IF THE GAMES are unbeatable, how come there are so many winning players? How come most of my students start making more money than they thought was possible to earn?
I used to think the same exact way – that it is impossible to win, the competition is too tough, etc. That is until I met my first coach. After working with him just for a short period, I learned really important concepts and my results instantly skyrocketed.
So yes, the games are getting tougher and the average players are better than they used to be, but when you have the up-to-date information you can easily gain an edge over your opponents. Here it is, I am giving it to you on a silver platter.
And to answer the question – games are very far from unbeatable; quite the contrary.
Many players think that either they need to play like a PRO or they will never win. Lucky for us all, this is as far from the truth as it could possibly be. Most of the poker winners play as a part-time activity, a passion they want and follow.
But I know why you would assume that success would require all of your time. Since up to this point you have been constantly consuming new information – reading articles, watching videos maybe even listening to podcasts -it can seem like there is so much to do and learn.
It is true that many of my poker friends often end up making more money from poker than they do in their actual job, but you will never need to quit your job.
Much to the contrary, keeping your job gives you an advantage over professional players because you do not feel so much pressure to win. Thus, if you manage your bankroll correctly, you can concentrate on the most important aspects of your games and jump ahead of your competition.
I used to wonder how it was possible for other players to win thousands (or millions) until I met my first coach. Soon after I learned the most important factors in the game and fixed crucial areas of my play I started winning myself. That took me to visit WSOP in Las Vegas and many huge EPT events in the same year.
If I, being a lazy student, was able to go from losing to winning, you can easily model my success.
I can understand that the games lose the fun factor when you are not winning or feeling frustrated with the format you choose to play. I’ve been in the same situation, which had me switching from MTTs to cash games to sustain a better lifestyle and manage my time.
So, if you choose a game that suits your needs and prepare for success, you will definitely have a good time, that’s for sure.
No player has ever complained that the games are not fun anymore when he is crushing them!
Yes, to be successful in poker you need to understand poker math. However, poker math includes a widely varying level of complexity ranging from simple pot odds to esoteric Game Theory.
You don’t need it all. But I would recommend a full understanding of:
There’s an old poker saying:
Beginners are curious about what cards they’re going to get.
With a bit of experience, players start focusing on what cards the other players hold.
You begin to be a poker player when you realize the important thing is what other players think you hold.
You aren’t really playing poker if you are mentally inside your head, looking at your cards and the community cards. You need to get outside yourself and consider the table as a whole, looking down on it like the TV camera in televised poker.
Furthermore, you cannot just consider the current state, but all the possible future states. When you take your first action of the hand, you should know what possible things might happen and what you will do. What if you get a big reraise? What if scare cards show up on the flop? Most of the time a player taking a long time to act is making one decision at a time, without an overall strategy for the hand and for the session.
Thinking about the game right doesn’t make you a good player, but if you don’t think about it right you will never improve, because you’re not really seeing what’s happening.
After you win a big hand (and the dealer pushes the pot towards you) do this.
While stacking your chips look at your hole cards and raise the bet to $35 (in a $1/2 or $1/3 game). You’d be surprised how quickly people will fold to you. I have picked up an extra $20-$25 with this move dozens of times.
I always stay (and play extra tight after the above move) for at least a few hands, then look at my watch, say I have to leave, and rack my chips. If anyone balks, I show them a picture of my girlfriend and then say “I have a different game in mind. See you later.”
UPDATE: Someone had the temerity to question a) if the above is true and b) if this was a good move.
First, this move is mentioned in The Book Of Bluffs (Matt Lessinger), Poker Plays You Can Use (Doug Hull), and is suggested by a number of other poker authors Sklansky, Ciaffone, Miller, McAvoy, Brunson, et al. I am going to go with foregoing authors versus someone who says they have never seen that move.
Second, I play very aggressively in Seat 7, the Hijack, the Cutoff, and the Button. Why? Late position is the best spot to win big with a strong hand. You can control and manipulate the betting to your advantage more easily. Should you win a big pot in any late position seat except for the Button, you will still be in late position and can quite easily manipulate the next hand to your advantage. That is why I pull that bluff off so well. It, like the squeeze play, works even when everyone knows you’re doing it.
