It is hard to win if you play poker where the house takes a rake (i.e., anyplace aside from the friendly home game). The cost-to-play (the rake, Bad Beat Jackpot drop, and tips to dealers) is not easily overcome. In a low-limit hold’em game, it averages about $25 per hour for each player, so eight hours of play will cost you $200. It has been estimated that as many as 90% of players are lifetime losers.
How can you overcome this cost-to-play and end up a winner? Not easily. There is only one way. You must be more skilled than your opponents. This involves playing by certain rules, as delineated below.
Rules for Winning
Selecting the Game
Focus on just one type of poker game (there are many varieties and variations of each). Become as expert as possible at that game. Do not be a “Jack of all trades; winner at none.” Play the game at which you are most comfortable. That includes the game stakes. To that effect, becoming an expert isn’t just a matter of playing a lot, but also studying. There are some excellent poker training sites out there that you’d do well to avail yourself of once you decide what poker variant you’d like to try and specialize in.
Selecting Your Table/Texture
Like people, poker tables have texture – tight or loose, passive or aggressive. I prefer loose-passive tables – lots of players with little raising, especially before the flop. Avoid tables with lots of raising/re-raising preflop. Get seated to the left of a “maniac” – an extremely aggressive opponent. Seek a table change when warranted.
It helps to be at a table where some of the players are “having a good time” – drinking, flirting, socializing, watching TV. You gain more of an edge that way.
Selecting Your Starting Hand
Let’s state it simply: Each player is dealt two hole cards. The higher-ranking cards are preferred. Being suited and/or connected (two cards in sequence) is a bonus.
Betting position is important, too. The later your position, the weaker hands you can stay in with to see the flop. Instead of trusting to memory for starting-hand options, there are charts and tables, and (my strong preference) the Hold’em Algorithm (see my book referenced below: Hold’em or Fold’em – An Algorithm for making the Key Decision).
Focusing on the Game
Do not be distracted from the game and the players at your table. “Poker Pigeons” are prone to watch the football game on the television. Having a few at your table gives you a decided edge. It is best to be a “Poker Shark,” and, know who the sharks are so you can play more cautiously against them.
For instance, let’s say you’re among the fortunate ones in New Zealand right now who can head to a land-based casino to play cards. You’re there to play cards, but you notice the folks across the table seem to have more pressing concerns. They’re talking about Christmas, the glorious weather, naming sites like casinoreviews.net.nz as their favorite place to find good online casinos to play at… in short, concentrating on everything else save for the poker game at hand. THOSE are the folks you want to be focusing your attention on to take their chips stacks. You want to be a winner!
Also, we are all prone to give tells – mannerisms that reveal important information. Be sure to always be on the lookout for your opponents’ tells. Try to understand them and use them to your advantage. Avoid giving any – unless they are reverse tells to deceive your opponents.
Be More Aggressive
Consider playing a bit more aggressively. The pots will be bigger. Carefully consider the best opportunities. But do not overdo it. Generally speaking, aggression tends to win pots. You’ll also be opening yourself up to losing those bigger pots from time to time, but overall your aggression will tend to pay off.
There are situations where deceptive play is optimal. This includes bluffing and semi-bluffing, and stealing the blinds. Betting/raising to force out opponents when you do not have the winning hand often is the best way to play a hand. Remember, your opponents do not know what you are holding; they can only guess or surmise by how you are playing that hand. Your image (how they perceive you) can help. Use reverse tells.
Players who never bluff are bound to be losers. Their opponents soon realize this and fold more often when they raise; the pots are smaller.
Beware of calling-stations (players who will not fold once having invested in that pot); do not try to bluff them out.
Semi-bluff when you hold lots of good outs. If an opponent calls your bet/raise, you still have the next card to connect. Should you catch a monster (best is the nuts), slow-play or check-raise to build the pot you expect to win.
Those are my rules for being a winner at the poker table.
Can you think of any others I ought to have included? (Email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.)