Intermediate Poker Skills

Poker coach Alton Hardin discusses the essential intermediate poker skills needed to beat the opposition and start winning games. Build solid poker foundations, and you can progress to practicing strategies and improving your odds.

  • Transcript

    5 Steps to Profitable Poker

    Hey there, are you interested in learning about five essential poker tips that's going to teach you how to play profitable poker? Well if so, stay tuned because you going to want to watch this video.

    Well, I'm glad that you stayed tuned and you're going to watch this video. For those of you that don't know who I am, my name's Alton Hardin, I'm a best-selling poker author and the founder of MicroGrinder Poker School, and today I'm here doing a video for OnlineGambling.com to teach you how to play profitable poker through five essential fundamental poker tips.

    So, let's go ahead and let's get started and let's talk about how we can turn you into a profitable poker player.

    Steps to Profitable Poker

    So, when it comes to working on your poker game and striving to become a profitable poker player, there are so many different things that you can do to work on your game. And it can be a bit daunting for people that don't know where to start. So, for beginners and struggling and break-even poker players, I've put together, what you see on the screen, which I call 5 Steps to Profitable Poker, and we're going to talk about each of these in this video.

    So, for beginners and struggling and break-even poker players, I've put together, what you see on the screen, which I call 5 Steps to Profitable Poker, and we're going to talk about each of these in this video.

    So just to give you a quick overview:

    • The first one is building a strong poker foundation
    • Then after that we're going to talk about playing tight, aggressive poker
    • Then after that we're going to talk about understanding variants in poker
    • After that we'll talk about learning to play +EV poker
    • and then lastly, we're going to talk about learning not to tilt

    So those are the five steps to playing a profitable poker that you're going to learn in this video.

    So, let's go ahead and let's start off talking about building a strong poker foundation.

    Build a Strong Poker Foundation

    So, the first thing and probably the most important thing that we really need to focus on is building a strong poker foundation. And this is a bit broad and what I like to call this, what you see on the screen, I like to call these your three pillars:

    • So, we have our pre-flop fundamentals
    • We have our post-flop fundamentals
    • And we have essential poker math

    And all three of these are equally important. So, you need to have a good understanding of solid pre-flop play, solid post-flop play and at least basic poker math such as pot odds and implied odds in equity.

    Now if we think about this, if you want to eventually become a great poker player, you have to master the fundamentals. And if we think about it from the perspective of a house, if we have a very poorly made foundation, then everything that we build on top of it, our framing, our sheet rock, our electrical, our windows, our roofing and so forth, well that's going to have issues down the line as well.

    So we want to make sure that we focus on these fundamentals. And when I talk about these things, when I talk about pre-flop fundamentalism and post-flop fundamentals and essential poker math, this is definitely very broad and that's why I didn't put a bullet list of the different things. Because when you look at this, it's really about just laying the groundwork to then improve your game further.

    So pre-flop fundamentals, working on things such as knowing the different types of ranges you should play pre-flop, in terms of raising and calling in three betting, and stealing the blinds and so forth. For post-flop, understanding your opponent's range as post-flop, understanding the board texture, understanding how to react to bets, understanding when you can bet for value or bet as a bluff and so forth.

    And then essential poker math. Essential poker math, poker math plays a role in everything here, in our pre-flop play and our post-flop play. It all comes down to math, so you need to master at least the basics.

    So that's building a poker foundation, and like I said, it's very broad, but it's very important. If you only focus on one thing in this video, focus on building a strong poker foundation.

    Play Tight Aggressive (TAG) Poker

    All right, so that's a perfect segue for us now to talk about playing tight, aggressive poker, and we commonly refer to a tight, aggressive player as a tag in the poker world.

    Now, when you're working on building up your strong poker foundation and you're working on your pre-flop game and your post-flop game and your poker math, you're inherently going to become a more aggressive poker player. However, I've actually seen students that I've worked with, students that I've coached, I've seen them have passive tendencies. Some players are on one spectrum where they are very aggressive and we actually have to tone it down, and other players are on the other spectrum where they're overly passive and we have to make them more aggressive.