BTW: At Philadelphia area poker rooms, it is not unusual to see someone UTG or in the several seats to the left of the UTG seat make a bet of $15 in a $1/$2 games. It is that aggressive and loose. If you raise to $35 and the blinds and the original raiser folds, your pot is $18. A $10 raise and call that fold along with the blinds to your position raise of $35 nets you a $23 pot. Not BS —- RS
As a poker pro, knowing other poker pros, yes, poker can be beaten.
To what does it come back to?
At tournament level, game theory. I would guess this is what you mean with statistics.
People, use a program called PIOsolver, to calculate the optimal decision to take in every scenario during a poker tournament.
If they then play 100s of tournaments, this strategy, called Game theory optimal, is your likeliest chance of success. In the short term, anyone can win just 1 tournament.
However, you do not necessarily need game theory to win big. Sometimes, knowing other players or general player tendencies is superior. Especially in individual hands.
At live poker, sure, I fold 80% of hands, as this is close to optimal, so that is me applying some game theory. On the flop, I bet 60% of hands, as this is also close to optimal. However, for individual bet amounts & decisions, I look much more at who is my opponent, and what do they think of me (e.g. have I bluffed in the past and do they think I am bluffing?)
Needless to say, to carry out this “statistical play” requires IMMENSE discipline. Many people know the stats, but are unable to apply them hand in and hand out, hence they are not winning players, or they are hardly winning.
You flip a coin.
You flip it again.
You flip it 10 times more.
You think, darn, 12 times and it’s all tails. I’m due a heads.
It’s a 1/2 chance, you think, so eventually, you need to have an equal amount of flips.
Maybe not in the next flip, of course, but you think in the next 30 flips you’ll have more heads than tails to make up for the loss.
And you’re wrong.
The game doesn’t remember what happens beforehand. It never takes into account the flips beforehand to equalize one flip over another.
When people sit on a poker table, they think that enough bad hands mean that good hands are due later.
And they’re wrong, for the same exact reason. There is no memory of previous hands.
Here is an example of a fair die being rolled a thousand times. As you see in the beginning, the die is falling far above the theoretical mean. Then, it falls below it. Then, it gets closer to the mean and then falls below it again.
As the number of rolls grows larger, the discrepancies grow smaller. This isn’t because the game is balancing out. This is because the number of rolls is increasing at a faster rate than discrepancies.
At an absolute standard, if you continued to flip a coin, you’d notice that the difference between heads and tails would be larger if you flipped the coin 10,000 times than it would be if you flipped it 10 times.
The act of condensing probability to a simple number is challenging; the description is supposed to inform about the limiting behavior of the game over a sufficiently long span of time and trials.
In games involving money, people often think that the limiting behavior can apply to them; ignoring that it requires tens of thousands of games to actualize. In the short run, everything is chaotic and the limiting behavior of any game is difficult to materialize mathematically.
Additionally, the gambler’s fallacy is the false acceptance that the game is taking into account the things that are happening beforehand; much like a coin flipper thinking that after 12 consecutive tails, the next coin flip owes him a heads, or, at the very least, more heads than tails in the next 20 or so flips.
In 2005, Mike Matusow, at the time a top pro with nearly 1 million in WSOP cash, made the final table of the WSOP main event. His eight opponents, combined, had $95,530 in WSOP cashes. Matusow started the final table 4th in chips at around 7.4 million, and the chip leader had 10.7 million. He was far and away, by several orders of magnitude, the most accomplished and experienced player at that table of 9 finalists.
He placed 9th.
In poker, maybe more so than any other competition, the variance is a major factor. In any given hand, a pro player can completely outplay and outmaneuver an amateur, and the amateur can still have a 30 to 40% chance of winning. If the worse player is getting solid cards, sometimes that is too much for even the best player to overcome.
I regularly play 1/2 on weekends. I have played in the majority of casinos in Europe and the level is similar.
It is such that I can win 30€/ hour. From talking to lots of people and lots of research that puts me in the best 1%.
The absolute best 0.5% can make 40€/ hour.
You need to be super disciplined. Fold so much. Check so much. It ain’t easy.
You value bet with very bad hands, to get even worse hands to call. But sometimes slightly better hands call and you lose 10 or even 100 small pots in a row. You can’t panic now. It is tough. You continue to focus on good decisions.
