Before you learn how to actually play poker, there are a three key concepts that you must understand. In fact, you can study strategy until you are blue in the face, but if you fail to understand any of these 3 concepts, your potential will be severely limited. The first one, and the most important, is something very few poker players will ever really grasp. In fact, it boggles my mind how big of an enigma it seems to be for the vast majority of anyone who wants to learn how to play poker.
And that is where the money actually comes from. After all the hands are played, and all is said and done, once the long term is reached.. how the heck does anyone show a profit? Well, truth is, very few actually do. Due to rake and a number of other factors, very few people actually win money at poker over a significant sample size of hands. Estimate range from as low as 3%, but in reality the number is likely is the 8% to 10% range. So yes, at least 90% of people who ever play poker for real money, will be losers.
Even so, you don't have to become a statistic. There are things you can learn, that most people are not talking about, that will give you an edge over everyone who refuses to acknowledge or learn the information. That is what this article is all about.
First of all, let me get something out of the way. You do not profit in poker from making big hands and then getting paid off. Everyone wins money in these spots. I am not saying that maximizing your profit when you make a big hand is not important. It is. We need to maximize profit is all areas of our game. What I am saying is that winning money and making money are two different things. Just because you got AA all-in preflop versus KK in a specific hand does not mean you won anything.
In fact, since everyone would gladly get KK all-in pre-flop, you actually made $0. Every player will pick up the same amount of AA, KK, QQ, hit the same number of sets or two pairs.. these hands are easy to play. In fact, it's really hard to misplay these hands. Therefore, there is very little room for actual profit when you have a strong hand. Put another way, if every player plays exactly 1 million hands in their career and makes $500 with their big pairs, and $500 with their flopped nut hands, then nobody makes anything, since in order to make $500, each person has to take $500 from the player pool!
So don't fall victim to something almost all people are guilty of. That is putting way too much emphasis on big hands. If most players get their pair all in vs. over cards and their hand holds up, they pat themselves on the back because they just won a big pot and think they made money. I have news for them; they didn't. When viewed from a long-term perspective, they made $0. You simply do not make money by getting all in pre-flop with QQ vs. AK, or some other variant of this situation. The spot will theoretically occur with the same frequency for everyone, yielding a net sum profit of $0 over the long term. Everyone negates everyone elses profit in these spots! In other words, if everyone plays exactly the same and picks up the same exact hands and faces the exact same situations, no one but the house wins.
Make sure you understand this concept before proceeding. I am putting in a link to an article by Tommy Angelo, who defined this concept, called reciprocality. Read it, absorb it, understand it, before proceeding. http://www.tommyangelo.com/reciprocality/
Now that you understand reciprocality, let's continue.
The overriding concept here is that you do not need to play particulary well to win, you just need your opponents to play worse than you do. At the end of the day, where you really make money is by having your opponents play any of the multitude of decisions less well than you do. In other words, all you have to do is play poker with bad players, and the money will come.. even if you are just a mediocre player yourself. However, as games get tougher and tougher, finding these super soft games is becoming increasingly difficult.
It's true that, in the not too distant past, a professional player could simply play a very tight range of hands and wait for the bad players to basically hand their money over either bit-by-bit or in large chunks. Making little mistakes here and there and a having a general lack of post-flop skill didn't really matter. As long as you followed the adage "tight is right," you were good to go. Furthermore, since a lot of players were making money doing this, there was no negative reinforcement to provide the necessary impetus for them to try and improve their games. So life was good.
Today, even at the micros, everyday players have access to hand charts and a plethora of information in books, on television, and online at their disposal. Anyone can learn a basic poker strategy in a few days and then beat a table of fishy players. Even at stakes as low as $10NL, maybe even lower, you will find a multitude of micro-stakes grinders out there playing decent fundamental pre-flop poker. However, "Nitting it up" simply will not do if you ever have a desire to play above $25NL. In order to beat the modern game, you need to maximize profit in every situation you face.
This is why big all-in pots, while dramatic and exciting, are only a small piece of where the money comes from in poker. The other 99% of the time we are not getting all-in. We are raising, calling, or folding in small pots that are often meaningless for the vast majority of players out there. They play for the action and excitement of big pots and simply have no clue of where their profit is coming from, or, where their losses are going to. This fact offers a great opportunity to anyone with the knowledge and will to take advantage of it.
I have said many times, and been ridiculed for it as well, that cards don't matter in poker. What I mean is that the cards you are dealt do not make a difference in your long term win-rate, since as we know, everyone will pick up the same hands with the same frequencies over the long term. What matters is that you maximize and play each spot the best you can, no matter how unexciting it is, and not spend too much time focusing on the big pots or any number of tough spots you might encounter.
