Poker is one of the greatest games on earth. The combination of skill and luck, the psychological element, and the fact you can make money from it all help with its popularity. But in order for you to make money from poker, you need to learn how to win at poker, which is actually easier than some would suggest.
Learning how to win at Texas hold’em can be broken down into four categories. (It can probably be broken down into many more, but for the sake of simplicity we’ve opted for four.) Those categories are:
- Learn the basics
- Learn advanced concepts
- Apply your new skills
- Continue the learning process
Learn the Basics
It should go without saying that in order to discover how to win in poker, you need to learn the basics of the game. When I first started playing poker, I didn’t know anything about the game, even including what hands beat what. You’d be surprised at how many people sit in a real money game and expect to win at Texas Holdem poker without even a clear understanding of the rules and other basics.
Those basics not only include knowing the poker hand rankings so you know what beats what, but also the various positions at the poker table and how they affect your strategy, pot odds and implied pot odds, and the importance of following solid bankroll management rules. Once armed with this information, you’re ready to add a few more strings to your bow and move one step closer to discovering how to be a winning player.
Learn Advanced Concepts
The next stage in your quest to win at poker every time is to learn some of the more advanced concepts. Fill your mind by studying such aspects of the game as three- and four-betting, as well as how to play against the various different player types — e.g., tight-aggressive, loose-aggressive, and loose-passive — because each opponent type needs to be approached with a different strategy.
One advanced concept became public knowledge in the mid-1990s when David Sklansky penned The Theory of Poker. It is in this book that you will find Sklansky’s thoughts on what he calls “The Fundamental Theorem of Poker,” which reads:
“Every time you play a hand differently from the way you would have played it if you could see all your opponents’ cards, they gain; and every time you play your hand the same way you would have played it if you could see all their cards, they lose. Conversely, every time opponents play their hands differently from the way they would have if they could see all your cards, you gain; and every time they play their hands the same way they would have played if they could see all your cards, you lose.”
This text may seem longwinded, but the idea being expressed is quite simple. What the theorem is essentially saying is that the correct decision to make in any given poker situation is one that has the largest expected value, or “EV” as it is commonly abbreviated. If you were able to see your opponents’ cards, you would be able to calculate the mathematically correct decision and would win at poker every time!
Obviously, it is not possible to calculate the correct decision to mathematical certainty as poker is a game played with incomplete information. But you can use all of the available information presented to you to make a decision that would yield long-term positive results — decisions that are +EV.
Apply Your Skills
While it is practically impossible to learn how to win at poker every time in a monetary sense, due to the luck factor, by making decisions that are +EV you actually are winning every time you play poker, at least in the long term.
As a simplified example, imagine you are heads-up with an opponent in a hand where the board reads . You hold and your opponent has accidently revealed , so you know that you need to complete your flush to win the hand. There is $100 in the pot and for some reason you opponent decides to only bet $20. In this situation you should snap-call, because even if the river is not a spade you actually gain in the long run.
Why is this the case? Because the pot odds you’re receiving are 5-to-1 (calling $20 to win $100) yet your chance of hitting your flush with one card to come is about 4.1-to-1. As the pot odds are greater than the odds of hitting the hand, you actually make money in the long run even if your flush misses! That is to say, if you faced the same choice many, many times and always chose correctly, you do stand to come out ahead thanks to your consistently “+EV” decisions. And that folks, is how to win at poker every time!
Of course, the game is more complex than that overly simply example suggests. But in essence the idea still holds. The key to how to win at poker is to make more +EV decisions that –EV ones, and then play enough for the math to make the results run true. Sadly, this can take longer than you could imagine, but it does happen eventually!
Continue the Learning Process
It may seem to an outsider that the best poker players have discovered the secret of how to win at poker every time, yet this simply isn’t true. What is true is those at the top of the pile are extremely skilled poker players, but they are also some of the hardest working people in the industry, constantly working on their game and trying to improve.
One way to improve your own game vastly and increase your chances of learning to win at Texas Hold’em is to play around with different scenarios to see what the mathematically correct decision would be. Load up the PokerNews Odds Calculator and look at how much equity your hand has on different boards and against different possible hands for your opponents. There are other tools out there that allow you to see how your exact hand fares against a possible range of hands, too.
Knowing this information and being able to draw upon it while in the heat of a hand could be the difference between winning or losing at poker or losing. Always look to extract as much value as mathematically possible, if you want always to win at poker.