19 Good Poker Habits to Build Your Game Around

By J.W. Paine in Poker
| July 21, 2022 11:35 am PDT
Good Poker Habits, Thumbs Up, Green Check mark, Poker cards

The number of good and bad habits associated with poker are legion, with good and bad mixed in relatively equal measure. In fact, every good poker habit is the natural obverse of a bad poker habit.

For example, keeping a poker face throughout your play is a good habit, while grinning and chortling when you get a good hand is bad.

What follows are some of the best poker habits to cultivate (some require more study and practice than others).

I’ve also added a few bad poker habits that fall outside the two-sides-of-the-coin argument but are worth learning to avoid. If you read and heed them all, your poker play will be better, whether you choose the poker room across town or an top poker sites as close as your laptop.

Pre-Game Poker Habits

Do you have a pre-game habit before a game of poker? If you don’t, I highly suggest following some of these tips to help you win a game or two.

1Play Only After a Good Night’s Sleep

Whether you have a good excuse for not sleeping—maybe you were up half the night playing at the top US online casinos, for instance—or not, the lack of sleep means you’re not going to be in any shape mentally or physically for your poker room battles.

Breakfast spread

2Eat a Light Breakfast

Everybody wants to order everything on the IHOP menu, including biscuits and gravy, a breakfast steak and eggs, a short stack with butter and syrup, and maybe a side of hash browns. Don’t be that guy. Overeating—particularly for the first meal of the day—can make you drowsy for hours to come.

And sleeping through the first two hours of your play at the $5/$10 NL table is, how you say?—ah yes: embarrassing.

3Dress Comfortably

Nothing says “you’ll be sorry” better than wearing a new pair of shoes or a shirt and tie to the poker game. You want to wear loose-fitting clothes and comfortable shoes to the poker room. Maybe not your jammies, but as close to that level of comfort as you can get without gaining the attention of the security guards.

4Make Sure You Have an Adequate Bankroll

Wad of cash

Nothing says n00b better than not buying in with the proper amount. Sitting down at a $1/$2 NL Hold’em table with a hundred-dollar buy-in may represent your faith in your own poker-playing skills, but the real poker players at the table know that such foolhardiness is all too soon punished by variance and chance.

That skimpy $100 buy-in can disappear quite suddenly in a no-limit game. You’ve been at the table for 20 minutes and already have to re-buy?

Make it a habit to buy in with at least 100 times the big blind at that table. So the $1/$2 NL table should mean you buy $200 in chips to play a cash game.

5Set a Money Limit Now

You also need to set a hard and fast limit on how much of your bankroll you are prepared to lose during the day’s gaming.

I’ve found the best way to do this is only to bring what I can comfortably lose that day. Embarrassment at the thought of doing the Walk of Shame over to the ATM is enough to keep me from easing out a few hundred more to “make up for what I lost.”

6Choose Your Table Wisely

People choosing their poker table

If you have a regular poker room you frequent, then you probably also have a pretty good idea of the playing foibles of the other regulars.

If you’ve played frequently enough in that poker room, you’ll know which table holds the most inadequate players (compared to you, that is)—and that’s the table for you.

If you need to wait a few minutes for a seat to open up, then so be it.

Be Kind To Your Health

Poker can be so much fun – especially when you’re winning – that you often forget you’re a real, living person. As much as it may hinder your hot streak, stepping away from the table and taking a breath can actually be beneficial to your poker game in the long run.

Here are a few things to keep in mind.

7Take Regular Breaks

Some poker players like to stand up often, walk around their chairs, and sit back down again. Some say this is to change their luck; others do not explain but seem a bit livelier when they retake their seat.

Whatever it takes, now and then, you’ll want to get your blood circulating more than it does while seated.

8Sit Up Straight

Your parents were right. Good posture is healthier for you. Bad posture can be painful when held for an extended interval—and nothing is longer than a poker session. Slouching and hunching your shoulders can result in lasting back pain—not to mention that you look like a pile of dirty laundry when you do it.

People cheering with alcohol

9Avoid Booze

Drinking is one of the perks of adulthood, and nothing makes an evening on the town more enjoyable than that sweet, sweet glow of a good buzz.

But you’re not out for an enjoyable evening. You’re here to play poker. Drinking makes everyone sloppy and dull-witted. You may think you’re in control, but you’re mistaken.

It’s Just Routine

Apart from giving yourself a mental break away from the table, your brain could use a good cleanse when you’re playing, too. There is a checklist of things you should be filing in your head, and that includes the way you check (and memorize) your cards.

10Arrange and Check Your Cards Methodically

Get in the habit of always arranging your hole cards the same way on the table in front of you. Do this consistently. And when you check the value of your hole cards, do it carefully so as not to reveal them to your neighbors.

11Memorize Your Hole Cards Once You Look at Them

Hole cards

Another excellent habit to develop is only looking at your hole cards once and briefly. Pausing to glance at your cards multiple times during the hand can suggest that you’re just confirming that you’ve got a real barnburner here, but in reality, it is seen as a sign that you’re considering a fold.

And again, let me emphasize that you only look at your hole cards once. It’s two cards. How hard can memorizing them be? If you’ve forgotten them in the first few minutes of play, maybe your head’s not in the game.

12Protect Your Pocket Cards

Once you’ve glanced at your hole cards (and committed them to memory with that single glance), you should now place them neatly in front of you. Some people put a poker chip atop these pocket cards to ensure the hand is not mistaken for a fold.

