Win at Poker
By Steve Gillman
When you ask how you can win when playing poker, you have
clarify what that really means. Do you just want to win once
in a while, have a big night, or do you want to consistently
come out ahead over time? Too many players have the idea that
they need to win a lot of hands, and so they lose money by not
folding often enough. Others want to look good, and so are easily
manipulated into staying with hands they shouldn't play.
I've watched a lot of good and bad poker players (I used to
work in a casino). I also just recently did some research into
basic strategies used by professional poker players. So if making
money sounds better than winning many hands or impressing others,
here is what I have found.
Play in the Right Game
Really smart players will tell you that your skill is not
the most important thing. I know this from experience because
I have never been a very good poker player, yet I have won far
more than I have lost. What's my secret? I played against weaker
To win at poker, you have to drop the ego trips. This isn't
a chess game or a tennis match, and you don't want good competition.
You want the others to be clearly less skilled than you. If there
are one or two players at the table who are definitely better,
you'll probably lose more than you win.
Don't advertise your skill. Find games where the other players
are relatively weaker, and let them think they are superior.
Win as "quietly" as you can. Pointing out that you
are always winning will just chase away the weak players who
are responsible for your gains.
Playing the right game also means knowing what your comfort
level is. If you can't play the same way at a high stakes table,
you probably shouldn't be there. Choose a game where you can
play your best game - a game where you won't hesitate over a
bet you would normally make just because it seems like a lot
of money. Instead of playing to win, you'll start to play to
not lose if the stakes are too high for you.
Work your way up to higher stakes after you have some winnings
to play with. You might also want to stay at the games where
you win. You often can make more money at the lower-stakes games,
because the weaker players are there. A good player can make
some money at a $2/$4 game (In $2/$4 seven-card stud or Texas
hold'em a player can bet or raise $2 in the first two rounds,
and $4 after that). In $10/20 games and above, you start to get
more professional players, so avoid these.
One thing all poker players should do, especially when starting
out (and possibly forever), is to track their wins and losses.
A simple legal pad will work for this. Just be sure to write
down how much you lost or won every single time you play. Without
this, many players convince themselves that they are better than
they really are..
It is also good to make notes with each entry, specifying
where you played, what other players were there, and personal
conditions. The best players can have a losing night or week,
but if you notice that those nights come more often when you
have a beer or two, it could be useful information.
Watch yourself and be aware of where your strengths and weaknesses
are. If you lose money during more than half of any ten sessions,
you probably should reevaluate your play and/or find weaker players
to play against. If you can't consistently read your opponents
you probably need a different game and/or more practice at a
If you find that you play noticeably differently when you
are winning versus losing, you may not be ready to make money
at poker. Accept that you will have losing sessions - just watch
to see if they come too often. To be comfortable and play consistently,
you should have a bankroll of about 20 times the maximum bet
(some professionals say 15 times), and be ready to lose it. For
a $5/$10 game, that means you should have at least $200 when
you sit at the table.
Other Poker Tips
Know the odds. Do a bit of reading to learn how to calculate
the winning chances for each given hand. Then learn how to calculate
whether that translates into a good bet based on what is in the
pot and what you'll have to bet. Numbers matter in poker.
In Texas hold'em bet good starting hands aggressively to chase
players out. The fewer players that remain at the end, the more
likely you are to have the winning hand. For example, the statistics
say that a pair of aces will win against one other player 80%
of the time, but if four players stay in through the first two
rounds it will win only about 50% of the time. Strong bets on
a decent pair effectively scares off hands that could have become
Most professional players will tell you that you should fold
early and often. On average you should be folding about 75% of
your hands on the first betting round. Those who play almost
every hand win more hands, but lose money in the end. To win
more often, you should play a little tighter than the other players
at the table.
On the other hand, don't play too predictably. An occasional
bluff might win a hand. If it doesn't, you at least have made
your play less predictable. Wild play and bluffing are not actually
a big part of how to win when you play poker (especially limit
poker), but they have their place.