Tips on how to beat cash games in poker | poker strategy

Cash game strategy isn’t overly complicated. But there are a few key things you need to get right. Taking down a big tournament might look flashy, but grinding money at the poker table is what most pros do day in and day out. So if you want to make money in poker, you need to learn how to beat cash games!

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Read on for our cash game poker strategy tips.

1. Find the Right Cash Games for You.

First off: find the right level for you. Don’t just jump into the biggest cash games you can find on a whim. Start small and work your way up as you gain confidence. Overconfidence will get you stuck (more on that below). If you can win at a lower stake, there's usually profit to be made against less-skilled players at higher limits. But it needs to be a conscious decision, not an impulsive one.

You should also mix up the games you play. It’s great to have a couple of games you’re really good at, but being a jack-of-all-trades will let you capitalize on every bad No-Limit Hold’em player trying his luck at 2-7 Triple Draw, or every old-school pro who thinks Stud is their turf.

Learning cash game poker means learning all the little nuances each poker variant offers.

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Even the least-popular mixed games can be lucrative if you know more than anyone else at the table. Learn the rules of every game you see played live or online, and be willing to play whatever there is demand for.

2. Don’t Get Stuck!

"Not stubborn, just headed for . ""

)by playing like an idiot.
What this saying really means is that you need to be willing to adapt and change your game when you hit a rut. If you’ve been playing the same way for six months and your results haven’t improved, you’re probably stubborn.

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Poker is a constantly evolving game. What works today may not work tomorrow. Even if you’re winning, you should always be looking for ways to improve. The second you stop learning is the second you start going broke.

The other way you can get stuck is from improper bankroll management. You need to make sure you have enough rolls for the limit you want to play – and leave yourself some wiggle room. How big should a poker bankroll be? It depends on the variance of the game you want to play. As a general guide:

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  • For low-variance Limit games you should be ok with 20-50 buy-ins
  • No-Limit games require 50-200 buy-ins depending on how aggressive the field is
  • High- varies a lot but you’ll probably want to have 100+ for Cash games and 200+ for MTTs

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Jason Koon's 3 Rules to Protect Your Bankroll

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3. Steal Blinds.

This seems simple, but so many people fail to do it. Putting pressure on the players to your left is free money. It doesn’t even matter if they don’t fold – stealing the blinds makes them question their calling hands, and will save you money long term.

Having position is the most valuable thing in cash game poker. There are certain hands you can steal with aggressively that you would never play speculatively out of position. This is one of the main reasons why jetons in front of you are meaningless – position is everything.

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Daniel Negreanu: Why Position Is Everything in No-Limit Hold'em

In this preliminary lesson of 'Power Poker', daniel negeanu talks about position - arguably the most important element of No-Limit Hold'em. He explains why having last action is such a huge advantage and how you can use it to dominate your opponents.

Watch: Daniel Negreanu: Why Position Is Everything in NLHE

4. Make Strong Preflop Decisions.

Know your starting hands.

Again, another simple concept, but so crucial. Open any poker book or website and you’ll find a list of hands that are good to play in different situations. Use these as a base, but also feel free to deviate. You’re not a computer; you can make judgements based on how the table is playing.

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What's standard one summer could be completely torn apart and exploited just by adequately adjusting to how the players have shifted. The goal with preflop play is to put yourself in the best possible spot heading to the flop.

As a very general rule you want to be playing in gains as many streets as possible. That means playing big hands like AA-JJ, AKs, QQ-1010, AQsuited etc. and small hands like 3x2o and smaller.

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The idea is that with big hands you can win on any street whereas with small ones you need to hit to proceed.

There are, of course, exceptions to this. Sometimes you want to play small hands - like when the player to your left is super tight and you can steal the pot often. Or maybe you're on a really active table where you can squeeze or isolate big hands often.

Again, poker is all about adjustments. Knowing standard tactics is great, but you need to realize when it's time to deviate.

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5. Play the Player.

Once you’ve mastered the basics of opening raises and calling ranges, it’s time to focus on the players across from you. Everyone plays differently, and everyone leaks in different areas. Some players will call any raise with any hand; others only will play ace-king if they have a really strong suite.

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The goal is to figure out how each opponent plays, and more importantly, how they play out of turn. Are they aggressive when they have monsters, and timid with bluffs? Or do they fire second barrels with anything? Figuring out how someone will act relative to their hand is the real skill in poker analysis.

The better you are at this, the easier it will be to make adjustments and win chips. Pay attention to how people play, and don’t be afraid to ask yourself questions mid-session. If you notice someone has been quiet, ask out loud, “what sort of hands does this guy have in this spot?”

Your opponents may not always give away much, but you might be surprised at how much information you can gather just by paying attention. And the more you know about them, the easier it becomes to exploit their weaknesses.

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6. Make Postflop Choices Based on Hands an Opponent Might Play.

Now that you’ve identified how someone will probably play, you need to think about how that applies to a specific hand. Say you open JJ in early position, and a tight regular on your left min-reaises. A loose, aggressive reg three off the button puts in a four-bet with A♦ 4♣ 

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In this case you should definitely think about the range of hands your opponent could have four-bet here. It’s not Ace-King anything, that’s for sure. Maybe Queens? Possibly. But at this point you need to think about the kind of bluffs he wants you to believe he’ll shove with. 

