5 Ways to Beat Your Friends Even If You Suck at Poker

5 Ways to Beat Your Friends Even If You Suck at Poker

This article was written by blackrain79.com contributor Fran Ferlan.

Being invited to a poker night with your buddies is awesome. Being invited to a poker night because you are notoriously bad at poker is not so awesome.

If you’ve ever had a feeling your friends are inviting you to home games because you’re too generous with your chips, you’ve come to the right place.

This article will show you 5 proven ways to beat your friends, no matter how much you suck at poker.

Hopefully, they’ll still invite you next time around. 


1. Play Less Hands vs Your Friends


If you suck at poker, chances are you’re playing too many hands. 

This is the most common mistake most amateur poker players make. Since they mostly play for fun, the prospect of only playing every fifth hand or so doesn’t seem too appealing. 

And fair enough. If you just want to have fun, you can play just about any hand that’s dealt to you and hope for the best. 

Unfortunately, playing poker for fun and playing to win are entirely different sports. You’re here to figure out how to beat your friends, not how to have fun. 

If you want to improve your poker game quickly, the easiest way to do so is to simply play less hands. This might seem counterintuitive at first. After all, how can you win if you don’t play?

The answer lies in basic math. In no-limit Texas hold’em, most hands miss most flops (two out of three times to be precise). 

And since you have to pay every time to see the flop, the more hands you play, the more money you lose. 

Also, the more hands you play, the weaker your overall range becomes, meaning you’re bound to miss the flop even more often than two out of three times.

So you should only play hands that are either:

a) strong enough in and of themselves (like premium pocket pairs, Aces, Kings, Queens etc)

Or

b) can connect with the flop in a meaningful way (suited connectors like JT or 9♣8♣, suited Aces like A♠5♠ or AJ)


If you’re a beginner poker player, you should only play the top 20% of the strongest hands dealt to you. 

I won’t get too deep into which hands you should actually play and how to play them, as I’ve covered it already in this article.

But here’s a quick rundown of hands you should play:

Broadway hands like AK or KQ 

Suited connectors like T9 or 76

Suited Aces like A2 or AT

Pocket pairs (pocket Aces through pocket Twos)

You get the idea. Basically, you only want to play hands that can connect with the flop in a meaningful way. The rest is trash and should be thrown away.

You’ve noticed there are no other suited hands a lot of players love to play just because they are suited (hands like Q2 or J3). That’s because suited junk is still junk.
 
The chances of hitting a flush with hands like these on the flop are miniscule (about 1% chance). And even if you do manage to hit a flush on the flop or on later streets, you still run the risk of someone having an even stronger flush. 

For example, with a hand like Q2 suited, your hand can be dominated by an Ace-high or a King-high flush.

Check out Nathan’s recent video on other amateur poker mistakes you should avoid at all costs.


If you play stronger hands than your friends on average, you can expect to win more often than them on average. You might need to risk a bit of boredom when folding a lot, but it will be worth the effort.

By the way, you can also find all the charts of exactly what hands to play in my free poker cheat sheet.

Playing only strong hands has a couple of benefits:

a) you will make stronger hand combinations than your opponents, like stronger pairs, straights, flushes and so on.

b) your hands will dominate your opponents’. 

A dominated hand is the one that’s unlikely to win against another hand. 

For example, if you have Ace-King, and your opponents has AJ, you have about 74% hand equity, meaning you can expect to win the hand almost three out of four times. 

You always want your hand to dominate your opponent’s, instead of the other way around. That’s why it’s best to avoid mediocre hands altogether.

c) you will avoid awkward, marginal spots. 

In poker, it’s rarely the case that you know for sure that your hand is either way ahead or way behind. You’re often left guessing and not sure what to do. 

In spots like these, it’s easier to make costly mistakes, so it’s better to avoid those marginal spots altogether.

 As you get more experience, you can try to get involved in more marginal spots and look for edges to exploit. But when first starting out, it’s better to keep things simple.

d) you have more time to observe the action. 

Poker is a game of incomplete information, and the player with the informational advantage will usually come out on top. 

When you’re not directly involved in a hand, you can use the downtime to observe your opponents and pick up on valuable information. 

This is much easier to do when not directly involved in a hand yourself. You can look for betting patterns, physical tells, lines taken in certain spots and so on. The more information you have, the better.

Protip: if you do pick up on a tell, never reveal it! It might make you feel like Sherlock at the moment, but it’s more profitable to keep it to yourself.


2. Play More Hands in Position


The hands outlined above make up the top 20% of all starting hands in no-limit Texas hold’em. This doesn’t mean you should ONLY play the top 20% of hands in all situations.

