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Strip Poker - Strategy

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Poker strategy is a complex subject. This article only attempts to introduce basic strategy concepts.

The fundamental theorem of poker, which is outlined by David Sklansky in his book The Theory of Poker, states that every time you play your hand the way you would if you could see your opponent's cards, you gain, and every time your opponent plays his cards differently from the way she would play them if she could see your cards, you gain. This theorem is the foundation for many poker strategy topics. For example, bluffing and slow-playing (explained below) are examples of using deception to induce your opponents to play differently than they would if they could see your cards.

Strip Poker Strategy - Pot Odds & Poker Probabilities

The relationship between pot odds and odds of winning is one of the most important concepts in poker strategy. Pot odds are the ratio of the size of the bet required to stay in the pot to the size of the pot. For example, if a player must call a $10 bet for a chance to win a $40 pot (not including his $10 call), his pot odds are 1-to-4 (20% probability). To have a positive expectation, a player's odds of winning must be at least equal to his pot odds. Continuing the previous example, if the player's odds of winning are also 1-to-4, if he plays the pot five times, he puts in $10 five times, loses four times and wins $50 once (breaking even).

Strip Poker Strategy - Bluffing

Bluffing is a form of deception to induce opponents to fold superior hands. Against observant opponents, it is necessary for a player to bluff sometimes to induce opponents to call his bets when he actually does have a superior hand. If opponents observe that a player never bluffs, they won't call his bets unless they have very good hands.

See the article on Betting & Bluffing for further discussion of bluffing strategies, semi-bluffs, and optimal bluffing frequency. Bluffing in strip poker also depends on how many articles of clothes you have left and if your goal is to get naked first. It takes a real strip poker player to bluff in the buff!

Strip Poker Strategy - Slow-Playing

Slow-playing (also called sand-bagging) is deceptive play in poker that is roughly the opposite of bluffing: betting weakly with a strong holding rather than betting strongly with a weak one. The check-raise is one such play.

Strip Poker Strategy - Position

Generally, players in earlier position (who have to act first) need stronger hands to bet or raise than players in later position. For example, if there are five opponents yet to act behind a player, there is a greater chance one of the opponents will have a better hand than if there was only one opponent yet to act. Being in late position is an advantage because a player gets to see how his opponents in earlier position acted with his Poker Chips(which provides the player more information about their hands than they have about his).

Strip Poker Strategy - Reasons to Raise

Unlike calling, raising has an extra way to win: opponent(s) may fold. An opening bet may be considered a raise from a strategy perspective. David Sklansky, in his book The Theory of Poker, gives seven reasons for raising, summarized below.

  • To get more money in the pot when a player has the best hand: If a player has the best hand, raising for value enables him to win a bigger pot.
  • To drive out opponents when a player has the best hand: If a player has a made hand, raising may protect his hand by driving out opponents with drawing hands who may otherwise improve to a better hand.
  • To bluff or semi-bluff: If a player raises with an inferior or drawing hand, the player may induce a better hand to fold. In the case of semi-bluff, if the player is called, he still has a chance to improve to a better hand (and also win a larger pot).
  • To get a free card: If a player raises with a drawing hand, his opponent may check to him on the next betting round, giving him a chance to get a free card to improve his hand.
  • To gain information: If a player raises with an uncertain hand, he gains information about the strength of his opponent's hand if he is called. Players may use an opening bet on a later betting round (probe or continuation bets) to gain information by being called or raised (or may win the pot immediately).
  • To drive out worse hands when a player's own hand may be second best: Sometimes, if a player raises with the second best hand with cards to come, raising to drive out opponents with worse hands (but who might improve) may increase the expected value of his hand by giving him a higher probability of winning in the event his hand improves.
  • To drive out better hands when a come hand bets: If an opponent with an apparent come hand (drawing hand) bets before a player, if the player raises, opponents behind him who may have a better hand may fold rather than call a bet and raise. This is a form of isolation play.

Strip Poker Strategy - Reasons To Call

There are several reasons for calling a bet or raise, summarized below.

