Poker Strategy With Doug Polk: Five Steps Towards Winning Consistently In Poker

The Upswing Poker Lab is a poker training course taught by Doug Polk and Ryan Fee. The Lab is updated regularly with in-depth learning modules, theory videos, and a wealth of information to make you a better poker player.

Whether you’re a recreational player or an aspiring pro, I’m guessing you know that truly successful poker players do something different than everyone else.

You might think it’s a kind of ‘instinct’, or you might think it all comes down to years of practice.

But the reality is almost all professional poker players use a small selection of proven ‘techniques’ to beat the game, time and time again.

1. Know the cards you are going to play.

“Every battle is won before it is ever fought.” – Sun Tzu

There are many variables in poker, but at the very core of a successful strategy is choosing which hands to play. You should know which range of hands that you are playing from each position.

As a general rule, the closer you are to the button, the more hands you should be playing. This might seem obvious to aggressive players, but even they make a lot of mistakes simply because they don’t:

  • Map out which hands to play before the session
  • Implement a proper hand-selection strategy when facing different players

To avoid this problem, study which hands you should be playing beforehand, and from which position.

I think you’ll be amazed how much of a difference this simple step can make to your game. You might also be surprised to learn about some of the hands you should and shouldn’t be playing from certain positions.

2. Disguise your holdings.

Now that we’ve covered hand selection, it’s time to make sure the hands you do choose are played correctly.

For example, if you know a player is only opening pocket tens or better, they become predictable. This strategy can work in the short-term, but savvy players will begin exploiting their tendencies, and they’ll soon become very easy to beat.

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You do not want to be predictable. You want to keep your opponents guessing, meaning that they will have a tough time putting you on a hand. We can achieve this with a few techniques, which are designed to confuse your opponents:

  • Raise to a similar same size with all of hands you play
  • Use similar post-flop action with many of the hands you play
  • Play some of your weak and strong hands in the same way
  • Never show your cards unless you have to (don’t give away free information)

3. Find the right games to play.

Game selection is one of the most overlooked steps toward playing winning poker, despite being one of the most critical. There are many different aspects to finding the right game to play in. Let’s look at a list of good places to play:

  • A game with no rake taken by the house
  • A game played with many recreational players who play for fun
  • A game where alcohol is being consumed
  • A game with lots of action by various players at the table
  • A game you know is safe

Some of these criteria are easier to meet than others. And it’s not always possible to control some of these factors, but it’s important that you’re aware of them.

Moreover, don’t fall prey to your ego when game selecting. It can be tempting to play against better players, and that can be a learning opportunity too, but at the end of the day you’re playing to make money, and your profits come from weaker players.

4. Adjust to your opponents.

The best players are able to adjust according to how their opponents are playing. This is really where their edge comes is: determining their opponents’ tendencies and then taking advantage of those tendencies.


Phil Ivey is a great example of how good players adjust. Ivey studies his opponents, looking for any information he can get. You’ll rarely see him talking or laughing throughout a hand. He’ll stare down his opponents, analyzing their every move and determining how best to play against them.

However, while a stare-down approach works well for players like Ivey, it doesn’t work for everyone and yields little information in most circumstances. Look for more general tendencies, such as…

  • How aggressive an opponent is playing
  • What hands they’re showing down
  • How easily an opponent gets tilted or impatient
  • How often an opponent played a hand doesn’t make sense given what they show down

These things can help you characterize your opponents’ play styles, which in turn helps you make the best decisions possible.

Finally, try to stay focused at the table at all times. Always notice what hands players are showing down, and decide whether their pre-flop action was correct or incorrect. If it was incorrect, chances are they’re making mistakes on other streets.

5. Simplify your decisions.

When playing in any poker game it’s important to keep a level head. Sometimes the information can become overwhelming. In these spots it’s best to keep your emotions in check, slow down and analyze the situation.

Don’t be afraid of annoying other players, or getting the clock called on you. Take as much time as you need and think through the hand. Think about what hands you can have in a given situation, and what hands your opponents can have. Use this information to determine your most profitable move.

If you feel stuck, then think about all the different hands you would play in the same way. Don’t let fear in the mix. If the situation is right, don’t be afraid to fire the bluff or make that big call. But don’t feel bluff just because you have no showdown value, and don’t feel obliged to call just because you’re uncertain about what your opponent has.

Again, think carefully through the hand.


Utilize these five steps with some time and patience, and you’ll be well on your way to becoming a winning poker player.

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