How to Experience Poker Victories (On a More Regular Basis)
Poker is one of the most challenging casino games because it’s a game of incomplete information played against human opponents.
Many embrace this challenge because skilled players can earn a lot of money. But you also have to work really hard to become a consistent winner.
How do you develop this consistency and keep earning profits? I’ll cover several different ways, ranging from the basics to learning advanced concepts.
Use Bankroll Management to Determine Your Stakes
Good bankroll management is the root of being a successful poker player. If you don’t properly manage your bankroll, then you’re going to play in the wrong stakes and lose your money during a downswing.
The first step includes figuring out how much money you can dedicate to your bankroll. This is a simple matter of determining how much expendable income you can dedicate to poker without causing yourself any financial harm.
Next, you need to use your bankroll as the barometer for what cash game or tournament stakes you can play. Let’s look at how to do this with both poker tournaments and cash games.
Poker Tournament Bankroll
The problem with poker tournaments is that you can go a long time without cashing. Only the top 10%-15% cash in each tournament, which is why it’s so easy to suffer long dry spells, no matter how good you are.
This means that you need to be conservative with your tournament bankroll approach. The general guideline is playing stakes where you can afford at least 100 buy-ins.
Here’s an example:
- Your bankroll is $2,000.
- This means that you can play tourneys with $20 buy-ins (2,000/100).
- But you also have to account for tournament fees, which are 10% of the buy-ins.
- You’ll need to play stakes worth less than $20 when accounting for the extra $2 fees.
100 buy-ins is just the minimum recommendation on how large your tourney bankroll should be. You may need more buy-ins depending upon how conservative you are and/or if you play in large multi-table tournaments.
Some players may only play stakes where they can afford 300 buy-ins or more.
Cash Game Bankroll
Cash games are different than tournaments in that you can control your winnings more consistently. The reason is because you’re not dealing with a situation where only 10% of the players make money.
The general recommendation on choosing no-limit cash stakes is selecting a game where you can afford 30 total buy-ins. As you may know, a cash game buy-in is worth 100 big blinds.
Here’s an example of choosing stakes based on your bankroll:
- You have $3,000.
- Divide 3,000 by 30 buy-ins.
- This gives you 100.
- You can play cash games with a buy-in of $100.
- $100/100 big blinds = $1 big blind.
- You should play $0.50/$1 no-limit cash games.
Why Do You Need So Much Money?
Having at least 100 tournament buy-ins or 30 cash game buy-ins seems excessive. But the truth is that this is totally necessary due to the luck element (a.k.a. variance) in poker.
Regardless of how good you are, you’ll still deal with the luck of the cards. Even professional players suffer downswings and can be beaten by inferior opponents when the cards aren’t going in their favor.
The key is that you have a large enough bankroll that you can deal with short-term variance until luck starts going your way again.
If you’re good enough at the limits you’re playing, then you’ll continue making profits and win back your losses and more.
Learn Poker Strategy Basics
I strongly recommend that you spend at least a few hours learning poker strategy basics before playing for real money. If you’re already playing for real money and haven’t studied strategy, I suggest you learn the basics before hitting the tables again.
I’m going to cover some important fundamentals below, including folding, table position, pot odds, hand equity, implied pot odds, reverse implied odds, and game selection.
Become Comfortable with Folding
The first thing that any poker player needs to understand is the importance of folding. This is especially the case at tables with 6 or more players, because you’re dealing with multiple opponents who could have good hands.
The common tendency among most poker players is to limp into pots with marginal cards. The reason is because folding is boring, and they want to see if their hand can improve.
This seems harmless in theory because limping, or the action of calling the minimum bet, seems like an inexpensive way to see the flop. But the problem is that most poker players are good enough to raise and push limpers of the pot.
This leaves you forced to call larger bets with subpar hands, or fold and lose your bet. In either case, you’re dealing with a scenario where it’s more profitable to fold over the long term than it is to call.
Here’s an example:
- You’re sitting in early position with JT.
