It’s challenging to find beginner poker tips that actually help you win money. There is so much confusing information out there that it can be frustrating when trying to learn the game. Most of the Texas Hold’em tips focus on how to play poker and less on the things that actually make someone a winning player.
My goal for this article is to help you start your poker journey off on the right foot by telling you the things I wish I had known when I started playing poker. Learning each of these 16 beginner poker tips will hopefully make learning poker strategy much easier by avoiding the pitfalls that many beginners fall victim to.
1. There Is No Such Thing as Luck
If you want to maximize your chances of becoming the best player you can possibly be, then you need to check your belief in luck at the door. Now, don’t get me wrong, over the short or even mid-term anyone can be lucky or unlucky and run over or under expectation. What you simply must not believe in is the possibility that someone can be predestined for good luck or bad luck.
There is no room for superstition in poker. All it leads to is a life of frustration and tilt. Otherwise, the first big downswing might lead you to believe in some sort of cosmic conspiracy that the poker Gods simply don’t like you.
Trust me on this tip. You control your own destiny, and if you are willing to work hard and manage your bankroll correctly, in the end, succeeding at poker is nothing but a numbers game.
2. Mental Toughness Is More Important Than Skill
What separates the best players from everyone often has nothing to do with how well they play poker. In fact, the mental side of poker has been the downfall of some of the most talented players to ever play. It doesn’t matter how good you are if you don’t have the right mindset your win-rate will suffer.
The most common trait that all successful poker players have is their mental toughness. If you find your short-term results affecting the quality of your decisions, then you have tilt issues. The faster you solve those problems, the quicker you can get to where you want to be in poker.
3. Everyone Should Learn Cash Games First
Even if tournaments are your favorite format, it is definitely worth your while to at least become competent in cash games. Since there is no prize pool or ICM, each +EV or -EV decision you make directly contributes to your win rate. In tournaments, you can sometimes get away with a few leaks. In cash games, those same leaks will crush your bottom line very quickly.
There is a reason that cash game players are the best players in the world. Nowadays, the games are harder than ever to beat. Almost all really good cash game players can crush tournaments, but it is extremely rare for even decent tournament players to even be able to compete at small stakes cash games.
If you are in a hurry to make tournaments your bread and butter game, I recommend that you are first able to beat at least 50NL over a decent sample size, before moving on to MTTs or any other format. If you put in the time and accomplish this, beating small or even mid-stakes tournaments will be like shooting fish in a barrel. Literally. You can thank me for this tip later.
4. Monster Hands Do Not Actually Win Much Money
One of the keys to learning how to win at poker is in understanding that everyone makes a lot of money when they pick up a monster hand. In fact, big hands are extremely difficult to play poorly. That idea is one of the facets of how reciprocality works. Differences in between what you and your opponents do in every poker situation are what affects your ultimate bottom line.
In poker, we make money over the long term when we do something better than our opponents. Since monster hands are on the radar of even the weakest players, everyone focuses a lot of their attention on playing these hands well. In the meantime, many players overlook less obvious spots for profit. Some examples of places where more profit is to be had are in being better at blind stealing or blind defense with marginal hands, making consistently better value bets, and adjusting to opponents more efficiently than your opponents.
5. Play For Fun, Not For Money
If you only get joy from winning money at the tables, then poker is probably is not the game for you. Burnout is a real issue that will creep up on anyone who does not have a natural love of the endeavor. It’s just like any job. If you don’t love what you do, you will begin to hate life after a period of time.
You need to answer this question honestly. Would you keep playing if only free poker was available? If the answer is yes, then you have what it takes to succeed over the long term.
I have played millions of hands over the last 10+ years and still have an ache in my belly if I am away from the game for more than a few days. I love the complexities and the fact that there is something to learn from every hand that I play. It’s up to you to find out what part of the game keeps you coming back so you can focus on mastering that aspect. Become a specialist and do exactly what you love the most and success will follow.
6. Physical Tells Are Overrated
If you have ever watched people play poker in movies or on television, you would think that the way to win is to learn someone’s “tell.” While physical mannerisms do occasionally play into the decision-making process for a live player, it is only one very small piece of the puzzle when it comes to hand-reading and adjusting to other players. The truth is that learning timing tells and betting patterns are much more reliable tips in figuring out what your opponents are doing.
For example, you might notice that an opponent bets small with strong hands and bets big when bluffing. This type of information is invaluable and should be documented through good note taking while you play. Here are a few other “tells” to watch out for:
- Taking a long time to act, then betting big or raising
Look out! This is almost always strength.
