Poker is a deceptively complex game. The main goal is relatively straightforward: win the pot — but it takes more than a few good cards to win.
Just because you’ve been dealt crappy cards doesn’t mean you’re out. Some of the best games have been won thanks to bluffing, or deceiving your opponents into thinking you have the winning hand.
Case in point, at the WSOP Main Event in 2003, aptly-named poker star Chris Moneymaker won a pot after his bluff caused his opponent to fold. In fact, Moneymaker didn’t even have the best pair. This turnaround was listed on ReviewJournal.com as “the bluff of the century”.
Bluffing is all about timing. Many poker beginners bluff too often. Don’t forget that bluffing is a tool, but not the whole battle. An alternative is to try semi-bluffing. In a nutshell, this is when you bluff despite having the potential to improve your hand at the next turn of the cards.
Strategizing Your Odds
To help be successful at the poker table, you have to understand the math behind poker. Chance certainly plays a role in how the cards are dealt but the laws of probability still apply. When you are acutely aware of these possibilities, you can improve your strategy.
You can leverage Poker.org’s hands ranking chart to familiarize yourself with the standard poker hands, as well as the probabilities. From here you can confidently weigh up the pros and cons of certain hands you’re dealt.
Knowing How to Read People
If you’re bluffing, assume that everyone else is too. But for better or for worse, most people have a tell. A tell is anything (verbal or physical) that will give you an idea of a player’s standing. It could be a smirk, a shift in gaze, a change in octave, or a postural adjustment. According to a poker tells guide by LiveAbout.com, some players act uninterested and even sigh when they actually have a winning hand. Others who have bad cards hold their breath or take their time to strategize.
Another trait to identify is table image. There are tight and loose players in poker. Depending on your opponent’s table image, you can decide how to play off them. If a player is loose, they can bluff more successfully. If a player is tight, they have a better chance of controlling the pot. Some players purposefully mislead their opponents with false tells and put-on table images. This is something you’ll learn to read in time.
Bankroll management is crucial even for amateur poker players. When planning out your bankroll management, mind your personal circumstances. How is your skill level? How much can you afford to risk? Ego can be the downfall of many players. An important tip is to keep your poker capital separate from your personal money. In the long run, being diligent with your finances will keep you active for longer.
As a beginner, you can lower your risk by practicing online, which doesn’t have to involve real money. Because online poker is more accessible, you can even play against opponents from around the world.
Whether you’re playing poker to make it to the big leagues or not, it’s a sport you can learn many life lessons from. As professional writer-turned-poker player Maria Konnikova shared, it was when she entered the poker circuit that she gained personal insight. With the right skills in place, you can also learn interesting things about yourself.
Check out the rest of the Unwinnable blog for inspiring stories and more tips on how to actually win at games!