Do you have a strong desire to play poker in a real poker room, but you feel intimidated? You know the basics, but if someone were to ask you if you really understood poker fundamentals, you would have to say no. You shouldn’t be embarrassed about this. Everyone had to start somewhere, including Fedor Holz, Phil Ivey, and Doyle Brunson. This article can be your starting point. Better yet, if you combine it with all the other Texas Hold’em poker articles on this site, then you’re going to have a tremendous advantage over your future foes.
I have two professions: writing and poker. Most people who read my books and articles tell me that it’s like sitting next to someone at a bar while having a friendly conversation over a beer. Some people have also told me that they used to hate reading until they read/listened to my books. That’s an incredible compliment, and I appreciate it wholeheartedly. This doesn’t mean you will enjoy my writing as well; you can’t please all the people all the time. But it at least means that my writing isn’t boring.
I’m telling you this because I’m about to write about poker fundamentals. That is supposed to be boring, but I’m going to make sure we don’t get bored. My job is to keep your eyes on the page and your mind engaged. This way, you want to keep reading my work and I can make you a better poker player. Deal? Cool.
The Perfect Range
Let’s begin with starting hole cards. Why not? I wrote an entire book about it. I constantly receive messages from low-stakes poker players stating that this simple poker strategy has turned their game around. They used to be losing poker players and now they’re profitable.
In fact, I just received a message this morning from one of my fans that he bagged in a WPT event. This is the same person who promised himself that he would apply the poker strategy from The Perfect Range for one year and see what happened. That strategy is called SPATS. He ended up netting $80,000 for the year. Not bad. Since it did that well for him, and since you’re likely a low-stakes Texas Hold’em poker player, I’ll share that poker strategy with you. It can be applied to cash games and poker tournaments.
SPATS focuses on a range of poker hands to play. The acronym stands for Suited-Connectors, Pairs, Ax-suited, Ten and higher, and Suited One-Gappers. If you only play these poker hands, you’re going to automatically reduce variance, tighten up your play, and win more often.
It’s important to note that you have freedom to play any hands you like on the button and blinds, but I would use extreme caution on the small blind since you haven’t committed much to the pot and you will be in the worst position possible. The range for defending your big blind has a lot to do with the player who raised your big blind.
If the paragraph above confused you at all, I can solve the problem with ease. If you want to simplify the game while still increasing your odds of winning in cash games and poker tournaments, stick to SPATS on the button and blinds.
Here is one poker tip that you need to stick to with SPATS, though. If you’re holding a hand like QT-off and a tight player raises you, fold. Playing The Perfect Range doesn’t mean you’re forced to play hands within SPATS, it just means those are the only hands you’re allowed to play.
One real beauty of SPATS is that you will have a tight image because you’re playing premium poker hands with a great poker range, but when you raise with a suited one-gapper from middle position and hit, there isn’t one player at that table that’s going to see it coming. You’re going to make some bank on that hand.
Poker Fundamentals: 19%
If, by chance, SPATS is too complicated for you, don’t sweat it. I have another solution for you. Texas Hold’em poker can be a highly complex game, and most people think you must take a complex route with poker strategy to win. This is a misconception. All you need is patience and a little creativity. That’s where 19% comes into play.
I’m going to share a secret with you. I’m currently working on a new book. The title is 19%. The premise is to play in 100 poker tournaments with a goal of seeing a maximum of 19% of flops each tournament. This isn’t necessarily a poker strategy book. It’s more like a poker experiment book. I have played 23 of the 100 poker tournaments so far and I have had some wins and some losses, but I like what I’m seeing so far.
My job as a writer, entertainer, and poker strategist is to keep readers entertained while simplifying the game so they can win more often. That’s how I approach poker fundamentals. At the same time, I will teach my readers some in-depth psychological tactics for increasing their win rate.
Not much can be simpler than the following rule: You can only see a maximum of 19% of poker hands for your Texas Hold’em poker cash game or tournament. This will simply force poker players to play fewer poker hands, which is going to reduce variance, but it also accomplishes something else that most people will miss.
By playing fewer hands, you’re going to last longer in both cash games and Texas Hold’em poker tournaments. By lasting longer, you’re evaluating more. You might be doing this consciously, but even if that’s not the case, you’re doing it subconsciously. You can read all the poker fundamentals articles you want—and some will offer tremendous value—but the truth is that nothing beats experience.
