Poker Strategy Secrets

 - 6 years ago

Strategy Secrets for Poker: Play the Hand or the Player?

Knowing when to play the hand and when to play the player in poker is the difference between decent players who do okay and those of excellence who dominate over longer periods of time.

When you're playing poker, the correct strategy in any given situation can change based on the cards you hold and what you know about the player you're up against. This can be difficult for some people to understand because they would assume that the cards tell you everything you need to know about how to play, but that's simply not the case in games like poker. Knowing when to play the player and when to play the cards is a critical component to becoming a strong player yourself, and we're going to break down when you should do each.

A Simple Bluffing Example

Suppose you're playing Texas hold'em, and there's only one other player left in the hand on the river. That player checks to you, and you have a hand that isn't very strong and that generally would not have an outside chance of winning if you also check. On the other hand, you think that there are plenty of hands that are better than yours that your opponent could consider folding if you were to put in a bet worth two-thirds the size of the pot. Based on the money in the pot and the bet size you're considering, you'd need him to fold more than 40 percent of the time for the bluff to profitable. 

In this situation, whether you bluff or check depends entirely on what you think about how your opponent plays. If they're the type of player to snap off a call in situations like this with marginal hands to try to catch you bluffing, then you probably can't make the play. However, if he's the conservative or straightforward type of player who only likes to call down when he has a hand, then bluffing is correct. The cards don't even really matter here outside of informing you of the general situation you're in.

A Combination of the Two

In the situation above, you have to play the player instead of playing the cards. In other situations, you'll have to play the cards instead of the player. A simple example of how that could happen is if it's a new player that you don't really know anything about. Likewise, you may know a little about a player but not enough to make a decision about how they're likely to play in a given spot.

Along these lines, the key to playing in a strong way is to identify when to just focus on the cards and when to focus on how you think the player is likely to respond with different kinds of hands.

A combination of the two approaches is what's called for in most situations that you'll run into in a poker hand, particularly when more money is going into the pot. Routine situations early in the hand when there isn't much money in the pot will often be based completely on what the cards are. However, as more bets and raises are made, and as more cards are dealt, how your opponent will act tends to become a vitally important factor.