Play to win, and to win well: the most important poker skills for long-term profitability

You want to win at poker, right? Of course you do. But you also want to keep winning. If you seek long-term profitability, you should strongly consider heeding the following advice.

If you search online for “poker strategy,” you will find loads of information. In fact, it goes way too deep. It’s almost as if people are searching for strategies that aren’t there.

Male poker player lifting the corners of two cards aces

Winning poker is… boring?

And those people do this either to make themselves appear smarter or to sell poker coaching. The cold hard truth is that winning poker is boring.

If you want to go in with a LAG (loose-aggressive) approach in a full-ring game, then your profits will not be sustainable. If you’re playing full-ring — live or online — then TAG (tight-aggressive) is the only way you will survive. It reduces variance, which limits tilt (emotional decisions) and keeps you on the correct path for making good decisions.

That said, there is one factor that’s even more important when it comes to sustainable profitability in the game of poker, and it’s by a wide margin.

I never rebuy when playing a cash game. A friend of mine who plays poker in the United Kingdom recently told me this was a leak in my game. This is the problem. Too many poker players are following the herd, thinking that everything is about + EV (Expected Value). That’s important, but you need to look at the bigger picture. Nothing trumps money management. Therefore, let’s focus on that for a moment.

Getting down to the detail


Let’s say I buy-in to a 2/5 No Limit cash game for $300 and lose. If it’s a live game, I drive home. If it’s an online game, I log-out. In either case, I don’t return for at least 12 hours (strict rule). By not returning to the game for a minimum of 12 hours, I eliminate the possibility of getting crushed.

Losing $300 is never fun, but think about all those players you know who stay at a table for hours — sometimes days — to get their money back. They continue to rebuy because they keep losing. They don’t want to admit it to themselves, but they’re likely rushing their play, which equates to poor decision making and the hole being dug deeper and deeper.

A player at a 2/5 game who is either playing or running bad can easily be down $1,500-$2,000 after 8-10 hours (or worse). Let’s assume that’s the case. The player eventually leaves the game. Even if he or she is a great player, they must absolutely crush the game during their next session just to get even.

By never rebuying, you’re minimizing your losses and maximizing your wins. That, my friends, is profitable poker. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Some people will tell you that never rebuying is a weakness because other players will catch on and attack accordingly, but let them attack and trust your reads. Even if you don’t read hands well, the positives still greatly outweigh the negatives.

If you want to win in poker, don’t lose

The same player told me that you should always make the + EV decision. I disagreed and stated that if you have a 60% edge early in a session versus a very weak player who shoves and usually plays 8-10 hours, then you should wait for a better spot.

The reasoning is that you want to outplay a very weak opponent (opposed to relying on a slight edge), and you’re most certainly going to have a better than 60% advantage against someone at that table throughout your session. This became a heated debate for some people on my Facebook page, but once two-time World Champion Texas Dolly (Doyle Brunson) came to my defense, it was Game Over.

You have to decide if you’re going to think like everyone else or navigate wins. It’s a very simply formula: If you want to win in poker, don’t lose. You can also apply the financial investing advice: a missed opportunity is always better than a loss. It’s not sexy, but sexy doesn’t win in poker. Nor does it win in investing.

What about online?

Room of people gambling on table in blue light with holographic card display

If you’re playing online, then it’s important that you eliminate as many distractions as possible (phone, social networking, television), use a Heads Up Display (HUD), and carefully research what online poker sites will pay you out immediately without charging a fee (check out Casinopedia’s guide to the top five online poker sites here).

Don’t overlook that last point. If the game of poker is your business, then treat it like a business and cut costs at every opportunity. This increases profitability, which then gives you more cash flow. Or, in this case, a bigger bankroll. When you have a bigger bankroll, you increase your opportunities for a big cash. For example, you might have a little money left over for a big online poker tournament. Never think a field is too large. One hand at a time. Someone has to win. Whoever believes in themselves the most usually has the best shot. And if you win a big poker tournament—live or online—it can be a life-changing event.

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