18 Effective Tips & Strategies for Playing Winning Poker
I put together 18 of my most effective and easy to implement poker strategies on this one page. The great thing about effective poker strategies is that they're applicable to any form of poker, so I've broken these 18 tips up into 3 different formats:
- 5 effective multi-table tournament tips
- 6 for sit and go tournaments
- 7 for cash games
So, regardless of the format you play, each of these 18 tips will be useful for you. The key to improving your skills with these tips is to take action with each because:
Action is the greatest teacher.
So, read a tip, apply it on-the-felt then study the hands off the felt. Repeat this process with each tip before you move on to the next.
5 Effective Tips for Multi-table Tournament Poker
Listen to this podcast episode as you follow along below:
Tip #1: Classify Each Player by Player Type
Poker’s all about playing the player and exploiting what you know about them. You can’t just play your two hole cards and the board and expect to be successful in this game.
You MUST classify each of your opponents as one of 4 basic player types. There are LAG’s, TAG’s, LP Fish and super tight Nits. Each of these have common tendencies that you can exploit. It’s critical that you tag players by type in some way (HUD box, pen and paper, Evernote, etc.).
These players love to get in there and mix it up with raises, calls and bets both preflop and post-flop. They bluff a lot, and because of this, they think YOU bluff a lot. So, they're capable of calling with bluff catching hands. It can take a lot of chips and a couple barrels to get them off of marginal hands. So beware of this before you attempt your bluffs. They also build big stacks, which they use to put pressure on others. This can lead to spewing chips with bad bluffs, so play against them IP as much as possible. Stick around when you can beat a lot of their bluffs.
These players are exactly what their name implies. Tight means they don't play a lot of hands preflop which means they get to the flop with decently strong ranges. This means that their post-flop bets and raises are often for value. They’re aggressive as well, which means they make more bets and raises than calls. Especially preflop, they raise because they want you to fold and they want the option of cbetting in case you call. Tight-aggressive players are quick to fold their blinds versus big bets and quick to fold post-flop, especially when they're out of position. Target these players for IP bluffs beyond the flop.
Fish play way too many hands and they play them passively. So, they’re doing more limping and calling than betting or raising. They love to see flops and chase draws. Preflop, you must value raise their blinds and expect a call. Also, make sure to value iso-raise against their limps. You can bluff them post-flop, but know that they can’t easily fold draws, so keep bluffing to a minimum. That doesn't mean you can't bluff against Fish, but their loose and passive nature just means that they're less likely to fold. Don’t bluff the unbluffable but instead, go for maximum value.
So, when you hit that lovely TPTK on a wet board, value bet BIG. 2/3 to 3/4 pot overcharges them for their draws and weaker pairs, giving you value. Just be aware that when they call on a wet board and the draw completes, there’s a good chance they just hit their hand. So, be ready in case they start betting or raising into you.
Super Tight Nits
These players are overly concerned with their tournament life and they don't accumulate big stacks because they’re folding too much. They're extremely easy to push off of hands post-flop when they don't hit a pair or don't hit a nut draw. So, you should be stealing from these players is much as possible because they have that tendency to fold when they don't have a hand. Think twice before continuing when they’re waking up with post-flop aggression, especially if they’re committing a lot or all of their chips.
Tip #2: Watch Every Showdown Hand
You can learn a lot about a player by their actions preflop and post-flop; raising, betting, limping, check-raising and the bet sizes they use. Because a lot of your tournament opponents are relatively unknown to you, it can be tough to develop some reads on them. The best way to develop a read is to pay attention to every hand they showdown.
Maybe a player 3bet preflop with A9o, that's a darn good indication that he's a LAG player. Maybe he also showed a rivered straight after calling large bets on the flop and turn with a gut shot draw. Now we know he hates folding draws. Showdown hands tell you exactly the logic that your opponents use in their decisions. You just have to pay attention to the action of the hand so you can replay it after showdown to learn about each player.
