Bovada's Online Poker Strategy Guide

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Comprehensive Online Poker Strategy Guide

Quick question: What’s the one thing in the world you do better than anything else, maybe even the best? Once you’ve got the answer, take a moment to think about how you got so good at it. Trial and error probably had a lot to do with it. Education, too. Natural talent? That certainly helps. But all three of these things will go to waste unless you have a plan for achieving your goals. If you want to excel at something – if you want to win – you need a strategy for success to overcome the stakes at hand, in this case your poker play hand.

That's where we come in. Developing an effective poker strategy for poker beginners is an absolute must for anyone who wants to enjoy success on the felt during cash games or tournaments, live or online. If you start with the right poker game plan and build from there, you should see improved results right off the bat – and those results should continue to improve as you put more time and effort into it. We’ll give you the building blocks you need to start crushing Bovada Poker cash games and online poker tournaments like a true boss. And it all begins with a simple, one-step process: Plan.

Importance of Poker Strategy

If you had a magical poker chip stack that always replenished itself every time you lost a play hand, you wouldn’t need any poker strategy tips at all, during online or live play. Sadly, that’s not the way it works. Like any other sport or game, or anything else you do in life, you’re faced with limited resources when you play online poker tournaments and cash games. And you’re faced with a set of uncertainties. Poker is a game of incomplete information when you play; you don’t know what cards your opponents have in their playing hand, and they don’t know your play hand.

To give yourself the best chance of overcoming these play obstacles, you need a plan for managing those limited poker resources during games and tournaments, online or live, and your plan has to hold up no matter the circumstances nor stakes. That’s what player strategy is all about. Without it, you’re not just leaving your results up to pure chance – you’re allowing your opponents to exploit you and take away all your chips and, therefore, all your playing money. This is poker, not roulette. You are the house, and your house edge will only be as good as your play strategy during games or tournaments, online or live. 

Playing Better Online Poker

You might not have a never-ending supply of poker play chips, but here’s another poker fantasy about games and tournaments: What if you did know what cards your opponents had at all times? That would make the game very easy indeed, at least for you. The decisions you face would be nearly automatic and mistake-free. Doing anything else but the obvious play would cause you to lose money in the long run.

That's the Fundamental Theorem of Poker in a nutshell. David Sklansky, one of the greatest poker thinkers of all-time, presented this gem in his 1999 book The Theory of Poker. It seems obvious enough at first. If you make the same decisions you would have if you knew your opponents’ cards, you’ll win. If you don’t, they’ll win. The playing takeaway is not necessarily obvious, but it’s the play foundation of any solid poker strategy: You want to narrow down what play cards your opponents might have, and you want to disguise the cards you might have, so you’re the one making the correct decisions more often.

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Poker Game Theory

Here’s another dream poker scenario of playing enthusiasts: What if your opponents could never do better than break even against you in the long run – even if you told them your entire poker play strategy? It would be kind of like tic-tac-toe. Once you know the play strategy for tic-tac-toe, you’ll never lose unless you make a mistake, and maybe you’ll win sometimes, especially if your opponent doesn’t know what to do.

Sometime around 2015, this concept took over the poker playing universe, at least among most top poker players. Game-Theory Optimal (GTO) poker uses the basic tenets of game theory, as developed by mathematicians John von Neumann and John Nash in the mid-20th Century. Thanks to the power of computers, we now have an unbeatable GTO strategy for heads-up Fixed-Limit Texas Hold’em. And more recently, computers were able to soundly defeat top human poker players at the No-Limit version. Computers have also allowed online games and tournaments for real money for any player. 

These GTO strategies are too complex in themselves to memorize ahead of time, especially for No-Limit Hold’em. But they do show how the Fundamental Theorem of Poker works in action. Generally speaking, a GTO strategy will have you make the same bet (at the same size) in a given situation with a number of different hands you may be holding. Many times, you’ll be betting for value; other times, you’ll be bluffing. The ratio of bluffs to value bets will depend on your bet size – the bigger the bet, the more often you should bluff. This effectively disguises your poker hand and leaves your opponents unable to exploit you when it’s their move. Learn to time things to your playing advantage at the tournaments, online or live. 

