Before The Flop
This a great chance to practice chip stacking and creative ways to muck your hand... You are going to be folding a lot before the flop. A LOT. Even with the starting hand suggestions here (which in many ways are not appropriate for a tighter game) you will be playing very few hands, especially in early position.
Since you like to play poker this is going to be very difficult.
Next to picking a table where most of the people make more mistakes than you, the most effective thing you can do is play well before the flop. Most of your opponents will not play well here. They will see the flop with cards that almost never win (you will see 7 2 in a showdown at one point or another during a game). This pre-flop play is fairly easy to describe, and technically easy to do, but mentally it is very very difficult. It takes practice and it takes discipline and it takes patience.
Most poker books you read will suggest some rules for playing before the flop, usually with very good advice about starting cards and how to handle position, but then they move forward to whatever the next chapter is and you are already set up to fail because you just flat out won't be following those instructions.
A Way of Thinking About Your Starting Hands
Positionally the general rule is that you want to be as close to the last person to act as possible. The closer you are to that sweet spot (in Hold 'em the dealer button) the more information you will gain on every betting round before you have to act. This information allows you to play your hand more effectively to maximize the amount you can win (or often more importantly minimize the amount you lose). The free card, for example, hinges upon you being in late position.
So, it may be helpful if your general plan is not to play any hands in early position, basically you are waiting to get within one or two off the dealer button to put your money into the game all the time. If you make this your mantra then you will find yourself doing what is almost correct because we all know when you get AA under the gun you are going to play it regardless of what your general plan was (as you should) but when you get KT offsuit you'll easily throw it away because you aren't playing cards until you get close to the dealer button.
Filling Time Between Hands
- Over the course of one session pick a single player and watch them play. You are looking for patterns and habits in the way they play--for example do they often bet out on their draws? How do they play their very strong hands and their very weak hands? Do they try to bluff a lot or do they almost always show down the best hand? It's important that you concentrate on one person for a while and not try to evaluate everyone's play at the same time. With practice you can observe more than one person at a time and eventually the entire table.
When playing live, count the pot (most online poker rooms
do this for you). You can't utilize pot odds if you don't know how much money is in the pot each time you act. A method you may want
to try which can help you get a good estimate:
- Count the pot by the number of small bets. Ignore the small blind if they fold--it isn't going to affect the pot odds much, and if those couple of chips would have made the difference on a particular draw then it's probably not worth making the draw in the first place.
- Count the number of people in the pot at the end of the betting round and multiply it by the number of small bets per person (on the turn there were 6 callers and the bet was $12 or 4 small bets, so the result for the turn is 24 small bets in the pot)
- Pot odds are most useful for figuring out if you should continue with a draw in low limit hold 'em. You may want to count up the river bets as well for a rough idea of what the final pot was, but for our purposes what you really want is to get a very close idea of how many small bets are in the pot when it is your turn to act on the flop and on the turn.
- Be friendly to the players at the table. Offer them gum or breath mints if you are having one, and in general be a nice to them. There is a whole topic here, but in general people who like you and are having fun are going to be more likely to play worse against you and besides for many people poker is a social event so why would you ever want to scold them into playing a non-social technically better game?
- Read one of the poker magazines that they keep in stock at all the major card rooms. The articles are usually very good and contain useful advice (that you might be able to apply on the next hand that you actually do play)
- Get up and walk around. Especially when playing live you can lose mental sharpness by not moving around physically from time to time.
Pre-Flop Betting is Based On the Type of Your Cards.
The simple quick version is: if you are playing cards which often turn into drawing hands (suited cards, connectors, and suited connectors) you want to see the flop as cheaply as possible. The money you "lose" pre-flop is more than made up for by after the flop betting if you make your hand, and the money you save by not raising (or in some cases by getting out entirely if there are too many raises before you) is even more important.
Before the flop your have a couple of choices for your raising. One option if you are playing at a table where almost every single person sees the flop for a single bet it is often a valid strategy for purposes of lowering your variance to limp in with them with the starting hands we describe on this site. If this is the case you are going to have to also limp with your strongest hands (AA, KK, QQ, AK) soas not give your opponents too much information.
If you do choose to raise your biggest hands then you should also mix other hands in with them to raise. If you know that you will be dealing with more than 5 people calling any number of raises preflop then you can add suited aces and pocket pairs and suited broadway (two suited cards ten or higher) to your raising group.
One special note: AA and KK withstand multiway action fairly well, but QQ and JJ (and lower pocket pairs) do not (because an overcard flops quite often and you won't know where you are), so be prepared to dump these hands if things get unfavorable on the flop.
If your pre-flop raising with the large pocket pairs and AK/AQ cause your table to shift in general from passive to aggressive you should consider limping with these hands. While you are giving up pre-flop value, you are also gaining post-flop value by not revealing the strength of these hands. Contrary to what you may have heard, your opponents will notice some general tendencies of your play and react accordingly even at loose tables.
See For Yourself
One extra note about continuing past the flop with a pocket pair when overcards flop:
When you come into a pot with JJ or QQ and an Ace or King flop you should proceed very cautiously. If there is action in a multiway pot you should probably fold your hand on the flop. You will be tempted to wait around for another Q or J to fall, but you are drawing to a hand with 2 outs. Don't do that. It might happen and when it does after you fold you will hate it, but remember: on the flop you have seen 5 out of 52 cards. That leaves 47 unseen cards. Do you really want to wait around when the odds are worse than 20:1 against you? (Hint: The answer is no)
The exception to this rule is when the following are all true:
- There is already a lot of money in the put from heavy preflop action,
- You are either closing the action or have a strong reason to believe you will not be raised,
- You can see the turn for 1 small bet and
- The card that gives you a set is does not complete an obvious draw
(for example you have 99 in your hand and JTx has flopped--you don't want to catch your third 9 when it may complete a king high straight).
When these are all true you can see the turn for on small bet and if you do hit a miracle set there be in very good position to drag a very large pot.
A useful exercise you can do instead of calling to see the turn every time an overcard to your pocket pair flops (and there is action on the flop (where action equals either more than one person calling a bet, or one or more raises)) dump the pocket pair. Then at the end of the hand mark in a notebook once for every time you do this and in a separate section once if you won the hand. After you have about 100 dumped pocket pairs, count the number of times you would have won vs. the number of times you lost. Remember to estimate your actual investment in all the pots you would have lost (you called those raises and bets on the flop turn and river remember?) For many people this is a major leak and if you can plug it you'll go a long way to being a profitable player.