The more poker hands you see, the more your mind will pick up on the patterns. The key is to stop thinking of your opponents as poker players. You’re giving them too much credit and thinking their geniuses. They are regular human beings, just like you and me. Once you can get yourself to realize that, which is a different type of thinking for a poker player, you will realize that human beings have patterns, and they very rarely differ from those patterns.
If you figure out a person’s (or poker player’s) patterns, you’ve got them nailed. They might get lucky against you once in a while, but over the long haul, they have no chance. You own them.
Not everyone buys into my way of thinking when it comes to poker fundamentals and strategy, but those who do usually end up very happy they did. This is a different poker mindset, a different world. In this world, we sell basic but we’re snakes underneath. That might sound harsh, but it’s only for poker, and it’s what we need to be successful poker players. In the real world, I’m nothing even close to a snake. I’m friendly and honest to everyone I meet. But you cannot be honest in the game of poker, and that’s poker fundamentals 101.
To put it simply, if you want to really simplify the game, win more, and train yourself all at the same time, play 19%. The next time you sit down at a poker table, open the Notes app on your phone, then write “Played:” and underneath that, write “Flops Not Seen:” After each hand, change the number so you can keep track. For example, after 50 hands, it might look like this:
Flops Not Seen: 38
This would tell you that you’re playing a little too fast. Not fast at all for average poker hands played, but fast for what we’re trying to accomplish.
Don’t focus on winning and losing pots. If you stick to the 19%, you will win many more pots than you lose over the long haul. Also keep the following in mind: If you’re playing this tight and keeping yourself out of trouble, how will other players view you? They’re going to see you as someone who doesn’t take risks. Therefore, after several hours of play, when the blinds are higher and you miss that flush draw, you can fire at that river (value bet, not all your chips), and they are very likely to fold.
You don’t need to bet all your chips in that spot because your image doesn’t require it. So many “poker players” believe you need to fire big on a missed draw, but it depends on your image. That is yet another advantage of 19%: You don’t need to risk as many chips on bluffs.
Creativity vs. Stupidity
I think someone must have written a poker book once where it said the following: “You must make crazy plays that show a lot of heart in order to be a great player. If you don’t do this, then you’re not following the poker rules and shall be banned from the game!”
I say that because poker stupidity is rampant. That’s good for us, just make sure you don’t fall into that group. There are scores of people that feel the need to bluff 50 BB on the turn, 4-bet pre-flop with 6h 5h, consistently call with Ace-high because they want to look like a hero, and re-pop the tightest player at the table with air.
The latter is the only play that might make sense because the tightest player at the table might also be the most likely to fold. That’s usually the case, but here’s the twist. What if that tightest player is me and just selling the image so his opponent will attack? This is deception. And, yes, deception should absolutely be noted in an article about poker fundamentals. Without it, you have no chance.
Do you see what happened there? Read the subtitle of this section again. I wrote several examples of a player making stupid plays. Then I mentioned that bluffing the tightest player “might” make sense. Usually, it will make sense. That’s fine and we have nothing to do with the stupid player who wins some pots … until he comes after us.
You might not have picked up on it, but selling the image of the tightest player at the table is the creativity. Tight poker players are often seen as the least creative players at the table. They only play premium poker hands and fold when they miss, but not all tight players are built the same. The brilliance of what we’re doing is that we’re getting all of our opponents to believe that we fall into that category.
In reality, our reading ability is much stronger than what is perceived. This, in turn, leads to stupid poker players coming after us with marginal hands or complete air. And this is also how we accumulate many chips.
Once again, deception must be an important aspect of poker fundamentals. Poker fundamentals are the base, then we cannot build any higher without deception. If you go into the game as a NIT or a maniac and you remain one of those two things, then you lack creativity and deception. If you are truly a NIT or maniac, where is the deception? The way other players perceive you is going to be reality. We don’t want that. We want other players perception to not match reality. Their perception only matches reality in their minds. Remember, we own them.
Let’s flip the script a little and look at the other side of poker fundamentals when it comes to reading poker hands. Instead of selling an image and working off of it, now let’s delve into how we should read others. It’s much easier than you think.
Most people play scared because they immediately think: “Oh my God, that player raised, he must have AA or KK! I better be careful.” No! No! NO! Don’t do that.
If they have AA or KK, you will know, and I’ll tell you how you’ll know. If they bet bigger than normal, sit perfectly still, and go completely silent while not taking their eyes off the table whatsoever during pre-flop action, they have AA or KK. Works every single time. Easiest read in the game.