Tip #3: They Must be Able to Find a Fold
A huge part of staying alive in tournaments is building your chip stack through bluffing. Whether you’re bluff stealing preflop, 3bet re-stealing from the BB or making a cbet bluff, you must have a reasonable assumption that your opponent can find a fold. Here are the 4 parts to this tip:
1st: Hit Their Pain Threshold
The size of every bluff needs to make a call or re-raise painful to them. It’s easy for the BB player to call a raise to just 2bb’s, right? You’ll need to make it bigger to steal preflop pots. And post-flop? ¼ or 1/3 pot bets are easy to call. Larger ½ pot or higher are more effective at earning the pot.
2nd: Have Position
Be more prone to bluff when you have position. Most players, even recs, realize the power of position and this could be the determining factor for them folding. Players hate calling flops only to see the turn OOP and face another bet. Use your position to gain more folds from them.
3rd: Player Type
The most common folders are the TAG’s and Nit’s, so bluff them frequently. LAG’s and Fish don’t like folding, so keep that in mind.
4th: Range/Board Interaction
Your bluffs are more effective when their range doesn’t interact well with the board. This is where hand reading comes into play it’s why I consider it the #1 skill in poker. Hand reading skills are necessary for tournament players because you don’t have a ton of info to work with. Players come and go from your table all the time, so it’s tough to develop a read. But you can always put a player on a preflop range of hands based on their actions and gauge how well it interacts with the board. When their range doesn’t interact well with the board, they’re more likely to fold. If they have lots of AX hands and broadways in their range, they’re not going to like the 558 or the 964 flop. Use this to your advantage.
Tip #4: Look to Your Left
This is a critical aspect of poker that I learned from Tommy Angelo. You must look to the left to see trouble before you make your preflop decision.
As the tourney progresses, stacks get smaller as the blinds and antes go up. Players become desperate to stay alive and one way to do so is to make 3bet resteals. A lot of them will also look to call you with position to use it against you.
Looking left gives you information to act upon. What are you looking for when you look to the left? Player types, stack sizes, who is in the blinds and how many players are still to act.
Sometimes, when looking left, you’ll see a new player there, and that’s great to notice as well. You didn’t realize the Fish in seat 7 got replaced by a LAG. That’s good information that you can use in your preflop decisions and for planning the hand.
If you can expect everyone to fold, including the blinds, great! Make a highly effective steal.
If you’re considering a steal, but there’s a LAG or two with a short stack, then maybe don’t steal. Remember that “3bets are the bane of 2bets”.
Who is likely to call?
If the BTN player is a likely caller, you should expect to see the flop. This should inform your preflop hand selection (don't raise if you expect a call and don't want to see the flop). If you’re going to be OOP versus this player, what do you know about them that you can use to your advantage post-flop? Start planning for this now before the flop even hits.
Planning for the future by seeing plays before they happen is going to help you earn chips and make it deeper in tournaments. Here’s an example.
You look left and see a LAG 3bettor with a big stack in the CO. This player uses his stack to push others around, especially the mid-stack players. You're sitting on a 30 BB stack so you want to use this to your advantage. You were dealt A7o and you raise with the plan of 4bet shoving versus the LAG’s 3bet. It's not a great hand, but it’s an Ace-blocking hand so the potential 3bettor has less strong hands like AA, AK and AQ in his range. You make it 2.5bb’s and he makes the expected 3bet to 8bb's. You follow through with you plan and he folds versus your 4bet shove.
What just happened here? Because you looked to the left and saw a great opportunity to earn some easy chips, you just went from a 30bb stack to a 40bb stack. That’s a 33% increase! You earned his 8bb 3bet and the 2.4bb’s from the blinds and antes.
Tip #5: Be Aware of the Bubble
This lesson really hits home for me because in the 1st Colossus event at the WSOP, I totally botched my chance to make the money and I busted on the bubble.
I had 18 bb's and I wasn't aware we were on the bubble. We had to lose about 20 more players 500 players still playing. As you know, we were probably just a few hands away from the money. So, I was in the SB and was dealt AK with an 18bb stack. The big-stacked BTN opened to 3bb’s. I wasn’t thinking about whether he could find a fold or not, nor his player type, nor his chip stack, nor the bubble situation we were in. I just knew I had AK and a good reshoving stack. So, I shoved. He called with 77 and they held and I was busted.