And in case you missed it. Weekends. Many more tourists and beginners around that just want to have fun. It is almost sad but they expect to lose their money against you.
But after years of training, it is possible and a very viable source of income.
Poker strategy is infernally complex, and applying it effectively at the tables requires a great deal of experience. For a beginner, it’s easy to become confused trying to balance conflicting advice, and for that reason, I always suggest a very simple approach to No Limit poker strategy for newbies. It’s this –
Just two words, and yet, if you follow them, you’ll almost certainly do well. You see, calling is an expert’s play. When you call someone’s bet, you’re being tricky. Why? Because calling is significantly less effective than raising, as it only gives you one way to win a pot – by having the best hand.
When you raise someone, you have two ways to win a pot; you can have the best hand, or your opponent can fold. This is known as The Gap Concept, (*edit* incorrect – see comments for clarification, if you have a strong stomach) and It’s hard to exaggerate just how important it is.
The only time you can ignore this advice is when you’re not worried about losing the pot; and that’s when you have a mortal lock on the hand (nuts, or near enough, with no obvious draws on the board – almost never, in other words), or you’re at the river and there are no more cards to be dealt. In that instance, you may want to call to see a cheap showdown.
However, if you’ve been following my reductive advice properly, you won’t find yourself in that situation often, because most hands will be concluded before you reach the river.
Remember – a small raise to get information about your opponent’s holding is almost always going to be better for you than a flat call.
When you raise, you can make assumptions about your opponent’s hand based on their response – they fold, so you win, or they either call or reraise, so you can be certain they either have a decent made hand or a strong draw, in which case you’re happy to see a cheap showdown and if they make significant bets on later streets you can lay your hand down easily.
In short – raising and folding are healthy, positive things to do. Calling is bloody dangerous and should be avoided whenever possible.
You don’t…much…but then you don’t need to.
Truly, if “reading people” is the primary weapon in your poker arsenal – you’re going to get crushed. And particularly online. “Tells” are not-not real, but they’re incredibly trivial in 99% of circumstances (and can be faked).
There are a few things you can occasionally tell in online poker, but usually in a way that’s not super helpful. You can identify if someone had the “(check/)fold in turn” button clicked, but by the time you know that they’re out of the hand. You can identify that someone is using the “bet pot” or “bet half pot” (etc) buttons, which gives some indication of a rote playing style that can potentially be exploited. Sometimes, you can identify that a person is taking a long time on an individual hand which might indicate a difficult decision – or they might be multi-tabling, or they might have dropped their mouse when the cat jumped on their head, or…?
The data you can get with a HUD program, general observations you can make about bet sizes in various circumstances, and these types of things are going to be WAY more important than “reading people”.
At most casinos, I play in, as a professional, I bluff, a lot.
If I bluff a lot, I am more likely to be paid when I do get a good hand as no one believes me. People get more annoyed the more I bluff and do mistakes. Most casinos I play at, the majority of players rarely bluff. They are too scared or enjoy hitting. This is why my high bluffing frequency gets them to change their behavior a lot, which I can exploit.
At high levels, I would bluff less. Good players understand that people will sometimes bluff and sometimes not bluff. If I bluff too much they will adjust and call more or out bluff me. However, they will rarely get angry and make mistakes.
In general bluffing is an integral part of poker as 60% of the time you will not hit anything on the flop. However, your opponent has the same problem so betting gets them to fold better hands than you at many times.
These are the common mistake done by the poker player this will not be done by the top-level player and for more get it from here.
This lesson follows on from our typical beginner mistakes lesson, where we looked at things such as playing too many hands, playing out of position and bluffing too much.
By now you should have some playing time and poker experience under your belt, hopefully with a greater understanding of the game. In this lesson, we’re going to examine more classic mistakes that are made at the poker table. As we go through the list, be honest with yourself and acknowledge if you fall prey to any of these chip draining leaks.
Many players are obsessive about defending their blinds. They allow their egos to convince them that it is wimp poker to be pushed off their blinds. Others feel that they have already made a down payment by way of the cost of the blind so they are getting a bargain.
There are also obsessive blind stealers out there. For this reason, you will hear time and time again it is imperative to gain knowledge about your opponents’ tendencies. Constantly defending your blinds with weak holdings is detrimental to your poker bankroll.