What you should really assume when someone raises pre-flop is that they’re likely to have AK, AQ, AJ, or AT. These hands are much more common than AA or KK. If you begin to assume that your opponent has AK, AQ, AJ, or AT after raising pre-flop, then you’re going to find yourself stealing a lot more pots, and your opponents are going to find you to be a tough and irritating opponent.
Let’s say your opponent raises pre-flop and you call. I’m keeping this very basic in order to stick with the simple poker fundamentals theme. The flop comes: 872. Your opponent c-bets (continuation bet). Your two best options here are call and raise. Do not fold.
If you call and your opponent respects you because you have a tight image, he will not bet the turn, which will open the door. Bet the turn and he will fold—almost every time. Raising the flop presents a little more risk, but your opponent will usually fold and you’re going to feel like a poker beast (meant in a good way). You don’t have to worry too much about a flopped set because most players limp pre-flop with medium and small pairs. If you find resistance on this hand, as in your opponent raises or continues to bet out, fold. It’s that simple.
The game is simple, people! Put ego to the side, play tight, apply pressure when you sense weakness, and fold when you see resistance. You’re not going to be correct every time, but you’re going to be correct most of the time, and that’s winning poker!
Let me put it to you another way: Don’t be afraid to raise and don’t be afraid to fold. If you can apply that, you’re in the minority and you’re going to be one dangerous cat at the poker table. You will frustrate the hell out of your opponents because they will view you as someone who can extract chips but won’t give them away.
Relative Hand Strength
You have Ac Kc pre-flop. That’s a monster. Then the flop comes: Th 9h 8h. Your hand is no longer a monster. It’s more relative to a peanut. Don’t be one of those people who believes basic poker rules that state you need to bet out here because you’re holding AK. For real? You could already be drawing dead. And do you really expect to win a big pot on this hand? Your risk is tremendous and your potential reward is minuscule. I don’t care what traditional poker fundamentals say. This is a fold.
If you want me to go real basic on poker fundamentals, if you flop a flush, the board pairs on the turn, and your opponent raises, you’re holding the losing hand most of the time. Anyone can rake a pot with a winning hand, but not everyone can fold a good hand. If you can fold second-best and other good hands when you know you’re beat, you have just moved up a level in the world of Texas Hold’em poker.
Then there are times where you have to trust your gut/reads. I’ll give you an example. I recently played in a poker tournament at the Tampa Hard Rock. On one hand, I turned a Queen-high flush, but the board also paired on the turn. I had two opponents. The player in Seat 5 bet out on the flop and turn. The player in Seat 7 called both times, as did I. It appeared that one of them had a full house, until the river.
On the river, Seat 5 and Seat 7 checked. What I immediately learned from this was that Seat 7 didn’t have a full house. If he was trapping, he would have bet in that spot because I had only flatted (called) on the two previous streets. Seat 5 was more of a mystery, but he wasn’t the most intelligent player. Plus, he had bet out twice and got two callers both times. If he kept getting callers and he had made his full house, he would have continued betting in order to win more chips. His check indicated weakness.
In most situations when I have a flush, the board is paired, I have two opponents, and I’m the last to act, I’m checking. This minimizes risk. But I also know that if you want to be a great poker player instead of a good one, you need to trust your gut and take advantage of every opportunity.
Sensing that I was up against two opponents with trip Aces and no full houses, I bet out 3100 chips into a pot of 2700. I chose this amount because it’s an overbet, which appears to be a bluff to most opponents, especially since I had just called the flop and turn and now watched my two opponents check the river. The player in Seat 5 folded. The player in Seat 7 called with trip-Aces. I won the hand.
Betting for value in a spot like this, as well as using deceptive tactics to make it look like a bluff based on betting patterns, also lets the rest of the table know that you are not to be messed with. You also want to be that guy/gal.
I’ll teach you something about poker fundamentals. It’s the most fundamental poker strategy out there. If you sit down at a poker table and someone is talking about poker strategy, they’re not a great player. They’re advertising because they’re insecure about their skill level. Anyone who truly understands poker strategy knows not to talk about it at the poker table.
This would be like you and me having a boxing match and me telling you before the first round, “Okay, I don’t want you to know this, but listen carefully. I’m going to come at you with a one-two followed by a right hook, duck, and left uppercut.”
Stupid poker players are among us! This can relate to poker fundamentals in a different way. Sit back, relax, and let them make mistakes. If you’re playing low-stakes Texas Hold’em poker, I promise you they will make mistakes. At these levels, my poker rules say the following: May the most patient player win. I’m not a NIT (I sometimes pretend to be) and I don’t recommend being one, but let me ask you this: “Have you ever seen a NIT get crushed?”