So, if I would’ve thought about tips #1 and #3 and this one (#5), I may have made a different play, stayed alive and made the money.
An important part of the bubble is knowing which players are in fear of their tournament life. It's often the short and medium stacks. Sometimes the big stacks don't want to lose chips and they're going to tighten up as well. You want to take advantage of the players who are scared for their tournament life and work to steal their blinds as much as possible. Make sure you open-raise to their pain threshold and to make it look like you’ve got a value hand.
Also, look out for bigger stacked players who might want to bully you as well. The bubble is a good opportunity for the 80bb stacks to earn another 10 to 20bb’s with effective steals, so they’ll be putting pressure on you to do this.
6 Effective Tips for Sit and Go Tournaments
Listen to this podcast episode:
Tip #6: Tight is Right
In SNG’s, because there is no re-entry, your tournament life is your highest priority. A lot of SNG players, especially at the lower buy-ins, are just recreational players here for fun. Being recs, they are getting in their and mixing it up with too many hands in an effort to hit flops and make big hands.
Your goal isn’t to make big hands, but instead, your goal is to outplay your opponents and make the money. The best way to do this is with tighter ranges than they play, which gives you a mathematical range-vs-range advantage.
Let's say you play with the top 20% of hands. Your opponents often play the top 45% (or even more).
Your 20% range has 57% preflop equity versus a 45% range. This means that you have a built in 14% equity edge over your looser opponents. With this kind of built-in equity advantages, you’re printing money in the long run in SNG’s.
The biggest casinos in the world were built on just a total 1% edge over their patrons. If you are using your skill and your knowledge against your opponents, with this mathematical advantage, you will be a long run a winning SNG player.
Here’s how you play tight:
- Raise with hands ahead of their calling ranges.
- Call with hands at the top of their raising range.
- Don’t bluff if they ain’t folding.
- Go for maximum value when they can call with worse.
Tip #7: Let ’em Knock Each Other Out
A natural result of “tight is right” play is that your opponents just knock each other out. These players are playing 40%-50% ranges, so they’re going to be butting heads, and this is great for you.
One of the biggest mistakes you can make in SNG’s is getting KO’d in easy to avoid situations. For every player that gets knocked out, you’re one step closer to the money. This means their KO is handing you value.
You maximize this value by folding all but your best hands and let your opponents clash.
It’s a great feeling when you don’t play a single hand in the first 3 orbits, but 3 players are already out of the game. I’ve made the money a few times without playing a single hand.
Make sure to watch the action and learn from every showdown. The winner is still alive and now has a bigger stack, but he had to show his hand and this is valuable information.
Tip #8: Pay Attention to Stack Sizes
Stack sizes are super important in SNG’s. You get a lot of recreational players who build a big stack. When recs have lots of chips, they often play the table bully or they play even more hands. Expect them to NOT fold that often. They're going to use those chips when they have 30, 40 or 50 bb's to call your 12bb shove.
You also want to watch out for the short stack players who know what they're doing. Push/fold strategy is common knowledge nowadays, and even recreational players understand it. They know that at some point you have to just shove your chips in for maximum pressure and to the blinds and antes. So, as chip stacks decrease, watch out for preflop shoves.
Tip #9: Patience Pays
Playing tight can be a bit boring because you’re doing a lot of folding. If you’re the kind of player who loves the action, give yourself permission to play tight. Just watch the action and let your opponents do the dirty work for you and knock each other out.
Boring poker is winning poker, especially when everyone else is playing exciting, never-folding poker. Use the time wisely and pay attention to the action after you fold.
Your patience with “tight is right” play will pay off with more frequent cashes and a bigger bottom line. So, allow yourself to play tight and be happy when your opponents are mixing it up because their mistake of loose play only benefits you.