Sometimes you’ll want to play a wider range, and sometimes an even tighter range.

This is discussed in much more detail in Modern Small Stakes, including charts on what hands to play in every single position at the poker table. 

This depends largely on your table position. You should play less hands in earlier positions, and more hands in later positions (namely the cutoff and the button).

In other words, you want to play more hands in position as opposed to out of position.

Being in position means acting last in the betting round. This has a couple of advantages:

a) you have more information about your opponents.

When being the last to act, you get to see what they did, while they have no idea what you are about to do. 

b) you can control the size of the pot.

If you have a strong value hand, you can inflate the pot size by betting or raising. If you have a mediocre or a drawing hand, you can just call or check behind to keep the pot size small and manageable. In other words, you get the final say at the price of the pot.

c) you can bluff more effectively. 

Playing out of position puts your opponents at a disadvantage throughout the hand, so they won’t be as willing to fight back against you. 

If you spot a weakness of their pot, you can apply the pressure and take down the pot even without a strong hand (or any hand at all).

So how do you play more hands in position? 

You do it by simply open-raising more hands on later positions at the table (namely the cutoff and the button). 

When playing on the button in particular, you will ALWAYS have the positional advantage postflop, so you can play quite a wide range here.

This is something I discuss in more detail in my other recent article.

Conversely, you should be more selective with the hands you play from earlier positions. The earlier your position and the more players behind you left to act, the more likely it is for some of them to have a stronger hand than you. 

You should also be careful when playing from the blinds, because you will ALWAYS play out of position post flop. The only exception is when you are playing in the big blind against the small blind.


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3. Play Your Hands Aggressively to Win More


If you suck at poker, chances are you’re not playing it nearly as aggressively as you should. 

There are two cardinal mistakes virtually all beginner players make: one is playing too many hands, and the other is playing them too passively (i.e. checking and calling a lot instead of betting and raising. 

In other words, they play a loose and passive style, which is the exact opposite of what you should be aiming for (i.e. tight and aggressive).

There are multiple advantages of playing poker aggressively:

a) you can obviously win more money. 

If you have a strong hand, you want to extract as much money from it as possible, and the best way to do so is to build up the pot, i.e. bet and raise. A lot of beginners make the mistake of slowplaying their strong hands in order to deceive their opponents. 

(Slowplaying is the act of playing your strong hands passively, i.e. checking and calling instead of betting and raising in order to conceal your hand strength).

While slowplaying can be the best play in some situations, it’s generally better to build up the pot yourself when you have a strong hand. Most players tend to play too passively, so relying on your opponents to build up the pot for you simply won’t work in most cases. 

b) you can win the pot even without a strong hand.

There are two ways to win the pot: either by having the strongest hand combination at showdown, or by making your opponents surrender the pot by folding. Since very strong hands don’t come around often in no-limit hold’em, relying on them alone is not enough to be a long term winner. 

Sometimes you need to fight for the pot even without a strong hand. If you know when to apply the right amount of pressure on your opponents, you can win more than “your fair share.”

c) You make yourself more difficult to play against.

If you play passively, you’re letting your opponents dictate the tempo. Not only will they try to shove you out of the pot all the time, but by the time you actually do get a decent hand, they won’t be willing to pay you off because your sudden aggression will tip them off on your hand strength. 

If you play aggressively, on the other hand, your opponents will have to think twice before betting into you with impunity. 

What’s more, they won’t be able to predict your hand strength, so you’ll constantly keep them guessing.

So how do you play more aggressively? You obviously don’t want to just bet or raise with any two random cards any chance you get. 

But when you do decide to play a hand, you want to enter the pot with a raise (or a reraise).

You don’t want to open-limp into the pot as many beginner poker players love to do. 

(Open-limping is the act of just calling the big blind when you’re the first to enter the pot).
 
I won’t get into the specifics on why open-limping is such an abysmal play. You can check out this article on the most common beginner poker mistakes if you want to know more.

In short, if you are the first player to enter the pot, do so with an open-raise. 

This shows the other players that you mean business, and if they want to get involved in a hand with you, it’s going to cost them. 

It also puts you in the driver’s seat throughout the hand, meaning you’re the one to dictate the tempo. 

Then, you can keep applying the pressure postflop, either to get value out of your strong hands, or by making everyone fold by bluffing.


4. Learn the Basic Poker Math


Poker has a short term luck element involved, but at its core, it’s actually a game of math and probabilities. 

It’s about managing risk and reward, and making logically sound decisions based on expected outcomes. 

While you can’t control the outcome of any given hand, you can control how you play certain cards in certain spots. To help you make better decisions, you need to be familiar with the basic poker math. 

