While gaming trends come and go, poker remains a constant. If anything in fact, its popularity has been boosted over the years by the transition to online platforms. No longer do you have to get dressed up and hit the casino, or phone ’round mates to get a game going; you can do it from the comfort of your own home (or via mobile phone on the bus, or waiting around in the airport) whenever you fancy.
The pandemic has brought about a new raft of players to the online game, with PokerStars reporting its largest-ever prize pot tourney in March 2020 –– shattering a record that had held since 2012. Simply put, there are a lot of newcomers around. That said, there are also plenty of established big fish circling them. So if you’re a casual player or you happen to be among those newcomers, here are some tips to help you stay afloat.
Get Comfy (But Not Too Comfy)
Online poker is a far different beast than a live game. For one thing, you’re not in the same room (or perhaps on the same continent) as your opponents, so you’ve no real access to physical “tells” (unless they’ve got a tic noticeable on a webcam, which would really be something). Online poker also tends to be much faster than the live alternative, so it’s important to be able to pay attention. Sitting on the couch with one eye on the TV won’t cut it.
For this reason it’s best to design a cozy setup that will keep you engaged. Think about how you’d set yourself up for working or studying from home and do something similar –– find a space with as few distractions as you can manage. Noise-cancelling headphones and whatever style of music helps you focus can be useful as well, if you’re not using camera and sound options on your chosen poker site. And if you really want to go all out, consider an ergonomic gaming chair as well (particularly for longer tournaments). Just make sure you don’t get so cozy as to nod off mid-hand….
Don’t Play Every Hand
If you’re just starting out, there’s a temptation –– particularly if you’re playing low stakes cash or even play-money games –– to play every single hand. There’s a certain logic to it, if you’re trying to improve. Why not be fast and loose to gain more experience when there’s not much real consequence?
While you will gain experience this way however, much of it will be unproductive. Rather than playing for volume, it’s best to play in such a way that you can truly recognize your good, risky, and straight-up bad decisions. As stated previously, online poker is fast. There will be another hand along soon if you simply sit a few out to assess your play.
Play the (Basic) Odds
If you’re relatively new to poker you may well be under the impression that there’s lots of math and data to learn. That’s true to some extent, but when you’re new the basics will take you a long way.
For a beginning player, learning the rankings of poker hands and the chances of landing each one is essential in particular. You should know immediately what your chances are, for example, of completing a flush if you draw two cards of the same set. You should also recognise which hand wins between a full house and a straight the instant you see them go head to head. Don’t worry too much about the advanced maths. There will be time for that later, and with some understanding of fundamental comparisons and odds you’ll be able to enjoy the game more, and thus gain more experience.
Have Fun With It
Lastly, remember that poker is a long-haul game, and the maths and probabilities will usually separate the good players from the bad over the course of a tournament. But sometimes you’re going to do everything right and lose hands to someone who has no idea what they’re doing! Even the top-ranked pro players get bad beats. But while it may be entertaining to watch a pro star like Phil Hellmuth handle this situation with one of his famous rants, remember that you should stay calm and happy. Hellmuth’s been playing poker for 40 years and can get himself back together whenever he wants to.
For the rest of us, the temptation to turn to negative emotion can easily lead to a losing streak –– and a lot less fun. It’s best to keep all of this in mind and check your ego at the door. It’s just a game. Above all else, enjoy it!
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