Have you ever noticed how no matter how long you’ve been playing that friendly game of poker with your buddies for years but you always seem to come out last? Or perhaps you spend hours upon hours playing online poker but no matter what you do, the artificial intelligence always outplays you? In a game like poker, luck obviously plays a huge part but unlike your average spin at the roulette table or slot machine, there’s real skill involved in playing poker and like any skill-based game, there are ways to significantly improve your play. Here are a few easy tips to improve your hand at poker.
Human vs Machine
First and foremost, though they may seem similar, playing poker against human opponents and a piece of software are virtually completely different kinds of games and require different skill sets. With poker apps and real-life video poker machines, you want to first make sure that it’s made by a reputable source so that the game isn’t completely rigged against you.
Understand, though, that software-based poker games are programmed to favor the house and it will often be the case that you will get exactly the wrong card at the wrong time, while the AI seems to be doing nothing but pulling up aces. The good news is that there is a predictability to this and if you pay attention, you can use it to your advantage. Real-life poker, though, is a whole different animal with a completely different mode of play.
Know the Game You’re Playing
This one’s simple, but before you can really start playing poker on an advanced level, you need to know the mechanics of the game inside and out. You need to know the differences between, say, Texas Hold ‘Em or Five Card Draw and the different ways they impact the cards in your hand. It’s also crucial to know which hands beat which. You may know that a full house beats a flush, for example, but do you know what happens when you have two full houses pitted against one another? Or two threes-of-a-kind? Knowing these gameplay basics inside and out will immediately put you at an advantage against those who don’t.
Play the Person, Not the Cards
This one’s a bit of a cliche, but it’s totally true. When playing against other people, you should spend more time focused on your opponents than on your own hand. Look out for what cards they play in a game of Texas Hold ‘Em, for example, and you can try and narrow down what kind of set they’re trying to form. Look out also for body language and involuntary facial expressions.
The best of the best poker players have mastered the famous “poker face” but even they are sometimes betrayed by an involuntary bodily reflex or a flash of a smile. Do your best to master your own poker face to truly rule the table, but no less important is learning how to read other plays. Try and work out if they have a “tell” when they’re bluffing and the subtle differences between when they receive the hand they need and the one they very much don’t.
The Bottom Line
If there’s one thing you should always remember when playing poker against other people it’s this: Keep your eyes up as much as possible, looking only at your cards when you absolutely need to. Poker is a classic card game, yes, but if you really want to master it, learn to view it as something closer to a psychological battle of wits. You’ll do better that way and have a lot more fun along the way.