ABC poker is a description of a straightforward poker strategy where you bet and raise with good hands and fold with bad hands. It’s often spoken of with a sneer by fancy players, and they have some good reasons for their disdain of this kind of strategy.

But ABC poker isn’t all bad. In fact, I’d argue that ABC poker is the starting point from which any reasonably good poker strategy must grow.

The purpose of this post is to look at the pros and cons of ABC poker. It’s more appropriate in some situations than others, and this post will look at when ABC poker is a good idea and when it’s not.

ABC Poker Works Best in Low Stakes Games

Generally, the lower the stakes are, the weaker the players are. And with weaker players, the only thing you need to do is play straightforward poker. This means raising with your good hands and folding with your bad hands.

ABC poker doesn’t include deception, for the most part. All you need to do with this strategy is play in a straightforward manner. You don’t need to bluff or even semi-bluff. In fact, if you’re playing in low stakes games, bluffing and semi-bluffing don’t work well anyway.

An understanding of pot odds helps, because when you have speculative drawing hands, you want to be able to evaluate whether you’ll get paid off well enough when you hit your hand to make it worth your while to play.

When you’re playing poker online, you don’t usually know much about your opponents or their playing styles. In fact, if you’re playing somewhere like Bovada, your opponents are almost completely anonymous. Without being able to evaluate their playing tendencies, you’re playing with little information.

And indeed, these are the situations where ABC poker works best—in low stakes games and in games where you have little information.

In low stakes games with lots of weak players, you’ll be able to profit just from the mistakes the other players make. They’ll call your raises with inferior hands. They’ll stay in hands too long. You’ll get paid off by the 2nd best hand often.

But low stakes players will call your bluffs. One of the players at the $4/$8 table in Oklahoma last week told me we were playing no foldem holdem, and he was right. Almost every hand went to a showdown. There was no point trying to bluff, because no one was going to win a pot that way.

In games where you don’t know much about your opponents, ABC poker is your default. It’s a safe strategy to play, even though it makes you predictable to the opponents who are paying attention. But your goal is to win as much money as you can from the weak players at the table anyway, and they’re not paying attention to your playing tendencies at all.

You should have a solid idea of what kind of starting hands you like if you’re going to play this kind of poker. You should also know how to read a flop to know what kind of cards your opponents might have at that point.

ABC Poker Is, Well, Easy…

One of the big advantages to playing ABC poker is that it’s easy. You can sum it up in this way:

  • Get the hand.
  • Bet the hand.

In most low-stakes games, online or off, this is enough to make you at least a break-even player. In fact, it will often make you a winning player.

A few years ago a young online poker asked me for advice about how to play in a freeroll online that night. My friend Wes laughed, because my advice was just:

“Don’t bluff.”

I stand by that advice, though. Tricky plays like bluffs and semi-bluffs are useless against players who won’t fold. In that situation, all you have to do is wait until you have good cards and put your money into the pot.

In fact, I’d suggest that ABC poker is the fundamental game at its essence. If you can’t play ABC poker when you want to, I’d be surprised if you were able to win at all. Putting your chips into the middle of the table when you have a good hand is the most basic way to make money at poker. Without that skill at your disposal, I’d suggest you’re in trouble.

Bluffing in ABC Poker

You can bluff when playing ABC poker, but it isn’t a big part of the game. Most of the time, if you’re playing really straightforward poker, the only time you’ll bluff will be when you’re facing one other opponent. Any more than that, and the probability of successfully driving someone out of the pot goes way down.

If you have a tight enough image, you might be able to pull off a bluff. But at the types of tables where ABC poker works best, most of the other players aren’t going to be paying much attention to your playing tendencies anyway. Many of them are just there to be in action, so they’ll call you regardless of whether you’ve folded 30 or 40 times before the flop in a row anyway.

You’ll occasionally run into a more imaginative and sophisticated player who will just call you before the flop just to get into your head. That happened to me once when I was playing with a guy who owned a chain of nail salons. He told me that he’d watched me fold 42 or 46 hands preflop in a row, and he just had to see what cards I thought were worth playing.

I know he was just messing with me, because now that I think about it, I’m convinced he hadn’t really counted how many times I’d folded.