Tip #10: 3bet Re-steal Versus Frequent Open-raisers
Pay attention to players who are open-raising a lot. Frequent open-raising means wide stealing ranges means they have loads of hands that can’t stand up to a 3bet.
3bet re-stealing is a great way to earn chips and maintain or build your stack in SNG’s. A successful 3bet re-steal often adds 4.5-5bb’s to your stack. If you’re at 20bb’s, this is a 25% increase and will allow you comfortably remain tight a bit longer until the blinds go up again.
Great 3bet re-stealing hands are often suited Aces because they block your opponent from having the best hands. And in case you’re called, you have flush and maybe straight potential. KQs and KJs are good as well, but not as good as Ace-blocking hands.
At around 15bb’s or so, most of your 3bet resteals will be all-in shoves. This is effective (and textbook) push/fold strategy and gives you the most fold equity. Just be sure your opponent can find a fold after open-raising. Look at their chip stack and put ‘em on a range first. If they can find a fold, great! Make the 3bet resteal.
Revisit MTT Tip #3 above (They Must Be Able to Find a Fold) above for more about this.
Tip #11: Focus on Laddering Up
In 6max SNG’s, you make the money at 2 players so you’re focused on winning once you make the money. However, in 9max SNG’s, you make the money with the final 3 players.
When the bubble bursts and that fourth-place player gets knocked out, your goal switches from making the money to now getting 1st place. There is a huge prize difference between 3rd to 2nd place and 2nd to 1st place. You've got to go for that win or at a minimum, go for 2nd place.
When you're the big stack, you want to bully the opponents and steal as many blinds and antes as you can in good opportunities. Don’t make frivolous calls against short stacks because every chip you lose is so valuable that you can’t afford to make poor calling mistakes. Again, like in tip #1 above, effective calls are made with hands at the top of their range.
When you're the middle stack you want to stay alive and either knock out the small stack or allow the other players to battle. Hopefully, the big KO’s the small. Of course, double-up if you can against the big stack, but don’t make any “oh well” calls and if you’re shoving it’s for value or you know they can find a fold.
As the short stack, look for opportunities to double-up against either player with hands ahead of their ranges. You can also put pressure on the middle stack because he’s aware of your stack size and doesn’t want to lose chips to you. If you’re going to attempt any bluff shoves, gauge how much fold equity you have. If you happen to squeak into the money in 3rd place with only 7 bb's and your opponents both have 32 bb's, you don’t have much fold equity. Be aware of this before you shove as a bluff with some of your weaker holdings.
7 Effective Tips for Cash Game Players
Listen to this podcast episode #313:
Tip #12: Strive for Bread & Butter
We play poker because we enjoy it and we want to make money. Well, an effective way to make money is to put yourself in the most profitable situation as many times as possible. What is the most profitable situation? It's called Bread & Butter. I learned about B&B from Tommy Angelo in his book Elements of Poker.
Bread and Butter means that you are in position on the flop as the preflop raiser against 1 or 2 players. The reason this is the most profitable spot is because you have a positional advantage and a range advantage. The positional advantage means you get to act after your opponent on the flop, turn and river. And as the preflop raiser, you have the strongest hands in your range while the caller doesn’t.
I've been a poker coach for a long time and I've looked at hundreds of player databases. I have found that the B&B spots are always the most profitable to be in. I teach my students to get as much B&B as possible. So, how do we get more B&B?
You need to raise preflop when you're not likely to face a reraise nor a late position caller. You also want at most 2 callers out of the blinds or maybe a limp/caller. So, the best positions to get B&B are on the BTN and in the CO. The MP is good as well, as long as the CO and BTN aren’t likely to call or 3bet you without a great hand.
The easiest Bread & Butter spot to put yourself in is when you open from the BTN and one of the blinds calls.
Watch this video to get more Bread & Butter in your sessions (video coming soon):
Learn how to avoid the most common non-Bread & Butter spot:
Tip #13: Consider Their Range
This is where the most important poker skill of hand reading comes into play. Considering your opponent’s range of hands gives you additional information to work with for better post-flop decisions.
