Poker strategy

The term ‘poker’ covers a large number of games with similar mechanics. The basic premise involves the dealing of one or more ‘hole’ cards to each player (which are hidden from the other players), followed by several cards visible to the table (‘community’ cards). Players bet by adding money or chips to the pot based on how good their hand is, sometimes in several rounds of betting as the cards are dealt. Players can usually drop out (‘fold’) during these betting rounds if they think their hand is low-scoring and do not wish to bet further. The remaining hands are compared and the winner gets the pot.

The basis of poker strategy is summed up by this basic rule: “Every time you play your hand as if you could see your opponents’ cards, you gain. Every time your opponents play their hand differently from the way they would play them if they could see your cards, you gain”. This is why bluffing and otherwise convincing your opponents that you have an advantage is a key component of poker strategy.

A good way of calculating the likely profit from a hand of poker is by comparing your odds of winning (i.e. the odds of your hand being the best one available) to the ‘pot odds’: the amount that you have bet vs. the amount in the pot. If your winning odds are 4-to-1, you have bet $10 and there is $50 in the pot, the expected return would be to break even.

Bluffing and slow playing are common tactics: bluffing is an attempt to convince opponents that you have a strong hand, when your hand is weak. This may lead to players with stronger hands folding before the showdown. Slow playing is the opposite: a player with a strong hand pretending to have a weak hand by betting low and acting less confident. This may keep players with weaker hands in the game, increasing the payout.

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