Poker from First Principles

He can see into your soul

He can see into your soul

Principle 1. Your goal in poker is to win money. You win money two ways – (a) having a good hand when you’re in a big pot, and (b) getting everyone else to fold.

  • Having the best hand when you’re risking money.  Because you can’t make your hand better, you have to settle for only being in big pots with good hands. You do this by folding more often than the other players – being “tight.”
  • Getting everyone else to fold.  The way to get everyone else to fold is by betting aggressively.  Nobody has the option to fold when you don’t bet.

These two modes of play appear to contradict each other, but they don’t. The key is to be tight when deciding whether to play a hand, and being aggressive when you’ve decided so. When there are 10 players in the pot, you play the best 1/10th of hands you get. If the pot’s down to 3 players, you play the best 1/3 of the hands you get.

You’ll fold early and often – much more so than your instincts will tell you as a beginner. Get rid of your weak hands right away, before you’ve invested anything in them, and don’t try anything fancy.

When you do get a good hand, and on the rare occasion that you decide to bluff, you should be betting. Do not simply call – that would be passive. Attack, and keep attacking. Don’t slow down unless you are given a serious reason to reconsider. Don’t get carried away, though. Remember, most of the time you should be folding.  Higher strategy is mostly composed of getting better at picking exactly which times to get aggressive, and exactly which hands are strong enough to justify playing.

Principle 2. Either your hand is better than your opponents’, or it isn’t. If it is, you should be raising. If it isn’t, you should be folding. Some players, when they don’t know if they have the best hand, will opt to simply “call,” going for the happy medium. However, it’s better to make an action that might be correct.

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