How to win at poker: 8 tips to become great

Jon Sofen
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Last updated: May 12, 2022 4:46 pm EDT

If you want to know how to win at poker, more specifically, Texas Holdem, the key is to first understand that while luck is a contributing factor in the short-term, skill wins out in the end. Anyone willing to work hard can develop the necessary skills to make money at the poker table. Who knows, maybe you could even get good enough to win a poker tournament.

The first step towards acquiring the skills possessed by the best poker players is to go all-in on reading this poker strategy guide. We’ve compiled a list of eight strategy tips that, if you follow them, will help you go from being an inexperienced poker player to understanding what it truly takes to play winning poker. With some hard work and dedication, maybe you’ll become the next Phil Ivey. There’s no limit if you’re willing to work for it.

1. Limiting your range is how to win at poker in Texas Holdem

One of the biggest mistakes inexperienced and losing players make is to play too many weak hands and starting hands. Folding over and over isn’t a ton of fun, so it’s understandable you want to get in there and play a bunch of hands. And you’ve probably seen Tom Dwan on TV playing seemingly every hand.

But patience is a virtue if you’re trying to learn how to win at poker, especially against an aggressive table full of good players who love to gamble. That’s not to say you should only play aces, kings, or other strong hands. By all means, play suited connectors in position, just don’t get in the habit of playing too many hands or you’ll lose money. This is especially true for those new to the game. Once you become more experienced, you can comfortably expand your pre-flop range and learn how to win with a  range of hands.

2. Play a balanced range — proper poker strategy

Mixing it up at the poker table is an important strategy because you won’t be so predictable. Don’t always continuation-bet on a flop when you have a big hand. Check-raise a flopped flush draw half the time, call the other half. Three-bet in the big blind with a suited ace in one hand, and just call the next.

There are too many players who make it so obvious what they have because they don’t mix it up. Play a balanced style of poker and you’ll keep your opponents on their toes. If they always know what you have, you’ll never get paid off on your big hands and your bluffs will never get through. Poker is a game of deception, which means if you can’t trick opponents into thinking you have something you don’t — whether it be bluffing or the nuts — you’ll never win.

3. Bankroll management: never play above your head

How to win at poker tip #3: poor bankroll management is one of the biggest reasons for failure in poker, and is certainly not how to win at poker. It takes a lot of money to make a lot of money in this game, and that isn’t just a cheesy cliche. No matter how well you play, there are going to be days you get crushed, whether it’s in a cash game or a tournament. The cards won’t always break your way.

Sometimes the poker gods will decide your opponents are going to hit every flush draw. If you aren’t properly bankrolled, you run the risk of going broke before luck evens itself out. You should have a bankroll of at least 25 times the buy-in for the game you play, just to be safe.

If you’re on a limited budget, it may be best to start out playing online poker. You can sharpen your skills playing free poker games online far cheaper than playing with real money in a live setting.

4. Learn to accept defeat

Another destroyer of a poker career is bad luck. We’re all going to get stacked by a gutshot straight draw that hits from time to time. We’re all going to have losing sessions. But you can’t let that destroy your confidence or you’ll never make it in this difficult poker game.

In addition to getting dealt good hands from Lady Luck, poker requires mental toughness. Watch videos on YouTube of Phil Ivey taking bad beats. Pay attention to his reaction. He never gets upset about a bad beat, or at least he doesn’t show it, and it’s no surprise he’s one of the best of all-time. You’ll win some, you’ll lose some, and that’s the way it is with every professional poker player.

5. Never get too high

We aren’t talking about smoking weed here. Much like losses shouldn’t crush your confidence, you should never get too excited after a win (unless you take down a World Series of Poker bracelet or other major event, of course).

Always remain level-headed regardless of recent results, even when you’re on a heater. And, yes, you will eventually hit a heater if you play long enough. You could win $300 one night and then lose it back the next. So, there’s no point celebrating a small victory. New players can often be excitable, but longevity requires a level head. 

Keep learning the trade and stay humble through practice, low stakes games, strategy articles from poker sites, and other players.

6. Network with other players

Poker is similar to running a business in that networking with successful players can help improve your game. Join poker forums and befriend accomplished players on social media.

Having skilled poker players in your circle of friends is a huge asset. You can run hand histories by them and get some feedback on how well you played the hands. And you’ll have someone to lean on for a confidence boost following losing sessions. Winning poker players network.

7. Don’t be afraid to get bluffed

No one likes to be bluffed, but sometimes getting bluffed is actually one way on how to win at poker. When your opponent flips over a bluff after you’ve folded a winning hand, it just adds salt to the wound. But even the best players in the world fall victim to the bluff at times. That’s just part of the game.

It’s better to fold the best hand occasionally than to continually give away money because your ego won’t let you fold, out of fear of seeing a bluff. Let aggressive players take the small pots, and you’ll get all the chips when they pay off your better hands. That’s what good poker players do to win card games.

8. Check your ego at the door

Whether it’s Daniel Negreanu vs. Doug Polk or Fedor Holz vs. Wiktor Malinowski, there have been many exciting heads-up poker showdowns over the years. And most of them began as the result of a feud that forced one inferior player to lose a ton of money because their ego got the best of them.