  • To see more cards: With a drawing hand, a player may be receiving the correct pot odds with the call to see more cards.
  • To limit a player's risk: Calling may be appropriate to avoid risking more chips than necessary with a marginal hand.
  • To avoid a re-raise: Calling denies the original bettor the opportunity of re-raising.
  • To conceal the strength of a player's hand: If a player has a very strong hand, he might smooth call on an early betting round to avoid giving away the strength of his hand on the hope of getting more money into the pot in later betting rounds.
  • To manipulate pot odds: By calling (not raising), a player offers any opponents yet to act behind him more favorable pot odds to also call. For example, if a player has a very strong hand, a smooth call may encourage opponents behind him to overcall, building the pot. Particularly in limit games, building the pot in an earlier betting round may induce opponents to call future bets in later betting rounds because of the pot odds they will be receiving.
  • To set up a bluff on a later betting round: Sometimes referred to as a long-ball bluff, calling on an earlier betting round can set up a bluff (or semi-bluff) on a later betting round.

Strip Poker Strategy - Gap Concept

The gap concept, as described by David Sklansky in his book Tournament Poker for Advanced Players, states that "you need a better hand to play against someone who has already opened the betting than you would need to open yourself." The gap concept reflects that players prefer to avoid confrontations with another player who has already indicated strength, and that calling only has one way to win (by having the best hand), whereas opening (or raising) may also win immediately if your opponent(s) fold.

Strip Poker Strategy - Sandwich Effect

Related to the gap effect, the sandwich effect, as described by Dan Harrington in Harrington on Hold 'em Vol 1, states that a player needs a stronger hand to stay in a pot when there are opponents yet to act behind him. Because the player doesn't know how many opponents will be involved in the pot or whether he will have to call a re-raise, he doesn't know what his effective pot odds actually are. Therefore, a stronger hand is desired as compensation for this uncertainty.

Strip Poker Strategy - Loose / Tight Play

Loose players play a relatively more hands and tend to continue with weaker hands. Tight players play relatively fewer hands and tend not to continue with weaker hands. The following concepts are applicable in loose games (and their converse in tight games):

  • Bluffs and semi-bluffs are less effective because loose opponents are less likely to fold.
  • Requirements for continuing with made hands may be lower because loose players may also be playing lower value hands.
  • Drawing to incomplete hands, like flushes, tends to be more valuable as draws will often get favorable pot odds and a stronger hand (rather than merely one pair) is often required to win in multi-way pots.

Strip Poker Strategy - Aggressive / Passive Play

Aggressive play refers to betting and raising. Passive play refers to checking and calling. Unless passive play is being used deceptively as mentioned above, aggressive play is generally considered stronger than passive play because of the bluff value of bets and raises and because it offers more opportunities for your opponents to make mistakes.

Strip Poker Strategy - Hand Reading and Tells

Hand reading is the process of making educated guesses about the possible cards an opponent may hold based on the sequence of actions in the pot. A tell is a detectable change in an opponent's behavior or demeanor that gives clues about his hand. Educated guesses about an opponent's cards can help a player avoid mistakes in his own play, induce mistakes by his opponent(s), or to influence the player to take actions that he would normally not take under the circumstances. For example, a tell might suggest an opponent has missed a draw and holds a weak hand, but a player also missed a draw and is sure his hand is even weaker. In this case, using the tell, the player may decide a bluff would be more effective than usual.

Strip Poker Strategy - Table Image & Opponent Profiling

By observing the tendencies and patterns of your opponents, you can make more educated guesses about their potential holdings. For example, if a player has been playing extremely tight (playing very few hands), when they finally do enter a pot, you may surmise that they have stronger than average cards. Your table image is the perception of your opponents of your own pattern of play. You can leverage your table image by playing out of character and thereby inducing your opponent(s) to misjudge your hand and make a mistake.

Strip Poker Strategy - Short-Handed Considerations

When playing at short-handed table (a table with fewer than normal players), players must loosen up their play (play more hands) for several reasons:

  • There is less likelihood of another player having a strong hand because there are fewer players.
  • Each player's share of the forced bets increases because there are fewer players contributing to the forced bets, thus waiting for premium hands becomes more expensive.

Strip Poker Strategy - Structure Considerations

The blinds and antes and limit structure of the game has a significant influence on poker strategy. For example, it is easier to manipulate pot odds in no-limit and pot-limit games than in limit games. In poker tournaments, as the size of the forced bets relative to the chip stacks grows, pressure is placed on players to play pots to avoid being anted/blinded away.

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