Once a player has mastered the basics of the game they are playing and are fairly adept at even basic strategy, there are three major factors (and a host of minor factors) that help determine a good player's profitability.
Game selection Edit
The term game selection refers to selecting which game to play. While this term does encompass such basic and obvious choices as the variant of poker to play, the main concern of game selection is to find a game you can beat, where weaker or poorer players will make bad plays against you and give you a significant advantage over them, making it easier (sometimes much easier) for you to make money at the table.
Playing too high Edit
As a special negative case of game selection, it's particularly tempting in the hyper-competitive culture of poker to play in a game bigger than the biggest game you can beat. Nobody likes to admit that a higher-stakes game is too tough, but such self-knowledge is absolutely critical to winning in the long run. When in doubt about taking on a bigger game than one in which you are a regular winner, be very sure to be honest with yourself about your own skill level. This is one case where setting a stop loss limit, usually frowned upon by theoreticians, can be a wise choice (see also Thirty big bet rule).
Hand selection Edit
Deciding whether to play a hand at all, after its been dealt, is known as starting hand selection. This happens preflop, when the dealer deals you your initial cards. For most players, starting hand selection will have the most immediate effect on their bankroll. Playing fewer and better hands will tend to minimize swings and trend a player's bankroll upwards. Playing more and weaker hands will tend to drain a player's bankroll.
Once a player has decided to play a hand, a tendency towards aggressive action will generally be the best course of action. Aggressive play has two benefits which help increase a player's winnings:
- If you do not have the best hand, an opponent with a marginal (but better) hand may choose to lay down their hand, fearing you have a better hand already, and:
- If you do have the best hand, aggression leads to larger pot sizes when you win, increasing your win size.
Aggression for aggression's sake is not necessarily good, however - you should always be aware of why you are taking an action, and attempt to achieve the goal. If, for example, you believe that the other player has a marginal hand but you currently have nothing, you can bet aggressively to try to force him off his hand, but if he does not fold it is probably best to abandon the hand if you do not subsequently improve.
Other factors Edit
There are other factors which affect player profitability as well, but most of them pale in comparison to the major factors outlined above:
Factors which increase profitability:
- If you have been lead betting throughout the hand, then when the river card comes and it is not a scare card, you should continue betting if you still believe you have the best hand. Concerns of an unlikely two pair or straight are generally overblown; in most cases you will still have the best hand, and could get one or two more additional bets into the pot (and into your chipstack).
Factors which decrease profitability:
- Not betting a made hand
- Sometimes players make their draws, but decide to check when they do so, either out of misguided fear that another player has something better, or (more commonly) out of the mistaken belief that they could check raise some bettor later in the order. Generally, when a player makes their draw, they have the best hand at the table so should bet it outright. Also, generally, when a player makes a draw, the other players at the table can see the possible hand appear and will often decline to bet (this is particularly true when a fourth card of a suit turns up on the board in Hold 'em, for example), so check raising will only rarely work.
- Bluffing a calling station
- An opponent who nearly always calls with their hand cannot, in general, be bluffed. Unless you can be certain that they are only on a draw and will fold to a final bet on the river, attempting to bluff a player who will call even with only bottom pair will only cost you money. Also, be aware that the same is often true of even good opponents if you are new to the table and unknown; many players will call you down just to "see what you've got" or "keep you honest", but mainly to fish for information.