Every poker player is an underdog at some point in their life.
Generally it’s when they start playing poker but even if you’ve been playing for years, you’ll come across tough-as-nails sharks just itching to eat your buy-in.
While you’re usually better off avoiding a game filled with sharks altogether, there are some occasions where it’s worth it to play a table that includes at least one or two opponents that are far better at poker than you.
In today’s Poker 101 article, we are going to provide some simple tips to avoid getting seriously outplayed in No-Limit Hold’em.
Just remember that even if you do get beat by a superior player, it’s not a complete waste. If you’re honest about your performance, you can learn from the setback and improve your game. That said, let’s try to avoid losing buy-ins when possible.
It’s Still Just Poker
One thing to keep in mind is that no matter who you are playing against, it’s still just a game of poker.
Even longtime pros like Phil Ivey and Daniel Negreanu lose on occasion. In fact, they lose a lot. That’s just a part of poker.
One of the most beautiful (and frustrating) things about poker is that there is an element of luck. It’s beautiful for beginner poker players because they still have a chance to beat the very best in the world. You can’t say the same for going one-on-one with Michael Jordan or beating Tiger Woods in a round of golf.
So don’t forget everything you’ve learned about playing poker when playing against a vastly superior foe. Don’t psych yourself out. Just be aware of the strong player and try to avoid them when possible.
Deny the Flop
If you’re the best poker player at the table, you generally want to play a large number of hands and attempt to see numerous flops.
Basically the longer the hand goes, the more chances for mistakes to be made by inexperienced players.
If a skilled player can’t figure you out pre-flop, there’s a good chance they will get there on the flop, turn or river. There’s a great deal more nuance to playing post-flop poker and, as a lesser-skilled poker player, that’s something you want to avoid most of the time.
You can avoid getting into tricky post-flop spots simply by increasing your betting size pre-flop. Increasing the size of your bets usually makes things simpler.
If you make a 5X bet pre-flop, then your opponent will probably want to have at least a decent hand before calling to see a flop. When you make a big bet, your decisions will also get somewhat simpler on the flop. Quite often your decision will be distilled down to go all-in or fold on the flop.
Keep in mind that only playing pre-flop isn’t the best way to actually learn the game and post-flop play is one of the most important and fun elements of the game. So make sure you don’t deny yourself that pleasure completely.
Avoid Tough Spots
Good poker players will make your life difficult.
You’ll notice that the best poker players always seem to be putting their opponents to difficult decisions, not the other way around.
That’s because poker is a game of imperfect information. There’s always an element of the unknown. The best players know how to use that to their advantage. They use the fear of getting out-flopped to their advantage. They press when you display weakness.
You can save yourself a lot of trouble by simply avoiding those difficult situations. One of the easiest ways to do that is by simply folding trouble hands like K-Q, Q-10 or weak aces when the tough player is in the hand. You can stick to the top 10 best Hold’em hands if you want.
When you’re playing against difficult players, tight is generally going to be right.
Another way to avoid difficult situations is by playing position. Having position in poker is when you’re the last to act and you get to see how everyone else plays in front of you. You can confidently play weaker hands knowing you’ll get more information than everyone else.
Don’t Be Predictable
You might not be the best poker player at a table but that doesn’t mean you have to be predictable.
Solid poker players tend to feast on players who display a consistent play style. In the simplest terms, that can mean an aggressive play style (playing a lot of hands) or tight (playing very few hands).
You’ll want to keep your opponent guessing. If you’ve been folding a lot, consider playing a weak hand aggressively. Meanwhile, if you’ve been playing a lot of hands, consider slowing down and waiting for some premium cards. Basically you want to consider making some unusual plays so that your opponent doesn’t read you like a book.
If you really have an aversion to playing weak hands and bluff, you could consider utilizing a randomizer to confuse your opponent.
A randomizer is just a way of letting luck decide your next course of action. Say for instance you can’t decide between folding a marginal hand or making a bet. You could look at your watch and if the minute hand is on an odd number, you could fold. An even number would mean a bet.
Another way of doing this is by picking a certain hand, for instance 9d-8d, and playing the hand like it’s pocket aces. That probably means betting or raising pre-flop and following up on the turn and river. There’s a good chance you’ll confuse your opponent completely.
If it was up to the best poker players, they’d prefer as little variance (luck) in the game as possible.
The opposite is true when you’re the weaker player. A 50 percent shot at winning a huge pot off a superior player is a bet you want to take. You can play a less predictable game by making large pre-flop bets and forcing your opponents to make decisions for their entire stack.
Don’t go completely bonkers, however. You still want to play good fundamental poker for the most part. You’re not going to do that by going all-in every hand. You’ll eventually get picked off by a player with a decent hand.
Don’t Feed the Shark
This one should go without saying but, in general, you shouldn’t be trying to play against someone who is far superior to you. If you want to win money, of course.
Table selection is the art of picking games that you can actually beat. Serious poker pros rank it as one of the single most important attributes of successful players.
Poker is a unique game in the sense that you generally want to play the worst competition you can possibly find. That’s just how games are when there’s real cash involved.
Therefore if you’re playing a game where there’s four other weaker players and one tough player, you should just avoid the best player when possible. You’re still going to want to play premium hands like pocket aces and pocket kings but there’s no one forcing you to play Q-2 out of position against the best player at the table.