Online Poker Strategy and Tips
Anyone can learn basic poker strategy, but if you’re new to playing poker online it’s vital you come armed with a few simple tips and tricks.
While it only takes minutes to learn to play poker, it can take years to become a winning player. With this simple poker betting strategy, you can get ahead of the pack.
Getting Started: Learn to Play Poker
You can now play poker legally online in some US states, including New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Online poker is convenient and you can choose from a range of friendly stakes. Plus, the best sites offer bonuses and promotions to help boost your budget.
Let’s begin with a brief overview of poker rules. Texas Hold’em is the most popular form of poker, so we’ll select that game as our example.
In a game of Hold’em, each player receives two cards face down at the start of the hand. There is a round of betting before a “flop” is dealt. These are three community cards that are shared by everyone at the table.
Another round of betting follows, then a single “turn” card is added to the flop. After a further round of bets, a final “river” card is added to the turn.
The aim is to form the best 5-card poker hand from your two hole cards and the five community cards. Winning hands follow standard poker rankings (from best to worst):
- Royal Flush
- Straight Flush
- Four of a Kind
- Full House
- Three of a Kind
- Two Pair
- One Pair
- High Card
11 Poker Strategy Tips to Improve Your Play
You are already a poker payer, but what tips can you utilize to enhance your poker game? Here is some basic poker strategy to get you moving.
1. Be Selective with Your Starting Hands
As a new player, it’s tempting just to play every hand. Why fold and sit watching everyone else have all the fun?
There’s a good reason you need to be selective with your starting hands. Often, most of your hands will be behind on the flop and you will be throwing good money after bad.
Good poker strategy is about choosing the right starting hands, passing on a marginal hand but pouncing on a monster hand. Pick a few premium hands to raise in late position (where you are one of the last to act) and fold out a lot of your meager holdings preflop.
The best starting hands in poker can be grouped like this, starting with pocket aces:
- A-K suited
- A-Q suited
- A-J suited
- K-Q suited
These are all hands you can comfortably raise with in late position. Some hands like A-A and K-K, you can also raise in early position, where you will be one of the first to act post-flop.
You can also add in hands like 10-10, 9-9, 8-8, 7-7, 6-6 and suited aces like A-10, A-9, A-8. Don’t get too attached to small pairs like 2-2 and 3-3 and only play them to extract value on the flop.
2. Learn to be Aggressive
Good cash game and poker tournament strategy is also about aggressive play. There’s no point playing premium hands if you’re not willing to bet a lot of chips and force players out.
So, a top poker tip is to be tight and aggressive by selecting a few hands to play and betting them hard. If you’re up against weaker players who are prone to folding, you can be aggressive with your small pairs and suited connectors too. This lets you disguise the true strength of your hand, especially when you only connect with part of the flop.
3. Learn the Art of Bluffing
If the best players didn’t bluff, they wouldn’t win too many pots. You will miss the flop or turn a lot of the time, so learning to bluff is a good way of forcing players to fold.
Good players know how to bluff in order to get better hands to fold. Start off by learning the continuation bet (c-bet). This is a bet you make on the flop after you have led the betting preflop.
It doesn’t matter whether you have hit the flop or not, but a c-bet will keep the story going. Plus, if you have an aggressive image, a c-bet is good for disguising your made hands. Your opponent may believe you are just trying to buy the pot while you actually hold a decent hand.
4. But Don’t Bluff Too Much
Bluffing is a great poker strategy to learn as you improve your poker game. But don’t get wedded to the idea of pulling off a lot of bluffs. You don’t want to bleed chips by playing your marginal hands a lot, especially if you run into a calling station who doesn’t respect your plays.
You can also throw in a few semi-bluffs. A semi-bluff is used when you have a drawing hand that has the potential of improving into s strong hand.
For example, you may hold 6-5 diamonds, and 8-9-J hits the board with two diamonds. You now have straight, flush and straight flush possibilities so there is the chance of making a decent hand if your bluff gets called.
5. Understand Hand Rankings & Odds
Understanding starting hands is a good poker tip, but understanding the rankings is even better online poker strategy.
For example, if you are dealt A-8 and the flop comes K-8-2, you know you have a pair of eights with an ace kicker. However, you are being beaten by a pair of kings, and possibly a set of 2s or 8s.
So, what would you need to improve? Possibly another 8 to give you three of a kind, but that might give an opponent a full house. An ace would give you two pair and put you in a strong position. However, if there was a pre-flop raiser, might he hold A-K?
You should be aware of the odds of hitting a winning hand. This involves learning about:
- Hand Odds
- Pot Odds
The outs are the number of cards in the deck that can improve your hand. By calculating your outs, you can calculate your hand odds.
Now look at the amount of money you need to put in the pot to call and compare the two figures.
Let’s imagine your hand odds are 4/1 after calculating the number of outs, and the pot odds are 12/1. You are being paid 12/1 to make a 4/1 call. That’s a simple and easy call every time.