Basic Poker Strategy for Beginners

Fortunately for the rest of us poker players, the rise of GTO poker hasn’t ruined the poker sport. Many otherwise sharp poker players went too far trying to memorize what to do with certain poker hands in certain spots, without even grasping why these play strategies work in the first place. Don’t make the same mistake. Instead of GTO, the three letters you want to think about as a beginner are ABC. An ABC poker strategy will help you reap many of the benefits of GTO, but in a simplified form, a short amount of time, that you can use while you’re still learning the ins and outs of the game.

Even better, by starting at Square One, you’ll be preparing yourself for all the different variants of poker. It might seem like Texas Hold’em, Omaha and Omaha Hi/Lo (all available online at Bovada Poker) are different animals, and if you play live poker, games like Deuce-to-Seven, Stud-8 and Badugi can seem very exotic indeed. But really, poker is poker. It’s all about combinations and pot odds – and reading your opponents, but that’s a more advanced realm of playing rules and tips for another time.

Texas Hold’em Basic Strategy

Since the vast majority of people are playing “the Cadillac of Poker,” as Doyle Brunson famously called it, you’re probably looking for some Texas Hold’em tips. The basic ABC strategy starts with learning which starting poker hands you should play. In early position, you’ll want to play only your best poker hands; as you get closer to the button, you can open your starting ranges, since there are fewer players between you and the blinds who can get in the way. A player can find examples of these ranges online, or download poker software to help the player figure them out. For now, always open-raise – never limp in – and always open for the same amount. Something like 2.5 times the big blind should suffice.

Post-flop poker is more difficult. As a beginner player, protect yourself by using one consistent bet size on all streets (flop, turn and river) – say, two-thirds of the pot. And decide how many streets of value you want to go for based on the strength of your hand. Any pair is usually good for one street. For two streets, you’ll want at least Top Pair-Good Kicker (like King-Seven on a Seven-Five-Deuce board). And don’t bet or call all three streets without Two Pair or better. 

What if you’re bluffing instead of value betting? Again, protection is key when you’re a poker beginner, so keep your bluffing to a minimum for now. Make sure as a player you have at least an Open-Ended Straight Draw (eight outs) or a Flush Draw (nine outs) before you bluff – and make sure you as a player bet or raise the same amount with a bluff as you would with a value bet. A pot-sized raise is a good standard to maintain at this point. Bluff on the flop; if your opponent doesn’t fold and your draw doesn’t come in on the turn, abort mission and check or fold as required. Save those double- and triple-barrel bluffs for when you’re more advanced.

Omaha Poker Strategy

When you’re ready for some four-card poker, the same general play strategies apply to Omaha as Hold’em. Just make sure to adjust your betting thresholds appropriately. Two Pair is no longer strong enough for three streets of value; you might even fold the flop if your opponent gets spicy. As for those starting hands, memorizing ranges won’t be as effective as it is in Hold’em. Try grouping poker hands into categories like Aces (AA87), rundowns (T987), pairs with three-card rundowns (9987) and so forth, and make sure to note the suitedness of your hand. Does it contain two cards with one suit and two of another? Or do you have a “rainbow” hand containing all four suits?

Poker Tournament Strategy

GTO poker (and ABC poker, for that matter) is built for cash games, but it can also be used when you’re at the poker tournament tables. The main difference is you’ll be working with different poker stack sizes. Your strategy when you’re 100 big blinds deep will be different than when you’ve got 20bb. In fact, once you get short enough (maybe 10-15bb), you’re only viable options are to go all-in or fold. Look for push-fold Nash equilibrium charts online to help you figure out which hands to shove from which positions at the table. Yes, that’s Nash as in John Nash, our aforementioned hero from A Beautiful Mind.

There’s so much more to talk about when it comes to poker strategy, but for now, you’ve got the basics you need to start your journey towards excellence. You know the Fundamental Theorem of Poker, the general concept behind Game-Theory Optimal strategy, and an ABC strategy that you can use to minimize your mistakes while you learn the ropes. We’ve got lots more useful articles here online at Bovada Poker, so keep reading, keep learning, and keep practicing. The results will come.

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