Unlike almost every other game that involves betting, poker rewards strategy and good play because it involves competition against other players. There are three core skills that every player should be aware of before they even pick up their first card. Let's break down each one and explain why they're so important to the game.
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Core Poker Skill #1: Mathematics
Even the most loose-aggressive player understands the general probabilities of the game of poker. They know that you have about a one-in-8.5 chance of making a set when you've got a pocket pair and that if you flop a flush draw, there's roughly a one-in-three chance of completing it by the river. Math is at the heart of poker and being able to count and evaluate the chances of outs quickly can help you make well-informed decisions.
In addition, good poker players can figure out pot odds on the fly. We've discussed them on this site previously, but knowing the number of outs you've got is only half the equation: you have to be able to translate that into smart betting that pays off over time.
Core Poker Skill #2: Discipline
Discipline in poker means that you understand that not every hand is worth playing and that not every move you make is going to work out. Discipline in poker is about the long term. For example, a good poker player knows to avoid speculative hands when the action is tight versus loose tables where two suited low-end cards can yield a nice payout if a flush hits.
If you want to play poker well, you have to be able to demand an advantage from your opponents. A good poker player has the ability to take control and turn the tables to their advantage.
Core Poker Skill #3: Psychology
A good player is empathic, and that's why they're a good player. They use clues such as betting patterns to ask and answer questions like "What does my opponent have?" or "What does my opponent think I have?" Knowing what your opponent has is just the first part of a great poker play; manipulating your own image so that they don't have a clear picture on what you're holding is what makes poker actually exciting.
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While psychology is much more important in no-limit poker, it's still a part of every poker game simply because you are playing against other players. Keep that in mind when you're sitting down to every game and you'll be ahead of the competition.
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