To become a better poker player, there is no substitute for practicing. But just what should you be doing to maximize each poker session in order to learn and become the player you want to be? How can you make the most of each session?
Before you set out on your quest for poker stardom, first consider what you want to achieve and then go about taking steps to get there. Poker is a psychological game as much as anything and playing in the right frame of mind will put you in good shape to improve. You should be well rested and ready to play – and if you’re playing a tournament, make sure you’ve given yourself enough time.
Take things steady at first. Be patient and work towards your goals. Ultimately you want to become a winning player and that comes from analyzing your game, watching opponents, and seeing how successful players give themselves the upper hand.
Playing too many starting hands is a mistake many new players make. The temptation is to play every hand, but any experienced player will tell you this can only lead to problems. Don’t be surprised if you’re only playing one hand in ten and folding the rest. Poker is a game of patience. Wait for ‘premium’ hands such as high pairs or strong aces (ace-king or ace-queen) and don’t be afraid to fold if you think you’re losing. You’ll notice your results improving almost immediately. Later on you can start to add hands – like small pocket pairs, or 8-9 of the same suit - that you can play depending on position.
Now, position – this is crucial. Being on the ‘button’ – in other words, when you’re the last player to ‘act’ in a hand – gives you the advantage of being able to watch your opponents act before you. If they’ve called, raised or even re-raised, this gives you an idea of what cards they could possibly be holding.
Another weapon in your poker armoury is found next to the chat box. By clicking on the ‘Notes’ tab, you can make observations on your opponents as you play. They may be a tight, a loose player (playing lots of starting hands), aggressive (regularly betting before and after the flop) or weak (folding when another player bets or raises). You can include anything you think is worth noting down and, as your ability to analyze the game improves, you can be more elaborate and exact with your judgements.
Of course improving comes at a price – not just your play money chips. Sometimes you’ll think you’ve been incredibly unlucky, for instance, when your pocket Aces are beaten by someone holding 5-8 when he hits two pair on the turn and river. When this happens, you have to remember that it’s not back luck – it’s just statistics. Good hands do get beaten, but for every time it happens to you it will happen to your opponents too. Don’t let this put you ‘on tilt’ – where you begin to lose your judgement. It’s not easy, as you’ll discover, but it’s another marker between good and bad play.
But most important of all in these early stages is to enjoy playing. It’s no use doing all of the above if it becomes a chore and puts you off logging on. Introduce different skills to your game gradually and learn to master each one. You’ll soon notice the difference and this can only make playing poker more fun. That can’t be bad, and enjoying it is a good sign you’re starting to improve.