Is this a guy who gets tired of his opponent calling and will put in a fourth bet with something like 6♦ 7♦ and hope that you’ll fold everything but Aces and Kings? Would he ever try to represent the nuts with something like J♠ 10♠? Consider his tendencies, and what sorts of lines he’s taken you before. Then decide whether you want to get your money in there.

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Doug Polk on How to Think About Hand Ranges

Doug Polk teaches the fundamentals of how to think about hand ranges in poker and how to build your own based on the information you have about your opponents. He discusses the importance of recognizing the difference between a bluff and semi-bluff, and gives multiple examples of how to analyze different scenarios.

Watch: Doug Polk on Thinking About Hand Ranges

Of course the actual math behind figuring out accurate range probabilities is pretty complex. The example Gresham gives is that you put someone on a normal distribution curve.

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They will have hands most frequently in the middle of their range, and fewer in the "tails." So someone would raise a fairly large percentage of hands in the middle, and a smaller amount of hands towards the edges of their repertoire.

There are programs that can help determine probabilities (even an Excel sheet created by one of Gresham’s students), but you should first focus on getting a sense of normal distributions in action. Look at your opponents’ frequency of play. Do they seem to get almost all of their raising in with a specific set of premium hands? Does it seem random? Do they seem to limp a wide variety of garbage hands or just a few specifically?

As you play more hands you’ll get a sense for this. The goal is not to put someone on an exact range (although amateurs do this all the time, claiming they “put you on a range” of JJ-AA). Rather you want to realize the likelihood of someone being in a specific portion of their range.

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If you put someone on a narrow range (AA-QQ), you had better have a really good hand, because they could very well have you beaten. Conversely, if you give someone a broad, weak range, you can take down pots that you should have folded under different circumstances.

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8. Adjust, Adjust, Adjust.

Be aware of how the table dynamics are shifting, and alter your strategy accordingly. If a very tight player loosens up and starts playing half of dealers push hands, you need to realize that your read on that player is now worthless, and revert back to standard strategy for opening raises, and adjust your range accordingly.

Similarly, if a wild, younger reg starts playing tight, it might be a good time to bluff him. He may now be putting everyone on the nuts. The goal is not to permanently ban someone from your standard charts and ranges, but rather to realize that sometimes people play outside of their norm, and exploit those instances.

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Related Viewing:

Watch Dan Harrington's seminal video on poker perception, reality and how to adjust to changing variables at the table:

Dan Harrington: Why You Need to Adjust in Poker

Legendary two-time World Series of Poker Champion Dan Harrington teaches that you have to be acutely aware of how your opponents are playing and how to adjust your strategy according to their tendencies.

9. Value-Bet Aggressively.

This ties into playing the player, but deserves its own category. So you’ve put someone on a range, and you think you’re the narrator of OCEAN’S ELEVEN and you know where all the treasure is buried. Now what?

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One of the biggest mistakes I see both amateur and professional players make is failing to value-bet often enough, or at all. Say you put in a preflop raise with A-K, and get called by a tight player in the cut-off. The flop comes down T-8-5, with one suit.

He checks, you bet half the pot, and he calls. The turn is a nine of the same suit, he checks, and you check behind. The river is a two, he checks, and you check again. He shows down J-10, and compliments you on how "unlucky" you were not to hit your ace.

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This sort of play is common, but it’s a mistake. Assuming you bet all three streets (which you should do), your opponent is almost certainly calling with worse than you have. Jack-ten is definitely a contender for the best hand, but so are middle pair and weak kings and queens.

By checking to him out of fear he will make you pay, you lose value. Every time you check instead of betting, you wager zero chips. Instead of playing poker, you’re playing craps, and craps are not good source of revenue.

10. Mix Up Your Play.

Just as you need to steal blinds to make money, you need to vary your play to prevent your opponents from reading you like Teen Vogue. If you always check in obvious spots you’re going to get checked on, and you’ll bleed money in later streets.

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If you always raise with premium hands, people will stop folding when you do. Take any chance you can get to build a pot, even if you’re with a weaker hand. Not only will this tactic make you money in the short term, but it will make you harder to read, which translates to even bigger profits.

Bonus Tip: Pay attention to your image. Everyone has an image at the table. Try to get a sense of yours, and think about how you can manipulate it to extract maximum value.

Say you raised from MP preflop with A♥ K♦ and the board came down A-8-4, with two clubs. You bet out two bullets, and everyone folded. On the next hand, after a minute of stalling, you raise the minimum from the same seat with 6♦ 7♦.

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Someone calls, and the flop comes down 6♦ 8×6×4. He checks, you fire, and he folds J-10. At this point you just won someone a pot with a dirty, dirty must Dirty Laundry

articledirondasoup -- 2018-07-10 06:22:28 Great blog! The link to Gresham's lecture doesnt seem to work though.. Phil Galfond -- 2018-07-10 10:20:54 Thanks for the kind words, and thanks for letting us know about the broken link! Here's the correct link: Rodionov -- 2018-07-11 06:26:42 Can you paraphrase or summarize Phil Galfond's tips on beating cash games in poker? It would be helpful for me to review the key points.