There are relatively few games on the planet that can match poker for intrigue, strategy, and excitement. Whilst that makes it one of the most fun games to play, it also makes poker games notoriously difficult to master.
If you’re just starting out on your poker odyssey or have hit the buffers in recent weeks, read on to find out four of the best tips and tricks that could take your game to the next level.
In 2008 in the book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell put forward the theory that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert in any field. If you’ve been playing your favourite sport since before you can remember and are not currently being paid millions to play it professionally, you’ll know that there is something a little off with this theory.
The premise however, is not far off the truth but instead of saying ‘10,000 hours of practice’, it should perhaps say ’10,000 hours of meaningful practice’. Anyone can mindlessly practice their favourite or sport or game but to improve, they would need to do so meaningful with purpose and clear objectives. But what does this mean?
Well, quite simply it means practicing with the goal to improve your strengths and eradicate your weaknesses. In terms of poker, this means actively analysing your moves after any given game and firstly working out what you did well and what you did not so well.
Once you’ve done this, you can start to identify patterns in your play and areas for improvement. When you engage in meaningful poker practice you should record your hands, your plays, the flop, and the outcome of each hand.
When you do this consistently, you’ll begin to notice patterns that passed you by at the table and prepare for them in future games. This process of reflection, analysis and learning is what separates the casual players from the greats.
Reading this article is a good start, but if you are serious about really improving your poker game you’ll need to read a lot more than a 1,000 word article on the internet. You’ll need to set aside time to read up on the mathematics of poker, the psychology of bluffing and the various strategies of the game.
In its basic form, poker is a game of probabilities so that should give you a starting point for your poker study. Read up on what probability is, how it works and crucially, how to understand it in terms of taking risks.
Once you’re au fait with that, pick up a book like ‘Essential Poker Math’ by Alton Hardin to cement your knowledge of probabilities. Then add ‘The Mental Game of Poker’ by Jared Tendler to expand your understanding of the psychological aspect of poker.
After that, move on to ‘Application of No-Limit Hold ‘em’ by Matthew Janda to bring all of your knowledge together and put it into action. Don’t think that you know it all after reading these three books though, always continue learning.
That could be by reading more books to get another viewpoint or it could mean watching interviews with poker professionals to hear their reasoning behind certain plays. Treat poker like a lifelong vocation, one that requires hours and hours of continuous professional development each year and you’ll win far more hands than you lose.
Understand your emotions
Two years ago, a poker AI called Pluribus played more than 10,000 hands over a 12-day period and beat 15 top human players along the way. The system was relentless in its pursuit of victory, beating down its human competitors at every possible opportunity.
The AI’s key strength was that it wasn’t human. It was not bound by its emotions like its human counterparts, rather it focused on the mathematics of the game on each and every hand, which is why it wound up winning.
The point being made here is that humans, as oppose to robots, cannot always focus on the mathematics behind poker. Sometimes humans are driven by feelings of revenge to chase a player that has just bluffed them, sometimes they are driven by the fear of losing or the desire to win big.
Whenever these emotions arise, they can cloud player’s judgement and encourage them to take risks that they wouldn’t usually take or make them ignorant to what the other players around the table are doing.
If you want to improve your poker game you need to learn to understand your emotions, and in doing so, recognise when you are playing on them rather than playing the hand in front of you. The key emotion to look out for is anger, which whilst being useful on occasion is dangerous at the table.
Experienced players refer to playing angry as playing ‘tilted’. When you notice that you’re experiencing this at the table, it’s a good idea to step back and take a break from the game. When you cool down, you’ll be able to see things more rationally and as a consequence, play better.
The average online poker game usually lasts between 1-3 hours, but if you’re involved in tournament play it’s not unusual to be engaged at the table for up to 12 hours and that is a gruelling experience.
The typical working day lasts for 8 hours, so that puts into perspective how long a game of poker can be. If you were heading in to work for a 12 hour shift you wouldn’t nonchalantly roll in and hope for the best, you’d prepare for it.
You’d make sure that you had a good sleep the night before, you’d eat a hearty breakfast and pack lunch and snacks to keep you going through the day. You should do exactly the same if you’re preparing for a poker tournament.
If you’re tired, your judgement will be clouded. If you’re hungry, your judgement will be clouded. If you’re thirsty, your judgement will be clouded. Can you see where we’re going with this point? Prepare yourself for the long haul and you’ll significantly improve your chances of success.