If you’re new to poker, it’s possible you’re experiencing a range of emotions - excitement at playing something new, awe at how great the game is, and maybe even a little bit overwhelmed because there’s so much to know and learn. It’s a blend of experience, knowledge, luck, skill and strategy. And that’s what makes it the best game; there’s always something more to learn, and every hand has the potential to teach you something new.
Most beginners start playing with their friends at a similar level, with that in mind, here's our guide to getting the most from your playing experience at a beginners game.
KNOW YOUR STARTING HANDS AND YOUR POSITION
Often, beginners play almost every hand. That’s because they don’t know which starting hands (hole cards) are the better hands to play or fold, and because it’s only natural to want to be part of the action! However, it’s useful to know which hands are more likely to win and which ones are more likely to get you into some serious trouble! Together with what hole cards you’ve got, your position at the table makes a difference on how you should play. You should raise with stronger hands in earlier positions (when you are one of the first players to act), and play more hands in later positions (closer to the dealer button). If someone before you raises, they want to show they’ve got a strong hand, and you need to think about what that means in relation to your hand.
REDUCE THE NUMBER OF PLAYERS YOU’RE PLAYING AGAINST
When you’ve got a strong starting hand, make sure you raise appropriately so that you send out the signal that you’ve got a strong hand. This will cause many beginner players with weaker hands to fold, and that means there are fewer other players for you to go up against. That makes it less likely for one of those weaker hands to catch a lucky run of cards to beat you!
USE A BIT OF MATH
Not everyone is into the numbers (especially at a beginners game), or math, but having some grasp on the numbers will help your game a lot. It’s important to be able to work out which cards are available that might give you the winning hand. These are called ‘outs’. Any card you hold or can see, you need to remove from your calculations of your outs. If you know you have 6 outs for the next card to improve your hand, multiply it by 2 and add 1. This is your % chance of getting a card you need from the next dealt card. Therefore, in the example above, you have 13% chance of getting the card you need.
KNOW THE POT ODDS
As we’ve said, when you’re starting out, you want to be in the action. Typically beginners call too much, mainly because they don't understand pot odds and they stay in hands too long when they should have folded. Calculating the pot odds at a beginners game involves some math, but knowing the pot odds will determine whether you should pay to see more cards or get out early.
Pot odds are the ratio of the size of the pot to the size of the bet (example: a $10 bet into a $50 pot is 5:1 - pay 1/5 of the pot to make 5 times the bet). Once you know your outs, you can better calculate the pot odds. In our example above, with 6 outs we have a 13% chance of getting a card that helps us. The current pot is $90 and the bet to us is $10. Pot+bet=$100. If you divide the bet by the pot amount ($10 divided by $100), you get 10%. In our case, we should call because we already determined we have a 13% chance of hitting a card we need to better our hand. If the bet was $20 (pot+bet=$110; $20 divided by $110), we would fold because we would need 18% or better pot odds to call.
(Don’t worry, practice will help you with this, we promise!)
LEARN THE RULE OF TWO AND FOUR
The rule of two and four will help you if you’re not into the numbers so much, and will help you calculate your odds of winning a hand, which will inform whether you should call, raise or fold.
Count your outs once the flop is dealt, and multiply that number by two to determine the percentage chance of making your hand on the next card. Multiply the outs by four to determine the percentage chance of making your hand on the river. The numbers you get from these simple calculations are the approximate percentage chance of your getting your drawing hand.
WORK OUT YOUR VALUE BETTING
A value bet increases the value of the pot and means you have the possibility of winning a bigger pot, which is always good! If an opponent believes their hand is good, the more likely they are to call for more money. Even if the player thinks you can beat them, you can make a bet small enough that the pot odds are right to make a call, especially when playing with players who rely on mathematics. Players who stick to their hands at all costs - who won’t fold irrespective of the pot odds - are more likely to call value bets, even big ones. A more timid player will need to be convinced to call. Being aware of all of this will help you decide on the size of your value bet. If you bet too much your opponent may fold and you lose money. If you don’t bet enough you win less. Your bet size has to be small enough to get called and large enough to cut the pot odds to anyone drawing to a better hand. It’s something that takes some working out and practice, so give it a go and you’ll soon see how valuable this can be.
KNOW YOUR STANDARD RAISE
Who doesn’t feel a twinge of excitement when we get good cards? Beginners get excited when they get good cards and tend to overbet. When you raise big every time you get aces you are telling the rest of the table you have something, probably aces. So the best strategy to disguise the strength of your hand is to make the same bet size every time. Your opponents won't know what you're holding. Also, avoid calling unless you're ready for a raise and avoid raising unless you're ready for a re-raise.
LEARN TO CONTINUATION BET
A continuation bet is when you raise before the flop and bet again after the flop. This is a strong position to take and tells the rest of the table that you’re confident. A continuation bet takes advantage of the early initiative and opponents are likely to fold unless they have a strong hand. However, you can’t expect this strategy to work every time. Experiment with it, and you’ll soon learn how effective it is and when it is beneficial to employ this strategy.
Aah, bluffing! Beginners often bluff, because it’s commonly perceived as the secret of great poker. (We’ve all seen the movies where the hero loses their money, only to come back later on and recover all their losses and some extra on top, because they were able to out-smart the baddie with a clever bluff, right?)
Bluffing is typically pretending that you have a strong hand, when in truth you have a weak hand. Of course, it can work for the opposite too; when you have a strong hand and you pretend you have a weaker hand, to draw out the vulnerabilities of the other players and push them to put more money in the pot. A player with nothing can bet or raise, pushing out the rest of the players and they win without having to show their hand.
Some players never bluff. Bluffing works best when you have one opponent, when you are in late position and no one before you has represented strength or when the board or cards you have showing lead you to believe they have a good hand. Bluffing doesn't work with lots of opponents, players who never fold or with players with so much money in the pot any bet you make won't make them go away.
However, to avoid being easily rumbled, if you bluff with weak hands you should also bluff when you’ve got a strong hand.
WATCH & LEARN FROM OTHER PLAYERS
Watch your opponents even when you're not in the hand. You can learn a lot from watching and paying attention - their betting habits, showdown hands, how often they bluff, etc. Beginner players usually have a number of tells.