How to play
Poker strategy and tactics from professional players
Have you ever noticed that it seems to be the same names at the top of tournament leaderboards or who the poker media are talking about crushing cash games? It is no coincidence. These players are not luckier than anyone else; they are individuals with an arsenal of moves and tactics at their disposal.
There is no right or wrong way to play poker; you pay your you play how you wish. You can be like a baseball bat and bulldoze your way through the game, playing one style and playing it hard, or you can be a Swiss Army knife of a player with multiple facets to your approach. The very best players, the ones you continually read about, fall into the second camp, and so should you.
Over the next few words, you will learn about some of the moves professional poker players make and some of the tactics they adopt keep one step ahead of the opposition. Read them, absorb them, then his the tables and put them to the test.
Every top-tier poker player will tell you that the key to continued success is to be able to extract the maximum value from each hand you play. Sometimes, the best way to get value from a hand is not to be more but to bet less. This is where a blocker bet comes in.
A blocker bet is different from a value bet in that it is much smaller and is generally defensive in nature. Its primary goal is to prevent your opponent from making a larger bet that you may not want to call. For example, you may hold Ts-Tc on a board reading Ks-Jc-7d-5d-2h and are out of position against an opponent. Your pocket tens some showdown value, but if you check and your bets three-quarters pot, you will have a hard time calling. By firing a one-third pot blocker bet, you are setting the price and can see how your opponent reacts.
Blocker bets control the size of the pot, which is another key poker skill. You can also use a blocker bet to induce a bluff from an opponent. Blocker bets are often seen as weak, so making one while you are strong could result in your opponent raising, leaving you in a situation.
Small ball poker
Small Ball poker was a term coined by poker legend Daniel Negreanu, a player with six World Series of Poker (WSOP) bracelets and over $51 million in live poker tournament earnings. The main characteristics of small ball poker are making frequent small bets, selective aggression, pot control, positional awareness, and well-timed bluffs.
This unique style sees you play many pots with a wider than usual range, usually all pairs, connectors, suited connecters, and suited one-gappers, but any hand is playable based on position and the preflop action.
Small ball players tend to win more than their fair share of smaller pots and preserve their chips, making it a good style for tournament poker, particularly deep-stacked events.
The nemesis of a small ball player is a skilled aggressive opponent who consistently raises and re-raises, thus removing the prime goal of the small ball style. The style also requires a high level of skill, particularly hand reading, which makes it unsuitable for most lesser experienced players.
The squeeze play
A squeeze play is a commonly applied move particularly in a tournament setting and when you or an opponent is down to a sub-20 big blind stack. For example, the player in the cutoff raises, the button calls, and you then raise from the big blind; you have squeezed.
Squeezing can be a profitable and powerful move in the right circumstances, but it is also a play that can put a significant percentage of your chips at risk. There are several factors in play that make a squeeze play successful or not.
First, you must have a strong table image and not have been seen splashing around in pots. Having a tight-aggressive image increases the chances of a squeeze play working. Second, you must have a good read on your opponents and know they are raising with a hand they are prepared to fold to your squeeze.
Stack sizes are also important because the initial raiser and caller(s) could be priced into calling your squeeze if they are short stacked.
Your hand strength does not play a significant role in your decision to squeeze. Obviously, making a squeeze play with a strong hand is ideal, but a squeeze play is taking advantage of perceived weakness. A late position raise is often made with a wide range of hands, and someone simply calling that raise has not given much indication about having a strong hand. You can make a squeeze play with any two cards if the situation is right, but that comes with a high degree of risk.
Mixing up your play
Mixing up your play, or changing gears is something every poker player needs to be able to do otherwise they become easier to read and become exploitable. While most players prefer a particular style, like tight-aggressive or loose-aggressive, the best players change their approach and do so at the flick of a switch.
If an opponent knows you only play a tight-aggressive style, they can quickly figure out which hands are not in your range, making it easier for them to steal pots and bluff you off a hand. However, if you regularly mix up your play, your opponent has a more challenging time putting you on a style of play and has no idea about your possible hand ranges.
Put yourself in this situation and you will quickly realize how important it is to mix up your play. You usually play tight-aggressive poker but have been card dead for the last 20 hands, only getting involved in one or two pots. You then decide to flip the switch and play a loose-aggressive style and play seven out of the next ten pots before instantly reverting to a tight-aggressive style. How on Earth do your read you? Did you have a great run of cards or are you a crazy horse? Are you a loose-aggressive player who has now gone card dead? Have you hit that ace on the flop, could you have hit a Ts-5d-3h board when you check-raised?
Keeping your opponent guessing and playing in an opposing style to theirs is crucial to success. It is also important to change gears instantly rather than gradually; play tight, go nuts, and revert to tight again!
Controlling the pot
Being able to control the pot is a skill every elite-level poker player develops. There are times when you are certain you have the best hand and want to bet for value. However, there are many more times where you are unsure if you have the best hand, such as holding under-pair to the board, a middle pair, or a set on a board where straights and flushes are possible.
You want to pot control whenever your hand has some showdown but you are unsure if your hand is best. Keeping the pot smaller allows you to prevent becoming committed to large pots with marginal hands.