ABC Poker Is Easily Defeated by Imaginative Players

And that brings me to the drawbacks section. The problem with ABC poker is that it makes you predictable. It’s easy to put you on a range of hands when you’re playing in such a straightforward manner. Sophisticated opponents might as well see what cards you have.

This brings us to a discussion of David Sklansky’s fundamental theorem of poker. He points out that if you could see your opponents’ cards, you’d know exactly what to do in every situation—provided you understood the math behind the game.

But since you never know what your opponent is holding, that’s impossible.

So every time you can get your opponent to play in a way he wouldn’t play if he knew what you were holding, you gain. Every time he plays in a way he would play if he saw your cards, you lose.

ABC poker, then, flies in the face of Sklansky’s fundamental theorem of poker.

This is why players occasionally raise with a hand they should probably fold. It’s also why they sometimes bet with inferior hands.

When you’re playing with sophisticated players and only bet or raise when you have strong cards, they’ll just fold in the face of your aggression every time. That won’t make you any money.

They’ll also figure out that if you just check or call that you don’t have anything at all, so they’ll push you out of pots that you might have won if you’d been able to stay in them.

Throwing in a check-raise here or there is a tactic you won’t see from ABC poker players.

Loose Aggressive Poker Is, in Some Ways, the Opposite of ABC Poker

A loose aggressive poker player plays a lot of hands, and when he plays them, he’s always betting and raising. He puts so much pressure on his opponents that they get rattled and start making mistakes. When facing tighter and more passive opponents, he picks up so much dead money with no showdown that he’s basically freerolling his way into hands where he has a draw.

For a dedicated ABC poker player who’s just learning the game, a loose aggressive player can be one of the most frustrating opponents to face.

But with patience, you can put the loose aggressive player in his place. All you have to do is wait until you have a good hand and hope that he’s willing to make a mistake. Some loose aggressive players are just action junkies. In that case, they won’t fold no matter how tightly you’ve been playing.

Some players do really well for long stretches of time with a loose aggressive approach to the game.

In fact, it’s important to point out that 2 types of poker players succeed regularly:

  • 1. Loose aggressive players
  • 2. Tight aggressive players

You’ll notice the word “aggressive” used with both of those descriptions. This is a fact about poker I learned from reading a John Vorhaus book—it was one of the books in his Killer Poker series.

Passive players at the poker table never winner, regardless of whether they play few hands or a lot of hands. Passive players who play a lot of hands—loose passive players—are calling stations. They just keep putting money in the pot and paying off the better players at the table.

Passive players who play tight—rocks—don’t make money, either. They lose less money than their calling station brethren, but they don’t make enough money from their strong hands because they don’t get their money into the middle with bets and raises when they should.

Most poker writers suggest that a tight aggressive approach is best. This is not necessarily the same thing as ABC poker, although it can be. But you can still throw in occasional bluffs and continuation bets when you have the worst of it just to keep your opponents guessing.

This, by definition, is the opposite of ABC poker.

Loose aggressive players can do well when they’re paying attention and willing to change speeds based on the caliber of their opponents. Naked aggression with any and every hand versus any and every opponent is a disaster waiting to happen.

Not long ago I played with a guy who raised preflop every single hand—without exception. He was on a winning streak, too, and it didn’t take him long to triple or quadruple the size of his stack. After 30 minutes, he had more chips than anyone at the table.

He didn’t have any of my chips, though, because I didn’t get involved with him until I got solid cards. A couple of the other players at the table bided their time, too. After another 45 minutes, he’d lost all the chips he’d won and everything he’d sat down with, too.


ABC poker gets a bad rap from poker writers because it’s an easily exploitable strategy, especially if your opponents are at all sophisticated.

But people forget that at the lower stakes, most players are almost completely unsophisticated. They just sit there and almost randomly throw money into the pot. All you have to do is wait and catch cards, then bet and raise with them. That’s ABC poker at its finest.

You’ll find these kinds of opponents at the lower stakes table both online and in brick and mortar casinos. You can win against these kinds of games with ABC poker, but as you move up in stakes, you’ll almost certainly need to vary your approach if you want to continue winning.

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