Poker falls under the same umbrella as many other casino games in that it’s relatively easy to play but difficult to master. Whilst it’s true that there are numerous possible permutations and eventualities which are simply outside of a player’s control, a good understanding of the game’s concepts can minimise the chances of any shocks and surprises. With that being said, below is a rundown on some of the most commonly misunderstood elements of poker which will not only make you a more competent poker player but will also improve your decision making when it comes to taking risks in any sort of casino game.
Probability Isn’t Always Right
Whilst poker is a game of chance, a good understanding of the odds associated with obtaining a desired hand can often be pivotal. It’s fair to say that probability won’t enter the mind of a beginner poker player and this is totally fine – however, in order to advance your skills and increase your chances of success, you’re going to need to take an in-depth look at probability. On the surface, the maths behind poker looks a little scary but there are various ways and methods of calculating probability which will come as second nature after enough practice.
Probability is best defined as the branch of mathematics relating to the possibility of certain outcomes occurring. The standard example relates to the flipping of the coin, with the odds of the coin landing on heads or tails both standing at 50% due to the fact there are only two possible outcomes (unless you manage to land the coin on its axis). Unfortunately, a deck contains 52 cards and so this is where things start to get a little complicated – the probability of drawing an ace from the pack stands at 7.7% (1 in 13), for example, and if you’re looking to draw pocket aces then the probabilities of drawing each card should be multiplied (4 in 52 multiplied by 3 in 51 = 0.45%)
The best poker players will already be aware of the chances of them winning with the hand they have at disposal and will fold or raise the stakes accordingly. Of course, the size of the pot and the likelihood of your opponent possessing a better hand than you will also affect the way that the game will play out but ultimately, the whole point of getting your head around probability is so you’re better equipped to make the best objective decision at any one time. Put simply, in order to be a good poker player, a good knowledge of maths and probability is essential.
Bankroll Management Doesn’t Always Guarantee a Winner
Bankroll management is a term that you may well have heard thrown around in the poker circles. Essentially, good bankroll management a fancy term for good money management and involves playing within certain limits in order to avoid bankrupting yourself due to a bad run of cards. According to poker pro Jonathan Little, most poker professionals are of the opinion that good bankroll management is simply another tool that must be mastered in order to be a successful poker player in the long run.
First of all, it’s important to determine how much you’re willing to lose. Those who play at tables with higher limits and the chances of losing more money than they’re comfortable with are said to be playing outside of their bankroll and this is a mistake that many lower-end poker players tend to make. Choosing your limits wisely in poker is important due to the variance of the game, i.e. the fluctuations of good and bad runs of cards and the various ups and downs associated with the game of poker at any level.
As has been previously mentioned, some things in poker are simply out of one’s control and no matter your skill level every player will experience some sort of variance. Good bankroll management allows you to take the rough with the smooth without losing all of your money and gives you the best possible chances of recouping your losses.
Bluffing Doesn’t Matter
If you’re a keen Texas Hold’em player, there’s a good chance that you’ll have come across a player who claims that bluffing is not necessary and they don’t need to bluff in order to win. Chances are that player is either bluffing when they say that or is simply a losing poker player. In order to stay competitive, bluffing is an essential part of poker no matter what level you play at and the frequency of your bluffs will often depend on a number of different factors including the bet size, your position and your opponents at the table.
Poker is as much a human game as it is a card game but if you can confidently say that all your bluffs are successful then you’re simply not bluffing enough – the art of bluffing involves being unpredictable and if you’re hard to read, your opponents are generally more likely to fold on the flop or the river when they may well have a superior hand. John Von Neumann’s 1944 book, “Theory of Games and Economic Behaviour” suggests that you should always bluff with your worst hand, which is an interesting and intriguing insight into the kind of psychology associated with the game of poker and just one of many strategies associated with the art of bluffing.
Practice Makes Perfect
There’s plenty of essential reading when it comes to poker but at the end of the day, the only way to learn is by doing. Of course, a solid grasp of the aforementioned concepts is vital but it’s only when you see them working in practice that you truly realise how complex the game of poker really is. Above all else, it’s important to realise that the very best poker players have had years of practice and that there’s no hard and fast way to become a better player. Accept that there will be losses along the way, learn from your mistakes and try to enjoy yourself – if you’re not having fun then, what’s the point?