There’s something entrancing about the poker table. The feel of the cards, the strategic decisions, and the competitive thrill. But what happens when the friends can’t make it? I have over 15 years of experience as a professional poker player and have found a few creative ways to keep myself sharp when I don’t have a means of competing against other people.

Techniques for solo poker include:

  1. Ghost Opponents- Practicing strategic play against imaginary players.
  2. Hand Analysis- encourages in-depth move evaluation without opponent pressure.
  3. Scenario Simulation- readies players for real games by recreating challenging situations.
  4. Memory Challenges- enhance attentiveness.
  5. Solitary River- refines adaptability by gauging confidence at every hand stage.

Here’s how each one works:

1. Ghost Opponent

This might take a little imagination, but it’s a tried-and-true method for solitary poker.

Deal out hands for two or more players. Play each hand as you believe is strategically sound. This not only lets you practice, but by shifting perspectives between hands, you can evaluate your own strategy from an outsider’s vantage point.

2. Hand Analysis

Deal yourself a hand, and then lay out community cards (for Texas Hold’em or Omaha, for instance).

Now, without considering a win or loss, analyze the best possible move at each stage. Should you bet, raise, call, or fold after the flop? The turn? The river?

Without the pressure of real opponents, you have the freedom to deeply dissect each decision point.

While the software is a bit older now, I recommend this hand analysis tools for in-depth poker analysis. I’ve used it for over a decade, and it’s still my go-to way of solving poker situations.

3. Scenario Simulation

Create hypothetical scenarios. For example, imagine you’re dealt pocket aces and then lay out a board that’s tricky, like three cards of the same suit, hinting at a potential flush. How would you play to maximize value while mitigating risk?

By putting yourself in these simulated high-pressure scenarios, you prepare for real game situations.

4. Memory Challenges

Deal out a poker hand and take a quick look, then turn the cards face down. Try to recall your cards.

This exercise, while simple, can drastically improve your memory and attentiveness — vital skills for real games where recalling past betting patterns and player tendencies can provide an edge.

5. Solitary River

A twist on the traditional game, deal yourself a full Hold’em hand. Start with the pre-flop, then reveal each community card one by one.

At each stage, decide on your confidence in the hand. This trains your adaptability, a crucial skill in poker.

Other Single-Player Poker Options

You’re not truly alone. The world of single-player poker offers various avenues to explore, challenge oneself, and hone skills.

  1. Video Poker– The most obvious choice. Casino-goers and online players are likely familiar. With its slot machine-like interface, video poker lets you make decisions on which cards to keep or throw away, offering payouts based on hand strength.
  2. Poker Apps & Software- There are countless apps designed to let players challenge AI opponents. Some of these programs can be notoriously challenging, making them perfect for refining your game.
  3. Poker Puzzles- Imagine being presented with a poker scenario and having to deduce the best play. This is an excellent tool for strategic improvement, allowing one to analyze specific situations without the pressures of a real game. If you want to keep it strictly poker related, check out these poker odds and equity calculators. They have kept me busy during downtimes for going on 15 years.
  4. Solitaire Poker- A blend of solitaire and poker where players are dealt cards and must create the best hands possible within specific rules. It’s more about pattern recognition and quick decision-making than traditional poker strategy, but it’s a fun twist.

Why Play Alone?

  1. Skill Refinement- Without the pressures of a real-time game, players can take their sweet time analyzing hands and making decisions, leading to a deeper understanding of strategy.
  2. Emotional Control- Single-player games offer a risk-free environment. Here, one can learn to manage emotions, avoiding tilt in more stressful, live situations.
  3. Convenience– Sometimes, it’s just about filling time. Waiting for a bus or during a break, having poker at your fingertips can be a pleasant distraction.

But Isn’t It Just… Lonely?

Admittedly, one might miss the camaraderie, the bluffs, the direct competition. However, single-player poker isn’t about replacing the traditional game. It’s about complementing it. It’s about making use of those moments when a gathering isn’t possible or when one just wants to practice in solitude.

Transitioning Back to the Group

What’s fascinating is how these solitary sessions can influence group play. Skills sharpened in isolation can be powerful when taken to a table of peers. The patience fostered, the strategies refined – they all come to light in beautiful, unexpected ways.

Embracing the Solo Game

Life is sprinkled with moments of solitude. But as poker players, such moments don’t mean a break from the game we adore. Instead, they offer unique, introspective opportunities to grow and enjoy poker from a different angle. Dive in, shuffle up, and deal yourself a hand. Because poker, like life, is as much about the journey as it is about the destination.

Sure there’s video poker, but sometimes, the allure of screens and electronics just doesn’t cut it. There’s a raw, tactile satisfaction in shuffling a deck of cards and dealing them out. It might seem puzzling at first — how does one play poker with oneself using just a physical deck? But where there’s a will, there’s a way.

To those who ponder if one can truly play poker alone: it’s not just about playing the cards, but playing the moment. Embrace the silence, the challenge, and the evolution of your game. Who knows? You might just discover a side of poker, and yourself, you never knew existed.

Final Thoughts

You can play poker by yourself by practicing against “ghost” players, analyzing hand scenarios, recreating situations, doing memory challenges, or playing a game of “solitary river.” Any one of those exercises are not only enjoyable but will help improve your game when playing against other players.

I hope this article has been helpful. Thanks for reading!

For more, check out Can You Play Poker with 2 Players?

Jim James

Jim James is well-known as the world’s leading expert on playing short or mid-stacked poker. He has over 15 years of experience playing poker professionally, has written extensively on the topic, and is the author of the best-selling poker strategy book Automatic Poker.

Using a no-nonsense mathematical and logical approach to beating the games, he has won 7 figures at the poker tables. His innovative simple poker charts make the game easier for everyone willing to learn. Today, he helps other players demystify what it takes to win money in No-Limit Hold’em and has helped countless people become winning poker players through his Online Poker Academy.