- Taking a long time to act then checking
Typically, this means the player has a marginal hand or draw and does not want anyone to bet. They take a long time to try to “sell” that they are strong.
- Buying in for an odd amount
If you see someone buy-in for something like $39.26, it is likely their entire bankroll and they are ready to gamble it up.
- Openly complaining about how others play
These are usually mediocre players who have maybe read a book or two. Chronic complainers think they already know how to play perfect poker so make sure you take note of things they say and you will likely learn exactly how they play hands.
7. Poker Talent Is a Myth
Nothing grinds my gears more than when I hear someone refer to a successful person as being talented. As if they were somehow born with all of the skill it takes to succeed. The fact is that when someone refers to the talent of others, they are making an excuse for why they are not as good at that game or sport!
If you take a close look at any highly successful person, you will find one thing in common 100% of the time. Each of them has spent more hours studying, practicing, and honing their skill than their counterparts. Examples of people who worked harder than anyone else in their day: Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky, Larry Bird, Ben Hogan, Jerry Rice, and Pelé. Any of those names ring a bell? Think “talent” is why they were so good?
Skill comes from three aspects: knowledge, practice, and aptitude. Aptitude you can do little about and is overrated in my opinion. The key is to understand your natural strengths and weaknesses and then apply those to your poker game. Some people are good at math and numbers, some are good at understanding people, some are good at soaking up knowledge, and some have a tireless work ethic. Everyone is good at some level in all areas of aptitude. Those who practice based on their abilities are the ones who excel. That leads us to our next tip.
8. Become a Student of the Game
Since you are reading this article, you are probably the type that understands the value of study in becoming good at anything. In poker, constantly improving and working to eliminate your leaks is imperative to success. I have found that the best way to do this is to compartmentalize the game into smaller, more manageable elements. Rather than trying to work on everything at once, it’s best to focus on one thing at a time.
To use chess as an analogy, there are two games always being played at the table. There is the fairly rigid overriding strategic game which is based on tried and true fundamentals that have been proven to lead to winning. Then there is the tactical game, which is more dynamic and executes a player’s plans within the bounds of the strategy. In other words, understanding how money is made and lost leads us to a strategy which, in turn, gives us insight on ways to form a profitable gameplan.
In short, the best way to improve is to first study and learn the advanced fundamentals of poker strategy and use a simple tactical game at first. Then, as you gain more experience you can incrementally add more advanced plays to your repertoire. For example, you might work on mastering the most common elements of the game first, like open-raising ranges and bet sizings. Then, later on, focus more intensely on more complicated elements like the 3-bet/4-bet game.
To aid in your study, there are a few software programs that I recommend.
- Poker Tracking Software
There is no way around it, in order to effectively analyze other players and your own results, every serious player must have poker tracking software. My favorite of all time is Hold’em Manager 2.
- An Equity Calculator
Poker equity calculators allow you to compare the equity of various hands or ranges. Becoming adept at recognizing what your likely equity is at any given moment is an important key to success.
- Hand Analysis Software
If you are like me and a real poker nerd, then you will want to invest in hand analysis software such as Cardrunner’s EV. The program allows you to do dynamic multi-street equity and EV calculations both pre-flop and post-flop.
- Table Management Software
For online poker players, it is really helpful to automate your table layout as well as many of your actions. That way you can focus more on playing and less on setting up your session.
9. Memorize a Default Poker Strategy
I’m sure you’ve heard that adjusting to your opponents is one of the most important skills to develop as a poker player. Even so, before you can adjust you have to have a baseline from which to adjust from. I call this a “vacuum strategy,” which basically just means how you play when you have absolutely no information.
For new players, the best way to get started developing your own Texas Hold’em strategy is to begin with a very basic gameplan. Then, as you gain experience, incrementally add on more advanced concepts into the mix. Within no time you will be exploiting your opponents like a pro.
10. Develop a Poker Process
Poker is no different than any other game or sport in that the best way to make sure you are adhering to the fundamentals and maximizing EV is to follow a routine. You can either develop your own method or use something like the REM process which stands for “range, equity, maximize.” It was explained in the book Professional No-Limit Hold’em, which is, in my opinion, one of the best poker books ever written.
Or, if you want to try something a bit simpler, I developed my own 3 step poker process. Feel free to implement it into your own game.
11. Learn To Game Select
This is probably the most important poker tip that leads directly to a higher win-rate. One of the concepts that you must master to win at poker is table selection. The key to profit in poker is to surround yourself with players who have less skill than you. For this reason, table selection will likely be the biggest factor in how successful you are at the tables. Being adept at choosing which seat to fill can mean the difference between being a top winner at your stake or a mediocre break-even player. The highest earners at any given level are not necessarily the best players. Those who consistently choose the seats most conducive to profit are the ones who excel and maintain the highest win-rates.
