Poker is a game of luck, skill and, most of all, psychology. Joining a table without the right mental preparation can mean you've lost before the cards are even dealt.
Before developing a poker strategy, every player must first acknowledge their own strengths and weaknesses. Knowing how you respond in a tough situation, and whether you have a natural tendency toward protecting your cash or taking on all comers should dictate the approach you choose. After all, it's easier to use what you have than to try and remove a lifetime of habit.
Poker personalities are generally categorised in four ways:
In reality, these are more like the extremes of a broad spectrum of playing styles. The more you spot these traits, the better you'll understand where players sit on the spectrum and how to use that to your advantage. That means building a table persona that taps into your opponents' psychological weak spots.
A huge part of building a table persona is developing a strategy for when and how you place your bets, and controlling tempo and pressure. Your precise approach will depend on the poker variant you chose, but there is a basic rule that should guide every strategy: decide whether to play based on the cards you're dealt; decide how to play based on the cards you want others to think you were dealt.
For example, playing a tight game cuts your losses, but because others pick up on your tight approach, you can play on their expectations now and then to push a bad hand if you're on a dry spell. You can also play the tempo: quick checks will make people think you are chasing cards, and quick raises imply you have a good hand and want to win big.
Movies might show players twitching when they've got a good hand, or rubbing their noses when they're bluffing. In real life, physical tells are few and far between, and tend to be micro-expressions rather than clear movements. It's possible to study someone over a long period and maybe pick up a tell. But in most instances, and especially during online poker games, tells tend to be about spotting patterns in your opponents' betting.
Spotting these types at a table is much more lucrative than looking for tells. A player betting with emotion is 'on tilt', and likely to haemorrhage cash. Don't just look out for these players - amp up the pressure to create them. And stay calm and focused to avoid going on tilt yourself.
'River rats' will bet before the flop if their cards are promising, and stick with the game through to the river even if they're chasing a lost cause. Which means filling the pot for you.
Keep your eyes peeled for these types, practise your psychological strategy at partypoker, and soon you can take your mind games to the casino.