6 Keys to Winning at Poker
THE WEEKLY SHUFFLE, 2014-04-06, by JTringerBefore you dive into specific things to work on and learn about in great depth, you must first learn and understand the fundamentals. The 6 tips in this article will get you started on the path to becoming a winning poker player.
1. Bankroll Management
The most important part to becoming a winning player is bankroll management. Whether you are playing Texas Hold'em or Omaha, poker is a game of variance. While skill is dominant in the long term, there will often be extreme swings in the short term. If you don't have a large enough bankroll to survive a downswing, you'll go bust no matter how good of a player you are. Talk to veteran players of whichever form of poker you are interested in playing to get an idea of the size of bankroll you will need. Different games will need different sizes of reserves.
2. Hand Selection
The easiest way to spot a new or bad player is seeing them play too many hands. You make a relatively small amount of strong hands in most forms of poker, which means if you play too many hands you will be bled dry or quickly lose after bluffing too much. Your hand selection should depend on the amount of people in the hand and what position you are in. When you are on the button of a shorthanded game you can have a wide range compared to when you are in early position of a 10 handed table.
3. Know the Math
Many players get scared of doing math because they think it's similar in difficulty to counting cards in blackjack. The truth is that it's way easier to do in poker. While you may want to "play the man", it's always good to know some basic math to avoid big mistakes. The two main concepts you should learn about are pot odds and drawing odds.
Pot odds refer to how much money you have to put in relative to the size of the pot. For example, having to call a bet of 10 chips in a total pot of 40 would give you 40:10, or 4:1 pot odds. The bigger the pot odds are, the less often you have to win so it's often better to stay in.
Drawing odds are used to determine your chances of making a strong hand. If you have a flush draw on the turn with one card to come, there are 9 cards of that suit potentially left in the deck. There are also 46 cards left unknown (52-6 on the table), which gives you a 9/46 chance of hitting your flush. This works out to about 19%, which is why the shortcut to figuring out your drawing odds are to multiply your outs (cards that help you) by 2; i.e. 9*2=18%.
4. Control Your Emotions
Even if you are a great player, losing control of your emotions and going on tilt will destroy your overall results. Logic is a poker player's friend, but frustration and anger are not. This is one of the most difficult skills to master and will take a lot of effort to get a handle on. Learn to recognize when these emotions are about to explode and either calm yourself down in advance or take a break.
5. Play Your "A" Game
Winning players often get caught up in fantasies of large profits. They extrapolate their results and believe that if they played a ton of hands they could play professionally. The problem is that there is a limited amount of hands that you will be able to play your "A" game for. Focus, desire and rest levels are all crucial to playing your best and sustaining a great winrate. While you may still be able to win playing your "B" or "C" game, you won't improve as much, won't enjoy playing and are likely to experience a lot more variance with worse overall results.
6. Always Improve: Review Your Results
Poker is a constantly evolving game. If you want to remain a winning player or increase your winrate, you need to spend time and effort to improve your game. One of the most crucial things to do is to review your results on a regular basis. Don't just skim the main statistics, spend time breaking down tough hands and trying to see if you could have played them better.
As you can see, it's not easy being a winning player. Many players, even winning players, struggle with one or more of these aspects of poker and it has a huge effect on their winrate. Become a well-rounded player in order to consistently be a big winner in the poker games you play.
The Weekly Shuffle is our Sunday column with our observations and commentary on the poker world. Have an idea for an article? Leave a suggestion on the feedback page.
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