Before you even sit down to play online poker, much less a game at a casino, you need to understand that you understand three basic things: math, discipline, and psychology. Let’s take a look at each of these and how they help make you a complete poker player.
On its surface, mathematics seems to be an obvious thing involved in poker, but it goes beyond just understanding the importance of outs and knowing the general probabilities of the game. For example, you might understand know that you have about 1 in 8.5 chance of hitting a set when holding a pocket pair, and that you have about a 1 in 3 chance of completing a flopped flush draw by the river, but do you understand pot odds and how they affect your betting? Make sure you understand these concepts before you play, much less play for money.
What separates a winning poker player from the rest of the pack is that they expect to win when they play. You shouldn’t rely on luck to win, but instead use discipline to know when to make a move. A poker winner also knows when to play and when to quit. Most importantly, though, they take their lumps because they understand that they’re not perfect and they use their mistakes to learn. Learn to cultivate this approach and use it to grow.
Psychology is a must for the good poker player. In fact, giving up your ego and learning to empathize with your opponents is going to be a key component of your game. Why? Because you need to work to have an answer for three questions:
1. “What does my opponent have?”
2. “What does my opponent think I have?”
3. “What does my opponent think I think they have?”
Knowing and controlling the flow of information involved in these questions through slowplaying, fastplaying and bluffing is what makes poker different from another other game. It’s much more important in no-limit games than math-oriented math games, which means that if you want to make the most money possible from the game, you have to understand the psychology of the game.
The best poker players understand how mathematics, discipline and psychology interact to maximize the reward while minimizing the risks they take. That’s what defines the sharks and the fish at the tables — sharks don’t play that many hands compared to the rest of the pack, but when they do, they play to win.