If you demonstrate the discipline to fold those weak holdings you accomplish two significant upsides. First, you will save the chips that would have, in all likelihood, been frittered away by defending. Secondly, you will embolden the stealers to continue their attempts at larceny and they will begin to lower their stealing standards as you “train” them to recognize what a pushover you are. Then when you do have a quality holding you can surprise them by playing back.
Cold calling is the act of calling more than one player’s raise at once. If one opponent raises and then another re-raises and you just call, you are cold calling. It is a very weak play that indicates either timidity and/or a lack of discipline. Possessing either of these weak traits does not bode well for success. Generally, if your holding is not worthy of a re-raise it should be dumped.
The mindset you should begin embracing is to consider the act of calling to be the last choice of possible actions. Patience and discipline should be exercised as it will lead to selective aggression which in turn should translate to profits. Of course, if you’re slow-playing to set a trap with a monster hand that would be quite a different matter.
This error is similar to #2 as it is a weak play and shows a lack of discipline. Over calling is to call a bet that a player or players to your right have already called. The classic example is a pre-flop limp fest and in that situation, it can be correct with a hand that plays well in a large field. A small pocket pair or suited connectors would be two examples. However, post-flop if you have the third pair and it is bet and called in front of you then you need to come to grips with the obvious, which is – you are behind. Throw that loser in the muck and wait for a better opportunity.
We all know that tilt can be defined as playing poorly due to an emotional state brought on by losing in a perceived unfair manner. It is exemplified by super aggressive play that is a desperate attempt to get even or punish the player who has inflicted the pain.
Emotionally grounded players don’t usually go on tilt – or at least they don’t think they do. Semi-Stealth-Tilt or SST is a more insidious form of this malady. Semi – because it isn’t full-blown tilt but just leaning towards tilt. Stealth – because it sneaks up on you in degrees, so slowly that you can be tilting for hours without even realizing it.
This is somewhat common to intermediate players as they have advanced to a skill level that they sometimes put their game on autopilot. So, maybe SST is not brought on by a series of losing hands but it results in the same impaired or diminished judgment that classic tilt exemplifies. Make it a habit to constantly monitor your game for SST so as not to fall prey to its negative impact on your results. Basically, you need to keep your head in the game at all times to make informed decisions.
The phrase fancy play syndrome or FPS was first introduced by the prolific poker writer Mike Caro many years ago. It is still as relevant as it was when first introduced to the public. Basically it relates to the desire to utilize the “fancy” or more complicated play rather than straight forward play primarily to be perceived by opponents as a super savvy, expert poker player. The old ego can really get some players into trouble.
Although much of winning poker is about deception, going out of your way to take the fancy or tricky route instead of straight forward play is not a long term winning strategy. A classic example of FPS earning a negative result is slow-playing less than a monster hand thereby allowing an opponent to draw out and beat you. Most of the time straight forward, solid, aggressive play is your best course of action.
Since you only see a pocket pair, on average once every sixteen hands, when one lands it can be very seductive, especially if you’ve been forced to the sidelines by a long series of terrible hands that have gone immediately into the muck. There are several problems inherent in the play of small pairs out of position. In a full game, they rarely win in a showdown without improvement. The improvement needed is to make a set that is almost 8-to-1 against pre-flop. Sure, they can often be played in no-limit when implied odds are at work and you’re looking to set mine, but generally – when you’re in a full game you should exercise the discipline to only play quality hands from early position. When the game becomes short-handed your small pairs will soar in value.
Most of us have heard the old aphorism – If after the first ten minutes at the table, you can’t spot the sucker, then it’s you. But how do you know? You need to start by studying your opponents to see who is or isn’t making mistakes.
Hopefully, you can do this before you even sit down so if you have a choice of seats you can make a better more informed decision. Remember, if you cannot determine that any of your opponents are making any errors in judgment then why stay in a game when there must be easier pickings elsewhere.
You’ve probably heard the story about the ninth-best hold’em player in the entire world. His only failing was that he regularly played with the top eight players in the world. Don’t fall into that trap. Study your opponents to gauge their level of knowledge and skill to make sure you can compete profitably in the game.
Beginner players who aspire to greater poker heights focus on good solid starting hand values, not playing too many hands, and they work hard on their discipline.
