You’re at the final table of a $50,000 buy-in online poker tournament. The tournament is heads-up and you’re both button-holding. You’re both holding strong hands with small fractions of your bankrolls on the line. The flop comes, the turn and the river match each other, offering you no clear winner. It’s a tough decision, you’re thinking. Do you call?
It’s a dilemma nearly every poker player faces at one point or another. Does this hand deserve a showdown? How much should you risk? What’s the most appropriate move?
Poker is a game of skill, strategy, and mental math. It’s always nice when you can solve a problem like this with a nice, clean break. Thanks to modern technology, we can now solve almost every poker problem with five easy steps.
Step one: Calculate the pot
Poker is a game where the pot increases over time. The pot can be thought of as the total amount of money in the game. Before the hand begins, the pot is usually zero. Every time a player makes a bet, the pot increases by the amount of that bet. When the hand is over, the pot is usually determined by adding together all of the bets and subtracting the starting stack size from it. As a general rule of thumb: the bigger the pot, the bigger the chance of making the right play.
In this example, the pot would be $50,000 USD and the starting stack size is $25,000. This means that every $25,000 USD bet is another $25,000 in pot added to the game. In theory, this is a good mathematical formula for increasing your chances of winning a poker game.
Step two: Call or fold
The first step in solving any poker problem is to figure out if you should call or fold. This is sometimes easier said than done, though. In our example, we’re conflicted. You have a 50/50 shot of winning the hand, so it’s always a good idea to call. The question is how much should you bet?
Poker hands are typically given specific guidelines for how much to bet. These rules of thumb apply no matter where you are in the world. In our example, 50/50 means that you have a 50% chance of winning the hand. This implies that if you call, you have a 50% chance of making real money. If you’re unsure of how much to bet or which decision to make, you can always look it up on a chart.
This is what makes poker a game of skill. Before the hand begins, you have no idea how much money will be in the pot. This makes it hard to decide what to put in, what to raise, and what to bluff. Because of all of this, the choice to call or fold is one of the most important in poker. You should always call unless you have a clear reason not to. This is known as a pre-flop raise because it’s done before the flop.
Step three: Check for dominated hands
Once you’ve decided to call or fold, the next step is to figure out what kind of hands you’re playing against. This is known as determining your range of hands. There are seven categories of hands, ranging from the strong hands to the weak hands. We need to check if any of your opponent’s hands are controlling the game. This is known as being dominated. For our purposes, we’ll use the term ‘dominant’ instead.
Determining your range of hands is crucial because it influences how you calculate your odds of winning the hand. You want to know if you’re facing a stronger or weaker opponent. In theory, this makes it easier to decide how much to bet or if you should even call in the first place. You don’t want to put all of your money into a tight grip because you think it’ll be weaker than it actually is. You want to use the right amount of money for the right game.
In our example, we’re holding two pair, aces and eights. We can put this in the category of strong hands because they constitute two pairs, which is the strongest single hand in poker. However, the eights are a bit weak because they don’t have a king or joker to make them more powerful. This is why it’s always a good idea to check for dominated hands before you make any kind of play.
Step four: Determine the best play
Once you know what kind of hands you’re playing against, it’s time to figure out the best play. The goal is to make the right decision about how to bet or what to call, not just to win the hand. This is why it’s so important to do your research before you enter the game. You want to choose your battles wisely. In our example, let’s say both of your opponent’s hands are equally strong, so it’s a 50/50 coin toss. You can’t tell much from the hands themselves, but you can use this to your advantage. You want to use your brain, not your heart, to make this decision. This is why it’s best to check out all of the different options before you commit to anything.
It’s important to take into consideration what your opponent is doing and assuming. If they’re trying to bluff you, it’s always a good idea to call their bluff and reveal the strength of your hand. This will change the game because now they’ll have to decide whether to call yours or leave their hand tied behind their back. The same goes for other players. If they’re trying to steal your blinds, it’s always a good idea to call and shut them down. You want to use your brain, not your heart, to make this decision.
Step five: Bet or call as a block
When you’ve decided that your opponent is not dominated and you want to continue playing, it’s time to make a decision. You have two options: you can bet or call as a block. This is where the old fashioned way comes in. You want to make a concerted effort to raise the total amount of money in the pot before the hand is over. In our example, if both of your opponents have raised the bet to $100,000 USD, then you have an option to either call or match their bet, adding another $100,000 to the pot.
When you call as a block, it’s generally best response to another block. This means that if both of your opponents have called, then you should also call. While this adds a bit more money to the pot, it also makes it more difficult to win. In our example, if both of your opponents have called and you decide to call too, then this makes it a $250,000 USD pot. You tripled your money, but also tripled your opponent’s chances of winning. This is why while it’s great to hit a block on a button press, it can also bite you in the end. You have to be careful not to play too aggressively, because this is generally how you lose hands of poker, not win them. Calculate your odds of winning before you act.
Step six: Consider your hand history
One of the things you need to watch out for in poker is hand history. This is a track record of hands you’ve played in the past. If you’re looking for a clear winner in this example, you can check out the hand history. You’ll notice that when we checked for dominated hands, we saw that both our hands were equally strong. This is because we’ve played each other before and know that when both of our hands are in the game, neither one of us has a clear advantage. Each hand is balanced, but we have a history of winning and losing together. This makes it easier to decide what to do in this session because we know what to expect.