Go check out some of the poker forums out there. You will mostly see players either posting the big pot hands or hands where they faced so-called "difficult" decisions. Most of the time, the hands they are discussing are spots where the decision is very close in EV between two separate decisions. In other words, it often doesn't matter what they choose to do, the long term win-rate would be virtually the same either way. Therefore, in those so-called "tough" spots, you can usually just flip a coin in making your decision rather than sitting around racking your brain about it. Furthermore, many of those difficult situations might have been caused by mistakes earlier in the hand, or been a complete gameflow fubar.
So where does the money come from in poker? It comes from winning more battles, both big and small, than your opponents win at the tables. Every single decision you make is a battle being fought and, if one player does it better than another, money changes hands. Over the long term, the players who maximize the best in the most overall battles, will be the ones who profit.
Playing by looking at expected value instead of for the thrill of making big hands is what you should be striving for. Once you can do this, you are beginning to think like a professional. Now that you know how money is made in poker, you may be wondering how to convert that theory into real money. The fastest path to profit is through sound fundamentals and strategic planning which manifests in the form of superior tactics in every single action you make. It comes from beating your opponents in ways they don't not even know exist. It is about being mindful of why you are doing what you are doing at all times. It is about winning the wars no one else is attempting to fight. But mostly, it is about mercilessly forcing your will on your opponents, while avoiding reciprocation.
This style of active, exploitative play, is most often associated with loose-aggressive play that focuses on small ball poker with lots of bets and raises with very few passive plays. That leads me to our next topic, because loose aggressive play involves adjusting what you are doing based on the specific table dynamic you are currently in.
The second overriding poker concept that you need to understand is that poker is a game about people. The table dynamic (or the players who make up your table along with how they view you and each other) are the number one influence on how you plan your hands from pre-flop through the river.
And, establishing a set of optimal vacuum lines to use against a variety of player types is the single best thing you can do to improve the quality of your play today. Indeed, gameflow adjustments are what separate the men from the boys and is the biggest reason some players get stuck at a certain stake and can never move up to bigger games.
The second part of this is also in recognizing when you should not even be sitting at a table. Often, players will continue on in a game with no hope of winning over the long term. In fact, table selection is the most important skill any poker player will possess, bar none. Remember concept number 1 and where profit comes from? It comes from the collective mistakes of your opponents. Therefore, the biggest winners in poker are not necessarily the best players, they are often just the best at playing against the worst players the most often.
The third important concept that all players need to know, is about the mental side of poker. More specifically, it's about avoiding tilt. If you've made it this far, you probably already know what tilt is, but, just to make sure we are clear, let's define it. Tilt is when we alter our play based on short term results, rather than reads and game flow. In other words, you play worse when either winning or losing.
I am not some kind of mental guru, but I do know what tilt is the thing that holds a lot of talented players back from achieving their full potential in poker. I won't try and tell you specifically how to fix your tilt, and yes, everyone tilts. You are lying to yourself if you say you don't. What I will do, is tell you how I deal with tilt and how changing your overall perspective really can help. In fact, embracing concept #1 in this video is a strong positive step toward helping cure someone's tilt problems. But just in case, here are a few specific keys that might help you with tilt:
1. Be positive/upbeat (genuinely)
2. Live in the moment (breathe)
3. Detachment from results/BR, don't look at the cashier/hem/pt during sessions!
4. Acceptance of chaos.
5. Efficiency during hands. Only think about the way to play every street and future streets should a particular card come. Do not waste mental energy on anything that is not relevant to playing the hand well (ie. don't think.. "no heart no heart no heart!" in your head)
In summary, we have covered three things that players can work on today to improve their results immediately. The concepts are actually much more important than any specific strategy one can learn but are also the least practiced elements for most players. This creates a great opportunity for you! If you master these concepts, you will have a significant edge on anyone who does not, and will almost certainly enjoy a better win-rate as a result. I'm going to end this by giving you three specific things you can do today to take action and become a better player.
1. Focus on the fundamentals and putting yourself in good situations. Actively work on improving your play in the so-called marginal spots that everyone else thinks is boring. Seek out profit where no one else is looking.
2. Avoid playing in games where there isn't at least 1 really bad player in the two seats to your right, or at least two bad players on the table. The more bad players the better.
3. Don't change your play based on recent results. Try to think of every hand as just being one in a billion spots just like this that you will play over the long term. Keep perspective and you have a great chance of conquering, or at least, avoiding tilt.
If you want to learn more about poker, please visit my website, where you can find information about my book, and much more. I also stream live most days at 3:00PM on Twitch. Come on by and say hi sometime.
Thanks for stopping by!