Poker Strategy

Reams and reams have been written about poker strategy and it is one of the most complex aspects of any game, poker in particular. We take a look at some of the more basic strategic principles applicable to most variants of poker. In later pages we will look at the strategies which pertain to the specific games of Caribbean Stud, Three-card Stud, Let it Ride, Pai Gow and Texas Holdem Poker.

The Fundamental Theorem of Poker

In his widely read book, ‘The Theory of Poker’, poker professional, David Sklansky has introduced, what he calls, the Fundamental Theorem of Poker:

"Every time you play a hand differently from the way you would have played it if you could see all your opponent’s cards, they gain; and every time you play your hand the same way you would have played it if you could see all their cards, they lose. Conversely, every time opponents play their hands differently from the way they would have if they could see all your cards, you gain; and every time they play their hands the same way they would have played if they could see all your cards, you lose".

Although the theory may be a tad mind-boggling, as no-one can really ever know what cards his opponent is holding, it does make one realise that the best way to gain in poker is to try and force your opponents play differently to what they would if they could see your cards. Bluffing and slow-playing are just some of the ways to compel your opponent to play differently.

Deception

As briefly mentioned above the one way to gain in poker is to induce your opponent to play differently than he would could he see your cards, and bluffing is one way to force your opponent to toss away a better hand than yours. Conversely if a player never bluffs very few players will call his bets unless they have remarkably strong cards.

Slow-playing, or sandbagging, is almost diametrically opposed to bluffing – here the player bets weakly with a strong hand, but again, if the opponent ascertains that he or she never enforce slow play, they will swoop on any identifiable signs of weakness.

Position at the table

A player’s position at the table is of paramount strategic importance, and it is generally accepted that players who have an earlier position at the table, or have to act first, will need stronger hands to bet or raise, than players further down. So, all in all, it is best to be seated further down the table to witness the play of the opponents ahead and in so doing glean as much information about their hands as possible.

Determining Pot Odds

Another vital strategic concept is to determine the pot odds, or the ratio of the current size of the pot to the size of the bet required to stay in the pot, against the odds of winning. For example, if a player must call £10 for a chance to win a £40 pot, the pot odds are 4-to-1. To be successful the player’s odds of winning must be better than his pot odds. If the player’s odds of winning are also 4-to-1 (20% chance of winning), and if he plays the pot five times, he can only expect to break even, that is losing four times and winning once.