    So, here's the thing. I want you to strive to become a tight, aggressive poker player and that's because aggressive poker players a winning poker player. And passive players on the flip side are losing poker players, and we'll talk about exactly why that is on the next slide. And I want you to understand this because it's a very important concept.

    Weak passive poker player is a losing poker player in the long run. Anybody can win in any single poker session, but in the long run, passive poker player is going to be a losing poker player. But on the flip side, controlled aggressive poker is winning poker. And the key word with this is controlled, because when we're talking about controlled, we're talking about tight, aggressive poker.

    Why is Aggressive Poker Winning Poker?

    So, let's talk about why aggressive poker is winning poker. So there are passive poker players and there are aggressive poker players. Well, we've said that passive poker players are losing poker players in the long run. Well, why is that? When we play passive weak poker, we can only win the hand one way, and that at showdown by making the best hand.

    So, we only get to the end of the hand a majority of the time by getting to showdown because when we're playing weak and passively, we're checking and we're calling, we're not actually betting our self. But on the flip side, if we play aggressive poker, we actually give ourselves two different ways to win the hand. We give ourselves a chance to win the hand with either the best hand or the worst hand.

    So we can win with the best hand when we simply bet for value with the best hand, to hope to extract money from our opponents and earn as much possible with our best hand.

    Now on the flip side, we can also win with the worst hand by either bluffing or semi bluffing and making our opponents potentially fold better hands.

    So, as you can see, just having this second ability to bluff in semi-bluff makes aggressive poker very profitable. So that's why I want you to also focus on becoming a tight, aggressive poker player.

    Understand Variance in Poker

    So, the next thing that we need to understand is variance in poker. And in fact, we need to do more than to simply understand it we actually need to learn to embrace it.

    So what is it? Well a lot of poker players have heard of it but a lot actually don't really understand it and in its most basic form it's nothing more than the ebbs and flow in poker, meaning our up swings and our down swings, when we're running good and when we're running bad and you'll hear a lot of people say negative or positive variance. Negative variance is when we're running bad nothing's going our way, positive variance is when everything is going our way and we're winning a lot.

    Now let's talk about a more definitive definition. So a more definitive definition is the difference between individual results in the short term and let me highlight this because it's important, so it's a difference between individual results in the short term and the average set of results we expect to see in the long term, based on our correct decision making process.

    So let me give you an example to help you understand this, let's say that we have pocket kings and our opponent has pocket jacks and we're both all-in pre-flop for $100, well we know without actually doing any math that we expect to win over the long term, right? We have pocket Kings, pocket Kings are going to win a majority of the time, versus pocket jacks, but what happens if we play the hand out three times and we lose two out of those three times? Well that's going to be negative variance.

    On the flip side, if we are our opponent that has pocket jacks and we won two or three that's going to be positive variance. Now what we need to understand is it over the long run, the math is going to kick in and if we expect to win roughly 80% of the time what we're going to 80% of the time, and here's the thing a lot of poker players who actually don't really think about variants they don't think about it from this perspective and it ends up negatively influencing their game and their bankroll. Why is that? Well, when we don't understand variants when we don't embrace it, when we don't embrace those times where we got our money all in with the best hand with pocket kings versus pocket jacks and we lose, then we're often going to go on tilt. But when we understand that we made the right play, then we should be happy regardless of the short-term outcome because we know in the long term we're going to win.

    So that's variance and that's actually going to segue us perfectly into understanding and talking about expected value so let's go ahead and let's talk about that next.

    Play +EV Poker

    So the next thing that we need to talk about is something called expected value or in short to simply EV and what it is is that it's an important mathematical concept that you need to know as a poker player.

    So what is it? Well expected value tells us how much we expect to win or lose on the average over the long run based upon a specific scenario in poker. So what we can do, there are things called EV calculations, and if we play a hand and if we are not really certain if that hand was profitable or unprofitable, we could plug in the numbers into an EV calculation and it's going to tell us whether that play was +EV or –EV.

