Betting, folding, raising and bluffing are some of the core pillars of poker. As such, poker experts have carried out exhaustive research on how best to perform each. If you're looking for the nuggets of wisdom but are short on reading time, then look no further. Below we’ve outlined the most valuable pieces of advice to elevate your poker game.
Before you even consider placing a bet, there are several factors to consider. Firstly, what are you trying to achieve with your bet? Are you trying to drive up the pot because you have a strong hand or are you trying to squeeze out your competition because you have a weak hand? The answers to these questions will determine how aggressively you should bet. Secondly, what are the skill levels and playing styles of your fellow players? It may surprise you but how you bet (and if you should bet at all) will largely be clinched by how your rivals play. Naturally, you also need to consider how strong your hand is and, as best you can, predict the strength of others at the table.
In poker, it’s always useful to play the long game. What we mean by this is, don’t just consider your current bet but what you’re willing to do if your opponents decide to raise. Is your hand strong enough to risk staking all your chips in a betting war? Essentially, the advice here is don’t call a player if you’re not in a position to then raise that bet. Similarly, don’t raise if you’re not prepared to then call the re-raise. To get a more in-depth idea of betting, read our poker betting blog post here. [Hyperlink to betting blog]
One of the most important things about poker is knowing when NOT to bet. Don’t sink yourself even deeper into a hole if you’ve nothing but duds. Even more so if your opponents are twitching with excitement because of their cards. Do yourself a favour - fold early, sit this round out and live to play another hand.
How do you know if folding is the right move for you? Ask yourself what kind of player are you up against? Are you up against a rival with a loose playing style, always making raises when, in fact, they’re holding cards of little value? If so, you should probably avoid folding too often to them as they’re probably bluffing to cover a weak hand. On the flip side, if a rival with a tight playing style suddenly makes a significant raise, it may be worthwhile questioning why. If you feel they potentially have a strong hand, folding could be your best course of action to stay in the game long-term.
When it comes to raising there are typically three reasons to do it. The first is raising because you truly feel you have the best hand. If you’ve made a good hand before the river and want to wrap up the game quickly, make a substantial raise. More often than nought this bold move will scare off players with weaker hands and weed out some of your competition.
The second type of raise is raising to bluff. We’ve outlined this briefly above but we’ll reiterate. When holding a weak hand, many players opt to mask this by raising big. The goal is to mislead rivals into thinking your hand is stronger than theirs, therefore, forcing them to fold. Raising to bluff has shown some success historically but only if players don’t do it too often. However, if your bluff is called, you must be prepared to pay the price.
Lastly, many poker veterans use a raise as an opportunity to gauge the strength of their opponents' hands. A well-measured raise after the flop or the turn can allow you to study fellow players, seeing how quickly they in turn decide to raise, call or fold.
The art of the bluff is one thing that makes poker a truly mental exercise. Players have two things to consider when bluffing. Is a bluff the right play for your current hand or should you just fold? Also, consider that you are perhaps unknowingly falling foul to a bluff yourself and ask yourself, are you being hoodwinked by an opponent.
Bluffing is a risky strategy but we’d be lying if we said it wasn’t one of the most exhilarating elements of the game. Still, there are some core rules to stick to ensure it’s not too risky! Firstly, if you’ve been paying attention to your game, you’ll have a pretty good read on the temperature of the room. Which of your opponents do you suspect of not having a particularly strong hand? Are they showing any tells or exhibiting behaviour to suggest they’d be easily fooled by your bluff? Secondly, read the cards from the pre-flop and the flop. If you raised on the flop and good cards, (but not the ones you needed) materialised on the pre-flop, you still have an opportunity to bluff that you have a good hand. If you follow up with a continuation bet, you may scare off the other players, even good players with middle pocket pairs. A word of caution though, if other players are showing behaviour to suggest they have a strong hand, don’t just bluff for the sake of bluffing. Know when to bow out of the game gracefully.