an exploitative strategy, you start with GTO then make appropriate adjustments. The situation is not an “either/or.” Exploitative strategies have a GTO baseline, then proceed via a “if/then.”
Use GTO Preflop Ranges As A Default
On the preflop street, all we have to consider is our position and our hole cards. Opening charts such as those on the Red Chip app thus make our preflop decisions fairly simple and concrete.
But even here, both simplification and exploitative deviation can be introduced. So should we use modified exploitative charts, or stick to the baseline GTO? The simplest approach is to stick to GTO until you have a clear reason to introduce an exploitative deviation.
Here’s a quick video from James Sweeney explaining these ideas in more detail.
Look For Exploitative Deviations On All Streets
Let us suppose you have developed a multi-street, GTO-based poker strategy. Do you blindly implement it in all situations. If not, when should you deviate exploitatively?
Like so many aspects of poker, you need to pay attention and profile your opponents. Here is a simple example that echoes our previous discussion. On the river, GTO tells us how frequently we should bluff for a certain bet size. Do we robotically make that play every time?
Of course not! We have already concluded that bluffing a calling station is a fool’s errand, whereas bluffing a risk-averse player can be hugely profitable. Thus if GTO tells us that theoretically we should bluff 30% of the time, we would likely drop that to 0% against a calling station, and potentially boost it to 100% versus our over-folding opponent.
Other exploitative deviations may be subtle and sometimes harder to identify, but finding them is key to becoming a crusher at the tables.
This quick smattering of GTO simplifications and ideas barely scratch the surface of what we can do and can know from GTO research, but hopefully the tips give you a taste of what is possible and where your own studies might lead.
Poker Tips For Mental Game
As poker has been investigated through the powerful lens of game theory, its complex theoretical structure has revealed itself. There is considerable strategic depth, and a lot to remember and bring together for anyone to play it well. That said, the tools for understanding poker are now widely available, and even if you do not wish to carry out research on your own, strategies and heuristics are available through training sites such as Red Chip Poker.
If you are aspiring to be a winning poker player, there is even better news. Most of your opponents at an entry-level live game or the lower stakes online will not be taking advantage of training material. The edge you gain by others not putting in the work you do should not be underestimated.
There is a potential problem, however. Many people experience at least one phase in their poker training when they feel they are moving backwards. They have been assured that the poker tips and strategy that they are learning will improve their game. And then they experience ten consecutive losing sessions and cannot figure out how this can be happening to them.
This common experience is not a pleasant one, and how you handle it will have a profound impact on your poker development. Far more importantly, if you let them, these downswings can have a profound impact on your happiness.
The broader concept to absorb here is that simply being good at poker is not enough to win at poker. First, if you do not put your knowledge into practice at the table, you will not enjoy success. And doing so is easier said than done. Essentially all poker players are susceptible to some form of tilt, in which their emotions cloud their decision-making process.
And in our experience, the most common trigger for tilt issues are downswings: multiple losing sessions strung together when nothing you do seems to work, and your chips flow to less-skilled opponents as if through some magnetic attraction.
Mentally surviving these downswings and avoiding tilt are necessary for poker success and personal contentment. How to do so is a massive topic, and one that draws heavily on the discipline of psychology. Indeed, at Red Chip our content in this area is created by mental-game specialist Dr. Tricia Cardner.
We can only scratch the surface of the expansive, and frequently personal topic of mental game in poker, but we hope the following tips provide some food for thought and metal resilience.
You Don’t Have To Play Today
Poker is a compelling game, and once you’ve been bitten by the bug, it’s tempting to play whenever you can. If you aspire to play for a living, learning to play a consistent schedule is part of the training process. Getting in sufficient volume is part of the job. However, there are also times when the best decision you can make is to not play poker at all.
Either live or online, playing poker well requires observation, concentration, and accurate application of theory. You simply cannot play on auto-pilot and hope to win. If you have just had an argument with your boyfriend, received bad news about a loved one, or are simply suffering something trivial like the indignity of a bird pooping on your head, you may not be in the right frame of mind to play poker well.
Poker player, coach and author Tommy Angelo promoted the importance of always playing your poker A-game. Depending on your edge over the games in which you play, it is possible you will only be profitable when you are close to peak mental performance. If you are distracted by other concerns or worries, the required level of focus may simply not be there. Check yourself. Are you really ready to play today? No? Then don’t.
Are You Primed For Success This Session?
As sports psychology has become increasingly mainstream, top poker players have developed an interest in priming themselves for success before each session. Such “pre-shot routines” can take many forms, and vary considerably between individuals. Even if you are not working with someone who specializes in this area, you can devise your own methods for priming yourself for success.
Many winning poker players have found considerable success through the use of meditation, both as a general daily practice and as a precursor to a poker session.
Proper nutrition and sleep are also necessary for peak performance. For tournament poker in particular, daily sessions can be long and require considerable stamina. An increasing number of tournament pros pay attention not only to what they eat before and during a tournament, but make longer-term life choices that promote their overall mental and physical health.
In an online setting, simply setting up your poker-playing area in a manner conducive to success can be key. If you’re going to spend all Sunday powering through the online tournament schedule, create a space that you want to sit in. If you find grazing on trail mix during a session works for you, have those snacks to hand. The five-minute hourly break doesn’t give you a lot of time to grab food and water, visit the bathroom, and feed the cat. Plan ahead.
Know Your Tilt Triggers
The topic of tilt means different things to different people, but nearly everyone suffers from it in some form. Let us be clear. We are not just discussing the reactive phenomenon of taking a bad beat, completely losing emotional control, and spewing multiple buy-ins in frustration. For one thing, anyone with that degree of emotional instability is unlikely to remain a poker player for long.
That said, certain events during play can be upsetting, and while you’re working on emotional control there is merit to monitoring your emotional state. Many of us, for example, will feel our faces flushing when we are upset. Other physiological signs include a change in breathing. If something has disrupted your emotional state and you detect a physiological result, then if possible take a break. Sometimes it will only take a few minutes to hit the reset button and be back to your best. Other situations may be better solved with a walk around the casino floor and a sandwich.
The Long-Term In Poker Is Very Long
We wind up this section where we started, with the idea that there will be many times in your poker career when you go on a brutal losing streak. If you are playing for a living, the pressures can be considerable, particularly if a downswing is seriously stressing your bankroll.
While bankroll management and broader financial considerations are beyond the scope of this article, in the mental-game arena there is an important point to make. A long losing streak does not mean you have suddenly become terrible at poker. Honestly assessing how good we really are at the game is obviously important, but concluding we suck because we’re on a ten buy-in downswing is counter-productive and ignores statistical reality.
Sure, we may be playing below our best. As already noted, that can be a consequence of downswings. But the greatest poker players in the world experience downswings simply because variance lies at the heart of poker.
In fact without that variance, losing players would rapidly quit the game altogether. Always remember our downswings are in some sense the bait that keep the weaker players returning to the tables.
The tips provided in this article have been tested over innumerable poker sessions and have proven to improve a player’s bottom line. But they are far from the last word on concepts and ideas that can improve your game. Ultimately, success at poker requires continual study.
Not everyone wishes to make that level of commitment. Some claim hard work spoils an enjoyable game. That’s fine. But we would suggest that poker is a more enjoyable game when you understand its complexity and nuances. And it is also more fun when you win.