To win at poker you have to be “different”

In many ways, the great game of poker is reflective of life itself. It certainly replicates on the table what we see in the wider capital-driven world around us.

And so the basic rules are the same in that, to win big or to win out steadily over a long period of time, you’re going to have to behave “differently” at the table.

So what do we mean by this – and, perhaps more to the point, why is that exactly?

Well think of all the wealthiest people you know, how did they get their wealth?

Many will have inherited it, others will have simply won it on something like a big lottery pay-out. And as for the rest, well most will have made their money either in business or in investing in some way or other – or in a mixture of the two.

Developing your own poker strategy

All these people have something in common, they did something a little different from the mainstream. And that’s where developing your own poker strategy comes in, you need to think differently from the herd. This applies equally to wherever you play poker, whether you love to play poker online as you see it here, or you prefer a real casino.

It’s not that simple, though. After all, simply doing what the percentages dictate continually will see you lose less than most. Such a strategy may even enable you to profit steadily from poker over a decent length of time. But that’s not quite the point for most of us – nor is it so for the biggest poker names around the world. What these people tend to do is play ‘outside the box’ when they feel the need arises, then they bet big.

Some real-life examples

Take the American poker legend Olivier Busquet. Busquet managed what is surely one of the greatest ever comebacks in the whole history of the World Poker Tour (WPT) history a few years ago. In September 2009, Busquet was competing in the WPT in Atlantic City.

Busquet was known for his overall aggressive style of playing poker. His “all or nothing” approach carried some pretty big tournaments but none have gone down in poker history in quite the same way they did in Atlantic City on this particular occasion.

Busquet defeated the largest ever assembled field of poker players in the WPT’s entire history. In fact, he had looked likely to win when the final session first got under way. But the cards gradually ran against him. In particular, Jeremy Brown had a great run, winning pot after pot. Busquet, however, managed to hang in there playing some steady percentage poker and cutting his losses carefully.

By the end of the session, it was all down to just the two of them. Even now, though, Brown looked all over the winner as Busquet would have to come back from a seemingly impossible position of a 20-to-1 chip disadvantage. But Busquet gradually chipped away at his opponent, going very big when he saw the chance to do so, and playing defensively at other times.

He eventually won against all the odds, winning $925,000 in prize money as a bonus – and finishing off what must surely rank as one of the greatest poker comebacks of recent years. 

Perhaps an even better example was the legendary Stu Ungar – who won an unprecedented three WSOP Main Events. Ungar is also the only player to have won the Amarillo Slim Super Bowl of Poker three times.

Sadly, Ungar became a compulsive cocaine user in 1979, but continued to play professionally. But after 18 years of drug abuse, he had become heavily indebted. Nevertheless, he got together the requisite $10,000 buy-in for the WSOP Main Event in 1997. During the opening day’s play, Ungar was so tired that he actually drifted off to sleep at one point, but he continued and gradually began to win a few hands. His play became ever more erratic in a good way as he cut losses quickly but seemed to be able to judge when to go big. His strategy was successful and by the final day’s play, no-one could get near this genius player who seemed to play as much by his unerring instinct as by the sheer numbers. He went on to win a record-setting third WSOP title.

Poker players are different

Now not only do poker players need to think independently. But they’re kind of “proven” to be different from other casino gamblers in the first place. This is due to the fact that poker is only partly a game of chance. The strategy element is so great that certain players win consistently. In fact, the best poker players out there simply expect to win.

But what they don’t do is expect to win each time they sit down at the table. Instead, the top pros accept that luck plays a big role in poker – so the key to success is knowing how to deal with that luck, learning to fold, how to minimise losses and when to be bold maximising winnings. And even then you won’t get them all right. That’s because being a top poker player is half about instinct and the ability to run the numbers in your head, and half about sheer instinct and character. The latter can’t really be taught, but it can be learned through empirical experience. And this is why honing your skills with relatively meaningless amounts of your hard-earned cash, or in a virtual environment only with no real money involved is so useful for the relative novices amongst us. In short, experience is everything.

It’s also important to remember that the strategy needs to be adaptable if it isn’t going well. The world’s top poker players continually adapt strategies during hands as the situation develops. In other words, they behave unconventionally.

There will always be occasions when it’s wisest to adopt a defensive strategy despite the fact that you have what may seem like a strong hand – and conversely. Your instinct may increasingly come into play as you develop your own strategies at different poker games – but you are going to have to behave unconventionally at least some of the time.

Perhaps learning to fold is the first lesson to understand as not doing so early enough is probably the novice’s biggest mistake. Folding is part of the game and if you’re playing through with around half of your poker hands, you’re probably playing through too many and need to raise the bar a little. This is a good rule of thumb.

Being different and having the courage of your own convictions is never easy. Nevertheless, it’s something you’re going to have to have the courage to do if you’re really serious about this game.

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