Great poker players are made by hard work and a lot of practice. Playing online is a great way to play many hands and to learn something from each one. By playing online, you make yourself better for the inevitable live game at a casino or poker room.
Online Poker is an Excellent Teacher
We can play thousands of hands of poker online for every hundred or so hands we can play at a land based poker room or casino. Play online often and use your time playing online to hone your game.
A Poker Pro is Like a Pianist: Practice, Practice, Practice
Every online poker player will eventually go to a land based casino to try his or her hand against live opponents. Playing poker online is a great way to get thousands of hands under your belt before venturing out into the land based world. Even after you start playing at a land based casino, you’ll finds that online poker is far more accessible, has no ancillary costs, and the opponents are often more amateur than professional.
The first thing you’ll find is that live poker is a lot different than poker online. The biggest difference when you play poker online is that the tells are more intuitive rather than visually obvious.
So the first rule of thumb for the transformation from an online poker player to someone who can also play in a live land based game is that you need to practice avoiding tells.
In order to get the most out of your preparation, you should film yourself. This is really hard because you might have to film yourself being perfectly still for five minutes at a time.
There is an ancient Eastern discipline called Zhan Zhuang which means Standing Like a Tree. It’s a practice that western people find extraordinarily hard to do well. The most basic Zhan Zhuang pose is simply to stand still, with your knees bent slightly, and your arms loose at your sides. This basic pose calls for holding that pose for ten minutes.
If you have a good hand and hope your opponents will think that you’re bluffing or if the opposite is the case, you’ll have to be still for extended periods of time. Practicing Zhan Zhuang is a great way to develop the discipline to stay still.
Your significant other can be a great help here. He or she can do the actual filming. Just their presence whilst you’re practicing stillness can be a big boost to your morale.
It’s also a good idea to get others to try to distract you whilst you’re practicing stillness. In a real game, the others will be talking amongst themselves. You want to be able to let them talk without making any reaction at all.
There are plenty of clichés about luck. We talk about good luck or bad luck. We talk about making our own luck. In the real world, there is no such thing as luck. This refers to long term matters. When you play poker, you will seem to be luckier on some days than on others but in the long run, luck is the same for everyone.
You should never gloat when you win with “luck” nor should you pout when you lose with “bad luck”. Your real life opponents will look at you with a lot less respect if you affect either response. It’s a lot better simply to say “good hand”, however the hand ended up.
If you can successfully eliminate any thoughts about luck from your thinking, you’ll have a lot more room in your brain for analysis. Here’s one case where watching the YouTube clips of poker pros can be helpful. When a pro has a tough decision to make, he or she doesn’t think, “Oh, I hope to get lucky here.” They think, “What do I know about my opponent and what do I know about this hand?”
In short, they are trying to make their own luck by utilizing their analytical skill!
Managing Your Bankroll
There is a tendency amongst land based poker players to come to the game with insufficient funds. This often leads to the excuse that the player was unlucky when, in fact, the player was playing in a game that was too rich for his or her bankroll.
There is nothing wrong with finding a table with the kind of stakes you can handle. That way, you’ll be able to play for a long time. Ultimately, poker players like the challenge. It’s the play itself that they find enjoyable and if you’re in a game with stakes that are too high for your bankroll to manage, you’ll lose the pleasure of the play.
The pros understand position in the same way that experienced cooks understand ingredients. They don’t have to refer to a manual to know what advantage or disadvantage they are in depending on their position just as a chef knows “exactly” how much marjoram to add to the sauce.
The first advantage to betting after opponents is that their bets give you a tremendous amount of information. With a mediocre hand—and most poker hands are mediocre hands—you might limp in if everyone ahead of you has also limped in. This is especially true before the flop.
If you’re in position to bet first, you might bet with a poor hand and someone might raise after you with a strong hand. In those cases, you will have cost yourself some money by having to bet first.
You might have to check with a poor hand. Everyone will know that you have a poor hand and if they raise, you’ll have to fold. In this way, many hands go to the raiser even if they also have a poor hand.
Physical Tells Versus Pattern Tells
Physical tells are important. That’s why we suggested filming yourself. But the most important tells are changes in betting behavior. The pros are great at seeing these tells because they aren’t as obvious as taking one minute or one second with a bet.
These tells are more subtle. If you bet too fast, it indicates that you are impatient. You are already looking forward to raking in the pot. In these situations, you can be sure that the pot will be a lot smaller than you had hoped it would be.
It’s even more difficult to detect betting patterns. Check raising with a big hand is one such pattern. You need to play a lot of hands with live opponents to learn the nuances of pattern betting.
Become a Student of Life
This sounds like a cliché but in fact the more you read an eclectic assortment of literature from novels to non-fiction to the newspaper to monthly magazines to internet articles, you’ll find small nuggets of wisdom everywhere. Even a mediocre writer has something to say at some point.
The great American novelist, Ernest Hemingway, once said that to write well you need to set out the characters in your book or story, plot out the story itself, and then put in everything you know about people.
Great poker players play every session based on everything they know about people. And that's what makes them great players.