If you’ve been struggling to learn how to play poker, don’t get down on yourself—poker isn’t easy! You’re undoubtedly not the first 888poker player to ask, “Why is online poker so hard?”

I was so frustrated with the shortage of easy-to-understand poker material and bad beats that I even wrote my own book on navigating these costly waters.

Don’t get discouraged—Texas Hold’em is a beautiful game you should learn.

I’ve dedicated my whole career and life to poker… I love it! But I also know what it’s like to feel overwhelmed and lost without a clear path. “Should I even continue playing?”

  • I’ve been there, asked these same questions, and can relate to these struggles.
  • I’m not here to convince you otherwise.
  • I’m not here to dissuade you from shouting from the rooftops, ‘Why is poker so hard?!’—I think it’s a very reasonable question.
  • I’m here to help.

I’m here to explain why poker is so hard to validate your concerns and shift you towards progress.

To use a poker term, I’m here to get you “unstuck.”

Why Is Online Poker So Hard?

Poker is challenging because the volatility of the game skews results. As I wrote in my book A GIRL’S GUIDE TO POKER:

Is poker a game of luck or skill? It is 100%, undoubtedly, without question, a game of skill—after a certain point.

An amateur can beat a pro in any one random poker hand easily. There are plenty of clips featuring clueless rookies winning against seasoned millionaire professionals. I’d bet right now that even if you have zero experience, you’d be able to win a few hands, too. Short-term Texas Hold‘em comes down to the luck of the draw, and there’s a saying in poker: “Better to be lucky than good.”

But luck always runs out. Only solid players can consistently beat the game. When does luck become eclipsed by skill? At just under 1,500 hands - 1,471 to be exact - glad you asked.

1,471 is usually between 19 and 25 hours. Less if you’re multi-tabling online (way less). Elite players predictably perform better, according to researchers in the U.K. and Netherlands. Investors, note:

♦ Those ranked in the top 10% in the first six months of the year were more than twice as likely to do similarly well in the next six months.

♦ Players who finished in the best-performing 1% in the first half of the year were 12 times more likely than others to repeat the feat in the second half.

♦ Players who fared badly from the start continued to lose.

What does all this mean? It means that the main response to “Why is poker so hard?” is DUMB LUCK!

Why Is Online Poker So Hard? - Dumb Luck!
Why Is Online Poker So Hard? - Dumb Luck!

It takes nearly 1,500 hands—about an entire day of playing poker straight—for luck to even start getting trumped by skill.

You can make all the right decisions in the short term and still lose.

This concept is hard for our brains to understand because it is counterintuitive to most of what we learn in life.

Hard work = positive rewards.

Even in standard jobs, you get paid more money for more hours. There is a clear cause and effect. Poker is not like this – there is no Texas Hold’em cheat sheet.

We need to remember that poker is still gambling. Many highly skilled professional poker players do manage to beat the games. But even they will have bad sessions… or bad months… or years. (The ‘bad months’ and ‘bad years’ mainly apply to professional tournament players.

Successful cash game players are less susceptible to massive downswings).

The luck—better known as “variance”—is the answer to ‘why is poker so hard?’

Sometimes, you may play close to perfect but lose money in short to intermediate timeframes.

How Do You Beat the Game?

Luck and variance exist in poker—sometimes, you will even be the beneficiary! We all need a little luck now and then.

The key to beating the game is incorporating strategies that reduce risk.

Firstly, you should choose better starting hands than your opponents. We don’t want to play hands with marginal edges—we want to play hands with BIG edges.

Why Is Online Poker So Hard? - Beating the Game!
Why Is Online Poker So Hard? - Beating the Game!

As I explained in my article on learning poker FAST, start with these strategies below. They can counteract the question, Why is it so hard to knock people out in poker?

LEVEL #1: 

Fold if either of your cards is lower than 10. Only play hands like AA, AQ, KJ, QT, JT, etc. DO NOT play hands where one card is 10+ and the other is lower—like A9. That’s a fold.

