Poker is a popular game available in casinos around the world, and it’s played in private settings as much as any gambling game. It can be played for free or small stakes like pennies, or it can be played for thousands of dollars a hand or more.
A bad poker player can get lucky and win sometimes, while a good player is capable of sustaining their bankroll for the long run. But even good poker players make mistakes sometimes.
Here are five ways you can limit the number of mistakes you make at the poker table and avoid embarrassing yourself. You’re never going to eliminate every mistake, because you’re human. But when you follow these steps, your mistakes won’t be as bad as they could be when playing poker for real money.
Spend 100 Hours Reading and Watching Poker
If you want to learn how to win at poker and how to avoid most embarrassing situations, it’s simple. Sure, it’s extremely hard and it takes a lot of work, but it’s simple.
The secret to learning how to win at poker is to study at least 100 hours before you start playing. Most poker players start playing before they even think about studying the game. And most players never study the game to try to learn more. They just keep playing and losing.
You can also learn a lot about poker by watching good players. Just be careful about watching poker games that have been edited for television. These shows don’t show most hands, so you don’t get a true picture of winning play. Track your time studying and learning about poker.
When you have at least 100 hours in, you’re ready to try your hand at a small stakes game. Even with over 100 hours of study, you still have a lot to learn. And some of what you need to learn is only going to come when you get some money on the felt.
If you’re like most poker players and are too lazy to study the game, you have little hope of winning in the long run. You might get lucky from time to time, but overall, you’re going to be a losing poker player.
When in Doubt, Fold
I’m going to let you in on a secret that helped me a great deal early in my poker career. I learned that the best thing to do when you’re doubting a poker hand is to fold. This includes deciding whether or not to enter the pot, when to stay in the pot on the flop, and how to play the river.
When I started folding questionable hands, I reduced my losses by a large amount. As I learned more and studied more, I experienced fewer situations where I had doubts about a hand.
You can improve your poker results right now just by folding more often.
If you’re playing more than 20% of the pots in a full table game, the odds are good that you’re playing too many hands. Start folding weak or mediocre hands, and only play your best hands.
When you get in a pot and don’t see a flop that helps you, check and fold. Stop chasing hands and wasting money. Keep your money to use when you have a strong hand.
Possibly the most embarrassing thing you can do as a poker player is bluff and lose a big pot when your opponent calls. Bluffing does have a place in a winning poker player’s tool kit, but it’s extremely dangerous for beginning poker players.
And the truth is that you don’t have to bluff to play winning poker. You can make more long-term profits if you learn how and when to bluff.
The problem is, if you bluff too often, it costs you money. And this is where beginning poker players get in trouble. Most amateurs bluff too often.
This is the main reason why I never recommend bluffing to new poker players. Learn how to win without bluffing first. Once you start winning on a consistent basis, then you can start bluffing a small amount in important situations.
You need to learn the difference between a straight bluff and a using a semi-bluff. When you start bluffing, only use a semi-bluff. As you learn more, you can start making a few straight bluffs.
I recommend using only one straight bluff during each playing session. If you’re bluffing more than once every playing session, you’re doing it too much.
Play for Small Stakes After Free Play
Even if you’ve invested over 100 hours studying and learning about poker, you’re still not ready to play for high stakes. If you have any questions about how the game mechanics work, find a free online poker table to play at for a short time.
The strategy and level of play at a free online poker table is hideous, so you’re not going to learn much about winning at these tables. As soon as you’re comfortable playing, move up to the low limit poker tables.
Keep following this pattern as you move up to higher limit play. You also need to build your gambling bankroll so you can afford to play at higher stakes.
If you move up a level and struggle to win, move back down a level. Get back into the books and articles to see if you can determine why you’re struggling. The odds are that you’re playing too many hands and/or playing hands out of position.
I’ve mentioned position a couple times, and if you don’t understand the importance of position when you play poker, you’re not ready to play for real money. How position works and how you use it is possibly the most important poker lesson you’re ever going to learn.
Start With a Single Table Poker Tournament
Another option when you decide to start playing poker for real money is to enter a single-table poker tournament. Single-table tournaments usually have six, nine, or 10 players and the top 2 or 3 finishers share the prize pool.
A single table poker tournament is a good way to control exactly how much you risk while building your skills. If you have $200 to play poker with, enter 10 to 20 single table tournaments in the $5 to $10 range.
You’re going to get to play a lot of poker, and even if you’re not a great player yet, you have a good chance to finish in the money at least a few times.
I focus mainly on cash games now, but I used to play a lot of single-table tournaments when I was building my skills. I found that my skills are better used in cash games, but many players have learned how to make consistent profits playing single-table tournaments.
You can also play in larger poker tournaments. But I don’t recommend entering a larger tournament with a high entry fee until you have a lot of experience. If you want to try a larger poker tournament, enter one with a low entry fee and move up a level if you win.
I know that you don’t want to hear this, but the best way to make sure you don’t embarrass yourself while playing poker is to study the game for at least 100 hours before you start playing. It’s more fun to just start playing rather than studying, but studying is by far the best way to avoid getting embarrassed.
The next two steps are simple. Don’t bluff until you learn how to win consistently without bluffing, and if you have any doubt about a situation, the best course of action is to fold.
Start with a simple controllable situation like a single-table tournament, or play for free or for small stakes before diving into the deep end of the pool.