1. Look at your Cards Stupid!
I can’t stress this enough and it’s amazing how often even pros screw it up. At first you look at your cards, you think you remember what you have but then you get engrossed in a betting war with the cross eyed guy sitting next to the dealer. You’re sure that he’s bluffing but you’ve forgotten that so are you! Always remember what you’re holding and never throw money into the pot unless you’re absolutely sure what you’re doing.
2. Tight is Right
This is the cardinal tournament rule. Go all in on a whim or call someone else with your entire stack and you’re placing your faith in the luck of the draw. Real poker players do everything they can to minimize the risks. So abandon any gut feelings, signs from heaven or dubious clairvoyance and play the good hands while throwing the bad hands away. Remember if you’re in doubt; chuck ’em.
3. The Big Stack is KING
Your stack is a weapon, if you’re the big stack then start bullying other players off the blinds and smaller hands. No one wants to get into a fight with the Big Stack. Similarly when the roles are reversed steer well clear of the big stack until the time is right. When you have a half decent hand you can push all in against him but until then, dump, dump, DUMP! The big stack can turn out your lights and drain your stack without even risking anything.
4. Bankroll Management
The classic rule of bankroll management is to buy in to a tournament with no more than 5% of your total bankroll or to sit down at a cash game with 100 big blinds which makes up a maximum of 5% of your total bankroll. This is more of a rule of thumb measure but it gives you an idea of the kind of figures we’re talking about. Almost always fish will buy in online and then jump into a Sit ‘N’ Go tournament that’s costs a third of their bankroll, or even all of it. This is NOT the way to play sustainable poker. If you’re a good player then your skills will shine through over the course of the games you play and you’ll be able to put together a decent bankroll in no time. If you’re not a good player then at least get value for money by playing at the micro stake level and making it last. Playing that way will also give you greater experience at the tables and allow you to hone your skills against real players.
5. Checking to Victory
You open your cards and see suited connectors, you limp in and low and behold the flop opens and you have an instant flush! Everyone around you is wondering who has the flush. If you bet they’ll know it’s you, call someone else’s bet and they might think you do but they won’t know for sure. All too often a player sees that they have a great hand and then makes a huge bet hoping to make some easy money. They won’t. All they’ll do is let everyone else know they’re holding a monster. Sometimes sitting back and checking is the best way to bring home the bacon.
6. Bluffing With a Story
Most people think that bluffing means just raising with a bad hand. In fact that is the best way to lose your stack. A good player will tell a story with their bluff, they’ll play as if the cards have fallen perfectly to give them a certain hand. If you want to make a bluff that works, first look at the cards on the table and ask yourself what could be out there. Maybe there are two cards of the same suit on the flop, in that case you can pretend you are holding two cards of that suit in your hand. Then play accordingly; check and then flat call any raise. If on the turn or river another card of the same suit comes up you can make a mega bluff and in all likelihood anyone still at the table will put you on the flush and fold. In short bluffing is about creating an impression, it’s about telling a story, not just throwing a large sum of cash into the pot.
7. Folding a Monster
You open your first two cards and find that you have pocket Queens. You’re delighted and make a lovely pre-flop raise. You get action from two other players, which is fine because you have a strong hand. When the flop is turned over you see an Ace, a King and two smaller cards. You should immediately know that your Queens, beautiful as they may be, are most likely no good any more and you should be ready to throw them away. The truth is that once the flop comes and the two over cards appeared you have to figure that at least one of the players who called your pre-flop raise has something. If one of them raises then you simply aren’t in a position to call. That’s poker, a good player will know when their hand is good and when it’s not.
8. Your Poker Face
Some poker players argue they can spot little ‘tells’ in players. Small signs we make without realising. The first rule of a poker face is DON’T WORRY ABOUT IT in the vast majority of cases there is a lot of trash talk to convince a weak player to make a bad move but by and large the poker face is a myth. By the same token don’t sit at the table making stupid faces in the hope that one of the other players will make a mistake, they’ll likely just think you’re a weirdo!
9. What Does He Have?
Once you are sure about your own cards the question becomes; What does that guy have? Pay close attention to what’s happening around the table. Remember how the order of betting went, who did what and look at the cards on the table. Often we tell ourselves a story, we want to believe that our hand is the best one and ignore information to the contrary. Don’t do that, keep your eyes, ears and brain open. The one thing that a player with a great hand absolutely will NEVER do is fold. So if you’re raising and raising and there is one other player still sitting there calling, you need to take a deep breath and reassess the situation. Similarly if he makes a huge, illogical bet and you can’t see why then feel no compunction about pushing all in with even a mediocre hand.
10. Self Discipline
Poker is often presented as a battle of wills between people at the table. This is only one part of the story. The most important part is the battle that is going on inside your head, where every instinct tells you to do something that the rational you knows is a mistake. In poker you need self discipline and a helluva lot of will power. You need to make the moves that are good for you rather than responding to the actions of other players around the table. This is what is meant by ‘owning the game’. Ultimately a weak player is one who bows to their instinct, who raises and folds without really knowing why. Don’t be that player. Make each hand an example of pushing players to do things that they don’t want to do. Make them call you even though they know they shouldn’t or fold when they strongly suspect you have a weaker hand than they do. When you’re at that level you’ll be playing Perfect Poker and your future will be paved in cash!