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How to Increase Your Poker Playing Skills

Updated on June 19, 2013
The highest starting hand in Texas Hold'em
The highest starting hand in Texas Hold'em | Source

Increasing your skill at anything requires taking the time to dedicate yourself to education and practice. Whether you want to improve your skills at crossword puzzles or motorcycle road racing, both require reading and trying something new.


The first thing to improve your poker skill is to read and understand the basic mechanics of the game. RTFRB - Read The ... Rule Book! If you don't know what you are, or not, allowed to do, then there's no way to use it to your advantage, or to your opponent's disadvantage. For example, if the game allows Mississippi straddles, and you don't know what that is, then that is your fault. Whenever you sit down at a table, it's in your best interest to ask a few questions about what rules they use, as not all poker games are played the same.

I was told there'd be no math

To increase your poker profitability, you must be able to perform some basic calculations to determine your chances of winning a hand. It helps to know how many cards are in the deck, and how many cards can come that maximizes your odds of winning the hand.

For example, suppose you have 6c7c, and the flop comes 4c5hAc. You then have an Outer Straight Draw, and a Flush Draw, both of which give you a significant chance of winning the hand. You're now looking for any of 9 other clubs, and 6 more cards that make a straight. 15 "outs" as they're called and you're most likely going to win the hand. On the Turn, you can multiply your outs by 4, and on the river mulitply by 2. So, you're 60% on the turn, and 30% on the river.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Fortunately, with the poker boom on the internet, there is no shortage of free and inexpensive games. The problem with playing free poker is that nobody cares. When nobody cares, the level of play is horrible, but you can pratice different techniques and all you lose is time. If you're able to play for money on the internet, then even playing for pennies increases the skill level of the other players exponentially. People don't like to lose money, even pennies, so they'll play like they have more on the line than the free chip player will.

A motorcycle road racer isn't born great. They do as many laps as they can in every practice, and some even use live races as just a practice for their big race. Track time is EVERYTHING. Poker is the same. Every hand you play is like taking a corner on the track. Every lap around the table is a lap around the track. Each hand you play, you'll learn a little more about how to play that type of hand, and every hand you play against an opponent will teach you a little about how they play a hand. The more you learn about your opponents, the better a player you'll become. After a while, you can start grouping players into certain categories. This is the basis of many strategy books.

I Can't Understand Why People Watch Golf

Watching golf puts me right to sleep, but watching poker, I find myself rewinding and rewatching hands to see what people did when. What their tells were at the time they did it, and then add that to my own mental poker database. In the early days of table cameras, there were several players that would try to avoid showing their cards, or even opt to not play as they didn't want people to learn how they played. When you think about that, then watching poker is basically a window to the poker soul. Unfortunately, you probably don't play where there are camera, so you have to figure out other ways to get people to reveal their hands, then playback the entire hand in your head to see what tells you might have missed. This includes not only the hands you're in, but mostly the hands you're NOT.

Going Broke is Learning

An old motorcycle racing slogan is "Crashing is Learning". it sucks to crash, as it hurts you, the bike, others, or all of the above. You try not to do it, but when it happens, if you can't identify why it is that you crashed then you have crashed in vain. Whenever you're driving home with a destroyed bike in the trailer, if you can't identify what the root cause of the problem was, or what you could've done differently to prevent or avoid the crash, then you are prone to do it again. If you find yourself leaving the game without any money, and you can't identify where you could've played a hand differently, or multiple hands differently, then you'll never become a better player.

A bad situation is a bad situation. But, if you continually blame a bad situation, then you need to figure out how to not get into those situations, or recognize that you're in that situation, and then minimize your chip loss.


Doing only one kind of exercise will not improve your overall physical condition. If you only do bicep curls, then you'll have huge biceps, but legs like a chicken. In poker, it's in your best interest to try playing different games, different styles, different player, different limits and keep mixing up your play such that you don't get locked into a single routine with your game.

There's nothing I like more than someone saying that they don't know how to play Omaha. it tells me that they're only skilled at Hold'em, and then I can play them as such. If you don't know how betting, specifically bluffing, occurs in Omaha, then you won't see it coming in Hold'em.


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