Maybe you’re brand new to the game, or you’ve had a big layoff and are a little rusty on things. Wherever you fall on the spectrum, it can never hurt to learn or review the foundations of a strong game. We don’t like using the term “beginners” because it implies that the tips and strategies are only applicable at the lowest level. With what we have for you today, this is not the case.
These tips and strategies will help you to succeed up into the highest echelons of the poker community. Is there more you’ll need to know to accompany these tips? There certainly is. But, those other tips and information will never replace the importance of these. If you’re ready to get learning or reviewing, let’s get started.
Strong Fundamentals Are Key
If you’ve ever played sports at all, you know that coaches are always preaching strong fundamentals. If you play basketball, coaches will drill you on simple things like passing, dribbling, and situational awareness. This is because these fundamentals are the necessary building blocks for a strong game. The same can be said for poker. In reality, a fundamentally sound player who knows nothing else should still be able to crush the lower stakes easily.
People love to overcomplicate poker and try and make it out to be an extremely difficult game. Sure, the game is challenging and gets more so as you move up the stakes. But, at the lower levels, strong fundamentals are a sure-fire way to put yourself on the course for victory. In this guide, we’re going to be covering a lot of these fundamentals. We also cover a ton of these in our dedicated Texas hold’em strategy section that you may have navigated to this page from. If not, the link is there for you to check out all the other information when you get done with this guide.
Don’t Get Married to a Hand
Our first actionable tip that we have for you is to make sure that you are not getting married to your hands. Too often, players will get a hand or make a hand and immediately shut off their brain. They will tell themselves they have a premium holding and, no matter what, they are not folding. This sometimes results in a nice victory when their hand holds up but can be devastating when the board conditions change.
You HAVE to realize that after every single action in a Texas hold’em poker game, you have to reevaluate. After every bet, every raise, every fold, and every new card that comes out, things are going to change. More often than not, your opponent is going to be basically telling you what they have, but if you’ve shut your brain off, you’re going to miss it.
The most classic example of this is pocket aces. Yes, this is the best starting hand in the game, and most of the time you’re going to stand to win a big pot with them. However, there are going to be times after the flop, turn, or river that you’re going to need to fold this hand.
Imagine this scenario. You are dealt pocket aces and open for a raise. You get four callers, and the flop comes out 10-9-8. The BB leads out and the next player to act raises. What should you do? Well, this is probably the textbook answer for a time that you should easily fold your hand. But, if you’re stubborn and married to your hand, you’re probably going to lose a huge pot.
We see this hand play out way too often the wrong way, though. The player with aces goes all in and ends up getting called and beat by a better hand. At the end of the hand, they begin to rant about how unlucky they are and how life isn’t fair. In reality, though, yes they got unlucky with four players and that flop, but they really should only have lost the money they put in pre-flop. Sometimes players want to get stubborn just so they can tell people later how unlucky they are.
Here’s the takeaway. Never decide that you’re “going with a hand all the way” before the hand is over and all your chips are in the middle. Assess the situation at every street and make the appropriate decision. This sort of discipline is a must if you have any plans of succeeding long-term in the poker world.
Don’t Just Focus on Your Cards
In your early days of playing Texas hold’em, it can seem like a lot is going on at once. It feels like this because, well, a lot is going on at once. This can cause you to do what our brains are trained to do and only focus on what is in front of you. It’s a survival instinct. The problem is that if you only focus on your cards and not what your opponent might be holding, you’re going to be in a world of hurt.
A lot of new poker players will constantly ask how strong this hand is or how strong that hand is. While you can give generalizations on this, it’s a flawed question. The problem is that the strength of a hand is really only important if you look at its relative strength to what your opponent might be holding. Some people might say that second pair is not a strong hand. But, if you think you’re opponent is holding ace high, then it probably is a relatively strong hand in that situation.
If you have three of a kind, you might think that’s a strong hand, and it usually is. However, what happens if it’s very likely that your opponent has a straight or a flush? Suddenly, the strength of that hand shrinks.
