As a new player, what basic poker strategy should I follow?

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Answered by: Kenneth, An Expert in the Poker Strategy for Beginners Category
When things go your way, poker can be tremendous fun. Nothing feels better than making your draw on the last card. It's an extraordinary thrill to flip over a weak hand after pulling off a bluff. Courageously calling down an opponent's bluff creates an unforgettable memory. Unfortunately, trying to make dramatic plays like these too often can quickly devastate your bankroll. A new player is wise to focus on basic poker strategy before making a habit of rewarding but risky plays.

New players tend to overestimate how often they will make a strong hand. Consider some odds for Texas Hold'em. A player is dealt a pocket pair less than six percent of the time. Two cards both ten or higher occur less than fifteen percent of the time. A flopped flush draw will hit only about one third of the time. A flopped open ended straight draw will hit slightly less often. An inside straight draw hits less than seventeen percent of the time.

The reality is that you will have a weak hand a large majority of the time. Often even your strong starting hands will fail to improve, or will be overtaken in the course of a hand. Many experts believe that around eighty-five percent of hands should be folded before the flop. The problem: players like action. It's boring to fold hand after hand after hand. Playing too many hands, though, is a losing strategy.

After a long string of terrible hands, it's easy to fall in love with medium strength hands. That can be costly. Ace-Ten suited looks good, especially after you flop an Ace. It can, however, easily lose to Ace-King, Ace-Queen, or Ace-Jack. It can lose when an opponent's pocket pair hits three of a kind. It can lose when an opponent hits two pair, or a straight or flush draw.

Expert players regularly win pots with weak hands. It's winning poker for them only because they carefully calculate the risks they take. The basis of their strategy is thorough knowledge of the odds.

So what basic poker strategy should a new player follow? Play conservatively but aggressively. Play only strong starting hands: medium to high pocket pairs, two high cards, and medium to high suited connectors (such as the nine and ten of hearts). When you think you have the best hand, bet or raise. Make your opponents pay for the privilege of drawing out on you. Avoid checks and calls. If you think someone else has a better hand than you, you usually should fold. Stay in the hand only if you have a good chance to improve to the winning hand, and the pot is large enough to justify the risk of putting more chips in the pot.

Winning consistently at poker requires a more sophisticated strategy. But a new player can hold their own with a conservative, aggressive approach. It is very easy to lose quickly at poker. A disciplined approach allows you to maintain your bankroll while gradually improving the skills needed to become a better player.

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