If you want to learn how to play poker, David Sklansky should be one of your go-to sources. 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 Goes 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 and making educated guesses about what cards they might be holding.


Building a Theoretically Sound Poker Strategy

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.

In short, according to the Fundamental Theorem of Poker, you’ll do better when you get a read on your opponents, and when you prevent them from getting a read on you. When you find a table where the other players just aren’t very good, you’ll gain even more. Keep this in mind the next time you play poker at Bovada. It might be the best poker advice you’ll ever get.