How to Play

30 poker tips to improve your game

Whether you're new to poker or not, it's easy to forget or overlook some of the most important aspects of the game. So here, in no particular order, are 30 tips to make sure you get the most out of every session you play.

1) Fish supper

Don't chase gutshot draws. You're unlikely to get the right pot odds and you'll rarely hit one of your four outs.

2) Beware big slick

Don't overplay A-K. Yes, it's a big hand, but it's still a drawing hand. Against a smaller pair, like 8-8, you're an underdog. Against any two other lower cards, like Q-J, you're 2/1 at best.

3) Patience is a virtue

Be patient. Learn to lay down hands, even strong ones, and wait for a better spot. Top pair/top kicker is rarely going to be the winning hand if someone has pushed all their chips in the middle.

4) Walk before you run

Specialise in one game and one format before you try others. Sit & Go tournaments are an inexpensive, but realistic, place to learn and you can't blow your entire bankroll in a couple of hands like you can on a no-limit cash table.

5) Cash-back

Don't forget to cash-out. Building up your bankroll is all well and good but it means nothing if you don't enjoy the fruits of your labour from time to time.

6) Lose gracefully

Learn to deal with bad beats. They may happen occasionally but the best players accept the fickle finger of fate and move on.

7) Know when to quit

If you do go on tilt, get out quick. Turn off your PC and do whatever it takes to leave the game before you blow your entire bankroll.

8) Don't play too high

Only play with an amount of money you can afford to lose. Playing above your means will leave you worried about busting out, which will interfere with your decision-making and screw up your natural game. If you sit down at a no-limit cash table your buy-in should represent no more than 5% of your bankroll. That way, if you lose it, it shouldn't affect you too much.

9) Let go

Don't get attached to favourite hands. Just because you once flopped a straight flush with 3-5 once does not make it a must-play hand.

10) Small fry

Dump those small pairs. Ok, that's not strictly true: if you're 1 on 1 or short-stacked, play them hard. But if you're on a full table in early position the only way your 2-2 is going to win is if everyone folds or you flop a set, which at 7.5/1 requires a lot of limpers to give the correct pot odds.

11) No free cards

Avoid slow-playing big hands. Bet your pocket kings and aces pre-flop and be wary of dragging trips post-flop. Every now and again it'll pay off and you'll decimate someone's stack, but frequently giving other players free cards can turn into a nightmare when they hit a backdoor straight or flush.

12) Take a break

Long sessions are only good sessions if you're winning. Step back and stop smashing the 'all-in' button the moment someone raises you. Then come back when you’re feeling refreshed.

13) Poker under the influence

Don't power up your computer after a heavy drinking session. Having 'a quick game' can get expensive and will make your hangover even worse.

14) Stay alert

Give every hand 100% attention. Play each one to the best of your ability and watch the table at all times, even when you're not in a hand. Make mental notes on the other players and try to pick up any tells they have.

15) Problem hands

A-10 under the gun on a 10-handed table is not a 'must-play' hand. Anyone firing back at you may have you dominated or be holding a pocket pair. But the problem is you won't know where you're at.

16) Get your mates involved

Teach your friends how to play poker. The first few games can be a slightly painful process but once they're on their way you'll have a whole new group of people to play with.

17) Keep records

Be honest to yourself. Keep a spreadsheet with your deposits and cashes so you know exactly how much you're up or down.

18) Pick your battles

There are always a few maniacs looking to double or treble through by pushing all their chips over the line with small pairs and ace-rag. It’s best to let someone else deal with them. Unless you pick up a big pair yourself – queens, kings, aces – where, if they bet into you, you have the weapons at your disposal to take them to pieces.

19) Stand your ground

Of course, you don't want to be too conservative. Poker is a game of controlled aggression so bully the bully. Slap them down with a meaty re-raise, it'll force them to put the brakes on and make them look at you with a newfound sense of respect.

20) Know the facts

You may think of yourself as an instinct player but here are a few key facts and figures you'll need on your way to WSOP glory.

  • 16.5% - You'll fill your gutshot straight with two cards to come
  • 54% - You'll make at least a straight after flopping an open-ended straight and flush draw
  • 11.8% - Your pocket pair will flop a set
  • 31.5% - You'll complete your open-ended straight post-flop
  • 32.5% - You'll pair one of your cards on the flop
  • 12% - Your suited cards will flop two or more of the same suit
  • 9% - That someone will be dealt pocket aces or kings on a 10-handed table
  • 35% - You'll make your flush after the flop with one card needed

21) Pick the right spot

If you have enough chips to wait until you're in a better spot, fold and wait for that moment. There's no shame in folding (most of the time) when you can wait for your opponent to do their schoolboy move again and take them to the cleaners.

22) Aim for the top

Use a little slice of your profits to play satellite tournaments. Do well in these and you could see yourself winning heaps of cash online or playing big name players in a TV event.

23) Do your sums

You need to have a basic idea of maths, including 'outs' and percentages, but it's important to make sure you know the exact figures of one hand against another by using an odds calculator.

24) Push the button

Position is the most powerful weapon in the game. Being last to act gives you lots of information and puts you in the best spot for every check, call or bet in a hand. Take it all in and then build the pot, take a free card or scare off the opposition with a meaty bluff. It’s up to you.

25) Size matters

Manipulate pot sizes. Build the pots up when you're ahead and keep the pots small when you think you might be chasing.

26) Analyse this

Don't blame bad luck or other players when you bust out. Look back at how you played key hands and see where you can improve for next time.

27) Scout the opposition

Keep notes on other players. If you keep running into the same players frequently, jot down their favourite moves – it could save you from getting busted.

28) Show of aggression

If you're the first to enter a pot, always bet. Limping in is the mark of a weak player. Entering the pot aggressively puts your opponents on the back foot and makes the pot even juicier for when you do hit a big hand.

29) Stay out in front

Don't give up the lead. If you bet or raised before the flop, most of the time you should bet again after the flop, regardless of whether you hit. Most of the time you'll take the pot down there and then, because the maths dictate that most players miss most flops. If you get heat, and don't think your hand is best, retreat. But if you think you're ahead and they're trying to represent the best hand, test them with a re-raise. Controlled aggression is the winner over the long-term.

30) Watch the best

Sit in on high stakes players online. You'll get quality tuition for free by watching these shark-infested waters.