Play poker like a rockstar? Don’t be fooled by the title.
Everybody can learn how to play poker like the pros (well, at least those serious enough), but winning “every” time is the tricky part.
Unless you’re a masochist, nobody likes losing and everybody wants to win every time, especially at poker when the stakes are high.
You know what I mean. Poker players, both amateurs and professionals, knew right from the start what it felt to win your first hand with a play you don’t even understand.
The sound of card shuffles, the feel of the felt, the splash of chips. They all contribute to poker’s overall appeal as a recreational game.
If you want to up your game a notch and play like the poker legends, there are so many things you can do.
But before we go on to that and give you tips on how you can improve your game and mimic the pros, allow me to clarify a bunch of stuff to make things clearer about poker in general.
Here they are:
- Poker is about two things: Math and Psychology
- It has a simple game structure, but it’s complex right down to the core
- You need funds ($$$)
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Poker Math and Psychology
You can’t beat the game because when cards are involved, you can’t do much about it.
I beg to differ.
Play Poker, just like any card or gambling games, has been subjected to many academic studies, specifically game theory and other decision-based sciences.
If this is not true, then how come there are books on how math works for poker players?
If you want to learn how to play poker like the pros and win every time, you must be ready to accept that the name of the game is probability and if you know how to capitalize on that, then you’re on your winning ways.
Probability plays a big role in each hand you play poker and the most each poker player can do is make estimates.
You can only estimate using probability what’s going to happen next. It sounds like a guessing game, but probability helps a lot if you know how to use it and you have a pretty clear idea what you’re going up against.
Sure, luck plays a role in the game, too, but in poker parlance, we call it variance.
Play poker the good old way
Simply put, the variance is the number of times a particular hand in poker is most likely to win. It’s not accurate, but at least you have a barometer to understand whether the way you’re playing is the correct way.
There’s also psychology involved. Ever heard of tells? Tells are signs people don’t know they project to other people.
If you’ve seen the movie Rounders, the tale of Matt Damon’s nemesis, John Malkovich, during their final heads-up match came in the form of Oreo cookies.
If Malkovich takes a bite of Oreos, it serves as a tell to Damon that Malkovich has a strong hand. What if he doesn’t eat it, then Damon has him beat.
But here’s a catch: it’d be sweet if we could see tells in that way when we play poker each time.
For one, that’s difficult because you have to play non-stop and iteratively to see those mundane gestures. Another would be to play with the same person over and over to understand why he plays like that in the first place.
For most professional poker players, they too can do somewhat the same. Using math, they can pretty much estimate what the other player is holding.
And just to be clear, we said estimate. I remember a new player asked me if I can tell what hand the other players are holding.
I smiled back and said, “Yes and no.”
Confused, he asked me to elaborate. It told him I couldn’t be 100 percent sure what exactly is the poker hand my opponent is holding, but I sometimes have a good “feel” of what he has depended on his poker behavior at the table.
I explained further and said that I see tells not on people’s faces, but based on their betting patterns.
You put the two together – math and psychology – then you’ve won half the battle.
Simple structure, complex game
The structure of poker is very simple: you have a bunch of people (usually a maximum of nine players per table), dealt two cards face down each and they battle it out who has the best five-card combination.
In game theory, poker is classified as “fixed game” with strict rules and an expected payout.
The player who has the best hand wins and gets paid while the rest ends up with nothing. In other words, poker is a zero-sum game. There’s only one winner.
It looks so simple, as poker greats used to say, “it takes a few minutes to learn, but a lifetime to master.”
What’s so hard about poker?
You have several players taking turns clock-wise and they’re given choices whether to call or fold, raise or re-raise.
The crux of poker being a complex game lies in vast probability and psychology the game is known for.
True, there are a finite number of cards in a deck, but the probability of landing a monster hand and getting the nuts is infinite.
Also, if you’re not prepared for the swings, poker can drive you “nuts.” I’ve seen many big men figuratively down on their knees with each bad beat and some even try to control tears from running down their cheeks.
It’s drama in real life with a thousand “what ifs” – what if I’ve played this hand differently?
What if the donkey player didn’t call?
What if I just stayed home and didn’t lose sleep?
Poker is very emotional right through a person’s core that’s why it’s a complex game.
It’s not just about cards; it’s poker.
To get money, you need money
You need to be ready to shell out cash if you want to play in the game. As the cliché goes, “there’s no such thing as a free lunch.”
If you’re after the recreational side of poker and hope to win a little bit of cash, you need money.
It’s no different from watching a blood and gore movie.
You have to pay for the ticket.
Do you want to play bowling with your friends?
Then you should be ready to pay for bowling lane use.
How much more if you want to learn how to play poker like the pros and win every time? Those who are considering making a living out of poker need to make a considerable investment.
You need funds for your buy-ins. You can’t enjoy your dinner if you only have a fork and a knife. And you need a steak.
Now, let’s put these things aside temporarily and look at the following tips how you can play poker like the pros.
Before the Flop (The Opening Hand)
Just like in the game of chess, the opening hand is crucial to ensure victory or to avoid a dreadful loss.
