So, you want to start studying poker, huh? Maybe you got into it a few years ago, watching Daniel Negreanu, Phil Helmuth and other poker legends battle it out on the felt. Maybe you have been an avid player since the Moneymaker boom, but you want to start seriously working on your game. Wherever you’ve come from, there are a few basic topics that you’ll need to start working on immediately in your poker game. Studying these topics in order will be FAR easier than sifting through random articles, forums and hand analysis videos trying to scrape some actionable information from them. Let’s dive right in and take a look at the FIRST topics you should have a grasp on when building your poker strategy.
The first thing you have to make sure you fully understand when it comes to poker is the basic math that should drive the vast majority of your decisions in-game. Now, for all of you “I’m not a math guy” folks, I promise it’s not that difficult. In fact, as long as you understand basic division, addition, subtraction and multiplication, you should be good to go! Now, let’s briefly break down these terms.
Pot Odds simply refers to the ratio between the size of the pot and the bet facing you. Don’t get scared off by the math, it’s pretty simple! As an example, if there is $4 in the pot and your opponent bets $1, you are being asked to pay one-fifth of the pot in order to have a chance of winning it. So, a call of $1 to win $5 represents pot odds of 5:1.
Outs are pretty simple as well and go hand in hand with pot odds. Before you can begin to calculate your odds in a hand, you’ll need to know your “outs.” An out is simply a card which will “make” your hand. As an example, if you are on a flush draw with four spades in your hand, then there will be nine spades (outs) remaining in the deck to give you a flush. Remember there are thirteen cards in a suit, so this is easily worked out; 13 – 4 = 9 outs.
Equity basically means the amount of money that you are currently expected to win, if you played out a million simulations of the current hand. For example, if you have Ah Ad and your opponent has KsKc you have 81.2% equity to win the hand. So on average, 81.2% of the pot should come your way. Now of course, poker doesn’t always work like that and variance can play a huge part in your wins and losses. Just remember that the goal of poker isn’t to always win the pot, but rather to put yourself in profitable situations where your equity is higher than your opponent’s.
Open Raising, Calling vs 3-bets, & Cold Calling
Ok, now we’re getting into the fun stuff! Once you’ve got a basic grasp of the math behind poker, you can start developing your ranges, or the groups of hands that you will want to play from each position at the table.
Open Raising ranges are the first thing you’ll want to work on. If you don’t even know what hands you should be playing, how can you break down anything else about your game? Every poker player should have a strategy for what hands they want to either raise or fold from each position at the table. If you sign up for free on raiseyouredge.com, you’ll get access to a ton of ranges to help you start building your preflop strategy! It’s super simple to view all of the ranges on the site, and will help you do away with a lot of the guesswork preflop.
After you’ve studied what hands you want to raise, you’ll want to start studying other ranges for Calling vs 3-bets, Cold Calling, and other common situations preflop. Again, a lot of this information is free on raiseyouredge.com. If you study and internalize these ranges, you will already have a massive head start on most players in low stakes poker games. Get the math down, get the ranges down, then start studying step 3.
So, you understand what equity means now (if you missed that, go back to step 1!), and it’s time to start studying it in depth. A great equity training tool is Power-Equilab. It’s not free, but it’s fairly cheap and will help you understand simple spots a lot quicker! For example, your opponent raises Under the Gun, and you have JJ. You decide to 3bet, and then your opponent 4-bets all in! Should you call? You can use Power-Equilab to assign your opponent a range of hands, and then run the equity that your JJ has against that range. This will help you start to put all the math pieces together in a real game scenario and will absolutely help internalize the information you are learning.
You can also study individual hands from your own sessions, and start really picking apart what you should have done vs what you actually did! Studying and analyzing hands you played off the table is something that ALL serious poker players should be doing. Before you can understand something on the felt, you have to be able to dissect and analyze it away from the tables.
Ok so this one is SUPER relevant if you play tournaments. If you only plan on playing cash games, where you have at least 100 big blinds in your stack almost always, it won’t be as prevalent for you. However, there is a ton of money in low stakes tournaments, so it’s worthwhile knowing how to play them if you decide to!
An amazing tool for studying shortstack play is a program called ICMizer 3. This tool is absolutely insane! You can input hands from tournaments you’ve played, including positions, stack sizes, field size, payout structure and other factors and find out EXACTLY what you should be shoving and folding in that situation. There is also a tool included in ICMizer called SNG Coach, which will quiz you on thousands of push/fold spots and track your progress as you fine tune your tournament game. If you want to purchase ICMizer, you can do so by clicking here (use code RYESPECIAL for 20% off!!). However, the program has a free trial that will allow you one free hand per day to input and analyze, so you can get started for free today. Simply running a few hands that you aren’t sure about through ICMizer will help you understand and pinpoint weaknesses and strengths within your poker game.