(Greg Dinkin, director of marketing for the World Poker Tour, is author of The Poker MBA: Winning In Business No Matter What Cards You’re Dealt. His knowledge is based on years as a professional poker player, often winning at high stakes games across the country.)
Texas Hold’em is the most popular form of poker played in casinos and card rooms, and it’s the game of choice for most championship events and the million-dollar purses on the World Poker Tour.
No matter what game or stakes you’re playing, here are 10 tips that go beyond knowing when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em — as well as give you the extra edge to rake in the chips.
1. Be tight and aggressive. The players who win the most money are rarely the ones who win the most pots. The key is to be selective (tight) and only play with good cards such as high pairs or high cards with flush or straight potential. When you do enter a pot, play your hand aggressively.
2. Pump it or dump it. Unless you have "the nuts" and want to suck players in, you should rarely just call another players bet. When another player bets, you should either raise (pump it) or fold (dump it).
3. Watch the other players more than the cards. Picking up "tells" on other players will allow you to read their poker face and know when they are bluffing. These tells are often subtle, which is why professional players look at the other players before they look at their own cards.
4. Strong usually means weak and weak usually means strong. As a general rule, a player who is acting strong by staring at you or betting forcefully, is usually weak and is trying to bluff you out of the pot. The player who is acting weak by appearing disinterested, is usually strong and is trying to suck you into the pot.
5. Take advantage of position. When you’re first to act, you should be even more selective in the hands you play. When you’re last to act, exploit that advantage by playing even more aggressively.
6. Know how much money is in the pot. By keeping a running count of the money in the pot, it allows you to know if you are getting enough return to justify risking your chips. It’s not enough to know the odds; you must also know the payoff.
7. Don’t go on "tilt." Controlling your emotions with money on the line is the toughest thing to do at the poker table. When you lose a hand, especially a "bad beat" when another player hits a long shot to beat you, you must maintain your composure and play the next hand without emotion.
8. Quit when you’re behind; play when you’re ahead. Human nature dictates that when you’re losing, you want to get even so badly that you’ll play all night and start chasing longshots. It also tells you to lock in a profit when you’re winning. What you should do is stick to a set loss amount before you start, and if you’re winning, keep playing to take advantage of the momentum.
9. It depends. What makes poker so challenging is that no situations are alike. Rather than try to memorize a formula, you must constantly evaluate the other players, the odds, and the specifics of a hand.
10. It takes a long time to reach the "long run." Poker is a game of skill in the long run with a lot of short-term luck. If you’re playing better than your opponents and play your "A" game at all times, you’ll win. Just understand that you will still have many losing nights and big fluctuations in your bankroll in the course of becoming a winner in the long run.