In essence, they evolve into good ABC players. In order to move up to the next level and become a skilled winning poker player, one must do more than just play solid by the book poker. Poker is a game of relative values so you don’t necessarily need a monster hand to win – just one better than your opponent.
Better yet, sometimes you just need a well-timed/sized bet to make your opponent lay down the winning hand. The key element of recognizing profitable opportunities is a good position. By playing the position you’re in the driver’s seat to steal blinds and orphan pots. Force yourself outside the mindset of playing by the book, and take advantage of opportunities. Remember, good cards come and go but opportunities arise constantly.
Not being able to make a good lay down in limit poker can cost you some bets. This same frailty in no-limit will get you to the felt quicker than any other mistake. This egregious error ties back to some of the other elements such as overcalling and cold calling raise. There is no magic pill to make sure you always lay down the losers but never lay down a winner. The proper feel will come through studying your opponents and gaining more and more experience. When put to the test think through the likely holdings of your opponent and consider giving him credit for the hand he is representing instead of your chips.
If you aspire to play poker well you must appreciate that knowledge of maths and probability is a must. Most poker players know the standard odds of drawing hands like straights and flushes and if you don’t, take this as a wakeup call to search out that information and commit it to memory.
Our beginner lesson on drawing odds outlines this fundamental concept and explains a shorthand method of figuring the odds you face when you have two cards to come and when the only card left in the river. This knowledge is critical to success.
If you can honestly state that none of these mistakes ever crop up in your game then I don’t want you playing at my table. We all make mistakes and you should consider these ten mistakes as a checklist for better poker play and performance. If any of them resonate in your game then you can start to plug those leaks by setting goals and working on those aspects of your game.
Let’s assume the contrary for the moment: There is no skill in poker.
If that is true, then a human beginner, who knows the rules but has never played, a computer programmed to make random (but legal) moves, and top professional should all have the same results over some reasonable length of time.
It simply won’t work out that way. Each of the three will win some hands, the beginner and the human will win some big hands, but over time the professional will crush both. (The computer making random plays might be much harder for the pro to beat, ironically.)
Because poker is easy to learn, and people see big hands won on lucky draws or stunning bluffs, they erroneously assume no skill is involved.
There is short-term luck involved in a way that says, chess does not have. I could play Magnus Carlsen 100 times and I will not get even one draw. I could play 100 heads-up matches against a top poker pro and I will win 10–15% of those, probably.
So it looks to some people as though poker involves no skill. Thinking that is a potentially expensive error.
Anyone who spends time working on poker strategies, reading poker books, consuming poker media, and/or engaging on poker forums is what I call an aspiring pro – which doesn’t mean they’ll become a pro or even a winning player.
They take the game seriously and will defend the skillfulness of the game.
Serious players are motivated by their desire to improve. They look up to professional poker players and aspire to be one of them. Their main concern is their bottom line, and how to best maximize their profits.
There’s a subset of serious players who think they’re on the path towards becoming a poker pro, but unlike aspiring pros, these players, who I’ll call faux serious players, are either not fully committed, or have severe leaks.
As I said above, just because you want to improve and become a poker pro doesn’t mean it’s going to happen.
Enthusiasts are people who really like poker; they just don’t like it enough to spend time or money improving as a player. Enthusiasts tend to choose games that fit within their skill level and their means. Enthusiasts probably read poker media and watch some poker on TV. They might even have poker forum accounts or have read a book at one time or another.
What they don’t do is devote copious amounts of time learning and studying.
If a serious player is the 4.0 student who studies and does all their homework assignments, Enthusiasts are the 3.0 students who do the bare minimum and are content with their grades.
Enthusiasts are drawn to fun games and games that they believe they stand a chance in. They look at a lot of different elements, from the rake to the quality of play, to the atmosphere when determining what games to play.
Enthusiasts still play poker, but they play it less.
The final category is what I call a fun player. Fun players are there to gamble. Poker is the same as any other casino game, and it’s going to take luck to win. On some level, they know poker is skillful, but they still believe anyone can win on any given day.
Continuing the student analogy, a fun player is a person in school who just winged it.
A fun player has one goal when they play, trying to book a big win or busting their buy-in trying. They look at each session as an individual event and prefer games with high volatility. Rake, EV, and other long-term aspects of poker don’t enter the equation.
Fun players are the people poker is no longer attracting.
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