Hitting the felt is a gigantic rush no matter what level you’re playing at – ask any seasoned grinder or novice and they’ll tell you the same – there’s nothing like sitting down among folks bound by a common love of the game, if only to see what the outcome will be.
There’s also little comparable to the feeling of not having made it past a couple of hands.
Swings, however, are part and parcel of a game that’s dictated by probabilities. Having said that, there is literally an endless number of poker strategies that can take your game to the next level, since the path to victory is not necessarily paved with Aces and Kings.
Read on for 6 skills that the big guns use to give them an edge and take your own game up a notch.
Check-Raise by the Same Multiple
Check-raising is a notorious manoeuvre in poker whereby a player declines to bet post-flop, seemingly giving an opponent the advantage and provoking him or her to adding more to the pot, increase winnings and give clues as to what his or her hand is. Logic dictates that the original player will suddenly raise this bet dramatically, surprising the opponent and encouraging him or her fold (or else provoking a new raise).
Although check-raising is nothing new, being smart about how much you raise by is a little known rule of thumb that lowers your chances of losing your footing. As professional Nick “Nicky Numbers” Brancato advises, “ensure that you raise the bet by the same multiple in each street. Otherwise you risk giving off betting pattern tells, which could result in opponents picking up on them, and exploiting you.”
On a similar note, poker writer and player Michael Moore advises caution when a player does not play consistently. “A highly uncharacteristic move could mean a monster,” he notes. “If a player has been consistently raising four times the blind for two hours solid and then suddenly minimum raises, you need to stop and think. I would fold decent hands in this situation.”
Move Like an Eagle
Exercising patience is equally important to mastering poker. Even winning players endure heavy losses at times (as in the well-documented cases of Neil Channing, Greg Merson and countless others), so take heart from such stories and do not expect your own path to success to be smooth – or all that quick. It’s not all doom and gloom, however. In the words of the iconic Chris Moneymaker, “poker is meant to be enjoyed” – and such words never rang more true nowadays when spirited table talk, repartee and wisecracking at the felt are standard characteristics of the post Poker Boom generation.
But aside from keeping poker exciting for both players and audiences, these “verbal poker tells” as described by Zach Elwood in his book “Reading Poker Tells” are almost a delaying strategy to help players patiently wait for the right moment to strike, as well as providing valuable information about their opponents’ mood, playing style and hand. At last year’s WSOP National Championship, Daniel Negreanu hit the nail on the head when he openly joked about his style of play to opponent Daryl Fish, “I see my moment, and then I pounce. Like an eagle.”
Gone are the days of yore where a typical player’s diet would center around meat and three: the modern poker scene is all about improving physical health in order to perfect mental fortitude and endurance. For professionals, sitting through 12+ hour tournaments is nothing unusual, so it is no wonder that poker’s heavy-hitters devise ways to maintain a healthy lifestyle that fit in with their hectic schedules on and off the felt.
By simply dedicating a set amount of time per week to keep both body and mind in check, most committed players notice a marked improvement to their stamina and an ability to think more quickly, even though temptations abound to stray from the straight path. “”There’s a danger in treating every poker trip like a vacation,” Vanessa Selbst notes, “but that’s not good for me, or my game.”
Manage Your Bankroll Diligently
What separates the players who “have it” from those that don’t is being able to make clear and effective decisions under pressure. This ability can certainly be honed by doing one very simple thing: keeping your cash flow totally under control. Any kind of financial worries when playing poker is the be-all-and-end-all for your concentration levels and will see you losing out much faster.
Online forums are awash with advice and support from other players with tips. Choose games carefully – don’t buy-in big if you’re nursing a modest stack. Start humble and steadily move upwards. From a distance, poker players may look like they’re making wild bets – but in reality, they’re mostly covered ten times over from anything that they might lose by going all in.
Tilt to Your Advantage
Tilt has a certain reputation – no one wants to lose their cool at the felt. And this is precisely why you can occasionally use tilt to your advantage, as an offset of bluffing. As opponents have trained themselves to guess your range by your emotions, it can’t hurt to show a hint of uneasiness when actually you have a strong hand. Play the man, not the cards, as the old adage goes.
In his book Poker Training: From Boot Camp To Elite Forces, M. Farha describes this very technique as the Tilt Bluff, that in his opinion will often yield a lucrative pot. It is ideally used when a good hand follows a bad beat – and you proceed by going all in, making opponents assume you’re playing on tilt and are lured into folding or calling.
Telling the “Truth”
Critics are divided on this one. In the interests of maintaining an air of ambiguity around your play, it is a surprisingly useful and contemporary tactic to tell the truth about your hand before tabling. It makes perfect sense when you think about it: players who lie about cards quickly earn themselves a reputation – it is far more shrewd to actually tell the truth from time to time – and keep everyone guessing.
At any rate, according to Tournament Director’s Association, the Jamie Gold Rule must be heeded (no exposing hand until all action is complete) but in cash games it is possible to show one card during the action. And although tournaments do not allow players to explicit reveal their hands, aggressive players will often guess opponents’ cards aloud, giving players the chance to reveal or passively ignore the prediction as best suits their strategy.
Ultimately, the path to winning at a game like poker is situational. As Lon McEachern once said: “Any two cards, anytime.” However, by arming yourself with skills that are not at the forefront of your opponent’s mind will start to give you an edge over them. Generally speaking, as long as a player has plans to foil all the other plans, their chances of winning should be better than most, no matter what the flop brings.
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