In any endeavor, long-term success or failure is based on the existence of a competitive advantage over your opponents. If you enjoy such an advantage, you can weather the turbulence of temporary setbacks — what statisticians refer to as variance, or noise, from an expected result.
If you’re playing at a disadvantage, however, the cards can’t save you. In the long run, you’re going to be a losing poker player. You’ll constantly have to reload your account, and you might end up blaming the poker sites, online cheating, bad beats, your parents, and basically anyone or anything except yourself. Here’s the top six reasons why you LOSE at poker – to become a winning poker player, don’t make these mistakes!
- Play weaker cards than your opponents in order to get in the “action” as quickly as possible. Here’s a crowd favorite. If you’re playing poker in order to get some action, you need a more adventurous life! Or at the very least, you need to discount the possibility that you’ll ever be a winning poker player. The object of poker is NOT to see as many flops as possible, but to extract as much value from the cards and situations that do happen to come your way. Often, that means patience. Sometimes, a great deal of patience. If you’re looking for some action, maybe you need to take up one of the other games offered in the casino?
- Pay no attention to position – the same cards can be played from any position for any amount of money. If you think that button is just a plastic disk marking passage to the blinds, you’re costing yourself money. An AK in first position isn’t worth half what an AK in late position is, where you have the option of playing aggressively or calling and seeing what develops. Poker is a game of information, and every round of betting provides additional information as to your opponent’s likely hand. At the very least, it provides a great deal of information as to the hand your opponent is trying to represent, and you can judge for yourself how likely he really holds the hand indicated by his betting. But in any event, it’s always an advantage to see what your opponent will do before acting – you can save a bet if you think you’re behind or earn additional bets if you’re confident that you’re in the lead. You MUST tighten your standards out of position and loosen them in position.
- Play passively, calling along with your hand to see what develops. You never know what kind of unlikely draw might get there, and you want your opponent to “show you” what he has. The object of poker again is to maximize return on your good hands and minimize losses on your bad hands. You can’t afford to play sheriff on every hand just because you think there’s a chance, however remote, that another player is bluffing. Mostly, players are NOT bluffing when they show a great deal of interest in a hand. You need a very good read on your opponent to discount the hand he’s representing if he’s playing consistent, aggressive poker from beginning to end. If your opponent’s actions tell a consistent story that he has a big hand, it’s usually wise to believe him unless you’ve seen similar bluffs in the past. And even if you suspect larceny, merely calling is still usually a bad move. It’s much better to challenge your opponent early in the hand, when the betting is still cheap, then call along through four separate rounds of increasingly-expensive betting. Put your opponent to the test early, and you’ll put more pressure on your opponents at a lower cost than passively calling along to see their hand.
- Focus on your own cards, and ignore what your opponent’s past betting patterns, current bets and the table situation in general indicate as to his likely holdings. This is a favorite of the multi-table crowd. It’s true that by playing conservative, lock-down poker, you can often best players at the lowest levels without taking the time to size up your opposition or watch the other hands at the table. You might be able to get by simply playing your own hand, and judging how likely you are to be ahead by gauging your own hand strength relative to the board. But at higher stakes, you need to have some kind of read on your opponents: are they tight or loose? do they tend to overbet the pot with a big hand or merely a draw? how often do they bluff? do they respect your play? If you’re not paying attention to the hands being played at the table (where you’re not involved), you’ll have no idea of the other players’ betting patterns. You’ll be left playing your own cards, and left guessing what your opponents might be up to. That’s fine for ABC poker against incompetents, but as your opponents’ skill increases, so too will their powers of observation. If you allow them superior information (by not paying attention to the other players’ – and your own – betting patterns) your tunnel vision will cost you dearly.
- Pay no attention to bet sizing and maximizing returns on winning hands and minimizing losses on your losers, based on the play of the hand. Professional players spend a great deal of time trying to figure out how they could have “gotten that extra bet” out of a fellow, and analyzing if they could have “bet a smaller amount [on a bluff] and gotten the same information.” They do so because they know that most your winnings at the table will come from maximizing winning hands and minimizing losses on losing poker hands. You will NOT make most of your money from absurd and audacious bluffs, regardless of the table conditions (loose tables will call anyway, and tight competent opponents will look you up at the worst times). You make most of your money on your value betting (and by saving money with tough folds). Just acknowledging that the secret to winning poker play is NOT bluffing will put you on the fast track to being a consistent, winning player.
- Pay no attention to game selection. Here’s an obscure one, and in real-life it’s difficult to actually execute. In real-life cash or tournament play, it can often be difficult to choose the ideal table to maximize your winnings. Online poker sites, however, give you the statistics on flops seen. All else being equal, you want to go to a loose table, where lots of players are paying to see the flop. This can make for some initially wild action, but the tight, aggressive player can capitalize on this to get paid off on his top hands. You can also patiently wait to pick your spots. Most of your profit at the poker table will come from one or two loose, weak players, and you want to be seated at the table that allows you to exploit such players. As Jesus showed, it only takes a few fish to feed an army. This article extracted from Poker Tips that Pay: Expert Strategy Guide for Winning No Limit Texas Hold em (author Jonathan Gelling, Play to Pay Publishing).
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by Jonathan Gelling