Knowing how to practice poker can be an entertaining and even informative way to learn more about the game we all love. While premium poker courses and poker training sites are often crucial to improving one’s competitive bottom line, there’s a casual “fun” element that exists when you practice poker by yourself. We’ll explore some options for practicing poker in this article.
How to Practice Poker by Yourself
First, let’s take a look at the old fashioned way of playing poker when there are no opponents to be found.
That’s right. Grab a full deck of playing cards, discard the jokers, and leave yourself with a physical deck.
One thing that might surprise you is that you may have more fun (and learn more) by physically dealing a hypothetical two-player hand of 7 Card Stud. Why is this so? Because each player’s hand will have four, face-up “door cards” for you to evaluate as you’re dealing the cards.
If you don’t happen to have any poker chips available to simulate betting rounds, here are some ideas you can use as substitutes for poker chips. After all, you’re practicing alone and likely in privacy.
And since there’s nothing of value involved during the betting rounds, you can easily simulate how each player might play a hand. Try to draw out the per-hand process when playing alone, as this will give you ample opportunity to study how each hand’s door cards would impact betting if you were witnessing a real money, competitive poker situation.
When playing poker alone, you can take a peek at hole cards at your own convenience, but try to do this once you’ve thought about how the hand would play out if the hole cards were actually face down (as they would be in a real life situation).
The reason why Texas Hold’em might not be nearly as entertaining as 7 Card Stud when practicing poker by yourself is because there’s so much unknown information. Even if you deal a Flop and a Turn (and even if you take a look at each of the two hole cards for the “pretend” two players) that’s still only eight total cards out of a deck of fifty-two. The River card that hits the community board could be any one of the remaining 44 cards.
Practice Poker Alone: Sample 7 Card Stud Hand
Let’s take this sample 7 Card Stud hand and use it as an example. Grab some chips or coins and practice along.
First, post antes for each player – one chip each.
Player 1: x-x (2s)
Player 2: x-x (Ac)
Player 1 is obligated to lead out (also call the “bring”), so let’s place another chip into the pot for Player 1 and assume that Player 2 will call. The total pot is now four chips.
Player 1: x-x (2s-2h)
Player 2: x-x (Ac-4d)
Player 1 has the best hand, so Player 1 will place two chips into the pot. Player 2 will call, making the total pot worth eight chips.
Player 1: x-x (2s-2h-2c)
Player 2: x-x- (Ac-4d-8s)
Here’s where you might want to take a peek at each player’s hole cards. You can pretty much assume that Player 1 will add another two chips into the pot here. That would make the total pot worth ten chips.
But should Player 2 call? Assume you’re Player 2. Take a look at Player 2’s hole cards.
Player 2: 9d-9s (Ac-4d-8s)
The good news for Player 2 is the entirely hidden pair of nines. The bad news for Player 2 is that all five cards received so far cannot beat what Player 1 already has showing, which is Three of a Kind: Twos.
In this situation, Player 2 may find a Fold before any more cards are dealt. This would award the total pot to Player 1.
But since we’re learning how to practice poker alone, we’ll go ahead and let the hand play out. Player 2 calls the bet of two chips, and the total pot is now 12 chips.
Player 1: x-x (2s-2h-2c-5d)
Player 2: 9d-9s (Ac-4d-8s-4s)
Player 1 again bets two chips into the pot, and Player 2 calls. This makes the total pot worth 16 chips.
Practice Poker by Yourself: Evaluate the Odds
Now, before the final face-down card, let’s take a look at Player 1’s hole cards.
Player 1: 9c-4c (2s-2h-2c-5d)
Player 2: 9d-9s (Ac-4d-8s-4s)
You now know that – considering the current poker hand rankings for both players, Player 2 is a significant underdog to win this hand on the River. Only a nine or a four will improve Player 2’s hand enough to defeat what Player 1 already has showing via the face-up door cards.
And since you’re practicing poker and not actually playing in a competitive environment, you have looked at Player 1’s hole cards to discover that only a single ‘4’ and a single ‘9’ are “live” in a deck of 40 remaining cards.
The odds that Player 2 will receive a ‘9’ or a ‘4’ as the final, typically face-down card are precisely 2-in-40 (or 1-in-20). So exactly 0.05, or five percent.
Now, go ahead and deal the final card to each player.
Player 1: 9c-4c (2s-2h-2c-5d) 7d
Player 2: 9d-9s (Ac-4d-8s-4s) As
Player 1, having the best hand showing, bets two more chips. The total pot is now 18 chips.