Let's say somebody open raises from the early position and you call them on the button. They have a small open-raising range because they are a TAG player. So maybe it’s every pair, the strongest Broadway's and suited Aces. You hold 88 and the flop comes down 552. They cbet ½ pot and you consider what hands would make this play:
You know they can make this play with almost all their hands. It is just a ½ pot bet after all, and they would do this with their bluffs and their overpairs like AA because they don’t want to scare you off. But, now an Ace hits the turn and they cbet again, this time to ¾ pot. You know this player and you don’t think they’d bluff with any of their non-paired hands nor their underpairs. You think they would only make this bet with TP or better. So, now it’s easy to fold your 88.
You used their actions and bet sizing along with their preflop range of hands to determine that your 88 wasn’t good enough to continue. So, you left the hand and likely saved yourself a lot of chips.
Considering their range can also help you earn value. Let's say you flop top set with JJ on the JT5 with 2 clubs. Your opponent donk bets for just 1bb. What do you make of this? It’s likely a weak pair, straight draw or flush draw. The 1bb donk is a blocking bet designed to let them see the turn super cheap. So, what do you do? You raise of course. You’ve got the nuts on a wet board that interacts well with a preflop caller’s range.
When you hold the nuts against somebody who has many reasons to continue to the next street, you’ve got to bet big for value. You want to raise it enough so they overpay for their draw. And, you only realize this because you’re thinking about their range and the types of hands that would fire a 1bb donk bet.
Tip #14: Notice Bet Sizing
Poker is a game of incomplete information, but that doesn't mean it's a game of 0 information. One piece of information that your opponents cannot avoid giving you is the size of bet they use. Whether it's a 1bb donk bet, a standard ½ pot cbet, pot-sized raise or an all-in shove, you can always look at the chips they put in to gauge how they feel about their hand.
Smaller bets = bluffs and larger bets = value.
An unknown player open-raises 3.5bb from UTG. How likely will he fold to a 3bet bluff? Yep, not that likely at all. He’s using a large size which indicates he probably likes his hand, plus he’s opening from the UTG. So, a 3bet bluff wouldn’t be a great play here against this unknown.
Let’s contrast this with a LAG player who open-raises 2.2bb from the BTN. What do you make of this raise size? Is trying to maximize the value of his hand against the blinds, or is he trying a cheap steal? Most likely he’s trying a cheap steal.
What you need to do is pay attention to the size of every bet or raise you face, and make a value judgment on it. Don’t just think, “Oh, he bet. What should I do?” Instead, think “He bet 2/3 pot on this board that hits his range. I think he likes his hand.” And then respond accordingly.
Tip #15: Use a HUD
I mentioned in the last tip that poker is a game of incomplete information. But if you play online, you have access to useful information in the form of a heads-up display, or HUD.
And let me tell you, if you play online without a HUD (like my Smart HUD for PokerTracker 4), you're doing yourself a huge disservice. A lot of people feel that using a HUD is cheating or it's antithetical to “real” poker. But, they’re wrong.
You still have your powers of observation, your logic and reasoning and experience as well. The HUD just gives you a bit more information to utilize. And it's a totally legit way to play as long as your chosen poker site allows it.
Your HUD can be a great tool, but you have to learn how to use it. If you don’t, it’s just a jumble of useless numbers on the screen.
My HUD learning recommendation: focus on one stat per play session.
Let’s say you want to learn how to use the Fold to Flop Cbet stat. Well, look up the definition and how’s it’s calculated so you understand what the stat percentage means.
Then when you play your session, look at every player’s Fold to Flop Cbet stat to see how often they fold. Before you cbet, look at your opponent’s stat to gauge how often they’re folding. The higher the percentage the better when you’re bluffing. The lower the better when you’re going for value.
Tip #16: Plan for Post-flop Cbets
Because you're striving for Bread & Butter (Tip #12 above), you're going to see most flops as the preflop raiser. Which means you’ll have tons of cbetting opportunities, and to get the most out of these, you must make preflop plans for how you’ll play these cbetting spots.