Most poker sites maintain table stats that you can view while browsing potential tables to join. If you have no other information, always try to sit at the tables that have the highest average VPIP. Here is an example of what it might look like:
12. Make Sure You Grasp Where the Money Comes From
One of the most important things that a beginner has to learn in order to maximize their potential, is to gain an understanding of how money is actually made in poker. Besides just playing against opponents who are worse than us, we must also strive for every action we make to lead to the most profit possible. This net money won or lost is known as “expected value.”
While luck can rule the day over a few sessions or even several thousand hands, eventually the players who make the best quality decisions hand after hand are the ones who end up having the highest win-rate. It’s all about the long haul and focuses on poker as a lifetime game instead of a get rich quick scheme. The best way to learn to win is to study the fundamentals of poker.
13. Tight Is Not Right (Except When It Is)
You will hear this phrase thrown around every once in awhile. My advice is to ignore that misleading tip and instead learn to understand that winning at poker is about playing a style of game that best fits the “table dynamic,” which is mostly determined by the types of opponents you are currently playing at any table. That usually entails playing the opposite style of the other players and the key is learning to profile them and take good notes.
In general, when playing on a table with loose opponents you do want to follow a fairly straightforward and somewhat tight strategy. This allows you to often dominate their weak ranges and gain value when they overcommit with marginal hands. The idea is to play mistake-free poker and make your money from the errors of the other players.
On the other hand, if your opponents are very tight you want to do the opposite and play very loose in order to capitalize. This usually takes the form of a robust stealing strategy which wins by fighting aggressively for the blinds while your opponents wait for strong hands.
14. Always Consider the Aggressive Play First
Fold equity is one of the most powerful concepts to understand. Basically, it is the amount of money won through aggressive actions such as betting or raising. It does not require that you show down your cards. If you never bet or raise, then you are missing out on a lot of profit.
Based on the money won through fold equity, anytime you are contemplating an action in poker you should always consider the aggressive play first. Only if the aggressive play is not profitable should you even consider a passive play like checking or calling.
As a rule, if the aggressive play is profitable, then it is almost always the best play.
15. Bankroll Increases Faster Than Skill
One of the reasons some players become frustrated and may even quit poker is because they try to move up too high in stakes too quickly. A solid straightforward strategy can be learned fairly quickly and the micro-stakes can fly by for some of the more dedicated folks. Invariably, everyone’s progress with learning slows down at some point and often a stake is reached that cannot be so easily beaten. In my experience, this usually happens around 50NL or 100NL.
It’s easy to become results-oriented and think something is wrong with you if suddenly you start losing after doing so well for the first part of your poker career. This leads to a lot of heads being banged against the wall and even feelings of failure. The problem, if you want to call it that, is that bankroll does indeed increase faster than skill.
The solution is to take things slowly for your first few months (or even years) and just focus on getting better instead of trying to become the next high stakes legend. My recommendation is that you follow something similar to the stairs cashout strategy, which will slow your ascent through the stakes fast enough to hopefully allow your progress as a player to keep up with your progression through the stakes. In poker, slow and steady definitely wins the race.
16. Play in Position as Much as Possible
The number one poker fundamental is to try and play in position more than your opponents. This gives you an informational advantage that sets you up for success. There are several other reasons playing in position is so powerful:
- Pot Size Control
Since you get to act last in position, you get to decide if that last bet gets put into the pot.
- More Bluffing Opportunities
In pots where no one else seems to be interested, the person who acts last often wins the pot with a bluff.
- Easier To Get Value
When you have a strong hand, being able to act last guarantees the ability to put in a bet on every single street. When out of position, your opponent can choose to pot control and check back.
Poker is hard. The fact that there is so much misleading and downright bad information out there makes becoming a winning player more difficult than ever. The goal of these 16 beginner poker tips was to help beginners and intermediate players get a head start by learning the things that all top pros know.
One last bonus piece of advice that I will give you is to not take yourself too seriously. Poker is full of players who think they are God’s gift to poker. That type of know-it-all attitude is the road to underachievement. The faster you can take the ego out of your game, the quicker you can get busy improving and “pwning” the competition.
For more information on learning how to play poker, check out my Texas Hold’em strategy tutorial.
Jim James has over 15 years of experience playing professionally and is the author of the best-selling book called Automatic Poker. Using a no-nonsense mathematical and logical approach to beating the games, he has won 7 figures at the poker table. Jim is well-known as the world’s leading expert on playing short or mid-stacked poker.
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.