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So, you’ve decided to pick up poker. Probably heard a story of a newbie going millionaire overnight or saw the flashy lives of professional poker players. Now you’ve got so many questions. Is it possible? Where do I start? Do I have what it takes to change my life by playing poker? Well, I cannot guarantee you overnight success, nor can I tell you whether “you’ve got it in you.” And for sure I cannot teach you poker in one post. What I can do is give you the basics of what you need to make it in the shark tank that is poker.
The poker mindset
Poker is a mind game. You might’ve seen players flipping chips between their fingers or dress in extravagant clothing. None of these gimmicks are what poker is all about. Unless you’ve got control over your mind no amount of monkey business will make you a winner.
The biggest and most important tournaments, the ones that pay out big time, sometimes run for weeks with a ton of different events that you get to choose from. f you are after the big money, a. k. a. the main event, you should be ready to play for several days. This will put a serious strain on your mind and ability to concentrate. Same goes for online games. Spending long hours behind a screen trying to make out other players’ styles and habits is an exhausting mental load. So, if you get distracted easily, work on your concentration before hitting the felt, but also remember to have fun. Being concentrated is not the same as being so uptight that steam starts coming out of your ears.
Faking confident play will get you made out even before you’ve picked up your cards. When you genuinely feel confident, it will project naturally. Being sure in your abilities will make you harder to read and cause other players to doubt their superiority over you. You’ll get bonus points if you can vary your appearance. Occasionally pretending to slip up can cause your rivals to become overconfident and let their guard down. But, for now, stick to only projecting confidence. If you are a newbie in poker, slipping up on purpose can turn into a real slip up which will slide you down the greasy slope of tilt (more on what is tilt in a little bit).
Watch your step
There’s nothing wrong with being a noob, and every poker player has been one at some point, but this is a merciless game. The moment more experienced players notice that you are essentially a playing ATM they’ll come after you. Nothing personal, it’s how the game rolls. To avoid this happening to you try to not be too creative in your games at least in the beginning. Especially in live games, it’s a good idea to stay vigilant to how you play and how you act. Try to not give away too many cues about your emotions or hands, but also don’t try too hard. Find the balance between being aware of yourself but don’t be so uptight that everybody on the table learns that they’ve got a rookie at the table.
Building your skills
To a newbie, poker is a game of luck. In practice, poker is a game of skills and while there is some luck involved it’s no more than in, say, basketball. “But it all depends on what cards you receive,” you might oppose. Well, say that a basketball team lost their star player due to an injury. You might argue that the team has got bad luck and has no chance of winning the league. In fact, having “bad” cards leaves room to show true skills.
Practice, practice, practice
Playing the game will show you all the intricacies and let you experience a variety of situations. The more you play, the more hand combinations you’ll see, witnessing how they play out. This will give you the advantage of knowing whether a hand is worth playing or it’s better to wait for the next round. But don’t let poker take over your life. Set a time limit and stick to it.
Sit down and observe
Watching poker games will let you learn from the best and observe how they play their hands. Plus, you see all the players’ cards. This will give you a sense of what is possible in terms of probabilities. With time you’ll begin to appreciate how much you didn’t know about the game when you are playing. For example, newbies might get so excited from landing a pocket of aces that they bet like crazy without considering that the shared cards give another player a considerable chance of drawing a flush.
Do your homework
Learning how to calculate probabilities and build playing models sounds boring but will pay off when you win over all the other players who are too lazy to go deep on their training. There are plenty of articles online, and there are plenty of books as well. They vary in difficulty so consider your level of mastery of the game and pick your learning sources so as not to get ahead of yourself. An excellent place to start if you are a newbie is this 888poker page on how to play poker.
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Tilt is your enemy
Players go into tilt when their emotions run so high or so low that they lose rational thinking. Tilt can happen after a big win or a devastating loss. It can also happen due to exhaustion of if a player gets too hard on himself after making a mistake. Can you fight it?
“Grounding” is a technique that psychologists suggest that people do when they feel like emotions are getting the best of them. You know how getting into a heated argument makes your body tense, your face gets red and hot, and despite feeling like a raging bull, you can’t help it? Well, making a big hit or losing big time on the poker table can also manifest in a serious emotional and physiological overdrive. To counteract it you need to physically and mentally find a place to attach to.
Another way to stand up to tilt is to set up boundaries and stick to them. If you are prone to getting overemotional or haven’t yet built confidence and concentration set some rules about your conduct during the tournament. For example, you can tell yourself “if I lose five consecutive hands I’ll sit out the next two no matter what.” With time you’ll learn how to manage your emotions better and will resort to limiting tactics less and less. Keep in mind, though, that even the big pros can get swept up by emotions – they are humans like every other player.
It’s OK to quit
If your tilt is unmanageable, you should call it quits. Leaving a session won’t make you more money, but at least you’ll not lose anymore. Plus, you’ll get a chance to build your composure for the next time you sit at the table. Poker is not going anywhere so you’ll get plenty of opportunities to do better. Quitting a session doesn’t make you a “quitter” or “weak”; it makes you smart. You don’t want to be late on your rent because you were too ashamed to quit a game while in tilt, do you?
Online vs. live games
Whether you’d like to play poker face to face or prefer the comfort of your couch, there are intricacies to both types of playing.
With mobile gaming surging it’s easier than ever to play wherever you are (provided it’s legal). You can be at home or on a plane heading to a live tournament and still get your shot of poker excitement by whipping out your smartphone.
Playing online doesn’t mean that you’ll miss on big-shot tournaments. There are plenty of online events with big prize pools, and since you are not anchored to a specific location, you can take part in more events than if you had to attend them physically.
Another benefit of online gaming is that you can play under a pseudonym, so when you hit the big win, you wouldn't have to deal with the sudden appearance of over a dozen relatives and “friends” who all of a sudden remembered about you.
The excitement of playing at a live table is undeniable. There’s more thrill in seeing people’s emotions and trying to maintain your poker face. Plus, you get to visit beautiful casinos, travel to exotic destinations and meet with people from all walks of life.
But, to experience this joy means that you’ll have to reach deeper into your pockets than if you play online. A middle ground is to hit the local casino, thus saving on plane tickets and hotel rooms.
Playing live also means that everybody on the table will be watching your moves and if you are playing at a big tournament, you might even get a TV camera in your face. This publicity might be quite unnerving if you are the shy type or don’t feel confident yet in your abilities.
See, there are plenty of things to consider if you’d like to make money from poker. But it all comes down to how well you prepare mentally. Build your confidence, hone your skills and play responsibly.