This may seem daunting to a lot of players, so they don’t even bother with learning it in the first place, proclaiming that they’re more of a “feel player”. 

This is a BS excuse. Sure, your intuition can sometimes help you make the correct play, but it needs to be built on a solid fundamental knowledge of the game. 

The good news is, you don’t need to be a math wiz to understand the basic principle. Poker math is no more complicated than what you learn in grade school.

In fact, I have covered the basics of poker math before in numerous articles.

The first concept you need to be familiar with is the pot odds. 

Simply put, the pot odds tell you the ratio of the pot size and the bet size you’re facing (i.e. the price of a call). 

In other words, it’s simply a reward to risk ratio, i.e. how much you need to risk (the price of a call) to potentially earn the reward (i.e. the pot). 

For example, if the pot size is $10 and you need to call $2, you’re getting 5:1 on a call (simply divide the pot size with the price of a call: 10/2=5).

The first number in the ratio always represents the pot size, and the second number (1) represents the price of a call.

The bigger the pot odds you’re getting, the more often you can continue playing the hand profitably, because you’re getting a better risk-to reward ratio.

Here’s an example to illustrate the point: 

Example Hand #1

You are dealt KT on the BU (button).

Villain open-raises to 3x from the CU (cutoff).

You call. The blinds fold.

Pot size: 7.5 BB

Flop:

A83

Villain bets 2.5 BB

The pot size is 10 BB and you need to call 2.5 BB. You are getting 4:1 pot odds on a call. You have the nut flush draw, so any heart on the turn or river will give you the best hand combination.

Can you call profitably in this spot?

First, you need to figure out what is the chance of your hand improving on future streets. To do that, you can use the so-called rule of 4.

The rule of four lets you figure out a percentage chance of your hand improving on future streets. 

You simply multiply the number of outs you have (an out being a card that improves your hand) by 4 to get a rough estimate.

In this case, you have 9 clean outs (any heart), so your chances of improving to a flush are roughly 36%.

(In reality it’s 35%, so you can see that the rule of 4 works well in most-in game situations).

Next, you need to compare the pot odds with your chance of improvement. To do that, convert the pot odds into a percentage. You do that by adding the two numbers (in this case: 4+1=5), then divide 100 with it to get a percentage.

100/5 = 20%

Based on the pot odds, you need 20% equity to continue the hand profitably, and since you have way more than that (35%), calling is profitable in this spot.

One caveat here: just because calling is profitable (+EV) here, it doesn’t mean it’s the MOST profitable play. Raising could be even more profitable, but that’s a different topic.

The pot odds simply tell you how much you need to pay RIGHT NOW, without taking other future considerations in account.

Now let’s see what happens when you face a different bet size.

Same example hand, but this time, villain bets 15 BB (i.e. an overbet) on the flop.

The pot is 22.5 BB, and you need to call 15 BB.

Let’s calculate the pot odds again: 

22.5/15= 1.5, so you’re getting 1.5:1 pot odds.

Now let’s make it a percentage: add 1.5 and 1, then divide 100 by it.

100 / (1.5+1) = 40%

You need 40% equity to call profitably, but you only have 35%. This time, you cannot call profitably.

Another caveat: In the second example, calling is not outright profitable, meaning it’s -EV RIGHT NOW. It doesn’t take into account the money you can potentially earn on later streets. 

The money you can potentially earn on later streets help your IMPLIED ODDS. Unlike the pot odds, the implied odds cannot be calculated precisely, because you don’t know what the villain will do on later streets (i.e. will they actually pay you off if you hit your flush). 

Therefore, figuring out the implied odds requires a certain amount of guesswork.

In other words, pot odds are exact and require no guesswork, and the implied odds are speculative and require guesswork.

That was probably enough math for one article. If all this seems like a hassle to do on the felt, don’t worry, because it becomes automatic with enough practice. 

You can also memorize certain bet sizes and chances of improving drawing hands so you don’t have calculate them manually in every single spot.

If you want to learn shortcuts to figure out the pot odds quickly, as well as everything else poker math related, check out my Ultimate Pot Odds Cheat Sheet.


5. Never Ever Show Your Friends the Bluff


Following the simple tight and aggressive (TAG) strategy is a proven way to improve your poker results. It works like a charm because it takes advantage of the most common mistakes a lot of amateur poker players make (namely playing too many hands and playing them too passively). 

However, it comes at a cost, and that is forcing you to play very straightforwardly. 

This isn’t a problem when you’re playing against opponents that aren’t really paying attention, but when you’re playing against your friends, chances are that you’re going to be playing against the same people over and over again. 

If you don’t want your game to become too predictable, you’ll need to mix it up from time to time. This means throwing an occasional bluff here and there.