Most beginners, especially the serious ones, have difficulty grasping this concept.
For starters, I want you to remember some basics to guide you through the process.
Opening hands to play
Although highly criticized, Phil Helmuth’s top ten opening monster hands have been guiding beginners to help them quash low- to mid-level games.
These poker hands made me start winning more when I first started playing poker and decided to play more seriously at the beginning of my career. From time to time I still play with these opening hands whenever it suits me and I play it aggressively.
These opening hands are very helpful especially if you’re at the beginner level and you don’t yet have an arsenal of a wide range of hands that you can play with.
Bear in mind these opening hands are not etched in stone.
Of course, you can vary your opening hand choices, but putting Helmuth's hands would help a lot.
However, this strategy of playing “only” these monster hands fell under heavy criticisms from other professional poker players.
They argue that such advice won’t play well for beginners who are playing low-stakes games. In most low-stakes poker games (usually house games), players would play almost any hand just for the fun and recreational part of it.
Be that as it may, being dealt with monster hands is sweeter rather than just playing any suited and non-connected cards.
They will also allow you to test your strength and emotional game state how you would play each monster hand.
As you play along, you would develop the knack to develop your strategy on how to go about your game.
On Calling, Raising and Re-raising
When do you call a bet?
Do you raise?
When do you re-raise?
How much should you bet?
How much should you re-raise?
These are the common questions beginners ask as they explore poker and learn more about the game.
The answer: It depends. Really. A good barometer for calling, raising, and re-raising depends on the following factors:
- The hand you’re playing
- Your position at the table
- The size of your stack
- How you read your opponents’ tells
Hand you’re playing
The raising behavior would send a signal to other players that you’re indeed holding a monster hand.
However, your raise depends on another factor: your table image.
If you portray an image of a tight-aggressive player, your opponents are more likely to fold than engage you like that particular hand and play progress.
If you’re the type, who's losing and would play just about any hand, expect to get called by others at the table.
If, on the other hand, you’re holding a medium pair or suited connectors like double eights, theory suggests that these hands are good to play when you’re in mid-table position and there are no raisers.
And if there are raisers in this particular hand, don’t immediately fold.
Assess the amount raised whether it’s worth playing or not.
I like playing suited connectors especially when I’m the last to act (or especially when I’m on the button).
I could hope for many possible variations of hitting something on the flop or the chance of getting a draw like a straight or a flush.
The bigger your stack, the wider your hand range becomes.
You can experiment with different hands, but always be careful not to overdo it.
Poker is a game of attrition.
The more poker chip towers you have, the more you can dictate how you and your opponents play.
When you get a monster hand together with a huge size of chips, you can limp to suck more players in or play aggressive and go for the immediate kill.
The downside to big stacks, however, is when you get outdrawn in a play and you’ve committed a sizeable portion of your stack.
Most poker players, including pros, tend to tilt and lose composure.
In most cases, players who tilt find it difficult to shift gears and play their best as they’re sucked into a series of bad beats and bad plays.
Reading your opponents
Finding your opponents’ tells is not voodoo.
Sure, it helps when you can see if your opponent is holding his breath or shows an occasional twitch.
But it could mean so many things for so many different players.
Some players, especially beginners, would splash chips with their hands shaking.
To most pros, a shaking hand is a sign of someone holding a strong hand.
Pros (at least those you see in the movies) would normally fold their hands.
But what if the beginner’s shaking hands are not signs of strength, but of weakness?
What if that’s his last chance of getting back into the game and he knows he was already beat?
The best way to get an opponent tells is by observing the manner of his bets.
Most players, especially the good ones, vary the way they bet to hide information on what hand their playing.
Sooner or later, and when you’ve developed your poker acumen, you’ll be surprised to correctly estimate the hands your opponents are holding.
The secret is: There’s no secret. You have to play more as much as you can and learn how people behave (bet) at the table.
Invest in the game
Well, there’s another form of cash beginners tend to overlook: Time.
Time is gold as most people say. It is. Time is the equivalent of money in its strict business sense.
In poker, you need to play at least 2,000 hours for you to get a reasonable statistics of your game to generate ample data on how you play.
To learn how to play poker like the pros and win every time means putting in the hours just like everybody else the way a bank employee kills his own time in front of a teller machine.
Apart from the 2,000 hours that you spend at the table, you also need to invest in books and videos to read and to watch how the pros do it.
Poker is an evolution in card games – it’s survival of the fittest. And the fittest are those who could adapt, mimic, and incorporate the good and throw away the bad.
How many poker books have you read so far?
How many WPT series have you seen online or on cable TV?
Have you joined poker forums and discussed your plays and exchanged ideas with other players?
This is what we mean by investment.
It’s more than the amount of money you put on the poker table both live and online.
Martin Van Rue once said, “the devil is in the details.” There are many things to consider before one begins to play poker like a pro.
But you have to start to play poker somewhere.
There are so many things we can talk about and the pages of this article will run for miles and miles and still we won’t be able to cover anything.
Test the suggestions below.
Play Poker More.
Play poker like the pros.