Just like anything else in the world, it’s the quiet ones you need to worry about. If someone at your table looks very comfortable, doesn’t say anything, and is playing tight-aggressive, that’s your threat, not the guy talking about poker strategy and poker fundamentals.
A Huge Anti-Poker Fundamental Secret
I’m about to share with you something I have never shared before. It’s my biggest secret when it comes to winning in poker. Sharing this secret is against my poker rules, but despite having never met you or even knowing who you are, I’m beginning to feel a connection. The following is not only my biggest secret in poker, it’s my biggest weapon. And to be completely honest with you, it’s anti poker fundamentals.
In every big cash I have had in sanctioned poker tournaments, I have done the same thing at least 1-2 times. When the pot is a moderate size, we’re at the river, and I’m relatively sure I’m holding the winning hand, I completely overbet the pot and put all my chips in the middle.
I do this because of a study I read years ago. It revealed that if you were to consistently do this, you would come out way ahead over the long haul. Sometimes your opponent will fold, but when they call, the amount of chips you accumulate greatly outweighs the amount of chips you accumulate by value betting in that spot. The reason people sometimes call is simple: They’re human beings with emotions. Sometimes they don’t believe you.
When you win a hand like this, you double up in a spot where you’re not supposed to double up. I have done this countless times when I have 60k-150k chips. When you double that stack in a poker tournament where the starting stack was 20,000, you’re in excellent shape. Winning that one all-in hand usually takes you from fringe territory to Top 10 in chips and you know you’re making the money.
The above poker strategy is one reason I’m seen as different. You can read all you want about poker fundamentals: pot odds, implied odds, set mining, etc., but those poker fundamentals are being approached the wrong way.
For example, if I’m up against an emotional opponent, I will purposely call a draw when the implied odds tell me to fold, only because I know if I hit, that player will go on tilt and end up losing all his chips within 30 minutes. If I miss the turn, I will fold to his next bet, but taking one shot at putting a player so on tilt that he will lose all his chips is an implied odds situation that most people don’t see.
I’ll tell you some other secrets to winning in poker as well. They might not be the normal approach when it comes to poker rules and poker fundamentals, but if you’re following the normal poker rules on winning, then you’re going to be just like everyone else.
When it comes to bluffing, use small – to moderate-sized bets. You almost never need to fire half your stack or more to get your opponent to fold. In fact, the bigger the bet, the more it looks like a bluff. You don’t want to bet too small where your opponent can’t fold, but you should be using high-range value bets on bluffs.
We are putting ourselves in the minds of our opponents, and to almost every opponent in the poker universe, this will look the strongest. It will not look like a bluff at all. You won’t get away with it every time, but you should get away with it at least 80% of the time. That is much better than firing all-in and getting called half the time. Think about the risk/reward differences for those two approaches.
Since I’m spewing secrets, I guess I’ll keep going. The following poker secret is not something you will read in any article about poker fundamentals. It’s sheer craziness, but that’s why it works.
Do you really want your bluffs to be effective? Instead of using standard bluffs, mix them in with check-raise bluffs. Nothing in the game of poker is more powerful than a check-raise. The only way your opponent is calling you is if they have a monster. If that happens, great, you know where you stand and can fold.
What’s also great about using this tactic is that if you get caught, you can check-raise on your next monster hand and your opponent won’t believe you. Therefore, even though you got caught once, you’re likely to make it all back plus more when you actually have a hand. That said, you’re not going to get caught very often on your check-raise bluffs. The range of hands your opponent(s) will fold is enormous. This is clever bluffing vs. stupid bluffing (all-in on the river with air).
You have now learned more about poker fundamentals and how to win in poker. This isn’t the traditional poker fundamentals article, but if that were the case, what would you have learned? How to be like everyone else? We don’t want that. We want to be deceptive, creative, and unique while digging into the minds of our opponents so we understand how they operate. If we can understand our enemy, we have every advantage we need. We own them. See you at the WSOP!
♠ pokerjournal.org / Tyler Nals
Poker Fundamentals – FAQs
A: This refers to what poker hands you will and won’t play?
A: It’s situational and depends on the play at your table. That being said, on average you should only be playing about 20-25% of hands.
A: If you are not at least 90% sure you have the winning hand when facing a big bet, it’s a fold.
A: I highly recommend using SPATS, which can be found in The Perfect Range or reading the article above.
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