Luckily, you can find lots of hand odds cheat sheets online. Print one out and keep it safe when you next play online poker.
6. Defend Your Blinds
Years ago, basic poker strategy dictated that you should fold most of your hands in the small blind and big blind. However, nowadays the common thinking is that you should defend your blinds at every opportunity.
When in the big blind, for example, you’ve already paid an enforced bet. Plus, when the flop comes out, you’re second to act. You won’t have information on most of the table, so why should this be a position you need to defend?
The answer comes down to the post-flop betting. In the big blind you’re last to act. You can raise, call a raise, or simply check if there has been no pre-flop raise.
Being last to act gives you a lot of information pre-flop on your opponents. You might spot a bet from a player who is prone to a lot of late position raises, just to steal the pot.
With this information, you can comfortably call the big blind with a range of hands. Plus, you might be getting a good price to see a flop.
Play the big blind with caution, though. Be wary of re-raised pots and look at the number of players in the hand. You should also defend your big blind with a hand that plays well multiway like suited connectors and premium pairs.
7. Don’t Be Afraid to Fold
The best piece of cash game or poker tournament strategy is to learn to fold hands.
The beauty of online poker is that you are dealt a huge number of hands. The action is fast and furious, especially in turbo Sit ‘n Gos and fast-fold cash games. So why play a lot of hands when another one will be along in a minute?
It can be boring sitting at your PC and folding a lot of junk. But don’t be tempted to play poor hands just because you have nothing better to do.
Similarly, you need to learn to fold when you think you have a good hand. If a tight player is re-raising on a flop of A-6-10 where you have middle pair, it’s probably a sign that you’re beat. Give it up and save your money for another hand.
You always need to be 100% sure of your play. If you’re not sure what to do facing a raise, the best decision is usually to let the hand go.
8. Be Aware of Your Table Position
Understanding your position at the table is one of the key pieces of poker strategy you need to learn.
In early position, where you are first to act, you may end up facing a raise or re-raise. Conversely, in late position, you have more information on what your opponents have done.
The importance of position can’t be understated. It informs the range of hands you will raise and call with and dictates how aggressive you should be pre- and post-flop.
For example, you should always raise 4-4 to 8-8 in late position if there have been no raises. But in early position, those hands become just calls. The nearer you are the small blind, the more careful you should be.
9. Don’t Play Beyond Your Bankroll
Legal online poker sites in the US now offer a diverse range of games and stake levels. You can choose from $0.01/$0.02 Hold’em cash games, or dive into high-stakes tournaments costing $500+.
While it takes a second to register for a tournament or sit down at a cash table, be aware of your bankroll level.
For example, if you have $100 to play cash games, start off with $0.05/$0.10 games and reserve some of your roll for rebuys. Similarly, good poker tournament strategy is to spend 5-10% of your bankroll for a single entry.
You also need to look beyond pure finances. Just because you have $1,000 to spend, it doesn’t mean you’re qualified to play at $5/10 or $100 buy-ins. You need to comfortably beat the level you’re on before moving up.
If you can get through 10-20 winning cash sessions on your stake level, consider moving up. Similarly, hit a certain Return on Investment (ROI) on Sit ‘n Gos or tournaments before tackling higher stakes.
10. Invest in Poker Tracking Software
Not all online poker sites allow tracking software and heads-up displays (HUDs), but they can be invaluable to help you assess your opponents.
A HUD like PokerTracker 4 or Hold’em Manager 3 overlays your online poker table and gives you information on your opponents. You’ll see real-time stats like their pre-flop raise percentage or number of times they fold to a raise. By studying the statistics and taking notes, you can make more informed calls.
11. Invest in a Coaching Program
There are an abundance of poker strategy videos and training programs available online. From YouTube videos with the biggest names to Twitch streams and interactive tools, there’s no reason to avoid learning something new.
You can also invest in online training sites that provide basic poker strategy, quizzes and more advanced techniques.
Start off by deciding where your strengths lie. Are you going to concentrate on playing Texas Hold’em tournaments or are you a cash game specialist? Decided what you want to make the most money in, and find a course that’s right for you.
Here are some top training sites to look out for. They offer a range of strategy programs, videos, and free tools and resources to get you started.
- Upswing Poker
- Raise Your Edge
- Run it Once
Learn to Play Poker the Right Way
You don’t need to be Daniel Negreanu to grasp basic poker strategy in 2021. With a few simple tips you can start winning money at the Hold’em and Omaha tables right away.
Practice at the low-stakes games, take a shot at the bigger buy-in tournaments, and always take notes while you play. The more you play, the better you’ll become.
Are you looking for more information about online gambling in the US? Read our online casino real money guide.
Jon Young is a writer and magazine editor with over 12 years' experience in the gaming sector. He has written on everything from poker and slots to casino, sports betting and mobile gambling. When not trying to take down the Mega Moolah jackpot he can be found playing poker tournaments in casinos.