Poker is easy to access given its availability online, and it’s fun for newbies and pros alike. But we’d be lying if we said we didn’t play to win.
I am a professional poker player with over ten years of experience, predominantly playing challenging tournaments and Sit and Go’s online in the Texas Hold’em format. Since playing, I have made over £1m in profits and paid over £1.2m in house fees at Pokerstars. I could almost say I have beaten the rake, but I seem to have missed that milestone by ~£200,000.
Now that you know my resume, I’d like you to trust that the tips I am about to share will help you become a better player.
Tip #1: Know the positional advantages
Being out of position (OOP) means you are first to act, which is generally a disadvantage as you convey information with your action. The player in position has, therefore, an informational advantage. That is why the earlier your position at the table is, the fewer hands you should play.
You also want to play fewer hands from earlier positions because you need to defend enough against someone raising your raise.
The button is the most desirable spot as you have a position on the small and big blind. If you were to play against the best two players in a three-way lineup, always being on the button, you’d win significantly, even as a beginner – assuming you know the rules and have some knowledge.
That’s how important position is in poker games.
Tip #2: Think in ranges
A range in poker consists of all the hands you play in specific scenarios.
The range of hands you play from early positions is different to the one you play from the button, for example.
The hands you play from early positions are (or should be) much stronger than if you were on the button.
Here is why it’s integral to think in ranges when playing poker.
Assuming you raise from an early position in a 6-max game with hands like 66+ T9s+, QJ+, AT+ and A2s+, which is common practice among better players. Everyone folds, except the player in the big blind who calls with approximately 50% of all hands.
Comparing your range of approximately 20% of all hands to your opponent’s, you will notice that you have much more strong hands.
If the flop shows something like T32, and he calls as you make your continuation bet, you can continue to bluff your opponent off aggressively on every turn that is a high card such as a Jack, Queen, King or Ace.
That is because you have much stronger cards in your range, thus making the opponent fold better hands as you credibly represent those scare cards.
Tip #3: Don’t limp hands first-in outside the small blind
The game plan I have used during my professional career was to never limp when I was first to act without any other player limping beforehand.
If you were to limp and raise different hands from early positions, you’d split your range. A reasonably good player will assume that your limping range is weak and that your raising range is strong and adjust according to that. Then, the good player will use scare cards post-flop to get you off your speculative hands, which is no good.
It’s OK to limp behind another player with speculative hands, but never first-in. It’s called “limp” for a reason, which means something like “weak”.
If I see a player limp being first to act, I exclude strong hands like TT+ AJs+ from the player’s range and act accordingly by aggressively isolating them through big raises.
Me not being capped in my range, I can continue this aggression on the flop, turn and river to get him off hands better than mine.
However, given the good price you get in the small blind, you can limp speculative hands hoping to see a cheap flop. Just make sure to mix in some strong hands to stay balanced and be able to counter aggression.
Tip #4: Don’t try to win every hand
As I started playing poker more seriously, I thought I needed to win every hand to become profitable at the tables. That was wrong, and as I realised that, my results improved dramatically.
Poker is as much about profit maximisation as it is about loss minimisation. Don’t get a reasonable price for drawing to your straight? Fold.
Of course, there is a fine line between making correct folds and being a so-called nit. But it also goes the other way: don’t try to make your opponent fold 100% of his range by bluffing excessively. Players will pick up on your frequencies and make adjustments, even if they are clueless.
I am currently facing a lot of opponents trying to use blind aggression to get me off better hands, and they don’t know that I know that to be a population tendency. Therefore, I adjust by calling down lightly and turning weak draws into semi bluffs versus players I have never seen.
Tip #5: Fold
Want to play 74s from an early position? Fold. Some predatory player behind will figure you mostly limp speculative hands and isolate by raising big. Playing mediocre draws out of position in big pots is a recipe for red numbers.
