This is a golden age of poker on television. If you have cable, chances are, you can turn on your television right now and watch a group of highly-skilled professionals play poker. Even better, if you miss any of that action, most of the major poker television shows stream highlights and bonus footage on their websites. You can watch poker any time of the day!
Of course, if that fails, there’s always sites like YouTube which are rich with poker hands recorded straight from the TV, often with additional commentary added.
If you like watching poker on TV, then you are one of literally millions who take part in watching it. On the other hand, if you are only watching poker for the entertainment value, you are missing out on a critical opportunity to learn more about the game. Here are eight tips to keep in mind each time you watch someone play a game of poker and how to use it to improve your game.
1 – Pretend You’re in the Game
The most important thing to do when you’re watching poker television is to forget you’re watching poker television. Stop thinking of yourself as a spectator and try to make it as real as you can.
You will end up learning so much more if you try to imagine what you would do in every situation then see if you guessed right or wrong.
Part of doing this, however, is blocking the lower left-hand screen. When you are playing poker against other people, you don’t get to see their hands or make decisions with the odds calculated for you.
So, as strange as it sounds, put your hand up so you can’t see anyone’s cards but “yours” and try to bet like the pros bet. You will find this to be initially frustrating but ultimately helpful in the long run.
2 – Watch How Many Hands Aren’t Played
There will always be a tendency in poker to play a hand since, as you may know, you don’t win any money unless you play the hand. However, watch how often the pros fold and when, then learn to do this yourself. Learning when to properly fold is the mark of a true professional (and, conversely, sticking with a bad hand is the sign of an easy mark) so watch the poker pros and fold when they fold.
In fact, just learning that it’s okay to fold is an important enough lesson from watching the poker pros, that if you take nothing else from poker television, your game is already better.
3 – Look for How the Pros Conceal Their Tells
The sign of a true poker professional is that they can sit in an auditorium with cheering fans, glaring lights, and hundreds of thousands of dollars on the line and their face never changes. They just play their game with the same expression whether they win or lose.
This is because they are doing everything in their power to avoid giving away a tell. From watching these pros play on television, you can learn strategies for hiding your own tells.
Find a poker pro that has a demeanor you like and try to emulate it. Over time, playing this way will become natural and you will deny your opponents critical information when you do not have as many tells.
4 – The Tells Are There Anyway
We said that if you study the pros and emulate their style, you won’t have “as many tells.” But remember that you will always have a tell and so do the pros. You’re only human.
It takes a while to notice the pros’ tells, though. To figure them out, try to watch as many matches as you can featuring one or a small number of poker professionals. Scrutinize their behavior in the few seconds before, during, and after the winning hand is announced.
This is neat, but it’s not the end goal in and of itself. When you play poker, you are going to find someone who looks cold as ice, like a pro. The good news is that you’ve trained yourself to find their tells and you can use this talent for your own poker success.
5 – Watch How the Pros Bluff
Bluffing is an art form, and it’s a topic about which a lot has been written. It’s also really popular to watch poker pros when they bluff on television. There’s a certain thrill when one player pulls the wool over another player’s eyes that just drives ratings.
The problem is that poker television emphasizes when players bluff and seems to show they’re a viable option a lot more than they really are.
So, don’t learn when to bluff from poker TV, but do watch how the pros set up their opponents with various bets, what cards were dealt in the flop, turn, and river, etc. If you can decipher how a given pro got away with a bluff, your chances of pulling one off are much higher.
6 – Seek out Specific Game Scenarios
A game of poker has several different phases and scenarios that you are likely to see over and over again (things like check-raises after the flop or someone going all in before the river). It may be that you are not happy with how you respond to these various game scenarios.
The good news is that the internet records, collects, and displays thousands of hours of poker television for your consumption. Let’s say you really want to focus in on your betting after the flop. All you need to do is go to your favorite video site, search for that situation, and start watching film.
7 – Watch the Pros Eat Humble Pie
If you’re like most people, you lose a lot of hands of poker. Don’t worry, your secret is safe with us. The good news, though, is that the pros also lose a lot. And when they lose, they are in danger of not making rent or eating that month. Fortunately, that’s not a situation that most of us face.
Still, the most important thing to learn from watching a pro lose is that it’s okay to lose. It will happen in a game of poker. Don’t get upset when it happens to you.
Go back and watch why a poker player lost. You will learn more from unraveling the cause of a player’s defeat than reveling in their victory.
8 – Remember the Boring Matches Were Cut for Time
This last one is important if you play a lot of tournaments. It is imperative that you remember that poker television is enjoyable, informative, and a good thing to consume if you like the game of poker. What it is not (and what it only barely claims to be) is real life.
When you watch a poker broadcast, things get edited for time. Whole hands will be cut whenever everyone folds and the big blind ends up with the pot. If you’re talking about the final table, hours can potentially be cut out of replays when nothing happens.
Why is this important? Because you cannot base your expectations of the flow of play on what you see from a poker broadcast.
Real poker tournaments can slow. Lots of people fold. You will not always be driving the poker action and winning big pots. Just keep that in mind so that you don’t get bored or decide that you are playing the game wrong. That way, you won’t bet the wrong hand just because you think you’re supposed to be more active or more like what you see on TV.
Watching poker on television is one of the easiest ways you can improve your game and one of the most effective outside of just playing a lot. Poker television shows will expose you to many different play styles and a number of different situations, all within a short time frame.
That’s why when you watch poker television, you shouldn’t be a passive spectator. Slow down the broadcast and put yourself in the game. Figure out how you would act in a given situation then see if you are right. Try to figure out if someone is bluffing and watch the rest of the episode to see if you were right.
In the end, your poker game will only improve because of it.