What makes poker such a great game? The fact that it’s a skill-based game has a lot to do with it. Sure, luck plays a role as well, but the more work you put into improving your online poker fundamentals, the better results you’ll see at the tables. We’ll help you get there by giving you three of the best poker strategy concepts advanced players are using to dominate the felt. Learn them, practice them, and you’ll be well on your way to end-boss status.

Learn Expected Value

If you want to win when you play online poker at Bovada, thinking clearly about chance is one of the most important skills you can develop. Understanding the nature of probability will allow you to develop a winning advanced poker strategy, which you can then apply at the tables to make money – in the long run.

That last part is very important. In poker, you can make the correct play and still lose. Let's say you’re playing No-Limit Hold’em and you get all your money in preflop with AA, and your opponent has 7-2 offsuit for some reason. Your opponent is going to win that pot around one-ninth of the time. When it happens, and it will, should you get angry at yourself for not folding those Aces preflop? Of course not. You should get your money in again the next time it happens, and the time after that, expecting to win much more often than not.

Which brings us to the concept of expected value (EV). In poker, you’re presented with a standard set of choices: bet, raise, call, check, or fold. If it's a “big bet” game like No-Limit Hold’em, you also have to choose how big or how small your bet/raise will be. How do you decide? Ideally, you’ll have some awareness of the EV of each possible decision. Then you can make the choice that is most plus-EV.

Imagine a very easy (if unlikely) No-Limit Hold’em hand: It’s heads-up, you versus your opponent, and you each start with $100. Your opponent goes first, and shoves all-in with any two cards. You look down at AA. Do you call, or do you fold?

We arrive at the answer by looking at the expected value for each decision. If you fold, your EV is zero – you gain or lose nothing more by mucking your cards. What about if you call? The math says pocket rockets will beat a random hand 85.2% of the time. That means 85.2% of the time, you'll earn $100 in profit by calling, and the other 14.8%, you'll lose $100.

EV(call) = (85.2% x $100) + (14.8% x –$100)

EV(call) = $85.20 – $14.80

EV(call) = $70.40

Since $70.40 is greater than zero, you have an easy choice: Call. But what if you're holding 7-2 offsuit instead of AA? The math says 7-2 offsuit will beat a random hand 34.6% of the time. Let's plug that number into our simple formula:

EV(call) = (34.6% x $100) + (65.4% x –$100)

EV(call) = $34.60 – $65.40

EV(call) = –$30.80

In this case, the EV of calling is worse than the EV of folding (which is still zero), so you should fold. Again, most poker situations will be more complex than this. But if you think in terms of expected value, and if you’re willing to analyze hands away from the table and do some simple math, you can begin making smarter decisions and winning more money.

Learn REM: Range, Equity, Maximize

There are many ways to exploit your opponents at the poker table, but REM might be the easiest, because it involves three easy steps: Range, Equity, Maximize. REM was introduced in the book Professional No-Limit Hold ‘Em: Volume 1 by Matt Flynn, Sunny Mehta and Ed Miller, and it gives you a framework that allows you to narrow down what your opponents are holding, so you can get the most out of your own hand against theirs. Let’s look at each step in the process:

Range: What cards do your opponents likely hold?

Unless you’ve developed psychic powers, you’re not going to be able to put your opponent on an exact hand based on their actions. However, you should be able to come up with a range of possible hands. When a tight-aggressive (TAG) player makes a 3-bet against someone raising pre-flop from early position, you know they probably have something incredibly strong, either a high pair or maybe Ace-King. On the other hand, if that same TAG player calls instead of 3-bets, they probably have something like a medium pair or suited Broadway cards, hoping to see the flop without investing any more money than they have to.

Equity: How strong are you against that range?

If you really want to master poker, get started thinking in terms of equity. In basic terms, this is the “share” of the pot you would expect to win over time making the same play with the same cards. When you compare your hand to your opponent’s possible range of hands, you can make an educated guess about where you stand. For instance, if you’re the early-position opener from the above example and you have AhJh, and you’ve put your opponent on a range of high pairs only (Tens or better), the math says you have a mere 34% equity in the pot.

Maximize: What’s the best play you can make?

Once you have a good idea of your opponent’s range and the relative equity of your hand, then you can make the right decisions. Using the AhJh example above, and assuming that both you and your opponent have full stacks, you might have enough depth to call that 3-bet and try to make a nut flush or straight. But if the stacks are more shallow, like when you play Bovada online poker tournaments, folding is probably the right option. 

Many players believe that the REM approach is the best way to play a hand in poker. It takes a lot of practice, but once you’ve got the groundwork, making the right plays will happen more and more automatically as you improve.

Learn the Fundamental Theorem of Poker

David Sklansky should be one of your go-to sources for learning about poker. He’s a three-time World Series of Poker bracelet winner, and the author of multiple ground-breaking books, none more important than The Theory of Poker (1979). This is the book where Sklansky gives us what he calls the Fundamental Theorem of Poker. It’s a simple, yet profound statement that every poker player should understand before sitting down at the table.

Sklansky’s Fundamental Theorem of Poker starts like this:

“Every time you play a hand differently from the way you would have played it if you could see all your opponents’ cards, they gain; and every time you play your hand the same way you would have played it if you could see all their cards, they lose.”

Seems pretty obvious, right? If you could see your opponents’ cards, of course you’d be able to make the right play. If you had the best hand, you would usually bet or raise, with some occasional checks for deception. If you had the worst hand, you would usually fold, with some occasional calls or bluff-raises with a draw – again, with deception in mind. Here’s the point: You can’t see your opponents’ cards, but you can still try to make the right decisions by narrowing down their ranges (remember REM) and making educated guesses about what cards they might be holding.

The second half of Sklansky’s Fundamental Theorem of Poker is much like the first, but from your opponents’ point of view:

“Conversely, every time opponents play their hands differently from the way they would have if they could see all your cards, you gain; and every time they play their hands the same way they would have played if they could see all your cards, you lose.”

Once again, this seems obvious: Your opponents would be able to make the right play if they knew your cards. This is why deception is so important. If you’re always making the same plays with the same hands, your patterns will become obvious – it will be as if your opponents actually could see your cards. Instead, mix things up by using “balanced” ranges for every move you make at the table. For example, when you raise your opponent’s continuation bet on the flop, sometimes it should be with a big made hand, and sometimes with a big draw.

Now that you have these three advanced poker concepts in your arsenal, it’s time to hit the felt and try them out. You can play free online poker at Bovada using Play Money chips while you test-drive these strategies. To learn more, consult the articles in our comprehensive Bovada online poker strategy guide, and see what else you can do to improve your results.