Be it your career, your family life, poker, or any other game, skills are essential to success. Without skills, you are just gambling – depending on luck to influence your outcomes. And based on the mathematical probabilities, while you COULD win, most likely you will end up losing a little when gambling. If you’re already determined to play luck-based games, you may as well do your research and ensure you’re playing the games that offer the highest payout percentages. Anyhow, that’s why I stick to more skill-based games, like poker.
What is Skill?
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, there are two forms of skill: (1) the ability to use knowledge to succeed in whatever task you choose; and (2) expertise or aptitude developed over time, such as manual dexterity.
In each case, there are three skill levels: expert, proficient, and novice. Your goal should always be to become an expert in the key skills for that activity. This applies whether you are playing poker or building your career in your chosen field.
As long as you play poker, there are skills you can acquire to improve your game – some more important than others. Let’s examine the more prominent poker skills. Skills needed to succeed (win) in low or middle limit hold’em differ in many respects from those essential in no-limit and high-limit games. Let’s focus on the low/middle limit games – those preferred by recreational players (like me) who are the majority.
It takes skill to choose the best table at which to play. Study your opponents and be confident that you are one of the most skilled at that table.
Starting out, be sure to put more than enough chips on the table to sustain you until you win some hands. If you cannot afford it, don’t play.
Focus on the Game and Your Opponents
Keep your eyes, ears, and thoughts on the game. This skill gives you an edge over those who are busy watching the football game on the big TV mounted to the wall. Cheering for your favorite team won’t win you any poker hands.
Poker is a game of information. If you are not paying attention, it will cost you.
Here George Epstein talks about distractions at the table.
What are your main distractions?
— Cardplayer Lifestyle (@PokerLifeMedia) November 19, 2021
Starting Hand Selection
Perhaps the most important skill: invest in hands that are strong or offer high potential. Consider card rank, whether suited and/or connected, the number of opponents that have already called, whether there have been any raises, and your position. Use the Hold’em Algorithm (see ad at end of column) or a starting hand chart. For example, generally stay to see the flop from any position with made hands (A-A, K-K, Q-Q), premium drawing hands (A-K, A-Q, and K-Q) and quasi-made hands (J-J, 10-10, and 9-9).
Play Tight-Selectively Aggressive
Raise when it is in your best interests. For example, Raise pre-flop when you hold a made hand – to thin the field. Pocket Aces, Kings, and Queens are underdogs against more than three opponents.
Know Your Opponents
What type of player is each – tight or loose, passive or aggressive, a “maniac,” a chaser, a calling-station? Change tables if there are several tight or extremely aggressive opponents. Loose-passive opponents are best to play against.
Build the Pot
whenever you connect with a strong hand, build the pot by check-raising, slow-playing, baiting or trapping your opponents. Be prepared to bluff and semi-bluff.
Count Your Outs
With drawing hands, count your outs and be sure the pot odds are higher than your card odds.
Consider folding mediocre hands when a raise is called by a tight player or by two or more opponents.
When you are well ahead, raise more often. It’s okay to be greedy. Have you learned the Esther Bluff? If so, raise more often.
Use the Hold’em Caveat
With four or more opponents and no raises – when you have a strong drawing hand with lots of outs enter te pot. Muck your cards (1) if there is a raise – or likely to be one after you make your bet (you know your opponents’ playing traits); or (2) if it is not a multiway pot with three or more opponents staying to see the flop.
By developing these and other essential poker skills, you set yourself up to win in those low and middle limit games.