13Keep Your Chips Stacked and Organized

It is a common courtesy and good poker conduct to keep your chips stacked neatly and like denominations. It makes it easier for everyone at the table to know what you’re playing with—but more importantly, it makes you aware of what you’re playing with.

Unless you are Rain Man and can accurately tell everyone how many toothpicks dropped on the floor, keep your chips in neat stacks that you can quickly count. It’s not true what they say about never counting your money after the game. If Kenny Rogers were such a fount of great poker advice, where’s his WSOP bracelet?

The Game’s Afoot

There are a few more habits you want to make for when you play poker, and it has everything to do with maximizing your efforts and playing efficiently.

14Resting Poker Face

Different poker faces

We all have a “resting face.” Some of us (like you and me) are blessed with an attractive resting face. The rest of the world must soldier on with whatever they got stuck with.

But whatever your resting face is, that is the one you must wear throughout every poker session. The beauty of the resting poker face (see what I did there?) is that it is naturally occurring and, as such, requires no training or practice to manifest.

But you need to know what it feels like, so look in the mirror and imagine you’re posing for your passport photo. Remember: ”No smiles.”

15Count the Pot

Unless you’re already doing this, counting the pot will take some practice—both to do accurately and to get to the point where you can do it quickly and instinctively.

And before you claim that nobody but savants and geniuses can do that, remember that dealers—particularly those in fixed-limit and pot-limit games—tend to know exactly how much is in the pot.

Now you have something to do during all those hands you’re not playing.

16Minimize Uncertainty

Poker is a game of risk of uncertainty, and the long-term winners are those who are best at minimizing that uncertainty.

That makes fold time the absolute best time to practice your out-counting and your odds-calculating, instead of pondering whether fish ever get thirsty or playing Candy Crush while the others battle for supremacy at the poker table, use the time constructively.

This is also the perfect time to practice counting the pot.

Consider how many outs your folded hand had to make a winning hand. At each street, reevaluate your count. Also, calculate the pot odds—the amount the pot needs to be to make a call worthwhile. Once you’ve acquired that skill so that it becomes second nature, you’ll find that calculating pot odds and even implied pot odds gets enormously easier to do.

17Always Pause Before Acting—Then Act Decisively

If you’re in the hand, when it comes to your turn to act—take a moment, and then do it. The object here is to give yourself a good, lucid moment before you commit to any particular action, whether it be to fold, to raise, or to call. Don’t make a production out of it. Just give it a beat, then act.

Observing your competition closely

18Pay Close Attention to the Other Players

While you’re not practicing counting the pot, be sure to use your downtime to carefully clock the play of the others at the poker table. First, take note of how they perform the various bits of business taking place during regular play. Do they look at their cards first, or only after watching the other players look at them?

Do they talk infrequently but occasionally burst into chatter or jokes—outbursts that seem concurrent with them having a winning hand? Hmmm.

19Take Notes After Post Game

Unless you have an eidetic memory and a Hannibal Lecter-style “memory palace,” you’ll want to keep a diary or some other written record outlining the day’s play and those people you played against. We’re not talking Great Expectations narrative here, just a simple but complete outline of the days play and the participants.

Make sure you write clearly enough to understand it later, too. My handwriting is so horrifyingly bad one of my teachers in grade school told me I put the curse in cursive.

Okay, I made that up, but if your handwriting is poor, consider using some electronic device to record your written thoughts forever.

Bad Habits to Avoid in Poker

In addition to the dark side obverse to each of the good habit tips above, there are several singularly poker tendencies to avoid at the poker table.

1. Prematurely Preparing to Fold

Suppose you have the bad habit of starting your fold business before it is your turn to acct.

In that case, you’re doing two things—you’re giving the rest of the table an indication of your intentions before you should—and you’re also telling the rest of the table that whenever you don’t do this, you have a betting hand—again, all before you should.

2. Counting Chips Before Your Turn to Act

Reaching for your chips and starting to count out a stack before it is your turn to act is a sure way to telegraph your wagering intentions. This is both bad poker etiquette and a bad poker habit.

3. Telling Tales

Do you talk or joke at the table, but almost always only when you have a good hand? Stop doing that. Find someone you trust and have them observe you in a game.

Sure, you’ve watched WSOP videos of tournament play and assessed the habits of professional poker players as they play. The problem with that is tournaments are not cash games.

4. Gambling

Playing poker is no more a gamble than flying a plane. Of course, there is risk involved, but that risk is calculable and controllable. So the worst thing a poker player can do is drift off to play craps or roulette.

What—You think Vegas suddenly repealed the law about the house always wins? No, it did not. Poker, like flying, demands constant vigilance and a surprisingly arduous amount of study—but in both cases, the rewards are soft landings and the raking-in of pots.

If you must play something besides poker, try something with the lowest house edge, like live dealer casinos.

Forming Good Habits in Poker

Room full of poker players

Remember well that building good poker habits requires time and effort, but all the good habits listed above will pay off in future games. Some of the good habits I’ve noted above are easy to acquire, while others will take time and effort. But all of the good habits are sound poker advice.

Ditto for the bad habits to avoid—and even better, they are bad habits that are pretty easy to stop.

While you’re working on your math skills to support some of the more challenging good habits I’ve noted above, be sure to find one of the more most trusted online casinos where you can concentrate on single-issue habits like calculating pot odds and determining your hand’s outs.

Good luck!

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