In order to play your cards properly, you need to be paying attention to what your opponents might be holding. Obviously, you cannot see what they have, which is why you have to take the information that they give you and try and construct a range of hands. Most poker players who are successful do not try and put their opponents on one single hand. They will use what are called ranges.
A range is simply defined as the complete list of possible hands an opponent might be holding. In our dedicated strategy section, we talk a lot more about building ranges. The idea we want you to start getting into your mind now is that you need to be thinking about more than just what you’re holding. The strength of your cards is always going to be relative to what your opponent may be holding.
You Should Be Folding More
Out of all the tips and fundamentals in this guide, this is the one that will probably save a new player the most money. You need to fold more. We’re not telling you this because we are scared to have you get involved in too many pots until you’re ready. You need to be folding more regardless of how good of a player you are.
Winning poker is not always fun poker. You can’t be playing every hand under the sun and expect to make money. Ideally, you should be folding somewhere in the neighborhood of 75-80% of your hands. This is a generalized number that usually is affected by a lot of criteria, but it should give you an idea of roughly how involved in pots you should be.
If you’re playing too many hands, a few things are going to happen. One, you’re going to be hemorrhaging money on all the flops that you miss. Two, you’re going to be in there with marginal holdings way too often to be profitable. You’ll end up being dominated in hands where you think you have the best of it, all because of decisions you made pre-flop.
The bottom line here is that you should play fewer hands than you think you should.
Bluffing Is NOT Required
For some reason, new Texas hold’em players think that the key to victory is bluffing. They think the only way they can turn a profit is if they are running a wild bluff every 2-3 hands. Thank you, TV for this one. This is NOT the case. In fact, if you never run any wild bluffs at the lower levels, you’re going to do just fine. Your opponents are going to make enough mistakes that you’re not going to need to bluff.
The only bluffing that you’re really going to need to be doing is small semi-bluffs like continuation bets or betting when you have draws. Outside of this, you don’t need to be firing off the big highlight reel bluffs. Most of the times that people do this they get caught because their hand makes no sense. There’s no reason to torpedo your stack just because you want to look cool or do something you saw on television.
If you play sound, fundamental poker without any bluffs, you’re going to do very well at the lower levels. And by lower levels, we don’t mean like $0.01/$0.02 low levels. We mean like $1/$2 and even the $2/$5 levels sometimes. You can make good money by simply playing fundamental poker without running wild bluffs.
On another token, bluffing is a lot more complicated than newer (and sometimes seasoned) players give it credit for. In order to bluff properly, you have to tell an accurate story that makes sense to your opponent and relates well to what they might be holding. That means that you not only have to know what you actually hold, but you have to have a strong idea of what your opponent’s range is, and then you have to be able to know what range of hands you’re going to represent and how to tell that story accurately.
Sound like a lot? It is. This is why people are so terrible at bluffing. They assume it’s just firing massive amounts of chips and money into the pot and hoping their opponent folds. Do this for us. Until you read the bluffing section of our strategy guide, don’t set your money on fire.
Take Your Time
This is a simple tip, but one that can often be overlooked by new players. When you’re playing live or online (mainly live), the other players who are more seasoned are going to be playing quickly for the most part. Your poker muscles might not be ready to move at this quick of speed. That is ok. Take your time. Think through all of your decisions. If someone gives you a hard time, let them know that you are new and you are entitled to time to think.
Players will sometimes try and bully you into playing quicker than you want. This is because they are action junkies and also because they want you to make a mistake. Don’t let them win. Stand up for yourself and take the time that you need. Don’t purposely go slower, but if you need a few extra seconds to think before each decision, that’s completely fine.
Remember, you aren’t there to make the other players happy or amuse them. You’re there to make money. And they aren’t going to be paying your bills or losses when you make a mistake because they rushed you or you rushed yourself.
Don’t Do Everything at Once
When you’re new to the game, you can be tempted to try and change every facet of your game all at once. As we touched on in the main guide, this can be detrimental to your success. Think about scientists. When they are testing to see if something works or not, what do they do? They change one thing at a time and then record the results.
