Newcomers to online poker often make the mistake of thinking that winning is purely a matter of building the strongest hand in order to crush other players. Players who never progress beyond this stage will hit the buttons until their hand looks good, bet big and still manage to lose most of the time. Why is that? Because they don’t know how to play strong hands in online poker. The fact is that, when you play poker online, strong hands don’t win all by themselves. There’s a right way and a wrong way of playing them, as you’ll discover in this blog.
Determine the strength of your hand
Before you can learn how to play strong hands in online poker, you need to be able to determine how strong your hand actually is. As discussed below, poker strong hands depend on multiple factors which all have to be taken into account.
It goes without saying that the higher the ranking, the stronger the hand. You’ll almost always be ahead with a monster hand (if you flop a flush, for example), a set, three-of-a-kind and two pair, while you can usually count on having the strongest hand with top pair, with draws or without. Middle pair can be the strongest hand if you’re up against three opponents or fewer. Low pair doesn’t belong in this conversation!
Number of opponents
Hand strength isn’t absolute – it varies according to the number of opponents you’re facing. The fewer opponents, the greater the relative strength of your hand, and vice versa. Top pair, for instance, isn’t very strong at a full 6-max table, but it’s far from weak at the heads-up stage.
What happened before the flop can give you an idea of what your opponents may be holding and what their poker strategy is. For instance, the average tight player who raises pre-flop from early position is probably signaling “big ace” or “big pocket pair”. Of course, these indicators mean different things coming from different types of players, so it’s important to pay attention to what your opponents are representing.
Poker hand strength also depends on what cards flop. If you’re holding a top pair, your hand will be less vulnerable on a dry flop than a draw-heavy flop with just one suit
Choose your line
After weighing up all this information you should be able to tell whether you have the best hand or not – which, in turn, will inform your betting line. Always remember that you put money in the pot for two reasons only: you are either betting for value or protection, or you are betting to make your opponents fold. If you’re certain that your hand is the best, your poker strategy should be to play for value. Build the pot as much as possible as you bet and raise your way to the limit! If you have a strong hand but you’re not completely certain that it’s the best, you should bet and raise with the goal of protecting your hand. If someone raises behind you, call in the hope that it’s a bluff. On a draw-heavy flop, raise as long as it will protect your hand or if your opponents are likely to fold.
How to play specific strong hands post-flop
Once you’ve decided what line to follow, take a closer look at the kind of hand you’re holding and apply these do’s and don’ts.
Straights or better
Do: Play extremely aggressively with these monster hands.
Don’t: Play too aggressively on a single-suited flop (your hand may be vulnerable to even bigger monsters; for instance, a full house may crush your straight).
Two pair and three-of-a-kind
Do: Protect your hand if you’re in a substantial pot and slow-play if the pot is small or the flop is dry.
Don’t: Allow your opponents to see any further streets without paying.
Top pairs and overpairs
Do: Bet and raise to protect your hand, bearing in mind that your opponents have many outs against you. Play aggressively on a draw-heavy board.
Don’t: Play aggressively if you think you may be behind or if you have a weak kicker.
Do: Protect your hand if you’re in a pot with less than three opponents.
Don’t: Play aggressively on a draw-heavy flop.
Manage your bankroll, watch your stack
When it comes to poker, strong hands need financial backup. In cash games, the kind of aggressive play that strong hands deserve demands a decent bankroll. Professional poker players fund their bankrolls from their winnings, but if you’re like most online poker players, your bankroll is fed by your personal money. If you play online poker for real money, it’s absolutely vital that you set a budget for cash games and quit when you reach your limit.
A more budget-friendly way to learn how to play poker at a higher level is to enter online poker tournaments. Your spend is limited to your buy-in and you stand to win great prizes. In poker tournaments, stack size is all-important, so you’ll want to play your strong hands differently depending on what phase of the tournament you’re in. Protecting your stack is more important than chasing pots at the beginning. Later on, you’ll be protecting your hand aggressively against the big stacks or piling pressure on the short stacks, depending on which category you land up in.
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