Struggling to turn a profit at the poker tables? Keep finding yourself bleeding chips? Do you find your best days are the ones where you break even?
Stress not; you’re definitely not alone. In fact, this probably describes most poker players. Yes, some win big, and win often; but there are lots of poker players, and only so many winning hands.
Luckily it’s not a hopeless situation. Sometimes all it takes is just a few small strategy adjustments to take your game from “maybe break-even” to “crushing it”.
Here are seven subtle, but highly effective, tips to transform your poker game today.
#1. Stop thinking about hands
Your average poker player will try to think about what hand their opponents like have. Makes sense, surely? The whole game is about having the best hand!
Well, no. Mostly it’s about chance. It’s about the likelihood of having a better hand than the other player, and bluffing or calling bluffs as necessary. And as any beginner player knows, there’s usually more than one hand above the one you’re currently playing.
That’s why elite players think in terms of ranges; basically, the entire spectrum of potential hands a player can have in a given situation. Maybe they have a flush? Top pair? Full House? Ace-high? Or, not unusually, a complete air-ball bluff?
Skilled poker players know that someone will show up with this entire range of hands with various frequencies. They then try and figure out those frequencies and the likelihood they’re at the same table with them at a given time. Then, they make the best play.
#2. Lay down a good hand
This is a big one — to the point that we made an entire other article about it. This kind of goes into what we said right above about not thinking about hands, but rather ranges.
We encourage you to read the full article, but the short version is a good hand is not always a winning hand. Sometimes it is a far better option to lay down even a monster hand if the table is giving you strong signals to do so.
Learn to read your opponents. Someone who’s notoriously nitty about betting suddenly betting large? Double think that monster hand of yours and remember: not losing money is just as good to your bottom line as winning money.
#3. Be consistent
If you find a winning strategy, stick with it.
Doesn’t matter. Stick with the plan.
If you spend time and effort learning, gaining experience and studying poker to the point where your body of evidence gives you a profitable strategy, stay with it. That time spent will only actually matter if you apply it at the poker tables all the time.
Elite players apply the same winning strategy no matter how they feel or what their recent results have been.
#4. Unless you have a reason
OK, to be fair, even the most seasoned poker player will alter their strategy every once in a while.
The difference from an average player is that they’ll have a very clear reason. It won’t be because they’re bored, or tilted, or just want to mix things up. They’ll do it because they’re reading the table and know that there’s an advantage to doing so. Skillfully adapting to circumstances is, in itself, a viable strategy.
If you want to mix it up because “I feel like it” or “I’m bored”, you’re in for a world of losses.
#5. Lay down your favorite hands
Similar to point 2, but this time more to do with your personal feelings. Everyone has a hand that they like starting on — a hand that just feels right to them. They might have had great experiences with that hand; they might have even worked it into their Winning Strategy.
But like the pretty monster hand, sometimes you’ve gotta kill your darlings and lay down those hands that have sentimental value to you. Play with your head, not your heart.
#6. Tilted? Don’t blow it
Tilt is the great destroyer of bankrolls, dreams and poker careers, second only to general incompetence.
Poker is a game of chance. It’s always a gamble. Inevitably the cards will go badly for you, and there is absolutely nothing that you can do about it.
Well, except one thing: not lose control.
When the cards go south, don’t blow the last of your cash in a rage. Stick to the strategy. Be consistent. Be calm. Otherwise all your learning and strategy and prior accomplishments are going to go down the drain along with the rest of your money.
#7. Find the suckers
To quote Rounders, “If you can’t spot the sucker in your first half-hour at the table, then you are the sucker.”
Playing in games that are full of decent-to-good players is how the average poker player ends up losing substantial amounts of cash. You don’t win by pushing narrow edges against good players. There needs to be a sucker at the table, someone making fundamental errors and giving up money consistently (or, preferably, several suckers.)
A table full of decent players is a bad game, at least for your bank account. If you play recreationally or for the mental stimulation, then there’s no problem. But if you’re out to make some money, find a sucker.
As you can see, the changes in strategy aren’t profound. Mostly they’re to do with mindset — learning to let go of big hands, loved cards, and overly basic concepts. Poker is as much about playing the people you’re sat at the table with, as it is about playing the cards in your hand.
Keep it cool, keep it consistent, and respect that poker is a game full of chance. Sometimes it goes your way, sometimes it doesn’t, and the last thing you need to do is blow your cool.