While it’s only to be expected nowadays that the internet has countless articles about poker strategy, it’s interesting just how much we can find on how to play very strong, even monster hands. Of course, poker is such a complex and ultimately frustrating game in that in any given hand we are presented with numerous ways to mess up. If there were ever a game that has the most examples of how easy it is to ‘snatch defeat from the jaws of victory’, then poker is certainly a top candidate. And to strengthen the case, this problem is exacerbated by the (bad) luck factor.
However, despite the potential banana skins that we must nimbly step around on our way to picking up a juicy pot after flopping a flush, for example, such a problem isn’t the most important poker subject in which we should be investing too much of our time. Very strong hands to be rather easy to play to the point that, backed up with a modicum of common sense and a decent understanding of poker fundamentals, they practically play themselves. Moreover, whether we win a small pot or a mountain of chips often depends as much on the (relative) strength of the opposition’s hands and how committed they are to fighting for the pot as it does on how skillfully we play. We could be sitting with a monster but it will very often amount to nothing if nobody else has a hand worth bothering with. Meanwhile, if we make a full house on the Turn and our opponent hits a smaller full house, it’s just about nailed on that they’ll soon be all-in regardless of how we continue the hand.
It’s important, of course, to have a good idea in advance how to treat countless types of situation, but if we are going to achieve any level of success it’s imperative that we’re constantly on the lookout for opportunities to pick up pots and not fool ourselves into thinking that it’s only the big hands that count. Expert, experienced winning players do indeed know how to make the most out of the strong hands when they get them, but their key to success is their ever-present radar which is constantly set to home in on those profitable spots that lesser players tend to either not notice or, when they do, fail to be proactive.
If we were to observe consistently winning players in a tournament, for example, we would notice that they pick up small pots more often than their opponents. Whereas most might not get involved unless there is the promise of adding a lot of chips to their stack, strong players get their proverbial hands dirty, ratcheting up the aggression here and there even if the prize is the Blinds and a few extra chips. The spoils might seem insignificant but, over time, make such a big difference. In fact, by the time a less insightful player has eventually won a big pot with their big hand after deliberately avoiding conflict during a number of orbits, the canny strong player will have cumulatively collected the same amount of chips by picking up numerous, ostensibly unimportant small pots.
It’s all about keeping our eyes peeled for those potentially profitable opportunities the importance of which most players fail to appreciate. The strong player will do more Blind stealing, for example. And – importantly – they will also make a point of aggressively defending their Blinds with the marginal hands that ithers would automatically fold without taking into consideration factors that might be in their favour. Just these two strategies alone could make the difference between having an average stack and a more workable, flexible one that allows a player to be more expansive and aggressive which, in turn, means even more opportunities to exploit potentially advantageous scenarios. Just as one or two mistakes can compound a problem or make life more difficult for us, playing more optimally also has the positive result of giving us the chance to reap the benefits more than would be the case if we were to limit our approach.
Other ways to spread our net wider and give ourselves more chances to pick up chips might be increasing the consistency with which we make value bets, more closely monitoring the table dynamic rather than just when we’re involved in a hand, making more plays for uncontested pots, and so on.
Position, of course, is also crucial. Acting last not only gives us considerably more influence when it comes to controlling the size of the pot, but it also presents us with more opportunities to bluff. Again, in a small pot, where the rest of the table often deems the seemingly paltry amount of chips on offer not worth fighting for, a bluff need only be a believable sized bet. It’s a simple fact that so many pots are picked up by the last person to act (often with a bluff), yet good players tend to be the ones who make the most of these opportunities while their hapless opponents continue to allow such daylight robbery happen right before their eyes! Finally, when we do have a hand, having position means we can put in a bet on every street.
To be successful in poker it’s important to have a mindset which recognises that every single pot is an opportunity to pick up chips. Only taking an interest when we have big hands means giving up on way too many chances, and we should get used to constantly being on the lookout for any kind of potentially profitable situation. Furthermore, our approach to the game should revolve around aggression so that, whenever we are involved in a hand, our first thoughts should be how we might be able to win the chips in the middle…
Goods luck, and have fun at the tables!