Poker is an incredibly complex game. It is true that it takes a minute to learn, but a lifetime to master. However, you have to get started somewhere. Very few people have both immediate and long-term success from the moment they first sit down at the table. Instead, most beginners make huge blunders that cost significant money.
In this section, I am going to explain some of the common flaws that amateur poker players exhibit, then outline steps you can take to ensure you are on the road to poker mastery.
You Aren’t the Best Poker Player in the World
Most amateurs think they are much better at poker than they actually are. This reasoning is likely because most people who stick with poker for any extended period of time experience at least some level of success. Very few people keep playing if they lose the first 20 tournaments they enter. Those players quit and move on to something else. The people who experience immediate short term success are the ones who keep playing. This initial success leads most amateurs to be overconfident in their skills. Instead of working hard to improve at poker, they assume they must be great.
If you want to become an excellent poker player, you must realise that you have to spend your time at the table diligently paying attention, and your time away from the table studying all aspects of the game. As soon as you stop studying, your opponents will quickly pass you by.
Most amateurs develop a default strategy, and stick to it - developing their strategies based on what they are comfortable with. This situation usually leads them to almost never bluff or constantly bluff, based on the opponents they frequently play against. They also tend to think in definitive statements, such as “I always raise with top pair”, “I always hit my straight draws” or “Fred always bluffs”.
Thinking in this manner leads them to make huge blunders because, in reality, raising with top pair is only sometimes correct. You will hit your straight draws as often as the odds dictate, and 'Fred' only occasionally bluffs. As you get more experience playing poker, you will find the best players are situationally aware.
They make the right play based on the exact current situation, not the situation they were in last time they played.
Do Not Let Your Emotions Impact Your Strategy
Another common mistake that amateur poker players make is that they play games much too large for their bankroll. Most professional tournament players know to keep at least 100 buy-ins in their bankroll. Meaning, if they play $100 buy-in tournaments, they keep at least $10,000 in their bankroll.
The majority of amateurs, on the other hand, keep a relatively small amount of money devoted to poker, resulting in them caring way too much about the money they are risking. If you have a $500 “poker bankroll” and risk $100 of it, I completely understand how the pressure would be unbearable. If you instead risk $100 out of your $10,000 bankroll, you will be able to think clearly and make sound, unemotional decisions because the money is effectively irrelevant.
The sooner you stop thinking emotionally when playing poker, the better. It is well known that when poker players have things on their mind besides poker, such as an argument with their spouse, financial troubles at home, or anything else that commands a large amount of their attention, they tend to play worse. It is also pretty much fact that people who take their opponents’ actions personally do worse than those who simply make the best possible play in each situation.
If someone constantly re-raises you, instead of getting annoyed and trying to show them who is boss, figure out and implement an ideal strategy to take advantage of their aggression.
Poker isn't a game about who can act the most macho.
Decisions Based On Reads
One final error that I want to mention is that amateurs know they are supposed to make reads based on their opponents’ behaviours, but they are unaware of what to truly pay attention to. Amateurs tend to look for obvious tells that make it clear their opponent either has the nuts or is bluffing. While this isn’t a bad place to start, if you want to pick up useful tells on a regular basis, you should study your opponents when they are not in high-pressure situations and compare that look then to how they look when they are in high-pressure situations.
You should also try to pinpoint what exactly makes each specific opponent nervous. For example, some players get jumpy when they know they are going to win a huge pot while others get excited when running a massive bluff because they're afraid they are going to lose a huge pot. While both players may appear excited, it is for completely different reasons.
Making basic reads such as “he is breathing heavily, so he must have a strong hand” and “he is blinking a lot, so he must be bluffing” will only take you so far.
Over the course of my next few articles, I am going to discuss major concepts you must master if you want to succeed at poker, including:
- How to increase your level of aggression in order to steal pots that don’t belong to you
- How to size your bets appropriately
- How to think in terms of hand ranges
- How to approach the game as a professional
Be sure to check out my next article where we discuss how to increase your level of aggression to build your profits at the poker table. I am looking forward to taking this journey with you.