Low stakes poker strategy guide

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Low stakes poker strategy guide

Let's talk about some aspects of poker-playing that will hopefully give you a flying start over your opponents.

Disclaimer: this article is aimed at a non-specialist audience.

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Playing style

The first step on the path to poker success is to only play strong starting hands, i.e. before the flop. This strategy will guarantee that you are likelier to have the best combination and win money on later rounds, where the price for making a mistake grows significantly.

Many pocket card combinations do appear quite attractive to an inexperienced player, but even if you have pocket cards of medium strength (for example, top pair with K7 as your cards), with such cards you are at risk of being behind your opponent's top pair with a better kicker – say KQ. This situation is called domination.

You might object and say that such hands could catch two pairs, a straight or even a flush on flop, but the probability of such an outcome is too low (not more than two or three percent)  – and getting such a good flop does not become more likely the more starting combinations you play.

If you play too many starting hands, such a loose playing style leads to too many complex situations where it is too difficult to be sure where you stand in the hand, and how likely you are to win. The best beginning strategy is to play a limited amount of starting hands – this is called a tight playing style and will help you to avoid making constant borderline decisions while putting the pressure on looser opponents by placing them in difficult situations. This will be one of the main sources of income during the initial stages of your poker playing career.

Aggressive playing

One further component of success on low limits is aggression. The main method of profit in any form of poker is benefiting from your opponents' mistakes. Once someone makes a mistake you put pressure upon them and voila – profit! This is why it is often much better than to bet or raise in poker than to just simply call – although when you play aggressively you need to avoid situations where it's you making the tough decisions; instead your aggressive play makes the decisions tough for your opponents. When you bet or raise, you demonstrate your strength and give your opponent some unpleasant dilemmas. He has to guess whether you really have a decent hand or are just bluffing, hence pressuring him to fold.

If, instead, you choose simply to call your opponent's bet, in most cases you are simply telling your opponent the relative strength of your hand. Your opponent then has an easy opportunity to bet on the following street, and put even more pressure on you – your opponent knows that if you did have a strong hand you would have raised.

Aggressive playing also allows you to take control over the situation. Making bets and raises means you are not allowing your opponent to play his hand in the way that he would like to. Moreover, aggressive play allows you to keep the idea that you are bluffing wedged inside your opponent's head. If they are curious to find out whether you are bluffing or not, they will continue to pay money into the pot despite having only low-to-medium strength cards. In addition, when you call your opponent's bets you are telling them that you only stay in the hand with good pocket cards or a draw. Your opponents can make use of this and deny you the chance to make bets on the late streets should you want to.

Playing in position

The final aspect of a good player's repertoire is playing in position. The best place to be in a deal is the last person to act. The later you are in the deal, the more information you will have to hand about the possible strength of your opponent's cards. In other words, you have more information that will enable you to make the right choice.

For example, if all the players ahead of you have checked, you can take this as a signal that they're not going to put up too much of a struggle, giving you the green light to take the pot. Conversely, if you had been the first to act, you would have no information whatsoever about your opponent's plans.

The most profitable late positions are cut-off (CO) and on the button (OTB). Being OTB is considered to be the position that pays best, as the player on the button has the chance to put pressure on the table, both before the flop and after it. All opponents playing before OTB will not have the full information about every player's intentions.

Be better than your opponents

A lot of players you will play against at low stakes tables will make mistakes. You do not have to be the best poker player in the world – just being a better player than your opponents will be sufficient. 

Just remember:

  • Play aggressively, play strong hands only and play in position
  • Bluff infrequently. The less bluffs you make (especially big ones), the less mistakes you will make
  • Do not cling on to your cards. Folding is often the best decision if you are unsure what to do.
  • Maintain your bankroll – never chase losses or try to use money to dominate your opponents.
  • Do not worry too much about short term results. It's long term profit that counts.
  • Keep your spirits up during losing streaks!

That's all there is to it!

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LESSON #3: The skills you need to be a successful poker player