Poker strategy

Learn basic poker strategies and start playing like a pro.

Poker is an incredibly complex game and advanced strategies can take hundreds of hours to master. However, there are beginner strategies that novices can employ to compete more effectively. Sticking to our simplified poker strategy guide will help you avoid the kind of silly plays that puts novices on tilt. Once you start gaining experience, you’ll gradually learn more advanced skills and develop your own playing style. As it’s by far the most popular form of competitive poker, this page will focus exclusively on Texas Hold’em.

Bankroll management

If you’re going to succeed at No-Limit Texas Hold’em, bankroll management is everything. You’ll live or die at the tables by how well you manage your bankroll. A poker bankroll is how much money you have to play poker. For example, if you deposit $500, your bankroll is $500.

As a rule of thumb, you’d never want more than 5% of your bankroll at any one table for cash games. This way if you do lose an all in, you still have $475 (95%) of your bank roll to play with. Putting 100% of your bankroll on the table is not wise. Sure, you can double it up to $1000, but chances are you’ll lose and be left with nothing.

As a general bankroll strategy for cash games, it’s recommended for you to always have between 20-40 buy-ins for the stakes you’re playing. For example:

  • $10 buy-in cash game – bankroll of $200-400 (move up stakes at $500).
  • $25 buy-in cash game – bankroll of $500 -$1,000 (move up stakes at $1,000).
  • $50 buy-in cash game – bankroll of $1,000 - $2,000 (move up stakes at $3,000).

For any sort of tournament play, it’s advised that you never pay more than 1% of your total bankroll for entry.

Position

This is one of the poker fundamentals and applies to all the strategies described below.

In poker, the blinds rotate around the table. The earlier you have to perform an action, the weaker position you are in, because you will not be able to observe other players’ bets.

poker posiiton

Each seat at a poker table has a name assigned to it; they are as follows from the left of the button:

  • Small blind
  • Big blind
  • Under the gun (UTG)
  • Under the gun +1 (UTG+1)
  • Under the gun +2 (UTG+2)
  • Middle position (MP)
  • Middle position +1 (MP+1)
  • Middle position +2 (MP+2)
  • Cut off/hijack (CO/HJ)
  • Button/dealer (BTN)

In early position, you want to play fewer hands as post flop you’ll be in a bad position to act. In the middle position you’d want to open a few more hands as you’re in a better position throughout the remainder of the hand. In late position you can open more speculative hands.

When you make a raise in early position, your raise must get through 10 players, which is going to be difficult, while in late position you may only need to get past 2 or 3 players.

Post flop action starts clockwise from the dealer. The closer you are to the right of the dealer position the better. As for each street, you can watch the actions of players before you and use that information to make your play. Playing hands in early position puts you at a great disadvantage as you must act first with no information.

Tight-aggressive No-Limit Hold’em strategy

As a new poker player the easiest strategy to learn is tight-aggressive (TAG). As the name suggests you don’t play many hands, but the hands you do play are played aggressively. Here are some basic principles for playing tight aggressive:

  • Don’t play junk: starting hands like 45, 57, K9, Q7 are not strong enough to call or raise, so you should fold pre-flop. Stick to pocket pairs and high face cards such as AK, AQ, KQ and KJ. As your skills improve, you can start playing more speculative hands like 87, A2, A3 etc.
  • Bet for value: if you think you have the best hand, bet for value to win more money. Don’t get tricky with slow play - if you have a good hand, bet hard!
  • Be aware of your position: play fewer hands in early position, and more hands in the later position.
  • Never limp: limping is a sign of a novice player, any good player at the table will immediately start to raise you every time and attack you. If you enter a pot first, always raise.

These are just a few of the basic concepts. The more hands you play, the faster you’ll learn and develop your own style.

Fixed-Limit Hold’em strategy

Your actions in Fixed-Limit games should be based on three factors:

  • Your hole cards
  • The action of players prior to you
  • Your position

Fortunately, the nature of Fixed-Limit Hold’em means you can mathematically optimise your actions depending on your starting hand. Simply consult the table below and you will not go far wrong – except for one scenario ...

If your starting hand does not appear in the handchart, you should fold pre-flop.

Fixed-limit Hold’em action guide

Very strong hands: AA, KK, QQ / AKs (suited), AKo (off-suit)

Actions of the opposition Early pos. Middle pos. Late pos. Small blind Big blind
Royal Flush CAP CAP CAP CAP CAP

Strong hands: JJ, TT, 99 / AQs, AQo, AJs

Actions of the opposition Early pos. Middle pos. Late pos. Small blind Big blind
All players fold Raise Raise Raise Raise Raise
One player calls the BB Raise Raise Raise Raise Raise
Two or more players call the BB Raise Raise Raise Raise Raise
One player raises, all others fold Fold Raise Raise Raise Raise
A player raises, at least one opponent calls the raise Call Call Call Call Call

