Observe and focus on your opponents
By Jack Clayton
The rise in poker popularity the last decade has skyrocketed. Draw poker, stud, community card, Texas Hold ’Em and Omaha are all challenging variants and the interest has been phenomenal— and proﬁtable, if you know when to hold ’em, fold ’em and bluﬀ.
There is so much to the game, from holding the right cards to the psychological aspect of sizing up your opponents while keeping them guessing at your own stoic “poker face.” There’s another old joke, this time around the Las Vegas Strip, about a guy who dropped into a poker tournament, turned a hundred dollars into a hundred thousand, then went all in on a great hand only to get busted. When he returned home his wife asked, “So how’d you do?” The guy shrugged, “I broke even.”
Anything can happen at the card table when you let lady luck run the show, from getting knocked out early, breaking even and having some fun, to riding a run of hot hands to a big payday. However, not all of us play for fun. Just like in the competitive world of business, high ﬁnance and playing commodity or currency markets, there are important steps to understand if you are serious about turning a proﬁt. You lack control over what cards will appear, but you do have complete command over every move you make with those cards, psychological factors and other subtleties. Here are some poker tips to keep in mind if you care less about fun and more about playing to pad your pockets.
Should I Stay or Should I Go?
Like the famous Clash song, a common mistake poker beginners make is to believe that they have to stay in a round because they’ve already put money in the pot, sometimes more than they should have. This is where a novice player begins to hum the tune of an older song, a Dusty Springﬁeld hit: “Wishin’ and Hopin.” Wishing and hoping that the cards suddenly turn in their favor and they turn a hopeless hand into a big kill. Wrong, wrong, wrong.
Don’t stick with a bad hand hoping the cards turn in your favor. You may get away with it once in a while, but over the long haul it will drag your bankroll down. Don’t feel defeated if you drop out of a hand. Sports bettors shouldn’t chase lost money just as smart poker players shouldn’t chase bad cards. Think like a pragmatist: Getting out to prevent a bigger loss is money saved, not lost.
A Great Memory is Your Best Asset
A lot of people have bad short-term memories, but there are ways to enhance your ability to focus and recall: physical exercise, eating the right foods (ﬁsh, nuts), getting enough sleep, etc. And, of course, if you’re sitting for eight hours at the poker tables, avoid booze.
Why are these health and psychological essentials helpful for poker? Recall! A good memory is a terriﬁc asset and a great memory is a huge advantage. In seven-card stud, for instance, it helps to pay attention to what’s showing and what people have folded when considering calling your opponents. In Texas Hold ’em, it helps to ﬁgure out what the best possible hand could be to ﬁt the ﬂop, as well as making sure you notice any ﬂush and straight possibilities.
The human brain has an astonishing ability to adapt and change, even into old age. The fancy term is neuroplasticity, which simply means with the right stimulation, your brain can form new neural pathways, alter existing connections, and adapt and react better. This helps learning and memory, a pair of essentials in poker, because putting the odds in your favor is the only way to win consistently in sports wagering and cards.
Watch the other players around you. Some will give hints away or develop patterns. This can help you down the road, just as a chess player calculates several moves ahead. Plan in advance when you will bluﬀ or not bluﬀ, don’t do it on a whim. All of this requires intense focus, keeping track of discarded cards, what the opponent’s tendencies are and what moves you will make now and in the near future.
There’s a reason that casinos serve free drinks for slot and blackjack players: it impairs judgment and makes one forget about time. If you want to turn a poker proﬁt, you need to train your body and your mind to be at optimum performance levels. You must be serious, studious and focused. Because if you’re not, your opponent will be… and your money will soon be in their pocket!