Play the Best, Fold the Rest
The number one mistake made by nearly every beginning player is playing too many starting hands. Playing every hand you’re dealt doesn’t increase your chances of winning. More often than not, you’ll find yourself having wasted chips needlessly. And if you do make a hand with you’re sub-par cards, you always run the risk of getting beaten out by an overpair or higher flush. Stick to the top starting hands and play them aggressively. Do this, an you’ll improve your game almost instantaneously.
Check Emotion at the Door
Poker is, and always should remain, an emotionless game. When you let your emotions get in the way of your play, your stacks will suffer. There’s no question about it. Tilt, as it is referred to, can be a player’s worst nightmare. When you let your emotions get the best of you, you’re going to make bad reads, worse calls, and even worse plays. If necessary, sit out for a few hands, collect yourself, calm yourself down a bit, and then get back into the game. You’ll never be an effective poker player if you don’t know when to stand up, stretch your legs, and forget about the past.
Don’t Bluff Yourself Into Oblivion
Bluffing is fun. The adrenaline accompanied with winning a big pot with an even bigger bluff simply can’t be bested in the poker world. Truth is, we all love bluffing. That being said, however, you have to be smart with your bluffs. Bluff too much, and your opponents will start calling you out. Bluff too little, and whenever you bet, your opponents will know you have a solid hand. Find a good medium between the two, and you’ll keep your opposition in the dark - exactly where you want them.
When bluffing, however, you have to know when you’re beat. It’s better to lose a few chips than half your stack. Don’t try to muscle another player around by throwing chips into the pot needlessly. Know when you and your bluff have been beaten and cut your losses.
Never Think You’re Obligated
You will never, ever win a pot by throwing chips at it. If you have nothing, but feel you’re obligated to continue to call because you’ve already put in so many chips, you’re just setting yourself up for disaster. If you know you won’t win, fold. It’s better to lose a few chips than to lose the game - and your money!
The Art of Observation
One of the single best things a player can do to improve their game is to observe their opponents. Each player you encounter throughout your poker career will have their own persona, their own tells, their own styles of betting, raising, and, in general, playing the game. Watch out for anything that could hint to what your opponent has. Pay attention to how your opponents perform their actions, even when you’re not in the hand. Are they loose or tight? Passive or aggressive? When you know your opponents, you’ll win pots.
Know Your Stakes
Only play a game where you can afford to lose the money. Play at a level at which you’re comfortable, with stakes that fit your budget. Don’t overestimate your game. This can bankrupt you, fast. Just because you win a few low limit games doesn’t mean you should jump right into the big money tables. Remember: the higher the stakes, generally, the better the players. Set a limit for yourself. Play a few games at that limit. Once you feel comfortable moving your limit up, try it out. If you fail miserably, move back down. Give yourself a chance at a higher limit, but know when to quit.
Don’t Give it Away
Tells can single handedly destroy a player’s game. Period.
When playing poker, you have to remember that you’re being watched, just like watching poker tournaments on television. Give away enough of your hand with tells, and your opponents will know precisely what you have, and precisely what move to make.
Constantly, your opposition will be digging to find an edge over you. They’ll look at every detail of your game, picking it apart, waiting to find that one thing that will destroy you and your stack. Believe it or not, almost every physical action you make at the poker table can, ultimately, end your game. Unknowingly, you can be giving away your hand in each pot. When playing, avoid tapping or looking anxious, especially when bluffing. Avoid staring at your pocket cards and at other players. Keep your eyes focused on a single point. But, with that being said, never try to overact. Never try to act uninterested in your hand, or act as though you shouldn’t even still be in - it’s a dead giveaway for a strong hand. Never use the strategy of acting opposites - any good player will see right through it. Play your strategy, but don’t give it away.
Mix it Up
You never, ever want to remain static in a poker game. Consistency ensures predictability. Predictability ensures defeat. If you’re naturally a tight player, change it up at some points in the game. Play more aggressively, bet higher, and play more hands. Don’t let your opponents get comfortable with your playing style. Once they think they have you figured out, switch back to your original style. This will keep your opposition guessing, not knowing what to expect next. It will also keep your opponent losing chips.
Invest Your Time
Never think that you’ve learned everything you can about the game. Read books, visit forums, play new people - all these things can educate you, teaching you things you’d have never learned otherwise. Knowledge is key in poker. Learn new strategies, read some tips, and showcase them in your game. Invest your time, and you’ll never have to worry about losing invested money.
Learn From Your Mistakes
I can’t stress this enough. Mistakes can often be your best teacher. Learn what you did wrong, why you lost, and why your opponent won. Fix your mistakes and better your play.