When you first start out in poker, there are so many pitfalls awaiting. Here are 10 tips to help you hit the ground running.
1. Tighten Up Facing Raises Pre-Flop
A common beginner mistake is playing the same sort of hands against a raise as you would like to raise yourself from your given position on the table. Newer players might fall into the trap of calling an early position open on a full-ring table with KTs, AJo, or 76s. These hands are very playable as the first player into the pot from middle and late position, but a raise before us must be respected and seen as a narrow range against which our equity is poor with such holdings. Make sure that there is a large gap between the quality of hands you will play as the first player into the pot, and those that you will play after a raise before you.
2. Use Position Effectively
Being in position makes an enormous difference to how playable and profitable a hand is likely to be. It is not sensible to call Q6s from the small-blind even to an open from a wide button stealing range. The lack of post-flop position and the player waiting to act behind you will ruin the expected value of a call. However, being on the Button with Q6s and having it fold round to you is often a very lucrative opportunity to put in a raise. If the blinds are just slightly too tight or slightly too passive, then the combination of picking up the pot pre-flop and favourable position if called will create a clear long-term profit from raising this hand.
3. Work with Outs not Hope
Optimism is a great thing for more experienced players as it keeps their minds open to opportunities to make money that might otherwise drift by unnoticed. Beginners, however, often take hope too far and chase draws due to the lure of hitting that magical hand, without evaluating whether or not they will get there often enough. You can then translate outs to equity using the rule of two and four. On the flop multiply your outs by four to find your rough equity in the hand. On the turn, multiply them by two. We shall see how to use this in the next tip.
4. Learn Required Equity Percentages
You need a certain amount of equity (chance of winning the pot) to call a bet. Sometimes there will be other factors distorting the picture such as how often you can win additional bets and how often you can make your opponent fold later on in the hand, but if we ignore these in order to simplify then you will need 33% equity to call a pot-sized bet and 25% to call a half-pot sized bet. Anything in between can be estimated using these numbers as benchmarks. If Villain was to shove a huge amount of money into a tiny pot then your required equity can approach 50%, but never reach it as there will always be some dead money (even if that is just the blinds).
5. Observe your Opponents
It is easy to switch off when you are not in a hand. In fact, downtime can present a valuable opportunity to gather crucial reads on the players at your table, which could end up guiding your future decisions. Look out for showdowns and make a note either mentally or in the PokerStars note box by double clicking the player in question. If you see unconventional bet-sizes, or strange lines, also take a note – this opponent is probably unbalanced in some way and offers you ways of exploitatively changing your game for the better.
6. Manage Your Bankroll
In poker there is a large amount of skill, but also a large amount of luck. The skill edge decides matters ultimately, but in the short-term, luck is the order of the day. This means that no matter how much you fancy yourself as the strongest player in a game, there is still a very reasonable chance that you will lose today in that game. The function of your bankroll is to provide a cushion for those short-term swings. Try to have at least 50 buy-ins available for long-term play in cash games and sit and gos, and 100 for multi-table tournaments where the variance is even greater.
7. Bluff Selectively
Avoid bluffing for the sole reason of wanting to win the pot at all costs. Certain opponents are very dangerous to run bluffs against so try to make sure that the time is right. For a bluff to be a better choice than checking, you will want to know that Villain is not a calling station. Moreover, you should have a hand without showdown value (meaning it will usually lose if unimproved by the river). If bluffing on earlier streets, try to favour hands with ways of improving (semi-bluffing) in case your bet gets called.
8. Do Not Multi-Task Poker with Other Activities
Scrolling through social media, chatting on the phone, and playing video games are a sure way to lose concentration and make mistakes. Poker can be slow when you’re card-dead but work on the ability to play multiple tables instead of multiple activities. Use downtime to study opponents’ tendencies or think about previous hands. When I first started out, I’d be playing guitar, eating dinner and having a conversation while playing. I soon gave up these bad habits when I decided I wanted to make this game my profession.
9. Take Responsibility for Mistakes
You have three choices when it comes to mistakes. You can ignore them to protect your ego, beat yourself up about them and create a negative association with mistakes, or, you can see them as opportunities for growth and development. Try to diagnose mistakes objectively and without judgment. Then jot down what thoughts caused the error(s) and how to avoid them in future.
10. Seek Help and Tuition
PokerStars School’s forums offer excellent opportunities to get feedback from both peers and experts. Not only should you get help with your own hands, but our weekly streams provide a great resource for building your theoretical knowledge. I stream every Tuesday and Wednesday from 7-9pm UK time. See you there!