Poker Strategy: When to Move up

Jason Lake

Wednesday, June 25, 2014 8:26 PM UTC

Wednesday, Jun. 25, 2014 8:26 PM UTC

There’s a lot to learn when you’re playing online poker. Read too far ahead in the manual, and just like the sorcerer’s apprentice, you’re entering a world of pain. Here’s where beginners need to put their focus.

So let’s say you’re into betting on sports, and you also like a little bit of the poker. It’s summertime now – the NBA and NHL seasons are over, and football is still on the horizon, which means everyone has more time for the virtual felt. How are your online poker skills? Don’t answer that: Most players think they’re better than they really are. If you’re reading this, you have leaks in your game. No disrespect.

Patching those leaks by continuously updating, and refining your poker strategy is a must. We’ve laid out something of a blueprint for you by introducing you to ABC poker, then throwing off the training wheels, and showing you how to exploit different player types. Once you’ve spent enough time in the trenches (and probably losing a little bit of money in the process), you’ll have enough experience to start combining the ABCs with the exploitative stuff. You might finally be ready to move up in stakes. Maybe even to NL25 if you’re playing no-limit hold ‘em cash games.

Quarter Quarter Quarter
Yes, we said NL25 – otherwise known as 10c/25c, where the small blind is 10 cents and the big blind is 25 cents. Does this seem too cheap to you? Then you’ve been playing at the wrong stakes. Just because you have $5,000 in your bankroll doesn’t mean you should be playing NL100, even if sound bankroll management principles say you can. You need to work on your poker fundamentals at the lower limits, and NL25 is the right place to start putting in some volume, and getting those fundamentals hard-wired into your brain.

The first and most important thing you need to get down pat is your opening ranges. When you get dealt a hand, you should instantly recognize whether or not you’re going to open-raise if the action is folded around to you. You can get away with having a chart pinned to your wall at NL25, but if you try that at NL50, you’re playing with fire. The higher the stakes, the more complex decisions you need to make, and those decisions take time. That’s why we want to get the simple stuff ingrained now.

Greetings, Program
Once you’ve memorized those opening ranges – and you understand the rationale behind them – then you need to get the rest of your pre-flop strategy down pat. That includes your 3-betting ranges, both in position and out of position, and your cold-calling ranges as well. Got all that? Good, because you also need to memorize which hands you’re using to defend against 3-bets. Are you going to call that button raise from UTG with your KQs? Are you going to 4-bet? Or are you going to fold? If you have to think about it, you’re not ready for NL50 or above.

Again, the good news is that you can put all these pre-flop charts up on your wall, and look up at them when you’re playing NL25 – provided you’re not playing too many tables. The more hands you play, the more you’ll get these ranges into your system. But you’re still not ready for NL50. You also need to have your basic postflop lines ready to roll out. Nothing fancy required here, just solid positional play, raising your best hands and your best bluffs in the right amounts, while calling with medium strength and folding the rest. Fancy stuff is for later.

One last thing before you move up: tilt control. By now you’ve probably lost pot after pot in just about every awful way possible – getting counterfeited on the river, running nut flushes into boats and boats into bigger boats, all that wonderful stuff that makes poker what it is. Are you able to laugh it off and immediately re-focus on the next hand? No? Then stay at NL25, and keep putting in volume until you can. There’s no crying in poker.

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