Key Disciplines to Boost Your Poker Skill

Poker is far from a pursuit which can be thought of as simple. Instead, poker is well-known as one of the more intellectual forms of gaming out there, requiring dedication and a sharp mind for players to have any real hope of being the best. What is sometimes forgotten, however, is the contributing effect that transferable skills can have to an individual’s success in the game. While these come in a few key areas, a strong base understanding of any of these areas will give new players a huge advantage over their less-knowledgeable counterparts.

If you’ve ever introduced a group of new players to any form of poker at the same time then you no doubt would have noticed it. Some players seem to start with a leg up on the competition, while others just do not seem to understand the sheer depth and suffer all the worse for it.

The three strongest intellectual disciplines which can have a strong transferrable effect to poker success are widely stated to come down to psychology, mathematics, and critical thinking. In this article, we want to take a look at what each of these brings to the table, and why they are such important factors of every successful poker champion.

Getting Psychological

Every game not completely random involves some elements of psychology, and this aspect of gaming is often magnified in the slower and more intellectual of competition. As poker games can not only take hours to complete but involve the direct and close contact with other people, it’s only natural that an understanding of human nature would play an import part in coming out the victor. The actual methods required depends on the group with whom you play, though are some components which are universal.

Bluffing is an important part of the game, with the general idea being the tricking of another player into thinking your cards are better or worse than they really are. As for how you go about this, that depends on the minds and attitudes of the other players. Keep in mind that they already have an idea in their minds about the type of person you are, and how you might illustrate your cards through small tells. In order to really increase your chances of bluffing successfully you need to understand the mental image they have of you, and how that image would react in any given situation.

CC BY 2.0) by Tom Hilton
You’re not actually psychic, but the best players can make others think they are.

Are you underestimated as a fish? Then play that part. Pretend that your victories might be luck, and wear an air of unearned superiority. Obviously, this tactic will not work for all groups, but it certainly a method we have seen work time and again when it comes to casual groups, or playing with strangers. Just be careful, not everyone cares for hustlers.

Likewise, you need to be diligent in how you watch and judge your opponents. Keep an eye on their tells, and be aware that the good players are adept at psychological leading and manipulation, and you’ll be well on your way to a more successful poker career. Remember that this is very much a skill which needs to be fostered, and few are lucky enough to have the emotional or interpersonal intelligence to naturally understand the inner workings of others.

Understanding the Math

The other main component of the game of poker is that of mathematics and, specifically, probability. Understand that there are only so many cards in a deck, and if you manage to keep the cards which have been played in mind, in any degree, you will vastly increase your chances of detecting a bluff or pulling off a bluff of your own. Just as with the psychological aspect of the game, this is a skill worth cultivating, with few having the naturally gifted minds to understand this aspect without major practice and effort.

(CC BY-SA 2.0) by mattbuck4950
Try to always keep the probabilities in mind, on some level.

Unlike the psychological aspects of the game, which can reliably be learned over long periods of practice, the best way to learn the mathematical components is often to research the theory and statistical probabilities online. Luckily for us, there already exist huge and useful resources online about these aspects of the game, with websites like 888poker laying out established paths when it comes to ratios, percentages, and general odds. Remember that not even the best poker players in the world understand all the math’s all of the time, so the contribution here should not be underestimated.

Critical Combination and Thinking

On the back of both psychology and mathematics, we have the component of critical thinking and the combination of these two aspects into one. In this, the players need to understand a wide range of both personal and mathematical factors and use those to apply their own custom model for each individual game. No one strategy will work for every form of poker, or against every type of player, so it is important to be flexible and be able to think on your feet.

In terms of mathematics, we can see this in terms of the number of decks being used, and the type of poker being played. Two or more decks mean you have more variables to keep in mind, after all, which can add a great deal of mental load into the equation. Similarly, a game like 5-Card Draw will involve very different aspects of bluffing and mathematics than Texas Hold’em, so players who keep this in mindset themselves up for far greater chances of success.

Practice, Adaption, Versatility

Nothing good comes easy, and success in poker is a strong example of that. The best players in poker have extreme levels of knowledge in their preferred games, and strong levels of knowledge in others. The best players will learn to cover their own weaknesses while understanding how other players will be doing the same. There is no such thing as perfect in poker, but practice, patience, and understanding will vastly increase your chances of success.

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