The poker learning never stops, that’s why it’s the greatest game! As your skills improve and your desire for more challenging games increases, you’ll naturally move up in stakes with the games you play.
To keep things simple, let’s start with the most important street in poker – Pre-flop. This is where you’re going to use your skills, strategy and tactics to do the most influential work for you.
Let’s have a look at what you should be considering pre-flop to improve your game.
Are You Limping? Avoid It!
Limping is when a player calls the big blind pre-flop, as the first player to add to the pot. You should avoid limping because you won’t win the pot pre-flop doing this. It’s not an aggressive action, so you aren’t taking the opportunity to lean in to the action and win the pot from the start. You make it easy for the other players to do better. You’ve added to the pot, but not made it more difficult for them, so they’re more likely to call, and play in a stronger position than you.
What is Your Position At The Table? Take Note!
The dealer button moves around the table, and so does the strength of your position. Where you are within a hand influences your range. And your range will help you decide how to play.
As an easy rule, the more players left to act behind you, the tighter you should consider your range to be. The more players left, the more chances there are that they have a strong hand. Your range should open the closer you get to the button.
See our separate article on range.
Are You Playing Active Or Passive Poker? Rise Against It!
You may find yourself simply calling against opens, when you should be 3-betting. This is too passive; it’s time to act!
If you have a strong opening hand, you should 3-bet or you will be leaving value on the table. By 3-betting you’ll draw out more value to the pot from the other players early in the hand.
As we mentioned before, the more players in a hand there are, the weaker the equity of your hand. When you 3-bet a strong hand, you can eliminate other players thereby reducing the competition in that hand.
Tip: If you’re only 3-betting better value hands, the other players will notice this and your play will be predictable. To avoid this, add in some bluffs to your 3-betting range.
Are Your Big Blinds Too Tight? Loosen Up!
The big blind is the last to act pre-flop, so you’ve seen the action move around the table. Pre-flop, you have very good pot odds, so you can play much looser than from other positions. Defend your big blind position!
Are You Raising Too Wide Or Too Narrow A Range On The Button?
Post-flop, the button is arguably the strongest position, because you act last; you see how other players have acted, and therefore act from a position of strength. When the action folds to you, you’re able to put pressure on the blinds, and snatch the pot. Make sure to strike a balance on the button – don’t raise too many or too few hands. Online poker players can be more aggressive from the blinds, so if you raise too many hands on the button, you could be 3-bet by players in the blinds, which could damage your win rate.
But if you’re too tight on the button, you risk losing the advantages being on the button gives you, like scooping up the dead chips in the pot. An effective strategy is to open from the button or 3-bet the original raiser. The way you play will depend on the way the players in the blinds play, but you should look to raise from the button about 40 – 70% of the time. If the blinds are looser and 3-betting, you should open tighter, and if they’re not willing to play pots, dial up the aggression, break off the knob and scoop up them chips!
What To Do When The Action Folds To You In The Small Blind
When you’re in the small blind and the action folds to you, you should often raise. If you’re worried about what effect this may have post-flop, don’t. You stand a good chance of stealing the pot by opening small – about 2 – 2.5 times the big blind. You can do this frequently until the big blind starts to 3-bet you. By raising in the small blind, you reduce the chances that you’ll have to play a hand out of position, which means you’ll have less information on which to act.
Do You Flat Call Enough On The Button? Raise It!
When on the button, avoid folding too often. Being on the button pre-flop is a high-value position because you’re last to act, so you can take the flop with a fairly wide range of hands. With online poker some players in the blinds can be more aggressive, so it’s something to monitor and a tactic to use depending on the style of play at the table.
Do You Flat Call Opens From The Small Blind? Avoid It Becoming A Habit!
It’s easy to slip into the habit of playing passively in the small blind. Try to avoid it, because you’ll commit yourself to playing out of position versus a player with a stronger perceived range. Also, you open yourself up to being squeezed by the big blind, because in the small blind your range seems to be limited to medium-strength hands.
Being more aggressive and instead of calling in the small blind you 3-bet, put pressure on the player who raised pre-flop. If you have a well-constructed 3-bet range from the blinds, it will discourage other players from going for steals against you. And if they weren’t reasons enough, 3-betting reduces the chances of the big blind seeing a cheap flop, which lowers the equity of your holdings.
How Valuable Is Your Hand? Are You Overvaluing Offsuit Broadway Hands?
A Broadway straight is the holy grail in poker, and the offsuit broadway straight is a close second. When you see your hole cards are offsuit broadway cards, there’s a tendency to overplay them. This is true especially for players in middle positions, because you can expect the players before you to have a tighter range, so possibly stronger broadway hands than you. It’s better to play 9 8 suited than King Jack offsuit, because suited connectors will less frequently be dominated, allowing you to make winning hands.
When To Call Large 3-Bets
Sometimes players don’t want to be seen as being weak. Who does? But if there’s a large 3-bet facing you, the pot odds aren’t good. We’d suggest when faced with a big 3-bet, that you fold all but your very strong hands, and 4-bet the absolute strongest hands.
Tip: If you see a player is calling large 3-bets too often, think about taking advantage of that situation by introducing a large 3-bet into the game.
Have A Poker Plan
What is it they say? ‘Fail to plan and you plan to fail’. Although that sounds like a typical social media post, there’s something to it.
As your poker game improves, you can develop more deliberately if you have a plan. This is as an overarching objective of where you want to take your poker play, but also on a smaller scale of what to do in each hand. Making the right choices consistently in individual hands means you’ll have to worry less about your overall success rate.
We suggest starting with knowing what you’ll do pre-flop in the hand, based on your position and the hole cards you’ve been dealt.
Check out our pre-flop hand charts to know what to do when pre-flop.
Avoid Playing Every Hand. Be Consistent.
Playing poker is fun, and when you begin, being part of the action is exciting. As you improve, you want to make better choices about which hands to play, and that means avoiding the temptation to play when you ‘know you shouldn’t’ just because you want to be part of the action.
We’re all for people playing just to have fun, but it’s unlikely to have you playing consistently if you’re experiencing some frustration through not winning any hands. We believe it’s all about balance, and while poker is about ups and downs, we’d like to see you have plenty of wins.
Having a solid, pre-flop plan and being consistent with it will give you the greatest long-term satisfaction. That’s why poker is easy to learn, but so hard to master. It’s a long game, with an opportunity to learn with every hand.