You’re not going to learn how to be a profitable poker player in five minutes. But you can learn the best way to start your journey toward playing profitable poker in a short amount of time.
If your goal is to eventually be a winning poker player, you need to narrow your focus. You have to become a master in one area. While this isn’t easy, it’s something that you can do.
But until you become a master in your chosen poker area, the most important thing is to protect your bankroll. Fortunately, this isn’t hard to do if you follow the steps in this article.
1 – Pick One Game and One Variation
In many ways, it’s fortunate that you’re a new poker player. You have the opportunity to make important choices before you make too many mistakes.
The most important choice at this point is to pick an area to specialize in and eventually master.
It’s better to master one variant of poker and ignore all of the rest than try to become good at more than one variation. This is true in almost anything in life that you want to master.
The game variation that most new poker players pick is no limit Texas Hold’em. Tournaments are popular, but cash games are a close second. These two formats are the easiest games to find, but they’re not the best options for new poker players.
I recommend focusing on either Texas Hold’em limit cash games or Omaha high only limit cash games.
Omaha cash games are more difficult to find than Texas Hold’em. But if there are games available, it’s a better option than Texas Hold’em. This is mainly because the math you need to use to win is slightly more straightforward in Omaha than in Texas Hold’em.
The truth is that you can pick any poker game and any variation of it and become a master with enough time and effort. The important thing is to pick a game and variation and focus on mastering it until you’re profitable. Then, you can add a second area to master.
2 – Master the Rules First
This might seem simple, but you can’t afford to ignore this step. You might think you know all of the rules, but a single mistake can cost you a lot of money.
Most poker players focus on Texas Hold’em, and they make the mistake of thinking that all poker games play using the same rules. But the rules can be a bit tricky in some games. And even if you master the rules of one variant, it can cost you money whenever you play another variant that you don’t know as well.
For example, in a Texas Hold’em game, you can use any combination of the five cards on the board and your two cards to make a five-card hand. But when you play Omaha, you have to use two cards from your hand and three cards from the board.
I’ve seen this cost players a lot of money many times. And this isn’t the only example of a situation of not knowing every rule with 100% accuracy being costly in poker.
If you followed my advice from the first section and know what game and what variation you’re going to specialize in, the next step is to master every rule for your area. Make sure that you know the rules better than anyone else at the table.
Poker is a game of small edges, and knowing the fundamentals of poker is just one area where you can get a small edge.
3 – Limit Your Potential Losses
When you’re in the learning steps of poker, you need to limit your losses as much as possible. You’re going to lose as you learn, so you need to make sure you don’t lose too much money. Without money, you’re not going to be able to make a profit, even if you master the game.
The other way to limit your losses is to play limit poker instead of no limit and pot limit. Limit poker reduces the amount you lose when you make mistakes.
4 – Build a Starting Hand List
Once I started to get serious about improving my results at the poker table, I started buying books. I remember buying a book that came highly recommended and being disappointed after reading it. A question kept coming to my mind: “Where was the starting hand list?”
I prefer to be logical when it comes to gambling, and I expect things to be explained in a mathematical sense. I want things laid out in a straightforward way in steps that I can follow. If one thing happens, I should do this, and if another thing happens, I should do something different.
Poker can be broken down this way, but it takes a long time to get to that point. Each poker game is slightly different. And I don’t just mean different variations of poker, I also mean from one game to the next, even at the same limits in the same variations.
What all of this means is that you can’t really find a starting hand list that works in every game. But you need to have a starting hand list when you start playing if you want to have a chance to break even.
Furthermore, your starting hand list has to have a different number of hands depending on what position you’re currently in at the table. This is why a starting hand list is so hard.
You can play more hands from late position than early position, and if you’re not sure why this is true you need to study position until you do understand.
Build a starting hand list of no more than 40 hands. And then narrow it down to only a few hands from early position, and expand the number of hands slightly as you move around the table. Keep refining your list as you learn from experience. But keep your list small so you only play strong hands.
5 – Fold 95% of the Time and Play like a Maniac 5% of the Time
Now you have a starting hand list and you know about how important position is when you play poker. You have to use this information to help you win. And for this information to provide the most value, you have to stick to your list 100% of the time.
Don’t even consider play a hand that’s not on your list until you’re winning consistently. And even then, you have to be extremely careful about expanding your list.
When you do play a hand, you need to play it aggressively until the situation shows that you need to stop.
For example, if you have a suited ace and king, you need to play aggressively when you enter the pot. And you need to continue playing it aggressively until something changes.
With this hand, there are two things that can change. The first thing is that an opponent can play back at you aggressively, signaling that they might have a better hand. The second thing is if the flop is not good for your hand.
In both of these situations, you switch from aggressive play to smart play. Smart play is using pot odds and what you know about your opponent to make the most profitable long-term plays.
Only play strong hands and play them aggressively until something changes. When something changes, switch to smart play, using all of the information you have to make profitable decisions.
If you want to learn how to win when you play poker, you need to master a few things. And the fastest way to master anything is to narrow your focus. When you try to be good at too many things, you end up not mastering anything.
When you’re learning one area of poker, you limit your losses. Limiting your losses keeps you in the game while learning.
Build your list of starting hands, fold most of the time, and play like a madman when you enter the pot.