10 tips to help you play better and improve your IFMP Rating!
1. Stop Playing Rubbish Hands!
Maybe 6-3 offsuit is a “lucky” hand for you – perhaps you once beat a very good player with it, or maybe those numbers have special symbolic or spiritual significance. Whatever your reason, STOP PLAYING IT! It is a garbage hand!
This is an example of a negative expected value (-EV) play. Every time you put your money behind 63o, it is like you are backing the die to land on a 6 with a payoff of 2-to-1 against. Maybe you’ll occasionally get lucky and still win, but you WILL lose chips – AND REDUCE YOUR RATING – in the long-run. Just STOP DOING IT!
To find out which hands you should be playing, pre-flop, in a game of 8 players, consult our Preflop Ranges Chart. It tells you, mathematically, what hands you should and should not open with. It will also help your VEP fall in a sensible range. Learn more about VEP here.
Is it possible to win by opening a wider range of hands? Of course, but it is mathematically less likely – and takes more skill. (When you’re learning, try playing within the ranges advised – and then outside them – and learn how comfortable you are at each.)
Note: this chart will require you to identify your position in every hand, as this changes what cards you should play with. This segues nicely to our next key tip to help you improve your Rating…
2. Use Position to Your Advantage
You know the adage on the 3 rules of successful property investing, “Position, position, position”. In poker, as in real estate investment, position is everything. Odds, EV and the decisions you should be making, all change when you have position over your opponent – meaning you are in a later position than your opponent(s) and so, after the flop, you bet after them.
Our article on The Importance of Position in Poker will help you understand how to play strategically having regard to your position around the table.
3. Play Your Few Hands Aggressively
If you follow tip #1, you’re not going to end up playing many hands so, when you do, play them aggressively – even the weaker ones, so no one knows the actual strength of your hand. That way when you bet strongly, no one knows whether you have AA or 44 – which makes you hard to play against.
It’s called TAG play – Tight and Aggressive – and is a very sound way of playing.
While tip #1 will help your VEP fall in a reasonable range, this tip will help your PFR fall in a reasonable range. Learn more about PFR here.
Be the bettor – try to do everything on your terms.
4. Bet Cleverly
Mastering bet sizing is a very difficult thing to do; it will take time and effort. There are many difficult questions, so try having a read of our Poker Betting Strategies article.
5. Don’t Slow-Play Your Strong Hands
In most cases, YOU should do the betting of your hand – rather than taking what might be the tricky option of checking and hoping your opponent will bet when you have a monster. If you’re depending on someone betting when you check to them, don’t – it happens too rarely!
Bet – and build the pot. Bet – and build a better idea of what they might have (it could save you money later on).
Yes, your bet may push opponents out of the hand. But that’s not as bad as allowing them to take a free shot at cards that might hurt you or, even worse, only getting two streets of betting value instead of three.
6. Don’t Be The First Player To Limp
Never limp (i.e. never just call the big blind preflop). Never. This is because:
- You make it very attractive for players behind you to call – or to raise. If they call, then you have many more players to beat. If they raise, you have a difficult decision to make, particularly if you are out of position to them.
- Sometimes, by raising, you can win the pot there and then. You give this up by limping.
It can be OK to limp after someone else has already limped (this is called an overlimp) because you’ll be getting great pot odds to do so – i.e. the amount of money in the pot is attractive compared to the small amount you will be betting – and you might get lucky.
7. Take Risks… when the odds are there
In essence, know the odds. Know the odds in as many circumstances as possible. We don’t expect you to be a mathematical genius or anything like that. In fact, we have a page that gives you all the shortcuts and tricks to roughly calculating your odds in many of the most common situations.
Maybe you only have a 1-in-5 chance of making your inside straight draw, but if you’re getting pot odds of 6-to-1, you should, typically*, take that chance! Understanding pot odds – and, by extension, implied odds – is key to identifying a +EV play even when you’re unlikely to win. We have a comprehensive article on pot odds and implied odds here to help you!
* This too can change. Sometimes, for example, in a traditional poker tournament, it is better NOT to take a 60/40 chance when, if you were to miss, you’d walk away with a lot less – or with nothing.
8. Folding is Critical
A very good way to exploit your opponent is to fold.
Folding helps you beat opponents in the same seat as you to get ahead in Battle Royale tournaments! Tight players win for a reason.
Laying down a good hand when you think you are beaten is a huge and profitable skill. You can do very well simply by folding when you don’t know what to do.
9. Trust Your Gut
This one’s for the more experienced player.
The more hands you play, the more “feel” you have for what might be going on. “Feel” is just another way of saying that your “gut” is seeing something. When you’ve tried every other way of deciding between two options and still don’t know what to do, then either follow rule 8 above – and fold – OR do what the best players say: just “trust your gut”.
You probably hate to read it as much as we hate to write it, but practice really does make perfect.
There are things that no one can teach you in poker; you just have to learn them for yourself. The more you play, the more you learn about these little ineffable facets of the game and these will train your instincts to spot bluffs, identify and take advantage of weak players, and ultimately become a better player. Many players see these as the ‘softer’ skills in poker, but mastering them will help you make +EV decisions just as much as the tips we’ve given you above!