Negreanu couldn’t back down from the challenge and lost $1.2 million to Polk as a result. “Kid Poker” can afford to lose that money, but most poker players can’t. Don’t get sucked into any of that nonsense. Your goal should be to win as much money as possible, not to flex your muscles.And lastly, make sure you check out the Poker.org poker hands ranking chart for additional reference on how to win at poker.

Is poker skill or luck?

One of the most frequently asked questions about poker relates to skill and luck. Many poker players refer to poker as a game of skill. However, since luck remains a factor, some people categorize poker as a game of chance. 

You can study poker and improve

The real question of skill vs luck in any game is, can you study, improve, and win more in the long run? There are ways to study poker, improve your odds of winning, and play optimally to win more often. This theory is proven out by pros like Chris Moneymaker and Phil Hellmuth, who win more often than most others.

The house avoids playing

Most gambling games pit the players against the house. That’s because the house only participates in games where it always has an advantage. But to play poker, players compete against each other. The house doesn’t play, nor does it benefit if a player wins or loses.

Legally, poker is skill

A United States judge ruled that poker is more a game of skill than chance in 2012. He concluded that people running poker games could not be convicted of running a gambling business because poker is a game of skill, not to be categorized with illegal gambling.

How to get better at poker? Stay committed.

The best way to improve your poker game is to commit to learning. Poker is one of the few gambling-style games where studying makes a positive difference in your overall results. But players must be committed, practice over time, and continuously develop and hone their strategies.

Practice

When you commit to learning poker, you also have to play more. The best place to practice is online, whether in free poker or low-stakes real-money games. Experience makes a huge difference in the long run, as does regular play without long stretches of time away from the tables.

Learn to manage your bankroll

Players must also commit themselves to using proper bankroll management and smart game selection. Managing your bankroll is the key to keeping a solid stream of money available for play. It also means you have to drop down in stakes or play lower buy-in tournaments if your bankroll is suffering. 

Choose the right games

Commit to smart game selection, too. Not only does a good player have to choose the proper limits and game variations for his or her bankroll, they also have to find and participate in the most profitable games. A fun game won’t always be the most profitable game, and it won’t necessarily provide the best learning opportunity.

Skills you need to succeed at poker

You need several skills to be successful at poker. Discipline and perseverance are essential. You also have to have sharp focus, so you don’t get distracted or bored during games. Confidence in yourself and your game is mandatory, too.

The best players possess several similar traits. They can calculate pot odds and percentages quickly and quietly. They have the patience to wait for optimal hands and proper position, and they know when to quit a game and try again another day.

By the standards of most top players, the most important skills are patience, reading other players, adaptability, and developing strategies. 

Develop patience

Patience is key, especially in live games. A lack of patience makes people play too many hands and bet too high or out of position. Players who get bored and lose patience often make bad decisions. They can remain at a bad table too long in a cash game. And in a tournament, they can risk it all in a bad spot out of sheer impatience.

To develop patience, players often learn the art of meditation and proper breathing. Those who practice healthy eating and regular exercise regimens are also more adept at staying focused. 

Develop the ability to read people

It’s not difficult to develop at least some skill at reading people. There are books dedicated to it, and everyone from psychologists to law enforcement officials have spoken about the importance of reading facial expressions, body language, and other tells. 

In poker, reading your opponents is more specific. The overall ability to read other players is a good skill, but there are specific details to watch for. You can learn a lot about other players by keeping an eye on their hand movements and the way they handle their chips and cards. Learn to track their mood shifts, eye movements, and the time they take when making decisions. 

The best way to learn how to read people is to simply make an effort to observe them. 

Be adaptable

Not every poker game will be ideal. One $1/$2 cash game may involve a lineup of very aggressive players, while another may be very slow and full of amateurs. While there’s always some opportunity to choose the best game for yourself, there are other times you must simply learn to adapt.

If you’re very talkative at the table but everyone else is quiet, you need to learn to adapt. Quiet down and watch them in all of their seriousness. If you’re uncomfortable with the table talk or unconventional play at a table, figure out how to take advantage of it anyway.

Have a strategy

Players have written entire books dedicated to particular poker strategies. But even if you read those books, it’s a good idea to come up with your own approach.

Take the time to develop your own unique poker strategy through detailed self-examination, whether it’s from taking notes or from reviewing your results. Some players discuss their hands and playing styles with others for a more objective look at their strengths and weaknesses. 

Develop a strategy based on experience, and then take that strategy into the next game. A good player always tweaks their play to make sure they’re constantly improving.

The takeaway

Few people can become winning poker players in the short term. Winning one tournament does not make a winning poker player. The best players in the game prove themselves over time. They consistently work on their skills and make use of poker training tools like books, online training sites and apps, and playing in low-stakes games.

Improve your mental game by working on your emotional intelligence — your ability to handle wins and losses. Keep your ego in check, and learn to know when to study harder or when to take a break.

Improve your physical game by working on your stamina — your physical ability to handle long poker sessions with focus and attention. The key here is to put yourself in the best physical condition to play well over time.

You’ll learn and practice everything else over time, such as choosing strategies, managing your bankroll, networking with other players, and studying bet sizes and position. The most important factor is to stay committed to improving your game.

While luck will always play a role in poker, players can control the amount of skill that will outweigh luck in the long term.

Featured image source: Flickr