The Essential Strategies of Online Poker
Strategy for online poker is one of those things that everyone seems to have different opinions on. Some people want to get heavy into the mathematical side of things, and others want to go on about how to read people over the Internet. Here, all we want to do is offer the essential building blocks of strategy that you can pick from and choose how you want to fit into your own style.
The Basic Elements of Online Poker Strategy
When it comes to playing poker online, you mostly have to deal with the cards in front of you instead of trying to read people. While you can take notes and try to pick up on their tendencies, it ultimately comes down to playing the cards instead of the individuals.
Because of this dynamic, your strategies in poker online center around three primary types of situations: bluffing, value betting and calling.
Almost every single type of situation you’ll encounter where you need to put more money into the pot will come down to one of these three types of spots, and while there are some variations on when and how these spots can happen, the basics behind them are all the same.
In what follows, we’re going to give you some really basic plays and the ideas behind them that are grouped into these three categories. This is good for beginners to give them an idea of what they should be thinking about at the virtual tables, but it’s also good for intermediate players to remind them of how straightforward online poker can be so that they don’t try to outsmart themselves when playing.
Common Calling Situations
When you’re on the end of things where you’re facing down a bet, it’s not always as fun because you aren’t the primary aggressor. However, if you have a good idea of the type of situation you’re in on a conceptual level, then you can actually have more control over what’s happening in the hand than your opponent.
In the following, we’ll look at some of the most common situations regarding calling and what you should be thinking about when deciding how to play. These will be spots where you have decided to either call or fold, and we’ll cover situations of raising or re-raising in the later sections on bluffing and value betting.
Ending the Action on the Hand
The easiest situation to face is when calling will end the action on the hand, meaning that you will see the end of the hand with no more betting left when you call. In these situations, what you should do is try to estimate your chances of winning when you call, and then you should find this number:
The Calling Threshold: Divide the amount of your call by the total amount that will be in the pot after you call.
The Calling Threshold tells you how often you have to win the hand for a call to be profitable. If you’re making a call for €10, and after making that call, the total pot will be €40, then divide 10 by 40 to get 25 percent. If you think that you’re winning more than 25 percent of the time, then you should make the call since it will be profitable to do so.
Ending the Action on the Street
Similar to the above, ending the action on the street means that this particular round of betting will be over as soon as you call, and more cards with more betting will come afterward.
The following are the points you should consider when this happens:
- Made Hand or Drawing Hand – Made hands can be vulnerable to someone improving to beat you with future cards, but drawing hands can benefit from new cards coming if you have sufficient odds.
- Players in the Hand – The more players in the hand, the better things are for you with a drawing hand or a super strong made hand since it makes it more likely that you will be paid off. You typically want fewer players in with a lesser made hand.
- Amount of Money Left in the Stacks – Having a lot of money left in the players’ stacks (relative to the size of the pot) is generally really good for drawing hands. Having a whole lot of money left or a small amount of money left is good for a mid-level made hand, but those middle amounts are bad for them because it’s hard to get away if a lot of raising happens.
In short, there is no specific formula to follow like there is if the call will end the entire hand, but there are only a few fairly simple things to consider, so it’s not usually a particularly difficult decision.
Not Ending the Action at All
Sometimes you’ll be facing a situation where you could call with people left to act on the remaining betting street. The variety of scenarios you can get in with this type of spot is fairly wide, but there are a few key scenarios and common patterns/plays to know about.
- Calling with a drawing hand that will benefit from more people calling to beef up the pot is often a good idea.
- Drawing to a weak flush or straight is often a bad idea with several people in the hand because of the times that someone else makes a stronger hand with their draw and takes your entire stack.
- If you have an incredibly strong hand that isn’t vulnerable to drawing hands getting a card that will help them to beat you, then just calling instead of raising can get more money from more players.
- In situations with a medium-strength made hand, it can actually be better to raise to “thin the herd” and get weaker drawing hands to fold so that you don’t have to content the pot against several players.
These are some of the most dangerous situations in all of poker, and they have to be approached with caution. Thankfully, they’re also situations that other players will make plenty of mistakes in because of the inherent danger, which is like that of a virtual minefield. If you can be patient instead of trying to force things to happen in these scenarios, then you’ll see plenty of chips pushed your way.
