If you're just new to poker and have only just learnt the rules of poker it is definitely worth reading through the hints and tips before you take your first steps into the game. If you've been playing for a while and things just don't seem to be going your way then the hints and tips will also help you to win more hands and dramatically increase your enjoyment of this wonderful game. These hints are mainly aimed at Texas Holdem' but work just as well with other poker game types.
Don’t think you're a "Natural"
Poker, unlike most other casino based games such as roulette is not simply a game of chance, it is a game with comparatively simple rules but it requires a significant amount of maths, psychology, body language skills, self control and performance under pressure, amongst other things. Luckily, the maths is dealt with later under poker odds and body language is barely relevant in online poker rooms. However, by thinking that you are a "natural player" is that you may rest on your laurels and not try to improve. There will always be a better player than you out there, however, there will also be many more players who should be worse than you if you hone your skills. Poker has been around for a long time which has allowed many players to perfect their poker skills and luckily write various books on the subject. Some of these books are better than others but the better ones will allow you to study the game at your leisure and learn various techniques to help you. It can also be a good idea to watch the professionals on the various TV channels that are now covering the game. By studying other players and talking to them, you can not only make friends but perfect your skills and therefore win more games and money.
Maintain control of your emotions
If you watch any professional poker player, they will display little if any emotion. It cannot be over emphasised that you must take control of your emotions if you wish to be a successful player. Unfortunately, playing poker mixes chance, ego and money all together in one pot! These factors are more than likely to create stress in any player. However, with care, you can control the stress of the game and turn playing poker into an enjoyable pastime. You know in advance that the game will be stressful so you can prepare yourself by detaching yourself from the game. Don’t be tempted to play outside your “comfort zone” (too high stakes which is covered in the next section) as this will only increase your stress. Inevitably you will loose the odd hand. This is a fact of life so learn to live with it and don’t try to make up from a bad hand by over betting on the next. This will allow you to regain your composure more quickly and take advantage of any other player’s over confidence. Also, don’t act too quickly, when you have an important decision to make, take a breath and pause. This will allow you to evaluate how the betting has gone and what cards you opponents may have. Taking your time will also allow you to keep your focus and hence ensure that you win in the long run.
Only play the hands you think you can win
It is all too easy to play every hand you are dealt. This is definitely not the thing to do. If you watch professional players on the TV then they will fold significantly more hands than they play. It is much better to only play the “Premium” hands. This is especially true when you are playing against eight or ten other players. Quite simply, if you start the play with poor cards hoping to gain a better hand on the flop, at least one of the other players will have a better hand than you as the community cards work for then as well as you. It costs you money each time you continue betting after the flop and have to fold on the river card as you still haven’t got the cards you wanted. Remember that by bluffing your way to the river, you can fool all of the players some of the time and some of the players all of the time but not all of the players all of the time. At an eight player table, you should focus on only playing hands like:
Pocket pairs (two cards of the same value e.g. two Jacks or two 9’s)
Two face cards (King – Queen or Queen –Jack)
Hands that can make both a straight and a flush (9-10, 6-7 of the same suit)
Don’t play hands like Ace – 8 (off suite), King – 2, Queen - 3, and 9 - 6. Simply fold them pre-flop. The main reason that most people play too many hands is because they want some action. They are just too impetuous to sit and wait until they get good cards. However, if you want to be a winner and not a loser (which is hopefully why you are reading this!!) you must learn the art of patience. In fact, if you're playing good poker, you may often fold many hands before you actually play one. This may at first appear boring but ultimately, you will be laughing all the way to the bank.
Remember your playing position
One of the most common mistakes made by players is to play their hand without considering their position at the table. In Texas Holdem poker, the importance of your playing position cannot be over emphasised. Quite simply, a good position at the poker table is a late position. This means that you get to see how the other players have acted before you have to commit to a move. This allows you to make a decision on how you wish to play by looking at the other players’ behaviour and betting. The best position is the dealer (known as “the button”) as this is the last position that has to act in the round. If, for example, you are sat to the immediate left of the big blind (this is known as “under the gun”) then you are the first player that has the option of playing or folding a hand. Therefore, you should play fewer hands as you have no idea what cards the other players may have. The later starting position that you have, then the more starting hands that you can play and the more aggressively you can play them. You are also more likely to be able to pull off a bluff from a later starting position too.
