There are several excellent books on poker strategy, and this article will only attempt to deal with the basics that must be mastered by the beginner. A list of articles on the material summarized here appears below.
Once a player has mastered the rank of hands, it is more important to realize their relative strength at a poker table. Approximately half the five-card hands in any given game will be less than a pair of twos, but only about one-fourth of five-card hands in the long run will be better than a pair of Aces. A full house is such a good hand that it is far more likely to be the best hand on the table than a 7 high (the lowest possible hand) is to be the lowest hand at a given table.
One mistake made by many beginners is to bet hands that are unlikely to win in the showdown, hoping that they will eventually improve. In the long run, this is a losing strategy against experienced players. For example, in draw poker, any hand less than a pair should generally be folded at the earliest opportunity. In other games, such as Texas Hold 'Em where only two cards are dealt before the betting round, unmatched combinations of low cards are unlikely to result in a winning hand.
Improvement and pot odds
Athough improvement is possible with virtually every hand, most beginners forget that players with better hands may also improve their hands on the draw, and that in the long run the player with the better hand before a draw is likely to have the better hand after the draw as well. Generally, if you have reason to believe that your opponent has a better hand than you at any given point of a betting round, the appropriate action is to fold. However, if the money in the pot is large compared to the bet required to stay in (the "pot odds"), a call is possible. This is particularly the case when a player is attempting to fill a straight or flush. However, the approximate odds of filling an outside straight on the next draw is about 6-1, and the odds of similarly filling a flush is about 5-1. As such, calling is not recommended if the money that could be won gives a lesser payout on the bet.
One bet made by beginners that rarely pays off is to fill an "inside straight" - a straight with one of the middle cards missing. The odds against filling such a straight on a single draw are roughly 13-1 against and should not be considered unless the pot odds are particularly good.
Beginners, even talented beginners, see bluffing as a way to "buy" the pot. However, bluffing seldom works against poor players (who tend to overestimate the strength of their hand to begin with) and does not work for long against expert players if a player bluffs too frequently. Although all players should bluff occasionally to make their large bets on good hands look less credible, consistent and constant bluffing generally leads to large losses.
In large games it is difficult to bluff because of the high chance that someone has a good hand. It is also more sensible for your opponents to call than fold if the pot is large unless they are sure their hand is dead. Paying $10 to call with $100 in the pot is good value for anyone with more than a 10% chance of winning.
Generally, players who have to bet first need stronger hands to open the betting than players who bet later. This is because the raw odds of a better hand being on the table increase based on the number of players who have not had the opportunity to bet. For example, in a six-player game of draw poker, it is recommended that a player check in the first betting position unless they have at least a pair of aces. However, the last player to bet (the dealer) may open the betting if no-one else has spoken with as little as a pair of twos. One expert Hold 'Em player recommends folding if you are the first player to the left of the blind unless you have the strength to raise.