How to Improve Your Poker Game: Strategies and Tips
Poker is a complex game that features lots of strategy. Therefore, you can't simply learn a couple tips and immediately become a top-tier pro. But if you master the habits of a good player, then you'll eventually improve and be on the road to becoming one. That said, let's discuss poker strategies and tips for improving your game over time.
1. Set Up Your Poker Bankroll
First thing's first, you need to make sure that your money lasts long enough to improve at poker. Bankroll management is an effective way to avoid risking too much in a single cash game or tournament. Some players differ on the exact method of defining their bankroll. But generally speaking, you want at least 20 cash game buy-ins for no-limit tables and 100 tournament buy-ins for MTTs. If you're a cash player with $2,000, for example, you'll want to play $0.50/$1 NL ($100 buy-in) or lower. As an MTT player with $2k, you'd want to focus on $20 buy-in events or less.
2. Stick with the Limits that Your Bankroll Allows
As covered above, you want to play stakes that give you at least 20 cash buy-ins or 100 MTT buy-ins. But a common mistake involves trying to move up before you're ready. Some players experience a little hot streak and immediately try pursuing the next limit. We suggest sticking with your current stakes for quite a while until you've mastered them. Otherwise, you'll be moving into a tougher game that you're unprepared for. But what's mastery? It could be a few hundred hands, a few thousand, or even 10s of thousands. The key is that you've played long enough to develop confidence against your opponents and, usually, know what they're doing and the hand range they hold in different situations.
3. Play Online Poker Whenever You Can
Some players want to know whether live poker or online poker is the best route for improvement. Online is by far the quickest path to becoming better since it lets you log so many hands. You'll usually see 75 and 90 hands per hour at 9-max and 6-max tables, respectively. Contrast this to the much slower live poker pace, which trots out 20-30 hands an hour. We're not discouraging you from playing the live game, where you'll often find more fish. But online poker lets you observe and work through more hands in less time.
4. Always Focus on the Game
You want to fully watch each hand you're involved with and predict what hand ranges opponents have-even if you're already folded. This practice ensures that you gradually learn the patterns and habits of opponents. Additionally, it guarantees that you get the most from every hand. After all, you're likely to lose money in the beginning, and you must keep improving to get out of a losing situation and eventually reach profitability. The last thing you want to do is pre-occupy yourself with everything else when hands are taking place.
5. Play a Conservative Hand Range in the Beginning
Many successful poker players preach aggression. And while being aggressive eventually improves your winnings, blind aggression is a fast recipe for losing big. You should start out by studying pre-flop hand ranges and sticking closely to them. The next step is to study many, many hands while playing, as suggested in the tip above. Eventually you'll begin noticing patterns in opponents' play and be able to comfortably open your hand ranges. For example, you might normally only play AA through JJ from early position. If the game is extra loose, though, you may open this range up to TT and even 99 from that position.
6. Keep Your 3-Betting Range Tight in the Early Going
Much is made about 3-betting, which involves re-raising the initial preflop raiser. This move limits how many players are willing to see the flop and can even force the first raiser to fold. However, some beginners get too caught up with 3-betting and overuse it. We suggest sticking with a tight AA-through-QQ 3-bet range as a beginner. As you grow comfortable using this strategy, you can gradually open up your 3-betting range based on table observations.
7. Know when to Ditch Good Preflop Hands
A common poker beginners mistake involves holding on to good preflop hands for too long. Some players may eventually let go of these cards, but only after they've burned too much money before realizing that the turn or river isn't on their side. A good strategy with strong preflop cards like AA-JJ and AK is to bet aggressively until you feel that the situation has changed. Maybe you have KK and had the preflop advantage, but the flop shows J-J-7, and your opponent is betting big. Do you call and take the chance that they don't have trips jacks? We say no, at least not until you have the experience to know if your opponent is bluffing or not.
8. Have a Goal with Every Move
Some players fall into the trap of making raises or calling bets without considering what lies ahead. For example, they might 3-bet an opponent with a solid preflop hand (e.g., JJ)-yet they don't know why they did it. Are you trying to force a fold and take the pot preflop? Do you want to grow the pot and isolate your opponent on the flop? These are the types of questions you want to ask with any single bet, call, raise, or fold. The goal is to make every poker decision with a purpose.
9. Dedicate Roughly 20-30% of Your Poker Time to Strategy
The poker tips and strategies discussed so far only cover the surface of improving as a player. Becoming a winner is a long journey that requires lots of playing and learning. Regarding the latter, we suggest dedicating at least 20% to 30% of your time to studying the game. Articles, books, forums, Facebook study groups, and training videos are useful and free/cheap ways to improve. If you have the funds and are serious enough about poker, you might even consider hiring a successful coach. Whatever the case, set aside time for learning the game outside of just playing and observing hands.