Raised A2s and faced a 3-bet OOP? Fold. The pot will be too big for you to draw to the correct odds, and realising your equity with small pairs is painstaking vs strong and uncapped ranges. You only flop a flush every 50th time, and your opponent often dominates you, so a suited ace is not worth that much.
Don’t believe your opponent? Fold. You don’t make money by making light calls, trying to catch a bluff. While every beginner thinks he needs to use fancy lines to out trick their opponent, advanced players take advantage by playing mainly for value.
Players don’t like to fold, especially on lower stakes, and that implies you will do well by simply betting your strong hands for value and not bluffing much. That is the most valuable and easiest to abide by advice for beating micro and low-stakes.
Tip #6: Control your emotions
Have you faced the same opponent beating you for the millionth time? Don’t take it personally; they probably just have a good run.
Think he’s excessively bluffing? Wait for the right hands to punish him.
The more your opponents bluff, the more value you will get with your value holdings. They might win many pots, but they’ll all be small if you play correctly. The time you play for a big pot is when you have a powerful card combination. They’ll do the job for you and bloat the pot with air because that’s how they won the last battles.
In poker, the saying “tight is right” has held weight since I first touched base in the industry, and it’s still valid today. Just keep it cool and don’t tilt!
Tip #7: Build an image
Putting everything you have read on this page together should put you in the right direction of becoming a respected player.
- Paid attention to positional aspects?
- Started thinking in ranges?
- Quit limping first-in?
- Stopped trying to win every hand?
- Started folding when you don’t get the right price?
- Got your emotions under control?
If the answer to all these questions is a resounding “yes”, then you can build a respectable image on the table. Being respected on the table is worth currency.
Poker is a challenging game with many hungry competitors, so you shouldn’t give away any signs of weakness. You must be sharp in your assessment and stick with your guts. If someone is pushing you around, adjust, so they stop.
Tip #8: Use a bankroll management system
“Use a bankroll management system (BRM)” was the first helpful advice I have received. You should never use more than 2% of your bankroll on any single buy-in for sakes of risk minimisation. The risk of ruin with that formula is shallow, assuming you are not an extreme losing player.
You should not only set the rule but also abide by that, which is much more difficult. If you lose half of your bankroll, you need to move down to a stake that is approximately half the size.
Depending on your skill level, you can use different systems:
- Conservative: 100 buy-ins
- Medium risk: 50 buy-ins
- High risk: 25 buy-ins
If you like to gamble and don’t mind topping up your account, you can use the more aggressive system. But be aware: even as an experienced player, you will face downswings that’ll eat up everything.
Tip #9: Use tools to improve your game
Have you heard about ICM or GTO? No? Then it’s time.
Without explaining what these concepts are for, I’ll be linking to products that use these models to increase your profitability at the table and explain why, much better than I could.
- Best tool for tournaments: ICMizer
- Best tool for developing post-flop strategies: PIOsolver
- Best tool for calculating variance: Primedope
- Best software for tracking statistics: Hand2note
- Best tool for table management: Jurojin Poker
All the tools mentioned above are for advanced players. But I thought it wouldn’t hurt sharing; even if they overwhelm you at first, they might be what will lead you to become a serious player, one that wins in the long run.
Tip #10: Have patience.
Unfortunately, poker isn’t something that can make you rich quickly. I might have worded that one wrongly. It can make you rich quick but most likely won’t, so don’t count on it.
During my career in online poker, I have experienced losing streaks that lasted weeks and even months. The longer the downswing prevailed, the worse I continued to play, which didn’t help break the chains.
If that negative spiral continues for long, your game might be affected so negatively that the downswing is not due to bad luck but due to bad play.
The mental aspect is the most crucial feature decisive for one’s path in poker. Don’t let a few bad beats get you off your path and lose hope. Instead, see it as motivation to play even better.
If you reach a certain level of skill, there will barely be a week in which you lose money, assuming you don’t play tournaments with many entrants as those are swingy.
Whatever you do, keep your head up and straight. We wish you good luck in your endeavour as a poker player.
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