- You want to call the big blind and see if you can turn this into a straight draw.
- But if you call, there are aggressive players behind you that might raise.
- You’re then forced into either calling with JT, or folding and losing your big blind bet.
Folding won’t make you any money. But the key is that it saves you chips by throwing away garbage hands.
Know How Table Position Relates to Hand Strength
I just discussed how the most important poker play is folding. Of course, you also have to play hands if you’re ever going to win money.
Any Texas hold’em player can play strong when they have hands like pocket aces, kings, queens, jacks, and AK. But how do you know when it’s a good time to play suited connectors like T9 or gap hands like KJ?
This is where table position helps determine what hands you should play. Table position breaks down into three main categories:
- Early position
- Middle position
- Late position
Late position is the best spot, because you’re acting towards the end of each round. This gives you an opportunity to see other players’ bet sizes and judge their hand strength.
You can open up your hand range more in late position because you have more information to work with.
Middle position calls on you to be more conservative with hand selection. But you can still watch early position opponents and play a semi-large hand range.
Early position requires much stronger hands, because most other players will be acting after you. Beginners should stick to premium hands ranging from pocket aces to pocket jacks, plus AK.
You might open up your range more as you gain experience. You’ll also need to play more hands in early position on smaller tables with six or fewer players.
But don’t do this until you’ve developed a better feel for the game and profiling your opponents.
Study Your Opponents
Folding a hand doesn’t give you the right to stop paying attention to the game. After all, this represents the best time to sit back and watch how your opponents are playing.
You can then build profiles on them and use this info to make tough calls, raises, and folds down the stretch. Here are some things that you want to keep in mind when watching other players:
- Their bet sizes in different table positions.
- How aggressive or tight they are.
- What hands they’ve taken to the showdown.
- If they’re making baffling plays.
- If they limp in or appear weak in any other way.
The truth is that you won’t really know what your opponents are doing until you see some showdown hands. But you still need to pay attention to their moves on each street, so you can decide what type of bets they make and how aggressively they play.
Size Your Bets Correctly
You should have a plan behind every bet you make. And this plan has to be carried out through proper bet sizing in various situations.
Here are few examples of bet sizing:
- You need to get max value out of the top hand without forcing your opponent to fold.
- You have a premium pre-flop hand and want to isolate an opponent.
- You’re holding a marginal hand on the flop, but you want to bluff an opponent out of the pot without taking too much risk.
No beginning poker player will be an expert on bet sizing right away. But with time, you’ll improve at accomplishing your goals through wagers.
Make Yourself Hard to Read
Much is made about being an unpredictable poker player who’s hard to read. But how do you stay true to good poker strategy while still remaining a mystery to opponents?
Here are few tips that can make you hard to read without getting foolish:
- Use the same pre-flop raise from every position (e.g. 3x big blind).
- Play your strong and weak hands in a similar manner.
- Never show cards when it’s not required.
- Play most of your post-flop hands in a similar manner.
Using a uniform pre-flop bet is one of the biggest keys to masking your play. Players will have a very difficult time figuring you out if you’re always making the same pre-flop raises.
Playing both marginal and strong hands the same way is another way to baffle opponents. This also greatly improves your ability to pull off bluffs.
One good way to play post-flop hands the same way is by remaining aggressive on all streets. This means betting the same with a set of aces as you would with a pair of kings.
Of course, any of these strategies should be adjusted based on the situation. But these are just ideas that can help camouflage your play.
Pot Odds and Hand Equity
Reading opponents and making yourself unpredictable are only parts of being a successful player. You also have to know how to use poker math to decide when to make difficult calls.
And the first concepts that you should learn include pot odds and hand equity. Using these two aspects together will help you determine when it’s profitable to call with a drawing hand.
I’ll begin with pot odds, which is the percentage of the pot that you must contribute.