Play the right stakes
It can be generally said that the better players play at higher stakes and hence, more skill is required at the higher stakes tables. However, unless you have money to burn don’t try and play the higher stakes too soon as you are more than likely to loose more money than you make as you will be outplayed by the other players. One of the easiest ways to find out which stakes to play at is to determine how many games you are playing per hour and record what your profit per hour is. For example, you find that you are winning 3 out of 5 games on a £5 stake and only 1 out of 5 games at a £10 stake then in the long run you will win more money on the £5 table. However, if you find that you are winning 4 or 5 out of 5 games at a £5 stake then it may be time to try the next level up. However, if you start loosing then don’t be afraid to drop down the stakes or try a different poker room for a while. You can keep repeating this process over and over as you should be continually improving your game. This should allow you to move up into the bigger games and more money whilst lowering your risk.
Focus on your opponents
It is important to remember that in all forms of poker, you are playing against your opponents not against the cards themselves. What cards are dealt is purely a matter of chance. It is how you choose to play them that determines how much money you win or loose. You will find that only a few plays will get to the river card with all players still in. The art of the game is to ascertain the betting patterns and habits (these are called “tells”) of your opponents and exploiting them to your advantage. This will allow you to determine the strength of your opponents hand and then either fold your own cards if you have a bad hand or force your opponents to fold theirs. The only time that you should be turning your cards over at the end of the game is when you have generated a massive pot ready for your Royal flush to take the winnings!
Maintain an air of unpredictability
In the same way that you are studying the other players every move, they will also be studying yours. This means that to disguise your playing habits, you must not be too predictable. It is no good having the best cards if every other player then folds as you won’t make much money from the pot. This is easier said than done, but for example you could try betting odd amounts, make the same bet for a pair as you would for a Jack and 10 of the same suite. The aim is to throw the other players off your scent or lay false trails so that the other players won’t know whether you are holding a pair of Aces or 2 – 3 off suite.
Know when to quit
This is probably the biggest (or certainly the most costly) mistake that players can make. Know when it is time to stand up and walk away from the table. This could be when you have made a nice tidy sum or conversely just lost it! If you are on a winning streak then by all means keep playing but if you’re not careful it can be easy to loose if you think that you can do no wrong and end up placing silly bets. Likewise, if you start to loose money don’t be tempted to gamble more to try and make up for your losses. It’s much better to pull out of the game for a bit, recuperate and then play again. This will allow you to regain your concentration and composure and significantly increases your chances of a comeback. It obviously goes without saying that you should play poker with a clear head and not when you’ve had a skin-full or a blazing argument with your partner.
Know your odds
As we’ve mentioned previously, a large part of playing poker successfully is based on mathematics: - specifically probability. Don’t worry though you don’t need to be a maths professor to understand probability. Luckily, there are various probability calculators out there that will do this for you. These range from the simple (probability tables), through semi interactive guides (you enter your cards, the community cards etc) and the fully interactive (software that you install that follows your game and gives you real-time odds). We have dedicated a separate area of the website to this subject: Poker Odds. This should allow you to understand the odds of you winning a hand quickly and alter your betting accordingly.
Unfortunately, people aren’t born knowing how to play poker. It is a game that must be learnt, this can be done the hard way by bitter experience or the easy way by learning through others mistakes. In order to capitalise on the experience of others, you can watch the various TV channels showing poker and pick up a few tips from the pros. Alternatively, you can read the various books that have been written by poker pros. We have teamed up with Amazon.com to offer you some of the books that we think may be of use to you. Please look in the poker shop to see what books are available. Also, we will be constantly updating the hints and tips section so that you can learn for free! If you have any tips that you would like to share then please email us here at [email protected] and we’ll put them on the site.