Here’s where there is a clear poker learning opportunity – even if you’re playing alone and can see all the cards.
Looking at both players’ full hands, you now know that Player 2 will lose at showdown. But in a competitive environment, neither player would be aware of the opponent’s hole cards.
And in a competitive environment, Player 2 would NEVER simply “call” a River bet from Player 1.
Why not? Because Player 2 KNOWS that no 5-card combination of the seven cards within Player 2’s holdings can match what Player 1 already has showing. A call of two chips by Player 2 in this scenario would give Player 2 a precise, zero percent chance of winning the hand.
Meanwhile, the two chips contributed by Player 2 on the River would represent slightly more than eleven percent of the entire pot at the time of the decision. If Player 2 KNOWS that the hand will lose MORE THAN 88.9% of the time (in this case it will lose 100% of the time), then a River call is clearly an incorrect play.
Obviously, a Fold by Player 2 will result in Player 1 winning a total pot of 18 chips (including the uncalled two chips that Player 1 contributed for the River bet. So would Player 2 ever RAISE in this scenario? If it were an actual competitive poker hand?
Let’s take a look at the poker odds if Player 2 decides to raise Player 1’s River bet.
A raise up to four chips on the River would mean that there are now 22 total chips in the pot, and Player 1 is looking at an option to either Fold, Call, or Re-raise.
What would it take for Player 1 to actually fold to Player 2’s River raise?
Two more chips (which would be a “call”) from Player 1 would be roughly a 9.1% contribution into a pot that is worth 22 chips.
So all Player 1 would need to justify a call to Player 2’s River raise would be 9.1% odds of winning the hand at showdown.
Sure, there are plenty of hands that Player 2 “could” have in a hypothetical competitive scenario in which hole cards are dealt face-down. But will Player 1 lose this hand after calling Player 2’s River raise more than 90.9% of the time?
If Player 1 believes that the hand will win at showdown AT LEAST 9.1% of the time, then Player 1 has a clear Call to make. If Player 1 believes that – given Player 2’s history in heads-up 7 Card Stud games – Player 2 would NEVER raise the River with a hand that is clearly a bluff against what Player 1 already has showing face-up, then Player 1 might find a Fold in this scenario.
With all this said, the most likely scenario in a competitive 7 Card Stud poker hand is that Player 1 will simply call Player 2’s River re-raise, and the hand will end there with Player 1 winning a total pot of 24 chips.
Practice Poker by Yourself Online
Once you’ve grown tired of (or bored with) physically dealing hands in the privacy of your own physical space, you’ll be glad to learn that there are plenty of opportunities to practice poker online.
If you’re a purist when it comes to actual “practice,” then you can sign-up for one of the major poker sites and play poker for free. Some sites even have software that lets you play poker online for free with no download or registration.
Of course, there’s nothing quite like a competitive poker hand where something of value is at risk, but major poker sites themselves have multiple “freeroll” opportunities for players who are uncomfortable risking real money.
In some situations, you can even parlay real money winnings from an online poker freeroll into an entry into a larger, real money poker tournament. And while these online freeroll opportunities aren’t nearly as profitable as they once may have been, you really don’t have to worry about risking any real money when you compete in the play money online tournaments or ring games.
If you DO want to practice playing poker online and have a severely limited bankroll, there are also plenty of Fixed Limit micro-stakes poker games that start with minimum buy-ins lower than $1.00 for ring games and as low as $0.01 for MTTs.
Best of all, you’ll be able to experience many more hands by practicing poker online – even in a “play money” environment – than you otherwise would if you were physically dealing the cards yourself in private.
Thanks to online connectivity, human players can even zoom in-and-out of hands instantly in fast-fold formats. But even if you’re playing a traditional ring game or tournament online, you’ll find that many more hands are dealt per-hour than in a live setting. Plus, online poker gives you the opportunity to multi-table if you choose to go that route.
Have Fun While You Practice Poker
Whether you’re all alone in a private, live setting or playing online, it’s important to have fun while you practice poker. Poker practice on one’s own time can be a very informative experience, even when there’s no real money at risk.
Once you get to a point where you wish to outmaneuver human competition for real money, I would personally suggest taking the time to (and allocating a budget for) established poker coaching services that can assist you with taking your poker game to the next level.
After all, poker is a highly competitive game, and any edge you can gain over your opponents results in a better long-term expectation in the games you decide to play – regardless of variant, stakes, or format.
Take the time to practice poker when you have the spare time to learn, have fun with the experience, and seek out premium services once you’re ready to compete in a real life live or online poker environment!