It’s a painfully tight range of cards, but “only cards 10 and higher” is a beginner’s trick from professional poker legend Daniel Negreanu. It is the most straightforward poker hands ranking guide you can ask for starters.

It may feel tedious to fold constantly. But it will prevent you from developing bad habits playing junky cards. Also, as I mentioned earlier, you can load up multiple poker tables online. So, you are more likely to be dealt a playable hand.

It’s better to play more tables rigidly than one table sloppily.

LEVEL #2: 

The next level-up I tell poker students is ONLY to play cards that fall into one of these three categories. Otherwise, fold.

  • BOTH cards 10+: Same as Level #1. Play your hand if both cards are 10 or higher.
  • Pairs: Play your hand if you are dealt two of the same card. Like a pair of tens or a pair of threes.
  • Suited Connectors: You can play number cards only if they are the same suit AND consecutive. Examples would be hands like a five and a six of diamonds or an eight and a nine of spades. What about an eight and a nine of different suits? Absolutely not! The game is Texas Hold’em – not three card poker. Chuck that into the trash. Fold unless they meet both

LEVEL #3: 

The most advanced level involves studying a poker preflop chart specifying which cards to play at different seats in the table (“positions”). That’s a lesson for another time!

Note: You may find that your friends and other players think you’re crazy for being so strict about which hands to play. Let them think that.

The easiest way to win money at poker is by playing better hands than your opponents.

Why Is Online Poker So Hard? - Play Better Hands!
Why Is Online Poker So Hard? - Play Better Hands!

These categories are a shortcut to being profitable in the long run. You don’t just want to learn how to play poker fast… you want to learn how to play winning poker fast!

Playing better cards than your opponents reduces variance!

Here is an example:

Let’s say you have a lousy hand like an Ace and a Three (It’s lousy because the second card, the three, is low. You have an ace with what we call a bad ‘kicker’). The likelihood of winning against a hand like a measly pair of twos is about 50/50 – a flip most likely on any poker board!

  • You can’t get rich by flipping coins.
  • You can’t get rich by flipping cards, either.

If you waited until you got a bigger pair—like a pair of nines, tens, or even aces—your likelihood of winning is closer to 80 per cent.

That’s right—you went from winning about 50% of the time to winning around 80% of the time!

When you are patient and wait for good hands that make you a solid statistical favourite, your variance decreases and your likely profitability increases.

In poker, this concept is expected value. You can expect to win 80% each time the dealer finishes the run-out. That’s not 100% of the time—even pocket aces get cracked. But do this repeatedly, and you’re bound to be a winner.

Why is poker so hard?

  • You may be at the mercy of the deck too much by playing marginal hands with marginal edges.
  • Or you’re playing against too many other people’s hands.

Even a shiny pair of aces is not expected to win against a table full of players.

Sure, your pocket aces are an 80% favourite against one person—but against six people? Seven people? Eight people?

The likelihood that you will win drops to below fifty per cent.

Why Is Online Poker So Hard? - Due to Variance!
Why Is Online Poker So Hard? - Due to Variance!

If your premium hands are constantly outdrawn, you should narrow the field. Do this by raising bigger before the flop and betting more considerably on the flop.

Again, you’re questioning, ‘Why is poker so hard?’ is almost undoubtedly due to variance. And more players in the pot equals more variance.

Why Is Online Poker So Hard? In Conclusion

What makes poker hard is luck.

What makes poker easy? Skill—doing everything you can to reduce the luck factor and its impact on your bottom line.

A excellent place to start in fixing this is the following actions:

A) Play better starting cards.

B) Play against fewer opponents in a hand.

Use the strategies listed above to orient yourself and establish a solid foundation.

Get a thorough grasp of your percentage likelihood of winning any particular hand. Download a free poker calculator app and plug in your hands.

Once you know the impact luck has on your game, you can stop bad luck from ruining it.

You can become the winning poker player you always dreamed of being.

Your mind—and your wallet—will thank you for it.

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.