Pot odds can be expressed through either standard odds or percentages. I like using the latter, and will do so in my examples below:
- The pot is worth $50
- Your opponent bets $10
- This makes the pot $60
- You must call $10 to remain in the hand
- You divide 10 by 60 to find out what percentage you’re supplying
- Your pot odds are 16.7%
The next thing that you need to figure out is your number of outs, or remaining cards that will make your hand. Here’s an example of how this works:
- You have an open-ended straight draw
- Four cards on either end of the straight will make your hand
- This gives you a total of eight outs to complete a straight
Finally, you need to use these outs to calculate your hand equity, or the odds of you completing the hand. Here’s how to do this:
- The hand equity formula involves multiplying outs by 2, then adding 1.
- Let’s use the eight outs in the open-ended straight draw
- ([8 outs x 2] + 1) = 17
- Your hand equity is 17%
The final step is to compare your pot odds to the hand equity. Your hand equity must be greater than the pot odds in order for this to be a profitable long-term call.
Using the 17% hand equity and 16.7% pot odds from our examples, you can see that this would be a good call.
Sometimes a call can still be profitable even if your pot odds suggest it’s not. This brings me to another useful concept in implied odds.
Implied odds take into account the total potential winnings from a hand versus what you must spend to make a call. The difficult thing about implied odds is that there’s no perfect math formula like with pot odds.
Instead, you need to take into account your opponent’s tendencies and how willing they’ll be to bet money on future streets. You’ll likely find better implied odds when you’re playing against a calling station or maniac.
Here’s an example of how you determine implied odds:
- You and another opponent are on the flop
- They raise $30
- Your pot odds are slightly below what’s necessary for a call
- Your opponent is a calling station with $100 in their stack
- You feel that they’ll call your raises if you do make your hand
- This adds value to your pot odds and makes this call worthwhile
One thing to be careful of is overvaluing your implied odds. Don’t use the potential to make money on future streets as an excuse to call with bad pot odds.
You need the right mix of conditions to call based on implied odds. These include an opponent who’ll call/raise if you make your hand, the type of hand that fools opponents on earlier streets (i.e., suited connectors), and a profile that keeps other players guessing.
Reverse Implied Odds
The final level is reverse implied odds, which considers what you stand to lose if you make your hand and the opponent has better cards.
Reverse implied odds come into play when you’ve decided that a call is worth making based on implied odds. Here’s an example:
- You’re in a multi-way pot with 7h 8d
- The flop is 6c 9d Ac
- You have an open-ended straight draw
- But there’s also a potential flush draw on the board
- You need to consider that an opponent could make a better hand here
Sometimes the situations where you lose the most money are times where you make a drawing hand and continue betting/raising. Then your heart is broken when you make it to the showdown and see that an opponent has a better hand.
Reverse implied odds offer a good way to calculate this risk and determine whether or not you should call based on implied odds.
Chances are that you shouldn’t if the board is offering the potential for a superior hand.
Use Good Game Selection
Poker is made easier when you’re playing against bad opponents. This is where game selection becomes crucial, because you want to choose the softest tables possible.
And how you choose games will differ based on whether you’re in an online or land-based poker room.
Online poker sites used to allow you to use game selection software, which analyzes and finds soft games. But most poker sites have banned these programs because some skilled players refuse to play against anybody except inferior opponents (a.k.a. bum-hunting).
You can still find soft tables, though, with minimal research.
and looking at the flop-viewed percentage and average pot size.
A high flop-viewed percentage means that there are bunch of limpers who aren’t very aggressive pre-flop. Large pot sizes mean that players are willing to make big bets when they do see future streets.
If you see an online table with high numbers in these categories, you can watch the table to confirm that it’s indeed soft.
Some of the same principles can be applied to finding easy games in land-based poker rooms.
You can walk around the room and watch tables to see if players are playing lots of hands or being tight. You’ll also see how aggressive or weak the table is as a whole.
Of course, there’s no substitute for having played against opponents previously. This is where note-taking during an online session or after a land-based session is really helpful.
You can then use these notes to recall the opponent’s tendencies.
