First, always ask yourself “What hands are in my opponent’s range” then figure out how you fare against that range. If you have a normally strong preflop hand, such as 9-9 or A-Q, and you think your opponent should only have premium hands, perhaps A-A, K-K, Q-Q, and A-K, based on his actions, you should get out of the way. If you have an abnormally weak hand, such as King-high on the river, and you think your opponent’s range is almost entirely bluffs that you beat, feel free to call. As long as you are actively thinking about ranges and figuring out what you can do to exploit them, your skills will progress.
Second, analyze your opponents’ tendencies and adjust to take advantage of them. Most of the time, before your opponents play a single pot, you should make some assumptions about how you think they will play. If you pay attention and figure out how a typical tight player appears, you will be able to pinpoint these players and stay out of their way. If you quickly and accurately assess that someone will be a maniac, you can make hero-calls from the start of your session. Don’t be afraid to get out of line in order to exploit your opposition.
Third, in tournaments (and in cash games when you are playing with a short bankroll), the chips you stand to lose are worth more than the chips you stand to gain, assuming you are a profitable poker player. This means that you should typically avoid any decision in a tournament that is roughly break-even. If you raise to 2 big blinds and someone goes all-in for 15 big blinds, you need to win 40% of the time based on the pot odds. If you think your hand will win 42% of the time against your opponent’s range, you should probably fold. If you think you will win 50% of the time, you should happily call. While conserving your stack is vitally important, it is also important that you don’t let your opponents run you over.
Fourth, don’t overvalue top pair. Almost every single time I play in a deep-stacked tournament or cash game, I witness an amateur player obliterate a stack by making top pair and then refusing to fold, even when a huge amount of big blinds are at risk. With 150 big blind stacks or more, when someone raises and you reraise with A-Q, if the flop comes Q-T-6, if you bet and get raised, you must be aware that you could easily be crushed by T-T, 6-6 or Q-T. If you think your opponent will only put a ton of chips in the pot with a premium hand, especially in a reraised pot, you should strongly consider exploiting your opponent by folding.
Finally, realize that when many players see the flop, someone is likely to make a strong hand. When you raise with A-K and get six callers, if the flop doesn’t improve you to at least top pair, you should almost always check-fold. It is simply too likely that one of your opponents has a strong hand that will not fold to multiple streets of aggression. If you consistently make a continuation bet in spots like this, you are almost certainly spewing a lot of equity.
I hope you use these five tips to improve your poker skills in 2019. Let me know how it goes on twitter @JonathanLittle. Thanks for reading and good luck!