First, have an idea of what flop cards are good for your hand and which cards are good for your opponent’s range. If he called a 3bet for example, his range mostly has pairs, AX hands and Broadways. So, you don't want to see a 2 Broadway flop. You'd much rather see a low-card flop of 974. This can be so much easier to get them to fold on the flop.
It’s good to know their tendencies when facing cbets, so it’s great that you use a HUD (Tip #15). When someone calls you, and before the flop even hits, look at their Fold to Flop Cbet. You want to see this as a total and IP or OOP. Also look at their Fold to Turn Cbet to help you see which street they’re more honest on, so you can begin planning for a possible double-barrel bluff cbet.
Speaking of bluffing them, almost always bluff them on the street where they are most honest as long as the board doesn’t smack their range. So, you’re using their Fold to Cbet stats by street to see where the percentage jumps up, say from 56% on the flop to 100% on the turn. The turn is their “honest street” so plan on bluffing there.
Lastly, make sure the effective stacks are deep enough so bluffing on their honest street can get them to fold. If you both started with 100bb’s in a 2bet pot, great, you can bluff any street and they won’t be committed. But, if they started with 40bb’s in a 3bet pot, you probably won’t be able to get them to fold on the turn or river. The pot’s already so big and they’ve committed so much they’re not giving up easily.
Tip #17: Target Limpers
You want to make money and limpers are a great source of profits. They’re often the weakest players at the table and we know that money flows from the weak to the strong. So, your goal is to play as many hands as possible against limpers in +EV situations.
Limpers want 1 thing: to see the flop as cheap as possible in order to hit a strong hand. This causes them to limp with any pair, suited connectors, suited gappers, all broadways, most Aces and lots of other suited hands.
They don't understand the value of being the preflop raiser, and they don't understand how being the preflop caller is antithetical Bread & Butter poker. So, when you find limpers you should automatically color-coded them with a green label. Green means “go for profit” and it’s a reminder to play as many pots with them as you can.
4 Important aspects of raising a limper:
- Expect a call. Sure, they might fold. But they want to see the flop and your raise “ain’t gonna stop me from flopping a monster with my J6s”.
- Iso-raise limpers with hands ahead of their calling range. This gives you a mathematical advantage that they can’t overcome in the long run.
- Hit their pain threshold. This is often 4bb's +1 per limper, but I often go 6bb's +1 or even more per limper. It's lovely when a limper calls your 8bb iso-raise when you hold AA. The pot’s already at 18bb’s or more, and you have the preflop nuts against a really weak player and hand. This is a killer moneymaking opportunity. Especially if you’re iso-raising from IP. Imagine holding AA in an 18bb pot against the weakest player at the table… I love limpers and how they hand me B&B.
- Never limp behind. If your hand is worth playing against limpers, it’s worth raising in an effort to isolate the limper.
Tip #18: Table Select for High Profit Potential
Which table has more profit potential for you:
- You sit down and see all green colored fish at your table. These players love limping and hitting flops and only raise with super strong hands.
- Full of loose-aggressive maniacs, winning LAG’s and winning TAG’s. No green fish in sight.
Yeppers, table #1 is the ideal table for high profit potential. The tables you choose to play on should be as close to this ideal as possible.
Green is the color you need to see when table selecting. The more fish you tag “green” the quicker you’ll spot profitable tables.
If the site you play on allows it, scroll through the lobbies and see if you can spot table with lots of fish. Some sites don’t allow for this, so sit at a few tables and wait for the HUD to pop up or just look around the table. It might take 1-2 orbits to get a feel for the table and spot the fish. If it seems like a profitable table, with some fish and not too many winning TAG or LAG players, stay there. If it’s full of winners or there are lots of aggressive players on your left, consider switching tables.
It's all about profit potential when it comes to table selection.
Here’s my challenge to you: Take one of the 18 tips above and use it in your sessions for the next 5 nights. After you do that and feel comfortable using it, move on to the next tip. Repeat this process over and over until all the tips are ingrained in your game and you’re making more profits than ever before
Now it’s your turn to take action and come play a poker tournament with me.
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