Poker may take a few minutes to learn but it's also a rich and absorbing game to study, an endlessly fluctuating discussion of strategy and counter-strategy. It really is a battle of mathematics and wit, calculation and instinct, Zen-like patience and brassy bravado. Here are ten top tips to set your path to poker enlightenment.
Careful hand-selection is a crucial concept in poker, whether you're a tight or aggressive player. For beginners, though, it's certainly true that tight is right. Phil Hellmuth, in his book Play Poker Like the Pros suggested new poker players should only play the following hands: pocket pairs 7-7 to A-A, plus A-K and A-Q. It's certainly true that this range will probably give you the best chance of winning a tournament if you've just started out. It might sound a bit dull, but the discipline will be a lesson in itself.
Of course, as you become more confident you can start adding K-Q, A-x suited and smaller pocket pairs to your range, and also experiment with suited connectors, especially if you're in position or are getting a very good price for a call.
Position is a concept that's most glaringly overlooked by beginners, but that the simple fact is most of the profit you make in poker will come from the players on your right because you get to act after they do. Acting last allows you to make more informed decisions, to bluff more successfully and get more value from your big hands. In short, it puts you in control and gives you a better idea of where you are in the hand.
Prepare to be more aggressive when you're on the button, or in the cut-off or hijack positions, because this will allow you to play pots in position more often. From the button, you don't even need to have much of a hand at all. Often, you will steal the blinds or take the pot with a continuation bet post-flop. Avoid playing out of position if you can. Yes, you will win the odd pot out of position, but anything can happen in the short-term. The point is you will lose over time and poker is a game in which we strive to think in terms of long-term profit.
Tight may be right for a beginner, but so is a calculated, controlled aggression. Take your starting hand selection and be prepared to play it hard and fast. Try to avoid "limping", ie, just calling the big blind pre-flop, and instead come on for a good raise. This will give you the momentum in the hand you need to keep going after the flop, even if you miss or only have some kind of draw.
Keep an eye out for how the other players at the table are playing. Are they weak-passive players? Are they limping pre- or check-folding flops a lot of the time? These are players you can exploit and bully off hands. Likewise, is there’s an overly aggressive player at the table who seems to raising every hand? A well-timed re-raise pre-flop might just put him in his place. Aggression is a hugely effective tool against the right type of player. But remember: never bluff a calling-station!
It doesn't matter how good you are at poker, if you fail to practice bankroll management, you will go broke. No Limit Hold'em can be a high variance-game and the big swings can hit you hard. A three or four-buy-in downswing is not uncommon, even for the best players, which means that if your bankroll consists of just a few buy-ins, you're on a collision course with busto. Remember, your bankroll is your arsenal, the tools you use to play the game.
It's recommended that you never have more than 5 per cent of your poker money at risk at any one time. That means if your bankroll is £100, your tournament buy-ins should be £5 at the most and you should be playing no more than £0.02 / £0.04 at the cash tables. As you win or lose you must adjust accordingly. Many talented players failed to stick around in poker because they were unable to manage this aspect of their game.
Learn to be Zen-like at the poker table. Someone once said that war is long periods of boredom punctuated by moments of terror. The same could be said for poker. You can experience long periods without getting a playable hand and impatience in this situation can be your undoing. Many players play poker to let off steam and want to play as many hands as possible. The patient player will profit from these types of players.
Instead of getting bored when you're folding a lot, pay close attention to your opponents at the table as they become involved in hands. A lot of poker is situational and this will help you find good spots and opportunities that you would otherwise miss.
You don't have to be a math whizz to be good at poker (although it certainly doesn't hurt). In fact, most of the math can be easily learnt by almost anybody. It’s vital to understand pot odds, however, even if just a rough estimation. Simply put, pot odds are the ratio of the size of the pot to the price of a call, compared to the probability of winning a hand. For example, it's easy to memorize the fact that if you have two spades in your hand and there are two on the board, you’re a 3-1 underdog to hit your flush, and therefore you know that, if you're getting or better on a call 3-1, you are making a mathematically sound decision.
Pot odds become vitally important during the latter stages of a tournament when the pre-flop blinds and antes can begin to represent a decent percentage of your stack. Knowing when to move all-in and when to fold here is vital to tournament success. There are loads of good advice out there on the web, so make sure you read up on basic pot odds, and then try to tackle more challenging topics like M-ratio theory and ICM.
Tilt affects everyone. It's because our brains are programmed to expect reward when we do something right, and in poker it doesn't always work out that way. In your poker career you will experience bad horrendous, torturous, eye-gouging bad beats that will send you on mind-bending monkey tilt. But as you become a more experienced player, tilt should start to affect you less, as you train yourself to think about the long-term. Using proper bankroll management theory will help too. But you must always learn to recognize the signs and triggers that bring on the red mist.
Never chase after losing a pot. If you lose a couple of buy-ins, don't try to get even, it might just be time to call it a night and come back when you’re fresh. If poker is a game that we play over a lifetime, with the long-term always in mind, then it makes sense to spend the highest percentage of the time we you can playing our A-game. That means not playing tilted!
Good players spend a lot of time studying their own play, and the great thing about online poker is that it allows you to analyse records of the hands you played during a certain session. Remember, don't just look at the hands you lost and think about what you could have done differently, have a look at your winning hands too. Yes, you one the pot, but did you play well? Did you get lucky? Could you have extracted more value from your opponent with better bet-sizing?
These days poker tracking software can be a valuable tool that will allow you to analyse your leaks. It can pinpoint where you are losing the most money over a number of hands. Are you raising too frequently pre-flop? Not c-betting enough? Giving up too easily on the flop, and so on.
Poker strategy used to be something that the pros guarded secretly; they kept their cards close to their chest. When Doyle Brunson released the seminal Super System in 1979 he immediately regretted it and worried that he'd betrayed the poker community by giving away the tricks of the trade. However, today we have masses of information at our fingertips and poker strategy is a lively ever-changing global discussion that takes place in books, magazines and web forums.
We suggest you absorb as many books as you can, as well as getting involved in strategy discussions on internet forums and looking out for video tutorials from the pros. As well as Super System some of our favourite books include The Theory of Poker, by David Slanksy; Harrington on Hold'em, by Dan Harrington; Every Hand Revealed, by Gus Hansen; and The Mental Game of Poker, by Jared Tendler.
OK, homework set. Enjoy!
When starting out in online poker, take the time to try out a few different sites to find which one you prefer. PokerStars may be the biggest, which means it offers the widest range of games and stakes, as well as big tournaments with huge player pools, but sites on the iPoker network, for example, often have more beatable games. It’s not a bad idea to try out online poker sites which are linked to online sportsbooks or casinos, because they traditional have fishier players; as gamblers win on sportsbetting or roulette, they might celebrate by splashing around in the poker room for a bit with less successful results. It's about finding a site with the right balance: the right variety of games as well as the kind of players that you are always happy to play against. Good luck!
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