Mediocre hands: AJo, ATs, ATo, KQs, KQo

Actions of the opposition Early pos. Middle pos. Late pos. Small blind Big blind
All players fold Fold Raise Raise Raise Raise
One player calls the BB Fold Raise Raise Raise Raise
Two or more players call the BB Fold Raise Raise Raise Raise
One player raises, all others fold Fold Fold Fold Fold Call
A player raises, at least one opponent calls the raise Fold (KQs call) Fold (KQs call) Fold (KQs call) Fold (KQs call) Call

Speculative hands: 88 to 22 / KJs, KTs, QJs, JTs, T9s

Actions of the opposition Early pos. Middle pos. Late pos. Small blind Big blind
All players fold Fold Fold Raise Raise Raise
One player calls the BB Fold Fold Call Call Raise
Two or more players call the BB Call Call Call Call Raise
One player raises, all others fold Fold Fold Fold Fold Call
A player raises, at least one opponent calls the raise Call Call Call Call Call

Mixed hands: KJo, KTo, QJo, QTo, JTo / From A9s to A2s, K9s, 87s, 98s

Actions of the opposition Early pos. Middle pos. Late pos. Small blind Big blind
All players fold Fold Fold Raise Raise Raise
One player calls the BB Fold Fold Fold Call Check
Two or more players call the BB Fold Fold Call Call Check
One player raises, all others fold Fold Fold Fold Fold Fold
A player raises, at least one opponent calls the raise Fold Fold Fold Fold Fold

If someone raises before you

The only scenario not covered by the action chart above is if you join the pot and there is a raise after you. This is dealt with accordingly:

  • If there has been one raise after you: call with any good hand, with exception of a very strong hand. In which case, you should raise further.
  • More than one raise after you: this probably indicates that your opponent has a very strong hand (unless they are inexperienced and trying to bluff). Only call with strong hands, raise with very strong hands and fold on anything else.

Sit and Go strategy

Sit and Go (SNG) or ‘tournament poker’ is an elimination style of poker. Once you’re out of the tournament, the game is over for you.

In this version of the game, a prize pool is made up from an equal entry fee – chips are essentially just used as counters and do not represent actual money.

For Sit and Go games which consist of 9-10 players, positions 1-3 are usually paid. The strategy for these types of games are quite complex and depend on a number of variables to play optimal. However following these basic concepts can help you tremendously when starting out:

  • The early stage: during the start of the game, play tight, you’ll have enough chips in relation to the blinds to wait for good strong hands and not be too worried about getting short stacked.
  • Middle stage: as the blinds increases and stack sizes shorten in relation to the blinds, playing more hands in later position is key to winning the small and big blinds to keep topping up your stack.
  • Late stage: when there are four players left and only three get paid is where you start to make moves. The key to remember here is that when you call all-in, your hand should be a lot stronger than if you’re pushing all in.

Basic hand strategy for Sit and Go and Multi-table Tournaments

Follow the action chart below if your stack is greater than the sum of 20 big blinds. As always, you need to factor your position into your action before the flop:

Your cards Early Middle Late & blinds
AA, KK, QQ Raise / All in Raise / All in Raise / All in
AK Raise / All in Raise / All in Raise / All in
JJ Raise Raise Raise / All in
TT, 99, 88 Raise / call Raise / call Raise / call if someone has made a bet before you
77 Raise, but don't go all in if raised Raise, but don't go all in if raised Raise / call if someone has made a bet before you
AQ Fold Raise / call if someone has made a bet before you Raise / call if someone has made a bet before you
AJ, AT Fold Fold If nobody has raised before you, raise. If not, fold.
KQ, KJ Fold Fold If nobody has raised before you, raise. If not, fold.
All other cards Fold Fold Fold

If you’re short stacked and have 12 big blinds or less, going all-in is usually your only option. Here are some hand ranges to use as a template for going all in with 12 big blinds (‘BB’) or less during a Sit and Go or larger tournament:

  • Early position: 77, 88, 99, TT, JJ. QQ, KK, AA, AK, AQ.
  • Middle position: 44, 55, 66, 77, 88, 99, TT, JJ. QQ, KK, AA, AK, AQ, AJ.
  • Late position: all pairs, any ace, any two picture cards: JT, QT, KT, AT.

The information above should be used as a basic guideline for new poker players starting out. As you improve you’ll start to be able to make reads on players and adjust accordingly on how you should play each hand.

Poker is completely situational and no two hands are ever the same, the information here should be used as a template only.

Basic hand strategy for cash games

Most cash games allow you to buy in for 100 big blinds, with the blind structure remaining constant. Cash games play very different from Sit and Go tournaments, as there’s no need to keep accruing chips as the blinds remain the same and a player can always re-buy to a 100 big blinds before the start of a new hand.

Starting out playing cash games can sometimes be a rollercoaster ride when making the jump from tournaments. Below are two starting hand charts ranges for 9/10-max cash games, and 6-max which can be used by new players learning the game.

9/10 max cash game starting hands:

  • Early position: 99, TT, JJ, QQ, KK, AA, AK.
  • Middle position: 77, 88, 99, TT, JJ, QQ, KK, AA, AK, AQ.
  • Late position: all pairs, any two face cards: JT, QT, KT, AT.

