No one sits down at a poker table for the first time and masters the game. Poker Power introduces Texas Hold’em by explaining this fundamental fact:

A complete beginner will beat a skilled player in a single match nearly 50% of the time. The likelihood of the beginner beating the experienced player after 1,000 hands drops to almost 1%.

So, what does the skilled player have that the beginner does not? 

They have two things: study and experience.

You need both to succeed in this game.

Determining which you should pursue is crucial in terms of maximising and elevating your poker game. (And no, the answer isn’t always studying!)

When You Need to Hit the Books

Be honest with yourself – 

  • Do you feel outmanoeuvred?
  • Outplayed? 
  • Like you don’t know what you’re doing? 

That’s a pretty good signal it’s time for you to stop riffling chips and start reading articles. 

What if figuring out if you’re ready to play or not isn’t that easy?

Ask yourself this question: “Does poker feel random?”

Cross out cruel run-outs or bingo river cards. Does the game feel logical - sequential? 

When you are in a hand, ask yourself the following – 

  • Do you know your reason for betting?
  • Do you know why you’re doing what you’re doing? 
  • Or are chips splashing all over the place?

Ladies Event

Let’s try a specific example:

You raise AJ

AJ

Flop: K-J-3

KJ3

  • Do you bet? 
  • Do you check? 
  • Why? 

If your mind freezes when put in this situation, it’s a good indicator it’s time to hit the books. You need to know how to think through these situations and not bet erratically or nervously. When you’re betting without reasoning, that’s when poker turns random.

Another good question you can ask yourself is: 

“Did I do the right thing -- or did I just get lucky?”

You need to be able to answer these questions confidently – ideally, already knowing the numbers. Maths needs to be on your side. The best way to learn poker statistics is through poker odds calculators. 

There are several free options, and the one here on 888poker is perfect.

You can input scenarios and not have to guess if you made the right move or not. The numbers don’t lie. They will tell you if you committed your chips with a substantial mathematical likelihood of winning -- regardless of the outcome. 

Mastering this side of the game will give you true confidence behind your decisions. Measured quantified confidence.

Stop kicking yourself for a bad river. Instead, compliment yourself for having gone all-in as a statistical favourite.

Ladies Event

When to Study BONUS TIP

Finally, a great time to study up is if you feel you’ve plateaued or are ready to raise the stakes. Perhaps you’re already cleaning up at the tables in your friends’ home game. But the thought of going to a casino makes your tail hide between your legs. 

Perhaps you have one game or stake that’s your jam. Now, you’re ready to mix it up, such as switching from cash games to tournaments – Hold’em to mixed games. 

Pursuing any noticeable jump in skill level is the right time to research.

When You Need to Hit the Felt

Studying is great until you freeze up when you play in the real world. While people learn in different ways, you need to cement your knowledge with practice.

Remember that poker is a competitive arena -- including emotionally. You may know what to do when reading a book or taking a quiz. But it’s no use if you can’t execute these decisions in real-life. 

Often students get too scared and risk-averse when everyone’s eyes are on them. That is a mistake. Successful poker players make moves  --  check-raise -- shove -- bluff. 

  • You need to act aggressively even when you feel self-conscious or silly. 
  • You need to be able to keep your cool. 
  • Multiply this x 1000% when you’re tilted.

If you find a gap between the “you” who analyses poker and the “you” who plays poker, you need to practice. 

Micro-stakes are a great place to start. The best part is that people will be making wild plays and overly-funky moves. So, you can experiment freely. Practice your bluffing in a safe, low-risk environment.

If you find yourself playing too predictably under pressure, you’ll need more experience. That way, you’ll feel confident playing out of your comfort zone.

Another reason to not entirely lean on studying is that people are unpredictable. Sure, you may know exactly what to do against a computer (or even a reasonable person!). But not all your opponents will be that rational

What may be the right move against most players may not work against a particular player. 

The best poker pros can adjust their strategy accordingly -- you need to be able to think on the fly.

Main Event

You may have heard the saying, “poker is a game of incomplete information.”

Poker is different from, for example, chess, where you get to see all your opponent’s pieces. Instead, there are hidden variables. 

A common frustration at the poker table is, “I can’t play against idiot players!” The truth is beating donkeys is part of the game -- critical, even.

Fact: not being able to beat weak players is a weakness. It’s imperative to know how to play against imperfect competition.

The best way to hone this skill is by putting yourself out there and practising. And yes, online is a great environment to do so. Many people will act even crazier behind a screen than in person.

When to Play  BONUS TIP

There is also something inherently “fun” about poker. If you keep yourself locked up staring at a book, you may go wild by the time you play. It’s not healthy to be jumping out of your skin because you can’t wait to get your paws on a pair of cards.

Chill, relax, blow off steam. 

It’s OK to have a good time and recognise you don’t always need to play perfectly. 

Save that for special occasions -- when it really matters.

About the Author
By
Amanda is the author of the book A Girl's Guide to Poker, dedicated to making poker friendly and accessible to everyone. In 2021, she was a World Series of Poker final-tablist where she and her father took third place in the WSOP tag team event.