Poker is one of those games that you can learn in a matter of minutes if you play it a couple of times. But it will take you a lifetime to master. In fact, the skill ceiling is so high that the meta (the game within the game of poker) changes every other year even after a century of professional-level play. The learning curve is steep, but it is still a mountain you can climb. Here are a few core guidelines to get you there.
Practice makes perfect
No matter if it is cricket or checkers, the bottom line is the same. Commit time to it, and you will improve. Some people will improve faster, but even slower growth is still growth. So play as many hands of poker as you can daily. Obviously, we mean practice rounds, and not wagers. Thanks to the provisions of the current era, you don’t even need a physical deck and willing opponents. Video game AI is constantly improving, and it will present a selectable level of challenge, no matter how proficient you are.
There is one chief distinction you need to make in poker: ‘tough tables’ and ‘easy tables’. Simply put, you inevitably win out long-term if your opponents play poorly. So when you want to win money with poker, flock to tables of inferior players. On the other hand, though, you want to be challenged in order to improve. So play with people who are on the same level of competence as you, or preferably more competent than you. With stiff competition, you have the constant incentive to improvise and switch up your play. But more importantly, you will learn new tricks from better players. The easiest way to get into these games is via a tournament.
Ditch your favourite hand where it would not work
When you play poker long enough, you develop a fondness for a certain set of hands. Nearly every poker player has a favourite hand. That is completely normal. Every game needs that little personal nook before you can really start to enjoy it. At the same time, understand that poker is all about mathematics and probability. If you compulsively need to play that hand as soon as you are dealt, such fancies can ruin your overall game plan.
Every hand has a sweet spot where they are effective. So wait for that opening. If your favorite hand is 9 and 7 of clubs – a mediocre hand on its own – it can still be effective if you are in the right position and play it on an unopened pot.
Keep your poker face
Even if you are a beginner, you probably know that in poker, you play the player – not just the cards. Poker is, at its core, a series of cold calculations. The haft of the game is guesswork, but the edge is how you manipulate your opponents. Firstly, you have to control your impulses. Any range of emotions will hinder your gameplay. It’s not always possible to be that detached, but you cannot express it. In other words, you need to master the proverbial ‘poker face’. On the other hand, you have to try and tilt the opponents. Baiting is a core component of poker, and it is all about bluffing your opponents into folding, or inspiring overconfidence in them to suit your interests.
Read ranges, not hands
As a segue from our previous point, how do you manipulate the opponent? By always being one step ahead of them. Poker is constant guesswork – you have to gauge what cards opponents have. And if you have tried doing this, you will know that guessing their exact hands accurately is near impossible. In that case, how do the pros do it so effortlessly? The answer is that they don’t. Ideally, a poker player should think in terms of ranges, not specific hands. So instead of going with an impulsive hunch, the pro poker player will juggle with several probable hand combinations his opponents may have, and then improvise from there.
Get better at the fourth and fifth street
When you start at the novice tables, there is one thing you will notice in nearly all games. That is, a lot of the action will happen before the flop. At the turn, beginner players will start getting cold feet. As you can guess by now, the turn and the river is where the true skill ceiling of poker comes into play. As a beginner, your biggest room for improvement is getting comfortable with the final betting round.
In conclusion, we must also talk about strategies. Every top tier poker star has its own consistent strategy. Their play is to steer the game in a certain direction that can bring their strategy to fruition. And this is the case in the majority of their games. So in order to transition into a seasoned player, you need your own strategy as well. But there is no master strategy; you will eventually have to break from it. Mastering poker means knowing both the strength and weaknesses of your strategy. Having one core strategy does not mean you have to be a one-trick pony.