There are different types of poker players. The most common are the flamboys, who play fast and loose with the rules, and the tightwads, who stick to the basics. Somewhere in between these two are the scalpers, who try to make as much money as they can while playing. Most poker players fall into the fast category, but there is another type of player who rarely gets a rise out of them: the patient ones.
You will not become a successful poker player by following the example of the typical poker player. Chances are you will be best served by studying the psychology of the game and adapting your play style to match that of the most successful professionals in the game.
Here is how you can do that.
Understand the Math Behind the Game
This is a key element to being a successful poker player. If you understand the underlying math of the game, you will be able to play at a higher intellectual level and adapt to any given situation more quickly and effectively. One of the first things you need to do to master poker is to learn the odds of each type of hand. This is easy to do; all you need to do is learn the probability of receiving each hand based on the number of cards you are holding and the number of cards your opponent has. For example, the odds of receiving a full house are astronomical – you can get three of a kind, a straight, a flush, a four-leaf clover and a full house all in one hand! But the odds of getting two pairs, two triples and a full house are much more reasonable, since you can get those hands with just two pair, two triple and one full house respectively.
The math involved in poker is definitely not as complicated as its popularly made out to be. It is generally accepted that there are only seven basic poker hands (five of them are winning hands). Knowing how to play these hands effectively is what separates a winning poker player from a mediocre one. There are also a few extra hands that you must learn to recognize, like the nutty hands and the chicken hands, but these are relatively easy to learn when compared to the basic poker hands.
Poker is a game of psychology as much as it is about mathematics. You have to understand your opponents’ tendencies and adapt your play accordingly. To start with, there is the loose player, who tends to play fast and easy, making numerous bets and raising the stakes when he feels like it, without much regard for the quality of his cards. He is, in many ways, the polar opposite of the patient player, who waits for his hand to be called and plays it slowly, methodically, and consistently, looking for the best possible five-card poker hand given the cards he is dealt. In poker, “loose” and “tight” are not words that you should look up at the dictionary, but these are the types of players you will encounter the most often when playing.
The loose player has the advantage of not having to worry about calling too many cards, because, well, he usually gets them all, most of the time. This is why he is also called the “maniac” or “unrestrained optimist” in some circles. This type of poker player tends to make quick, decisive moves, betting heavily when he is dealt a good hand and less when he is dealt a bad hand, since he does not see the point in wasting time with a hand that is not going to improve.
On the other hand, the tight player has the advantage of being able to improve his hand over the course of the game. He tends to play slowly and cautiously, only raising the stakes when he has a solid hand or a good draw, and decreasing them when he has a bad hand or low draw. This is why he is also called the “pragmatic” or “realistic” player in some circles. This type of poker player tends to make the most out of the cards he is dealt, while trying to establish a good basic hand, rather than betting wildly on a pair of twos, thinking it is going to get paid off. He will generally make the most out of a bad hand and try to make the best of things, since he doesn’t expect to win every time he plays.
Learn From the Pros
The most successful poker players know how to play the game and how to study it. They know what kind of hands to expect and how to approach different situations. To start with, you must learn to expect the worse. No matter what, you will never be able to win every single pot you get involved in, especially when you are playing online. This is why you need to approach each hand you get involved in with the mindset of a professional, knowing that it might not all work out in your favor. In order to do this, you need to find tournaments and seminars where poker professionals play, so you can learn and observe, and even participate in small leagues and satellites to get better cards and observe more hands.
Being in a position where you can observe excellent play is one of the best things you can do for your own game. You can learn a lot from the pros, since they have been around the block a few times and made many costly mistakes that can be avoided by playing it safe and being patient. If you want to be a successful poker player, you cannot afford to make any hasty decisions or rely on your luck too much. Calculate your risks and make the right calls, and you will be on your way to the big time in no time!
Watch What Others Are Doing
Above all else, you must learn to study poker. Nothing can replace actually observing the game and learning from the best players in the world. To this end, you need to look at what others are doing and figure out how they are playing. One of the best ways to improve your poker game is to learn how to read your opponents and figure out what type of playstyle they are using. You can also use tools like CardCount, which will track the amount of cards played in a given tournament, to determine how good your opponents’ brains are and how good you can play against them. These types of tools will be invaluable to your quest for poker enlightenment.
Above All Else
If you want to be a successful poker player, you cannot afford to place too much emphasis on mere card counting or studying theory. You have to approach each hand you get involved in with the mentality of a professional, ready to make the right bet and ready to fold if the cards do not work out in your favor. Above all else, you must play the game with fun, although a bit of a competitive edge is always a good thing when playing cards.
Now you know how to play poker better than most. You have all the tools you need to take the mystery out of the game and be confident in knowing how to play each hand successfully. From the simple all-fours to the more complex poker tournaments, learning the odds will put you in the right position to outplay your opponents.