6 max cash game starting hands:

  • Early position: 66, 77, 88, 99, TT, JJ, QQ, KK, AA, AK, AQ.
  • Middle position: 44, 55, 66, 77, 88, 99, TT, JJ, QQ, KK, AK, AQ, AJ, ATs, KQ.
  • Late position: all pairs, any two face cards, JT, QT, KT, AT any ace suited.

6-max games generally have more action as there are fewer players to get past pre-flop, so your pre-flop raising range can be much wider. Both hand charts are just templates to use when you first start off, as you get better and discover tells from the opponents at your tables, you can start to open up your pre-flop range and play more hands.

You might be thinking, ‘why aren’t hands like QJ or KJ in the early posting hand ranges?’. Well, in lesson five you’ll learn about reverse implied odds, which both of these hands fall under. Sure they look pretty, but it’s a good chance that you will get called by hands such as AQ/AJ which are a 72% favourite against QJ, or AK/KQ which are a 73% favourite against KJ.

Post-flop play

If betting persists after the flop, use the following chart to determine your actions across the turn and river:

Top pair or better

Actions of the opposition Your hold Community cards Description
Top pair top pair Hole card paired with the highest community card.
Over pair poker over pair Hole cards are a pair that ranks higher than highest community card.
Two pairs poker two pairs Two pair with community cards.
Monster Any better poker hand than the above: 3 of a kind, straight, flush, full house, four of a kind, straight flush.

Strong draw

Actions of the opposition Your hold Community cards Description
Strong 2-card flush draw poker 2 card flush draw Hole cards and 2 community cards are suited.
Strong 1-card flush draw poker 1 card flush draw A or K hole card suited with three community cards.
Strong straight draw poker strong straight draw Four sequential cards.

Action after the flop

Your hold Flop Turn River
Top pair or better Bet/raise Bet/raise Bet/raise
Strong draw Bet/raise Bet/raise Check/fold
Any other cards Check/fold Check/fold Check/fold
Exception If you were the big blind and checked before the flop, play 'check/call' with top pair and strong draws, and 'bet/raise' with overpair or better.

Bet/Raise

  • If nobody has bet, bet 2/3 of the pot.
  • If someone bets before you, raise three times their bet.
  • If there was a bet or raise before you or a raise after you, go all-in.

Bet sizing

This segment on bet sizing will be in relation to No-Limit Texas Hold’em.

Most people who are uneducated about online poker think the game is just about luck. “How do you know what they have? You can’t see them, it’s impossible to know.” That’s actually incorrect, even in online poker you’re able gain a lot of tells on your opponent, one of the most obvious being bet sizing tells.

Generally speaking, you need to bet the same amount when you have a strong hand like a set and when you are bluffing. In this way, your opponent is unable to gain any tells about your play and is always left in a guessing game. If you bet big with strong hands, and small with bluffs, any average player will pick up on this and use it against you, by raising when you bet small and folding when you bet big.

How to size your bets

The size of your bet should be based on the current size of the pot. The size of the pot will be visible on most online poker sites. If not, just hover over the chips that are placed in the middle of the table to find out. Poker theory tells us that every time our opponent calls a bet with incorrect odds, we make a profit (EV+) from their mistake, so it’s important that we size our bets correctly to play optimal and make more money.

The most common sizings are:

¾ pot: this is the most common bet sizing amount for most situations. It’s ok if you bet a little bit over or under ¾ pot, as not all poker sites will give you the option to bet exactly ¾ of the pot. Betting to this amount also allows us to build bigger pots with our stronger hands and win more money.

½ pot bets: this sizing should rarely be used as betting ½ pot gives your opponent good pot odds and implied odds to make their hand. If they are getting the correct price to call, your bet is losing you money (EV-). The only time you should use ½ pot bets is when your hand can’t get outdrawn and you don’t see your opponent calling anything bigger.

¼ bets or smaller: you should never really bet this small as your opponents will get great pot odds to call and you won’t be making a lot of money with your strong hands either.

The only time you would want to make a bet this size is to “induce” your opponent to make a bluff on the river. A small bet usually represents weakness, if you believe your opponent to have a no pair hand come the river (maybe the flush or straight missed), they are not calling a bet of ¾ pot that’s for sure. By betting ¼ pot or less, you can sometimes trick your opponent into bluffing as they think your hand is weak and you will fold to a raise.

This is an advanced play and it’s better off to stick with betting ¾ pot for value than trying to get tricky.

Pre-flop bet sizing

A standard pre-flop raise is usually three-four times the big blind. Either is fine but make sure to keep all your sizing pre-flop uniform.

If you start making it four big blinds with strong hands like AA, KK, AK and then three big blinds with 66, 77, JT players will quickly notice and make reads on you. The reason for betting 3-4 big blinds is this gives unfavourable pot odds for the small and big blind to call making our raise profitable (EV+).

As a rule of thumb, for each limper in the pot, add +1 big blind to the size of your raise.

The right poker clients

Put these starting strategies to the test at RightCasino.com’s recommended poker clients.

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