Betting as a bluff is the opposite of betting for value. When you’re betting for value, you’re hoping to get called by weaker hands. When you’re bluffing, you’re hoping to get stronger hands than yours to fold.

A lot of beginner poker players are under the wrong impression that pulling off huge bluffs is what winning poker is all about. This is not really the case. 

In reality, most of the money you’ll win in poker will come from your strong value hands when your opponent also has a strong hand that’s weaker than yours.

But if you only ever bet for value, you’re going to become fairly predictable to anyone paying even remote attention. 

If you only bet or raise your strong hands and fold the rest, you’re allowing your opponents to play perfectly against you. They won't give you any action unless they happen to have a monster hand of their own.

In order to avoid this, you need to keep them guessing at all times. This means betting and raising from time to time even without a strong hand. 

You obviously don’t want to just start blasting away with any two random cards. Having some sort of hand equity to fall back on in case your bluff gets called will help make your bluffs more +EV. 

This means that semibluffing is usually more profitable than stone cold bluffing.

You’re semibluffing when you don’t have a strong made hand yet, but you could improve to a strong combination on future streets. 

This is opposed to stone cold bluffing where you don’t have a made hand and you have no chance of improving on future streets.

Example hand #2 

You are dealt AT on the BU 

You open-raise to 3x

Villain calls from the BB

Pot: 6.5 BB

Flop:

J52

Villain checks. You bet 3.5 BB. Villain calls

Pot: 13.5 BB

Turn: K

Villain checks. You: ???

You should bet again (double barrel).

This is a great spot to keep applying the pressure on your opponent even without having a strong value hand.

Let’s unpack the action street by street.

Preflop you have a standard open-raise and your opponent defends the big blind. Nothing much to be said here.

You missed the flop, but you still have the initiative and the range advantage. What’s more, the board is fairly dry (uncoordinated), so the villain probably missed it a lot of the times as well.  You fire a standard continuation bet (or a c-bet for short). Villain calls.

You don’t improve on the turn, but you do pick up a ton of equity! You now have 9 clean outs to a nut flush, and any Queen on the river gives you a nut straight. This gives you a total of 12 clean outs.

Recap time: in order to figure out your chance of improvement from flop to river, you simply multiply the number of outs by four to get a rough percentage. 

If you want to calculate the chance of improvement only on one street (turn to river or flop to turn), you just multiply the number of outs by 2 instead.

In this example, you multiply 12 x 2 to get roughly a 24% chance of improvement.

This means that even if your bluff gets called, you still have a chance of catching up and potentially taking down an even bigger pot.

What’s more, the King on the turn is a scare card. This means that it improves your perceived range, and makes your opponent’s hand relatively weaker. 

You can credibly represent a Kx here, and your opponent will have a hard time calling you down with Jx hands, for example.

If you want to know more about double barreling, triple barreling, as well as other advanced poker strategies, enroll in Blackrain79 Elite Poker University.

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Protip: if you do manage to pull off a bluff on your friends, NEVER show it to them. You may feel cool at the moment and get a nice little ego boost, but you're way better off in keeping them guessing. 

If you show the bluff, you might annoy them for a short while, which is obviously great, but if you don’t show it, it’ll haunt them for way longer. 

Not only that, you will deny them the information about the way you play, which will make you more difficult to play against. 

As mentioned, poker is a game of incomplete information, and it makes no strategic sense to reveal the information about the way you play.


5 Ways to Beat Your Friends Even If You Suck at Poker - Summary


To sum up, here are 5 ways to beat your friends at poker, no matter how abysmal your current skill level. 

By the way, if you want to quickly improve your game, you should consider enrolling in some advanced poker training.

1. Play less hands.

Only play hands that have a reasonable chance of connecting with the flop in some meaningful way, and throw away the rest. This equates to about 20% of all starting hands on average.

2. Play more hands in position.

Playing in position gives you an informational advantage, and it’s more profitable in virtually every spot in no-limit hold’em.

3. Play aggressively.

Winning poker is aggressive poker. Always enter the pot with a raise, and don’t be afraid to keep applying the pressure post flop.

4. Learn the basic poker math.

Poker is a game of odds and probabilities, not dumb luck. If you make your decisions based on math and logic, you’re going to do better than people who rely on good luck charms. Go figure.

5. Never show them the bluff.

Showing the bluff may feel good at the moment, but it’s way better to keep them in the dark. 
Don’t give them valuable information for free.

Lastly, if you want to know the complete strategy I use to make $1000+ per month in small stakes games, get a copy of my free poker cheat sheet.

5 Ways to Beat Your Friends Even If You Suck at Poker