Poker seems like an easy game. There isn’t much equipment involved and the structure is simply a matter of deal, bet, deal, bet, and so on. Still, the apparent simplicity of poker is deceptive. There is a reason this game has continued to fascinate people from all walks of life for over 200 years! The truth is that poker mastery requires a great deal of skill. Here we’re covering the four basic steps you need to master to become an expert poker player!
You need to learn the rules of the game. If you are completely new to poker it may take a a little while to get it at first, but rest easy knowing that the basic rules of poker are shared among virtually all game variants. Once you’ve picked up your first game the others tend to be only minor variations.
Still, before you play any hand of poker you need to know the specific rules of that game. Do you have any wildcards, or bugs? Who bets first? Hi-Lo split? What’s a completion? Ace-five or 2-7 Lowball? Not understanding some of the particulars can lead to some spectacular failures.
2. Learn the numbers
Some basic mathematics and statistics are essential to becoming a good poker player. While you may not need to know the precise values, you will need to have a very good idea of the worth of every hand and the chance to make money with it. Each situation requires a slightly different calculation, but essentially it all comes down to pot odds and implied pot odds. In some cases simply knowing whether you are the favourite or the underdog is enough.
If you are playing online at home don’t hesitate to use charts and tables of odds. Reference cards are excellent ways to pad your knowledge until you gain enough experience to have an intuitive feel for the cards. Working through the examples in books also accelerates the learning process. Often a real game will be moving too quickly for you to properly deduce your chances. Be sure to review some of your big losses and big wins to see whether you made the correct decision.
Keep in mind: The numbers from game to game can vary wildly. For example, a pair of kings is much stronger in Hold’em than in Omaha. Approach each new variant carefully and play cautiously until you understand the differences.
Knowing the rules and the numbers is only half the game. Poker is truly a game about people. In front of your seat at the table will be a pile of chips, some cards, and most importantly several other people. You’ll have to assume they know the rules of the game and understand at least something of the numbers. Perhaps it may be surprising then that everybody plays differently. Do they understand the game differently? Or are they simply bad players?
Players, all players, make mistakes. It’s a matter of what kind and how often they make mistakes that decides their skill level. Occasionally you get people who forget the basic rules, but more commonly you’ll get people who don’t have a good understanding of the numbers. Knowing these people and understanding their mistakes is a key skill.
But even players with perfect grasp of the numbers play differently. Each of them has a particular strategy which they believe is going to make them money. Some of these players have gradual stack changes while others have large swings. Some people are cowards and some are bullies. It’s your job to identify each player. Label them. Tag them. Describe them. Knowing their style will assist you in knowing their cards; and that will help you avoid making mistakes.
4. Manipulate the people
Knowing people is the key to not losing money, and at certain stakes, with a good deal of patience, it can also provide for a steady income. But to get better returns you’ll need to take it to the next level. You need to play your opponents against themselves.
Just taking advantage of mistakes isn’t enough. No, you want to push your opponent into a corner. Learn the situations where they make bad calls and create them. Force on them scenarios where they feel uncomfortable. Your goal is to explore their shortcomings and cause them to make mistakes.
At this point you should also be well aware of being manipulated yourself. This is where the arms war starts: a continuous cycle of learning and manipulating. As you progress in ability you’ll need to start learning how your opponent views your own strategy, and abuse that knowledge as well. But be careful, if your opponent is stuck at step 2, too much thinking might do harm. Always think to the level of your opponent — there is no need to trick somebody who willingly walks into traps. Of course, once you’re at step 4 this will just be second nature.