Using strategy & tactics to play winning hands

Using strategy & tactics to play winning hands

May 01, 2018 3:00 AM


Strategies and tactics are both important in playing winning poker. There seems to be some confusion in the poker world; many regard these as synonyms for one another. But there is a subtle difference – an important one, as a matter of fact.

A strategy describes your goal and general approach to achieving it. (Best, be sure it’s a reasonable goal.) Your tactics are the specific steps – the plan of action – you will pursue to achieve that goal.

Let’s use a few typical examples to better understand the two terms and their relationship to one another.

Table selection strategy: Help yourself to be a winner by playing only at “good” tables. Tactics: Distinguish between good and bad tables depending on the texture of the game. Lots of preflop raising would make it too costly to see the flop with many borderline hands that have good potential – depending on the flop.

Also, avoid tables that are very tight – too few players to win enough to overcome the rake when you start with a made hand or catch a great flop. If possible, observe the tables before you are seated and avoid the “baddies;” don’t even get seated there. Ask for a different table. If already seated at such a table, ask for a table change. You can always take a break; maybe the table texture will change during that time.

My preference: Loose, somewhat aggressive tables. There are bound to be more opponents to see the flop, and to help build the pot when you connect. Occasional raises (preferably by you) will also lead to bigger pots.

Seat-selection and betting-position strategy: Help yourself to be a winner by playing from the better positions at the table. Select the best seat. Tactics: It all depends on your opponents’ playing traits. Ideally, it is best to be seated to the left of highly aggressive opponents (so you can muck marginal hands when one raises preflop), and to the right of tight players (prone to fold or call but not raise your bet). When such a position becomes available, waste no time in telling the dealer you are moving into that seat – before someone else does.

Starting hand-selection strategy: You look down at your two hole cards. What is more important than selecting starting hands that have the best chance to win the pot on the showdown? Have a firm basis for deciding when to invest your chips to see the flop. Some hands are obvious, like made hands (A-A, K-K, and Q-Q) and premium drawing hands (such as A-K, A-Q, A-J, and K-Q).

Mucking all others usually guarantees a losing session. Tactics: If you don’t have one of these preferred starting hands, have a basis for playing somewhat weaker hands. (Which should you invest in?) As part of your tactics, resolve to fold on the flop if your hand does not improve (unless you get a “free” card).

Bluffing strategy: Bluff when the situation is appropriate and be thoroughly familiar with the two key bluffing tactics. Tactics: There are situations that ideally lend themselves to pulling off a bluff to take the pot without the best hand. Examples include when the flop is weak and the betting has been checked to you; when a scare card falls on the board; and, when you have lots of good outs with only one or two tight opponents. 

Everyone is familiar with the tactic of making a big bet to scare off opponents. The Esther Bluff gets your message convinces the opponent you have a better hand; so he mucks his cards.