Your poker game should be worked on in the exact same fashion. If you change 100 things at once, then it’s going to be really hard to determine what is working and what is not. You don’t have to go overkill with this, but make sure that you aren’t changing too much that you’re unable to tell the difference between what is working and what is not.
You also want to be careful that if you make too many adjustments, you aren’t breaking the parts of your game that are working properly. Remember, poker is not going anywhere for a long time. There is no reason that you have to try and learn everything overnight. Take your time and improve your game gradually. You’re going to see better results and ones that last a lot longer.
Split Your Time Wisely
When the military goes to learn something new, they spend a decent amount of time in the classroom studying, and then they take that knowledge to the field. This ensures that they are able to process the new information properly and then are able to make sure they know how to employ it in a real-world environment.
You should approach your poker learning the same way. If all you do is sit home and study, you’re going to have issues when you try and take all of that new information to the felt. If all you do is play and you don’t study, though, you can’t expect to get any better. The key here is that you want to have a balance. You should be spending a decent amount of time away from the felt learning new concepts, but you also want to make sure that you’re practicing using those in a real-world environment.
This is a balance that should always be going on. You don’t want to spend six weeks studying and then try and take all of that knowledge to the felt. It will be too much to try and change at once, and you’re going to be lost, and you may have lost all the other work you’d put in prior.
Regarding what that split should be, it depends on where you are in your poker career. The newer to the game you are, the more time you should be spending studying. This is because you have a lot of fundamentals that you need to learn. Without these, you are probably going to be losing at a pretty quick rate. It’s ok to lose some when you first start out, but you’d ideally like to minimize those losses to a manageable level.
If you’re further along in your poker career, you should spend a healthier mix of the two. If you’re a winning player, you’re going to want to keep playing so you can keep money coming in (especially if you’re playing for a living). It’s funny; the newer players have a tendency to want to play more than they want to study, because that’s the fun part. The more seasoned players can have a tendency to want to study more than they’re playing.
Find the right mix that minimizes losses if you’re new and allows you to keep bringing in money if you’re a more seasoned and winning player. The mix should allow you to sustain these goals while still improving your game at a steady rate.
Use the Tools at Your Disposal
Poker and Texas hold’em today are at a much different point than they were years ago. The only way to learn years ago was by getting onto the felt and continually running your head into the wall until you learned how to turn the corner. Today, though, there is an infinite number of training tools and aids that can help you learn. You need to take full advantage of these and use them to better your game.
The fact that you’re here reading this now is a great first step. You should be having to pay for this level of information, but it’s here for you for free. In addition, there are training sites, free videos, interviews with pros, training camps, forums, and a whole lot more out there to help you get your game to the next level.
Take advantage of these. We can guarantee that your opponents are. The important thing to remember is that you need to make sure that the information you are getting is solid. There are several resources out there now that are putting out less than optimal information. Make sure that the places you are getting help from are worthy of giving you help. The only thing that’s worse than not learning is learning bad information.
Drop Your Ego Now
THIS IS A MUST READ IF YOU EVER WANT TO MAKE IT IN POKER. Sorry for yelling, but this is that important. The second you let your ego get in the way of your learning is the second you decide that you do not want to succeed in poker. When you are first starting out, this is easy. You know that you don’t know anything, so it’s easy to be open to learning. The problem comes in when you start winning.
You start to feel that you’re the best and that you can run over the games. Remember this. There is only one player who is ever the best in the world. If you are not that player, then you have more to learn. The number one killer of people’s poker games is ego. Now, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have some competitive juices flowing. It’s good to have a little ego when you’re playing.
However, when it comes to getting better, you have to be willing to admit that you always need help. Do not become complacent just because you start winning. The game will catch you and pass you by. You’re also never going to be able to jump stakes unless you admit that the players there are better than you. Do they always have to be better than you? Heck no! But, if you realize that initially, they are, you can channel that knowledge into driving you to get better.
We normally would have a wrap-up section to tie all of this together, but we want to finish with this ego section. It’s THAT important. Promise us and promise yourself that no matter how successful you get at the game, you’ll never let your ego get in the way of trying to learn more and get better. Your wallet is going to appreciate it.