The intricate balance of skill and luck involved in the game can make it a frustrating task to improve your game at times.
Like that of alchemists trying to produce gold from base metals, the search for the enigmatic combination of strategies that lead to success can prove challenging.
But the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is out there. There are a number of consistently successful players, and these iconic characters are the ones to aspire to.
With enough practice, a good brain and perhaps just a little luck, you could be the next Daniel Negreanu or Doyle Brunson, smiling knowingly as the media eagerly snap you picking up your umpteenth bracelet.
Yet for every J.C. Tran, there are a million braying saddlebag carriers paying their dollars up the poker pyramid to the guys at the top.
Here are a few tips to hopefully turn you from a green, inexperienced beginner to a competent player, capable of earning a crust, or even a whole loaf, out of the game.
Know the Basics
First off, you should be fully au fait with the mechanics of the game. If you aren't aware a flush beats a straight, then do some homework and find this out. It will be an expensive lesson sitting at a cash game and calling a big bet on the river of a K♥ Q♦ Q♣ 2♠ K♣ board with pocket fours, proudly announcing "Three pair!" before the dealer ships it to the guy with A-4 because his kicker plays.
The button, blinds, betting structures, antes - you should get familiar with all these terms and how they work before you launch yourself into any real-money games.
Also you will want to have a basic understanding of probability. Whilst you may not be a bloated math geek, you will nonetheless want to know that two overcards are roughly 50-50 versus an underpair pre-flop and that a flush draw is generally about 40% to hit.
PokerListings' built-in calculator can help you see exactly how two hands might fare against each other and drill these necessary percentages into your brain and game.
This will assist you in making correct calls and plays based on the likelihood of you winning, taking into account pot odds and implied odds.
Harrington on Hold'Em by Dan Harrington and Theory of Poker by David Sklansky are two recommended reads that can help you learn some of these concepts.
Get a Bankroll
Easier said than done, but it is a good idea not to splash your last thousand bucks on a poker tournament when variance suggests you are more likely to lose than to win big, even if you are a talented player.
Invest small chunks of your bankroll in little games to start with, till you have a roll that is capable of surviving the slings and arrows of misfortune and variance. If you play good poker and keep within suggested bankroll requirements, it reduces the chances of going broke before you have even had a chance to take a tilt at a big tournament.
Here is a rough guide to suggested bankroll limits. Stick to it fairly tightly and you should avoid going busto.
A fairly obvious point, but it's very rare a player will be so gifted that he will instantly start making superb, winning plays right off the bat. It generally takes hundreds of thousands of hands in the bank before you will start to recognize particular situations and approach them with aplomb and in a winning fashion.
Playing STTs and MTTS is a relatively cheap way to get to play out a lot of hands without a bankroll-crippling outlay. Sit down and put the hours in to watch the profits grow.
One downfall for many otherwise gifted poker players is the problems associated with that scourge of the bad poker player - tilt.
A bad beat can often precipitate a loss of head and consequentially a loss of profits, as rational thinking is thrown out the window in a fit of pique.
Even highly successful players like Mike Matusow have their moments where it all goes wrong. You will want to make these as few and far between as possible.
This article delves into some of the reasons behind tilt and possible solutions. A player like Patrik Antonius rarely tilts, remaining calm and collected regardless of the vagaries of luck and concentrating simply on playing the best poker he can all the time.
Checking the Numbers
Monitoring and tracking your performance will help you see how you doing, and doing so in a systematic, methodical way will ensure you know if you are winning. Over a long period these numbers can be analyzed to ascertain how well you're running and whether you may need to change strategy.
A site such as PokerTracker will help you detail your wins and losses and show up potential holes in your game. It can also show you lots of statistical information which, while at first a little complex, can ultimately reveal which areas of your game are weakest and need some polish.
All in all looking at these numbers smartly can only help to turn you from donkey to shark.
There are so many different resources for poker advice out there for you to use and peruse in order to strengthen your game. You should take full advantage of them.
First off, you should probably plow through Harrington on Hold'Em, Theory of Poker and Super/System, as learning the concepts talked about in these books is likely to improve your play.
There are also various online poker tutorials, for example CardRunners, where poker experts talk you through particular winning strategies.
You can also look through the PokerListings strat articles. Thinking about the game and working through different scenarios will get your brain used to thinking and acting in a logical manner and make taking chips off weaker players an easier job.
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Poker's a fun game, but it's even more fun when you're winning. Join up with an online site, and take some steps to improve your game and turn what is a fun hobby into a profitable one. You never know - some way down the line it could be you sitting there smiling at the final table of a World Series event, holding two bricks of dollar bills up for the cameras with a big toothy grin on your face.