    A +EV play is a long-term profitable play and a -EV play is a long-term unprofitable play, so if we think about it, every single situation or scenario in poker is going to have an associated expected value with it, meaning there's going to be an associated expected outcome, where certain ones are going to be profitable or +EV in the long run and other ones are going to be unprofitable or -EV.

    And what that tells us when we plug our numbers into an EV calculation it's going to tell us whether we expect to win or lose money over the long run, and here's the thing, I want you to focus on playing +EV poker. We want to focus on playing a long-term profitable poker right? We don't want to focus on playing long term, unprofitable poker. And if we get back to our example of Kings versus jacks, well even without doing a calculation, we know that Kings is going to be +EV in that situation and the pocket jacks are going to be -EV in that situation. Now how do you play +EV poker? Well, you work on everything that we've talked about in this video. You work on building up your solid poker foundations, your pre-flop and your post-flop fundamentals and your essential poker math. You work on being a tight, aggressive style of poker player and you understand and embrace variants and you don't go on tilt.

    So it all goes hand in hand, and experience over time helps you to play +EV poker. But to play +EV poker, you actually have to kind of understand it or at least understand the concept like we're doing so in this video. So I wanted to make sure that we talked about this because this is going to be important for those of you that are striving to be long-term profitable poker players, not somebody that's actually just going to sit down at a casino for a single session and hoping to win one session. We're talking about EV, we're talking about being a profitable player over the long term.

    Learn Not to Tilt

    So, when it comes to our five steps to profitable poker, there's one last thing that we need to talk about and that's learning not to tilt, because tilt can be detrimental not only to your poker game, but definitely to your bankroll. So what is tilt? Well, if you play poker for any amount of time, I'm sure you know what it is but we'll go ahead and define it anyways. It's an altered state of mind, an altered mental state, when you're playing poker and things just simply aren't going your way and you get upset, you get angry and you get frustrated and you play bad poker. So the consequence is, like I said, is playing bad poker, you're going to play poorly and you're going to make bad decisions, meaning you're going to play hands that you typically wouldn't play and you're going to play them in a manner that you typically wouldn't play when you're playing actual hands that you would play and what happens is because you're tilted, because you're upset, your emotions and your altered state of mind is actually taking over and they're affecting your ability to think clearly and to think rationally at the poker table. So that's tilt and the consequences of tilt.

    So, what can we do to deal with tilt? What are some strategies for combating tilt? Well, the number one thing that you should do, if you feel like you're getting tilted, take a break. Get up from the table, walk away, take a break. If you're playing a game and you feel like the tilt is so bad, just go ahead and cash out and don't play anymore. Take a break from that evening of playing poker. Maybe even take a two or a three-day break. It's really up to you, or maybe just go outside take a walk, come back in 15 minutes later and if you're feeling back to normal start playing again. So, you definitely need to take breaks.

    Now, in terms of other things to prevent you from going on tilt in the first place, well, that's going to be understanding and embracing variants and learning not to be results-oriented. Now these two things really they go hand-in-hand, because when we talk about expected value and variance, we understand the long term expectations of hands. We understand that variance happens, that sometimes we're going to run really well and other times we're going to run really bad. But if we get our money in with the best hand, if we made a +EV play and variance just didn't go our way or we experienced negative variance, then so be it. We should smile and be happy that we made the right play in the long run.

    So that's the thing. People that don't understand and embrace variance, people that don't understand expected value, they become result oriented. They live for every single hand and the outcome of every single hand and we don't want to do that, right? We want to think in the long run, not just in the short run, in a single session. So those are some strategies for combating tilt.

    Well, thanks for watching, I hope you enjoyed it and I hope you learned a lot. If you enjoyed the video, be sure to stick around and check out everything else OnlineGambling.com has to offer on their website.

Intermediate Poker Concepts

While luck plays a part in any poker game, a solid understanding of effective poker strategy and theory is what's necessary to become a constant winning poker player. The skills discussed in the above video and section below will help you become a solid, winning poker player.