Continue Learning Strategy Concepts
The topics that I’ve covered so far only scratch the surface of what you need to learn to be a consistent poker winner. A truly successful long-term player will continue learning strategy over the course of their poker days.
And you can use several ways to boost your strategy knowledge and learn more advanced poker concepts. Here’s a look at a few different study methods.
Twitch has become one of the most popular poker strategy tools.
This service lets poker players live stream their online poker sessions. And they can discuss anything from strategy to life on the tournament circuit during Twitch streams.
Of course, the strategy aspect is what’s most important to this discussion. And the good news is that you can get plenty of free strategy from professional players.
More and more poker pros are using Twitch to reach their audience. And they can either make money by offering free streams with ad-based revenue, or by offering subscription-only content.
You have to pay for the subscription content. But luckily, most pros deliver more than enough free ad-based sessions.
Poker training videos used to be more popular before Twitch streams came along. But the latter has supplanted poker training because it’s free and many top players are using Twitch.
Nevertheless, poker training remains a popular way to learn strategy.
These sites offer a large collection of strategy videos from experienced players. And the videos cover a wide range of poker strategy concepts that cater to both beginning and advanced rounders.
The subscription fees aren’t too high, with most sites charging $30 per month for access to their videos.
Poker books used to be the predominant way to learn strategy before consumer internet became more widespread. But this isn’t to say that poker books can’t still help you improve today.
The advantage of books is that they put you into the mindset of an established pro. Poker pros can go much deeper with books than they’re able to through a Twitch stream or training video.
Online and live pros are still writing paperbacks and ebooks today, meaning you can find helpful advice on the modern poker game.
Facebook Poker Study Groups
Facebook groups are nice because they allow you to connect with likeminded poker players and discuss strategy concepts.
This is great because you can bounce ideas off fellow players and also discuss how you should play tough hands.
Another benefit to Facebook strategy groups is that they’re free to join. This offers a nice alternative to buying books or subscribing to poker training sites if you’d rather keep your strategy free.
Poker forums are backlogged with endless information on playing difficult hands, strategy concepts, and bankroll management.
All you have to do is visit a popular poker forum like TwoPlusTwo and go the strategy section.
Also, be sure to join a forum so that you can use their full range of search tools. These tools will allow you to look up any number of strategy topics.
Analyze Poker Sessions Afterward
One more piece of the puzzle to consistent poker success involves post-session analysis.
This is crucial because you want to reinforce what you’re doing right, and more importantly figure out mistakes that you’ve made during sessions.
Here are a couple different ways that you can analyze your sessions after the fact.
Some online poker sites offer hand histories, which are detailed logs of the hands you play in recent sessions.
Hand histories aren’t exactly the most exciting subject matter. But they’re crucial when working through tough hands.
A hand history allows you to go back and review hands that you’ve played online. You can use this info to decide whether you could’ve played hands better in certain spots.
Keep in mind that some internet poker rooms have done away with hand histories as part of a recreational friendly campaign. But you’ll still find other poker sites that have these helpful tools.
Replay Tough Situations in Your Head
Hand histories don’t exist in live poker rooms, meaning you have to do post-session analysis the old-fashioned way.
Nevertheless, replaying hands in your head can be an equally effective way of improving. This is especially the case if you mentally replay hands immediately after your session.
The more time that you spend thinking about poker away from the table, the better you’ll play in tough spots in the future.
It’s hard to express in a single post everything that’s needed to be a consistent poker winner. But what I’ve discussed here should get you off to a good start.
The rest depends upon how much time you put into learning strategy and reviewing your sessions afterward.
Another matter involves determining when you’re winning consistently. Given the upswings and downswings in poker, it’s difficult to figure out whether your wins are due to skill or just luck.
But if you play a large sample size at certain stakes, you’ll have a much easier time determining if you’re successful. Generally speaking, you need 50,000 to 100,000 cash hands at a certain limit before you can be confident in your winning.
Assuming you’re beating certain stakes, then it’s time to move up the ladder and try the next challenge. And hopefully you continue experiencing success and moving up in stakes.