Value Betting (and Raising)
A value bet is when you put in a bet or raise because you want to have other players put in money with hands that are worse than yours. There are some big mistakes that can happen in these situations because of common misconceptions, and that means that it can actually be better to check to trap the opponent sometimes.
This is where things get tricky, and that’s the sort of thing we’re going to address in the following common spots.
How to Make Money From Good Hands
A whole lot of people think that they should make bets and raises in poker when they have good hands for the sake of having good hands. However, while that sounds good on the surface, it’s actually mistaken.
It doesn’t matter if you have a better hand than your opponents. Instead, you want to make sure that you’re getting called by more hands that you beat than hands that beat you.
To put it in a simple way, if you look at all of the hands that call your bet, you want to make sure that you beat more than half of them to make sure that your value bet is profitable on its own. If this isn’t the case, which is common if your opponent was often bluffing on a previous betting street, then you’re better off just checking and letting the hand play out from there.
With that said, there are some exceptions to this rule and other things to consider, so it’s not a black and white situation.
Protecting a Made Hand
Sometimes you have to put in a bet with the best hand even if you aren’t totally sure that you’re going to be ahead of the group of hands that calls you. This comes up in situations where you’re up against a number of different players (see the idea of thinning the herd noted above) whose combined cards and could mean you’re an overall underdog in the hand.
The idea here is that, while you may lose a little bit of value by betting outright, you’ll lose a lot of value by allowing several players to have a free or cheap opportunity to draw out on you to make a better hand than what you have.
You have to be careful with this type of thing and really only focus on it in bigger pots that are worth protecting. In smaller pots, it’s usually better to just wait to see if safe cards comes on future streets and to try to get some value from that point on.
Basic Bluffing Scenarios
Bluffing is the thing that most people think of when they think of poker, but again, most people don’t really understand how it works on a basic level. The basic idea behind bluffing is that you want to bet when your opponent has a better hand than you but to get them to fold, but many players think they’re bluffing in other situations.
In the following, we’ll give you a basic rundown of how bluffing strategy really works and what you need to know about the most common spots.
Bluffing Against One Player
There’s actually a really simple formula that can be used to explain how often you have to be right (ie: the opponent folds) on a basic bluff for it to be profitable.
If you have no chance to win if your opponent doesn’t fold, then you can divide the amount of your bluff by the total pot size after you bluff to get the Bluffing Threshold percentage.
For example, if the pot is €24, and you wager €16, the total pot will be €40 after your bluff. As a result, the Bluffing Threshold is €16/€40 or 40 percent. If your opponent is folding to your bluff more than 40 percent, on average, then your bluff will be profitable against a single opponent.
This is a very rough guideline that isn’t usually relevant because of other players in the hand or because of having some chance of winning the hand if called, but it’s important to know as a basic metric.
Semi-bluffing With Strong Draws
If you have a strong draw to something like a good flush or straight, then you should generally be aggressive and bet and raise instead of checking and calling. The reason for this is that you take advantage of having two different ways to win:
- Your opponent could fold, giving you a smaller pot.
- If your opponent calls, you’ll have a decent chance of winning a larger pot on top of anymore bets that you can get on future betting streets.
The alternative is to just check and call. That means you don’t get the chance to win from bluffing, and if you do hit a hand on future cards, the pot at that point and subsequent bets will not be very large.
Free Card Play
In games with enough betting streets to make it work, a common poker strategy is to make a bet or small raise on the first street to provoke your opponents into checking to you on the second street. You check after they do, which results in getting a “free card.”
This is a variation of semi-bluffing with a strong draw as well because you could hit your hand on the second street and get paid from that point onward.
This type of free card play can also make it look like you had a moderate strength made hand on the first street that you didn’t want to build too big of a pot with, so if you hit your draw on the third street, then you’ll often get paid from people who think they can bluff you off of your hand.
In the above, we have identified and explained the basics behind all of the core strategies that all players should know. This is the bulk of knowledge that all practical online poker strategy is built off of in terms of the most common plays that you should be familiar with. While there’s a lot more depth to the game overall, this is an excellent starting point, especially for someone who wants a refresher on the essentials.