Poker is an extremely romanticized game. The glitz, the glamor, and the idea of making thousands off of a hand are extremely appealing things to many beginning players. Many novices just jump in head first without really considering the time and effort it takes to be an expert at the game. Most professionals hone their craft day in and day out while even the best amateur players slave over numbers and keep their mental game in check at all times. Learning to play poker effectively isn’t something you can master overnight. While you can go online and pick out any number of places where you can learn general poker strategies and the mathematics of the game, poker is a lot more than that. It takes a great deal of practice and a great deal of focus to really get your head around it. Dedicate yourself to the following strategies before you really delve into the mathematics and statistics of the game and you’ll develop better habits than many poker players who have been struggling just trying to learn how to read a bluff or memorize starting hand statistics. The Mental Game The mental game is the first and arguably most important aspect of poker strategy. This doesn’t mean bluffing or reading your opponents; the mental game is how you think about yourself and how you’re playing the game. The first rule of the mental games is simply to play your best all the time. If you go session by session or hand by hand while ruminating on your failures, or even your wins, you’ll go crazy trying to think about what you did or didn’t do previously. Just put the other hands out of your mind and live just far enough in the past and future to get a hold on your own strategy and the possible strategy of your opponents. The next rule of the mental game is to avoid stressing about the starting hand. The prospect of a pair of fives might be stressful to a novice, but it isn’t to the pros. The pros will learn when to play a hand and when to fold a hand and sometimes a pair of fives is a hand that is salvageable. With time and skill, you’ll learn to spin some bad starting hands into gold. The last rule of the mental game is to avoid emotions at all costs. Fear or unsettled feelings about previous sessions or hands can lead to desperation, tells, or just a general clouding of judgment. Think about what you’re thinking and put the things that are not productive out of your head. Learning One thing you need to do to learn to play poker well is to practice every day. No pro athlete just walked onto the field one day and became instantly amazing; it takes steady practice over years to really make it to the big leagues. Part of your practice should be to write down your hands, your draws, and the results of the hands you play. Pour over those numbers while you’re at home (not at the table) so you notice winning and losing trends. This will help you capitalize on your strengths and adjust any areas of opportunity that you may have. Learn the strategic trends that occur. Play styles come and go, just like fashion and music trends. Knowing the tactic that your opponent may be using and playing off of it will make you an expert at the game. And learn some additional poker strategies for yourself too. Not only will it make you a better overall player, it will spice the game up and keep it fresh in your mind. One of the most important things about learning poker is to always know that you can learn more. Getting cocky is never, ever a good attribute. Not only will it cloud your judgment with your hands and your bets, it will keep your strategy stale and your opponents knowing exactly what to expect from you. Until you can reliably turn every hand, no matter what it is, into a royal flush, don’t assume you’re better than the guy sitting next to you. Not every particular poker strategy that you’ll read about when to fold or draw will be for you. Everyone has their own style and, to be successful, you’ll need to develop your own over time. No one develops their own style overnight, it takes a lot of patience, trial and error, and heart to know what works for you and what doesn’t, then craft your own style to enhance your strengths and play to your weaknesses. But, ultimately, the above strategies are good rules for everyone, from the newest player at the table, to the top WSOP winner. No one is above the mental game and continual learning.