Last week we asked “Is poker easier than we think?” In that post, we talked about some general approaches that reduce the difficulty of poker for any player. Today, we’re going to talk about some specific poker skills to improve your game without hours of study or expensive online programs.
Specific Poker Skills To Make Poker Easier
Opening Pre-Flop With a Raise
Let’s assume you are trying to be profitable when you play poker (as opposed to treating it like a hobby, as we discussed in our last post). When everyone folds to you and you want to enter the hand: raise, do not limp! This is Poker 101, I know. Nonetheless, a huge number of recreational players still play “I just want to see a flop” with their marginal hands. They might as well announce that they have suited connectors, a small or medium pair, a suited ace, or a couple of Broadway cards that aren’t AK or AQ.
You should also tend to raise a hand that you want to play when there are limpers in front of you (and adjust the raise size higher for each additional limper). However, limping behind other limpers when you have a speculative hand does have some merit in multiway pots. So mixing up raising or limping behind limpers is a valid choice.
But if you open: raise. Poker is easier when you are the aggressor.
C-bet about 70% of the Time or More
Following this aggression theme: the next most basic specific poker skill is c-betting. Again, no big secret here: if you open-raised pre-flop, you should lead the betting on the flop even if your hand does not improve. In fact, if you are facing a table of weak opponents, your c-bet rate should creep toward 100%. Not too long ago, good players were c-betting nearly all of the time even in strongish games. Now people in those games are a bit more selective.
However, some players who raise with JJ or QQ, just check every time if an ace or king hits the board. Sometimes they even sigh and shake their heads as they do so. Other people who raise with any pair below pocket tens checks unless they hit their set. Or AK or AQ raisers check when a low, wet board hits the flop. In other words, some people play their exact cards way too often. Your opponent does not know what you have. Your c-bet can always mean a big pair or a set, even if you actually missed your 87 suited.
There are situations that fall into the 30%: if you raised in early position with pocket eights, got called by 4 players, and an A and a K hit the flop, I would say check-fold that one. Multiway pots, attempted blind steals with lousy hands, and board textures that have a high likelihood of hitting your opponent’s range are all good candidates for checking.
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Be Able to Let Go of Those Big Pairs Post-Flop
There is little worse than starting with AA, KK, QQ or AK pre-flop and being forced to fold them on the flop or turn. However, learning to fold them at the right time is a specific poker skill you need to learn to make poker easier for yourself. If a known tight player is re-raising you or the board is wet, you need to be prepared to abandon that pretty hand. An inability to let go of premium starting hands will cost you a lot of money in the long run. Don’t get me wrong, these hands are the most profitable in poker when played well. Raise them pre-flop, c-bet with them always, and never let them go without thought. But remember that even AA is just top pair, and thus hardly invulnerable.
Among these hands, QQ is particularly problematic. Even with all unders on a non-paired board on the turn, there are as many pairs that beat you (AA, KK and any that may have hit sets) as you can beat. What are the odds that the other player is shoving with one of the pairs you can beat? Maybe JJ if there is not a jack on the board. Not to even mention two pair possibilities for a player holding suited connectors or any straight or flush possibilities. Sometimes you really do just need to know when to fold em.
Don’t Bet Your Mediocre Hands on the River
The river offers its own opportunity to practice specific poker skills. When you lead out on the river, you should generally be as they say “polarized”. You should be betting your strong hands for value, knowing that most of the time you are ahead, OR betting with your weakest hands (missed draws etc.) to make people fold. What you should not be doing is betting your middle pairs because you think you are probably ahead. Most of the time if you are ahead, the other players will fold, so your bet has gained nothing. And if you bet with pocket tens with two overs on the board, and get called, you’re losing 95% of the time. You can sometimes use these middling hands to bluff catch missed draws, but don’t lead out with them. It is much better to check-check and win, then celebrate your good fortune.Sometimes you really do just need to know when to fold em.Click To Tweet
Final Thoughts on Specific Poker Skills that Make Poker Easier
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Of course, the above strategies are just the barebones basics. We helped prepare Steve Blay’s book Seven Days to Better No Limit Hold’Em Flop Play in which Steve lays out some other very straightforward, but extremely effective, strategies. When you seek out any poker materials, start with books that offer very straightforward approaches. For example, start with say Phil Gordon Little Book series and work your way up to Matthew Janda’s more theoretical Applications of No-Limit Hold’Em. Take the KISS approach: clean up the easy stuff first, and solve your most glaring problems. When you think of turning pro, then you can study Game Theory Optimal poker. For right now, stop chasing gut shot straights and losing your stack on the turn with QQ.
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