Building a Strong Intermediate Poker Foundation

To become a skilled poker player, it is important to have strong foundational knowledge built on the following criteria:

Pre-flop fundamentals

Knowing the correct hole cards to play and how to play them is at the foundation of any poker player's long-term success.

Essential poker math

Poker is a game of math, odds, and probabilities, so any poker player striving to improve their game should seek to master fundamental poker math, including important concepts such as equity, pot odds, and implied odds.

Post-flop fundamentals

Most of the game is played post-flop, so knowing sound poker strategy is essential to your long-term success. Specifically, knowing when to value bet, semi-bluff, bluff, or simply fold are things you should seek to master.

Understand Variance in Intermediate Poker

In a nutshell, variance is the upswings and downswings in poker. More definitively, it's the difference between individual results in the short term and the average set of results we expect to see in the long term based on our correct decision-making process.

While complex mathematics and statistical analysis can be used to better understand variance and its related outcomes, intermediate poker players should understand that variance can have drastic affects, both positive and negative, on our win rate and bankroll. Not understanding and embracing variance can negatively influence a poker player's game and bankroll.

Not understanding and embracing variance can negatively influence a poker player's game and bankroll. With variance, it can be difficult to assess whether you're playing well or not. In fact, negative variance often leads to tilt.

Poker variance

Play +EV Poker

Expected value (EV) is how much a poker player expects to win or lose on average, over the long run, based upon a specific scenario in poker. It is an important mathematical concept every poker player should understand.

Every single situation and scenario in poker has an expected value associated with it, with certain situations being profitable (+EV) and others unprofitable (-EV). Some plays win us money, others will lose money:

Positive Expected Value (+EV)

A profitable long-term play.

Negative Expected Value (-EV)

An unprofitable long-term play.

How to Avoid Tilt in Poker

Tilt refers to the altered mental state players sometimes enter at a poker table. Specifically, it is defined as an angry or frustrated emotional state of mind when playing poker.

While under the stress, poker players will sometimes play poorly and make bad decisions they would ordinarily avoid. This can lead to grave consequences financially, emotionally, and even mentally for regular poker players.

The first step to avoiding tilt is learning to recognize your own emotional and behavioral cues. Do you suddenly feel hot or flustered after several bad hands? Do you find yourself making snap decisions before properly assessing your opponents?

Once you know the cues, the following strategies will help you know how to avoid tilt in poker:

Take a break

Leave the game and wait to return to a balanced mental state.

Understand and embrace variance

Focus on your performance across the game to gain a better perspective.

Don't be results-oriented

Don't define your poker performance by your most recent single session.

Intermediate Poker Moves

Semi-Bluff

In contrast to pure bluffs, there are also semi-bluffs. A semi-bluff can be defined as betting or raising with a drawing hand such as a flush draw or open-ended straight draw that has the potential to improve on later rounds of betting. The purpose of the semi-bluff is twofold. The first is to make our opponents fold, while the second is to build the pot for when we hit our draw. So, when we're semi-bluffing, we're using the likelihood of our opponent folding along with our drawing hand equity to make an aggressive play.

Poker Moves

Understanding Basic Player Types

Most poker playing styles can be divided into four categories:

Loose

Players who don't need to see much in their hand before they'll get in on a round.

Tight

Players who are selective about their level of participation in a round; depending on their position in the game, they will play tight or loose.

Passive

These players typically don't bluff and usually will only bet if they have made or drawn a strong hand and will be passive with other hands.

Aggressive

Usually these are players who are happy to raise and re-raise, or bet, regularly.

It's worth thinking about which of these categories (e.g. Loose-Aggressive, Tight-Passive) you fit into because it allows you to subvert expectations of opponents who may be trying to pigeonhole you as a certain type of player.

Small Pocket Pairs

Knowing how to properly play small pocket pairs might not seem like "intermediate poker strategy guide" material, but a surprising number of otherwise proficient players make errors here.

The more players that call without raising, the more comfortable you might feel about playing the hand. You might even pull out a pre-flop win! As soon as you're facing one or more re-raises, however, pursuing a small pocket pair should become much less appealing.