Basic Poker Decision Making: KISSing

Keeping your poker decisions simple can help reinvigorate your game.

Yes, poker is a game where in-depth strategy can reward the player, but there’s something to be said for revisiting the basics and embracing the philosophy of KISS.

No, we’re not talking about rocking and/or rolling all night and partying every day — KISS stands for Keep It Simple, Stupid.

I’ve found that beginning players who stick to the most basic of poker decision making become better at the game faster than novices that jump while constantly reading every article and book they can get their hands on.

This week, we’re going to review how to make the most basic poker decisions out there and tell you what should be done depending on whether or not other players have bet to you.

If There Is A Bet To You

If people have put money on the table before you, you’re going to want to make sure that you have, at the very least, a playable hand. That means sticking with pairs (77 and above,) connectors (89) and suited high-value cards (KhAh.)

If you’re holding a decent-to-strong pair or hand, you’ll most likely want to check and wait for someone else to open up the betting round (check-raise) or call. The only time I’d raise with just a decent pair is if I were bluffing. Of course, if you’ve got garbage, you should fold. Those stories of players using crappy hands to reap big pots involve one-in-a-billion flukes that you’re unlikely to repeat.

If you have pocket rockets or have made a flush from the river, then either want to slowplay the hand and draw players in slowly by calling or introduce incremental raises that get them more engaged. Going all in on a monster hand usually means you earn less money in the end. Use your control over the board to maximize the amount of money in your bankroll.

In other words, if you have no chance of winning, just fold already.

No Bet To You? No Problem

If there’s no bet to you and you can see more cards without spending money, that’s always a good thing, right? Right. Here, our options open up very nicely and a weak hand can see real possibilities. Without a bet to you, play a little bit and see if you can maybe make something out of it. There’s also the chance that you can swoop down and steal the blinds if the action at the table has been weak enough before you, particularly if you’re playing in lower-stakes games.

Keeping your game simple has one benefit that should be discussed: by allowing you to keep your game minimal, you begin to internalize factors like pot odds and outs as well as get a grasp on reading others at your table at any given time. Even more advanced players may find a return to KISS play a great way to refresh their game and allow them to refocus their energies at the table.