Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. Originally published (2002) in Poker Digest. Last update: January 1, 2022.
While browsing through my collection of quick poker tips at my online poker university (MCU), it occurred to me that most readers have never seen any of them. Why not simply present a list all in one place?
But, then, a frightening thought came to me. Will my readers understand that quick tips sometimes are necessarily too short to provide useful explanations and to investigate the exceptions to the rule? I thought and I thought, and when I was done thinking, I concluded that, hey, I’ll just explain that the tips are sometimes too simplistic and can benefit from fuller explanations. In the future, I’ll select some of these tips, explain them in depth, give play-by-play examples, and more.
But today, I’m just providing 10 of the tips in Part 1, with a link to 12 more in Part 2 at the bottom. We’ll start with the most recent ones and work back in time to the beginning. I’ve enhanced many of the tips for this presentation. Here goes…
When to hesitate
In poker, the time to hesitate is when you really need more time to resolve a close decision. Often things will occur to you given a little extra time. Or, under the extra pressure, your opponent may provide you with a tell. You might occasionally also hesitate for deception, so that alert opponents can’t determine that your pause always means you have a close decision.
Also, sometimes when you make a final bet with a big hand, you’ll be more likely to be called if you don’t bet instantly. Well, if you don’t bet almost instantly, I mean. Because both a bet delayed for a few extra seconds and an unreasonably quick one are apt to make your opponents suspicious, those bets are more likely to be called.
But, unless there’s a specific reason to hesitate, you should usually make all your bets, calls, and raises crisply and confidently — because this enhances your image and speeds up the game.
Don’t fold instantly unless you’re sure
(This one is closely related to the previous tip, but has a more specific application.)
Sometimes you can get a tell on an opponent simply by not folding too quickly. I’m not telling you to slow up the game, but occasionally — when you’re in doubt about whether to call — you should conspicuously study your opponent. This extra scrutiny will sometimes make a player who’s bluffing uncomfortable enough to give you the clue you’re seeking.
In general, if the player remains relaxed, you should fold, as you originally intended. But if there seems to be growing tension in the opponent and he becomes totally “poker faced” and motionless, even not breathing, you should consider calling. Remember, a player who is bluffing will usually do nothing unusual for fear of triggering your call. It’s the absence of animation and the suspenseful tension that let you know that an opponent is more likely than usual to be bluffing. When you’re in doubt and fold too quickly, you often lose the opportunity to capitalize on this powerful tell.
Raising with small pairs from late position in hold ’em
Although you can often call profitably with a small pair against a long line of players in hold ’em, when you’re in late position and no one has entered the pot, it’s different. Then, you should usually raise, not just call.
The reason is that against many players, you’re trying to take advantage of pot odds by calling and seeing the flop. You realize that you’ll almost certainly need to improve your hand to win against that many opponents. But when you’re in late position, you can raise hoping to end up one-on-one or to win the blinds outright. If you do end up against just one opponent, there’s a good chance your small pair might be enough win the pot, affording you an extra chance to win that you would seldom enjoy against many opponents. The raise is designed to chase away those last remaining players and give yourself that extra chance to win the blinds without a fight.
Maximizing positional advantage
Remember, players to your left always act after you and get to see what you do before they decide. This “positional advantage” in poker is so powerful, that you should neutralize it by making opponents on your left less likely to pick on you.
I do this by striking up friendly conversation, sharing information about my hand (after the pot is determined, of course), buying them coffee, and more. I never intentionally irritate players on my left. There’s no reason to motivate them to maximize their positional advantage. I usually go to war with players on my right, where I have position working in my favor, not against me. That’s what you should do, too.
The simplest truth about beating poker
The main secret to winning at poker is simply to play your best game all the time. I know, that’s too silly to mention. But, apparently, most players don’t do it. Do you realize that you can give away a whole month’s worth of disciplined poker profit in one night? So, it isn’t good enough to play your best game most of the time. All of the time is what you should strive for.
(This single “obvious” concept is so important that I devoted an entire cassette tape to it. The title was Positive Poker, and many players have reported back to me that it has been the most profitable tool in their poker arsenal. So, just do it – play your best game.)
If all players are equal, the odds against you winning first place in a poker tournament corresponds to the amount of money you must still gather vs. the amount you already control. For instance, if ten opponents each have $500 in chips and you have $1,000 in chips, it’s 5-to-1 against you winning the tournament. That’s because there’s $5,000 you still must win weighed against the $1,000 you already have. (Note that in real life tournaments, this estimate will be imperfect for several reasons. The most important is that players who can go all-in have a better chance of winning pots.)
This measurement holds true if there are just two players left, you and an opponent. If he has $5,000 and you have $1,000, it’s still 5-to-1 against you winning.
Truth about aces in hold ’em
Despite common advice, you do not want to raise with aces in order to chase players out of the pot before the flop in hold ’em. That pair of aces usually makes as much money or more with extra opponents chasing you. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t raise. But it means when you do raise, you’re usually doing so hoping opponents will call, not fold.
Thinning the field has its moments, but — contrary to what you’ve heard — raising with aces before the flop for that purpose isn’t one of them.
How tipping is like the rake
You should think of tipping the same way as the rake. The winners of the pots pay. Therefore, there’s a penalty for winning, and you need to play somewhat more conservatively. When the method of paying the house is seat rental (called “collection” in some places), everyone pays the same amount and there’s no penalty for winning pots. In that case, you can play marginal hands that average only pennies in profit.
With tipping, a few professional players pay a fixed amount when each dealer sits down or after they’re done with their half-hour shift. If you do this, and don’t vary the amount — win or lose — there’s no tip penalty for winning pots, and you can actually play somewhat looser. (However, I seldom do it this way, myself. I usually just tip by the pot.)
Hold ’em danger on the flop
When you’re check-raised on the flop, be prepared to surrender often unless your hand has promise. It’s tempting to bet aggressively when checked into and you hold a fairly weak hand. Betting is okay, because you might win the pot now, or you might win the pot against other opponents with similarly weak hands, even if they call. But a check-raise can mean trouble. It’s tempting to call, because the price is cheap considering the amount of money already in the pot. But figure it’s going to cost a lot more money to chase your opponent to the showdown. Unless you’re against a tricky and sophisticated opponent, who often check-raises as a bluff, you should frequently pass. You’ll save money.
How much are your chips worth in a tournament?
Don’t be discouraged if you only have as many chips as you started with late in a common “proportional payoff” poker tournament (where the prize money is pre-determined at fixed percentages for first, second, third, and so on). Most players think it’s necessary to gather chips, but it isn’t. If you have the same $500 you started with after three-quarters of the players are eliminated, the same amount of money is out there against you as when the tournament began. It hasn’t gotten any better or any worse. But what has gotten better is that there are fewer players contending for the cash prizes. Mathematically, your prospects of profit have increased.
So, you’re always better off with the same amount of chips later in this type of tournament than when the first hand was dealt. Remember, the trick is to survive. Don’t panic if your stacks don’t grow. You’d rather they would, but you’re still better off, even if they stay the same. — MC