How to win at poker: 8 tips to become great

Jon Sofen
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Posted on 03/20/2021

If you want to know how to win at poker, 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.

The first step to acquiring those skills is to read this article. We’ve compiled a list of eight tips that, if you follow them, will help you go from 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.

1. Limit your range

One of the biggest mistakes inexperienced and losing players make is to play too many 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 in poker, especially against an aggressive table full of players who love to gamble. That’s not to say you should only play aces or kings. 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.

2. Play a balanced range

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 a bluff or the nuts — you’ll never win.

3. Never play above your head

Poor bankroll management is one of the biggest reasons for failure in poker. It takes money to make 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. 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. You can practice your skills online cheaper than in live poker.

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 game.

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.

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.

7. Don’t be afraid to get bluffed

No one likes to be bluffed. When your opponent flips over a bluff after you’ve folded, 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 your opponent take down the small pots, and you’ll get all the chips when he pays off your big hands.

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 matches 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 reference before you begin playing.

Featured image source: Flickr