Are you struggling to turn a decent profit at the poker tables on a consistent basis? Are your results best described as “somewhere around break-even”?
First off, don’t worry because you are not alone. This actually describes the results of the majority of poker players. Often, however, it is just a few small strategy adjustments that can take your game from mediocre to amazing — from break-even to crushing it.
In this article, I am going to provide you seven subtle but highly effective tips to take your poker game to the next level.
1. Think About Ranges, Not Hands
One of the easiest ways to spot the difference between average poker players and elite ones is by how they think about what their opponent has. Average poker players try and put somebody on a specific hand. Advanced poker players think in terms of ranges.
A range is essentially the entire spectrum of hands somebody can have in a certain situation. For example, player X can have a flush, top pair, middle pair, bottom pair, a draw, ace-high or a complete air-ball bluff.
Good players understand that player X will show up with this entire range of hands with various frequencies. They try and figure out those frequencies and then make the best play. Meanwhile average players try to put an opponent on exactly A♥J♥ (or some other specific hand) because that’s “what their gut tells them.”
Think about your opponent’s range instead. Nobody has a specific hand in poker — they only have a range. They will show up with different hands to varying degrees.
2. Ditch Your Favorite Hand
A lot of people have a favorite hand. I know that every time I get dealt the old 9♠7♠ my eyes light up and I want to play it so bad!
However, in reality I know that 9♠7♠ is a mediocre hand. It makes sense to play it in some spots — late position, for instance, in an unopened pot. But it should almost always be folded in early position.
If you currently have a favorite hand, that’s fine — most people do. But don’t give it preferential treatment and make bad plays with it. Winning poker is about math and cold hard logic, not superstition.
3. Adopt a Consistent Strategy
Another big key to becoming a great poker player is consistently applying a winning strategy. It is not okay suddenly to change things up (e.g. to open with 9♠7♠ from early position) just because you are bored or tilted.
All of your learning, experience and study over the years has given you a body of knowledge telling you how to play this game profitably. But it only actually matters if you apply it at the poker tables all the time. Every hand counts and every session counts.
Elite poker players apply the same winning strategy over and over again, no matter how they feel or what their recent results have been.
4. Always Have a Reason
Big-time winning poker players will sometimes break from their standard, successful strategies, but always for very clear reasons.
An average player might start raising 9♠7♠ in early position because he is bored or wants to make something happen. But an elite poker player will raise with this hand in this position on occasion because he notices the table is playing passively and there are a couple of recreational players in the blinds. There is a clear reason then to believe that raising 9♠7♠ in early position (typically a fold under normal circumstances) might actually be a profitable play in this situation.
If you can produce a well reasoned argument why deviating from your regular strategy might actually be more profitable, then it is okay. It is the “because I feel like it” or “I am bored” reasoning that has to go.
5. Know When to Fold Your Aces
Another clear difference between average poker players and great poker players is the ability to fold an overpair.
You know that little sick feeling you get when you have AA and a tight opponent raises all in on the turn? You make the so called “crying call” and he turns over the set yet again.
You need to start paying attention to that feeling a little bit more often. In fact there are certain patterns that are easily recognizable at the lower stakes — especially when you play online poker — where it is 100 percent the correct play to fold your overpair.
Good players are able to let go of any emotional attachment to their pretty-looking hands. Average players get married to their aces or kings instead, and can’t let them go even when they know they are beat.
6. Realize Tilt Only Hurts You
Tilt is a destroyer of bankrolls, dreams and poker careers. I can’t tell you how often I receive emails or comments from people who describe to me how they’ve tilted huge amounts of their bankroll away when things went badly at the poker tables.
The reality of poker is that sometimes things will go badly for you and there is absolutely nothing that you can do about it. This is what you sign up for every time you sit down to play. There’s always the possibility you might run terribly. You might run lights out as well, though.
When you allow yourself to lose control of your emotions and throw your strategy out the window, the only person you are hurting is yourself. All those hours you’ve spent trying to learn and improve your game were basically wasted because you decided to choose your emotions over reason when it really mattered.
Respect the work that you have done. You owe it to yourself to maintain more composure and stop throwing away money when the cards go south.
7. Don’t Play in Bad Games
One more way average players constantly sabotage their poker results is by stubbornly playing in games that are full of decent-to-good regulars. If you can’t find somebody at the table who is clearly playing very poorly, then you really have to ask yourself why it is that you are even there.
If you only play poker for the mental challenge or for recreation or pleasure, then this is totally fine. This tip doesn’t necessarily apply to you. But if winning is at all a priority for you, then you need to remember you don’t turn a significant profit in poker by pushing tiny edges against good poker players. You win big by playing against players who are making big fundamental errors and giving away their money over the long term.
As the classic movie Rounders reminds us, “If you can’t spot the sucker in your first half-hour at the table, then you are the sucker.”
The divide between break-even players and big-time winners is not really as wide as many people think. It is often just a few simple little adjustments you can learn over time that can carry you over to enable you to start winning at higher clip.
A lot of it has to do with starting to view the game in a much more cold, detached, mathematical and logical way than you presently do.
Emotional and/or superstitious poker players almost always lose or struggle to remain even. Elite poker players, meanwhile, know they are in it for the long haul and don’t get overly wrapped up in each individual hand or moment. They just continue to make the most profitable play again and again, no matter what.