The 24 Poker Principles I Live By

The 24 Poker Principles I Live By
I have been at this poker thing for quite awhile now. Close to 15 years to be exact with over 10 million poker hands played.

Many of those years were spent as a full time pro grinding out a living at the low and mid stakes online.

I am also a 3-time poker author, I have coached hundreds of students, I was a long time instructor at a popular poker training site, I am a columnist and I even do poker YouTube videos.

Now I don't say all this to brag.

I say this instead because I like to think that during all this time I have learned a thing or two about how to beat this silly little card game!

So in this article I am going to share with you the 24 poker principles that I live by.

Principle #1: It's Not About You, It's About Them

I have read countless poker books, studied so many courses, hired multiple coaches and spent literally thousands of hours in PokerTracker reviewing my hands to fix my leaks.

And all of this time spent studying poker has undoubtedly made me a far better poker player. But to be honest, it was never about me and my skills to begin with. 

Poker is a game played between people. If you find people who are worse than you at this game, and you play against them consistently, then you will win, period.

It doesn't matter if you are the 6th worst poker player in the world. If you play with the top 5 worst poker players in the world, you will win.

So the most important poker principle that I could ever impart to you is to take your table selection very, very seriously. It is far more important than you probably think.

Principle #2: The Game is All in Your Head

Something else that I learned very early on in my poker career is that this game is completely insane and it drives people into the looney bin.

You are going to take so many bad beats, coolers and setups during your poker career that you may as well learn to start laughing them off a bit more.

Because trust me when I say, real long term success in this game is 90% in your head.


Most people do not win at poker because they get wrapped up in the short term bad beats instead. They react emotionally, lose focus, go on tilt and end up giving their money away.

They repeat this same cycle for years and years. And they never get the results they want because they can't get out of their own head.

But this is the whole point of the game.

You can really look at poker like one big mental test. Are you mentally strong enough to see the forest through the trees when so many others cannot?

Principle #3: Tight and Aggressive (TAG) Wins at the Lower Stakes

The best winning poker strategy for newer poker players in particular at the lower stakes is tight and aggressive, also known simply as TAG. 

This involves being highly selective in which hands you decide to play before the flop, paying close attention to your position at the poker tables, and playing highly aggressively after the flop. 

I am yet to find a low stakes game online or live where this strategy still isn't highly effective. 

Principle #4: Loose and Aggressive (LAG) Crushes at the Lower Stakes

Now with that said, if you actually want to win at the highest winrates possible in low stakes games, a loose and aggressive (LAG) strategy is optimal. This involves playing a lot more hands preflop and playing them aggressively after the flop as well. 

The reason why this strategy works so well at the micro stakes is because it takes advantage of the #1 weakness of most low stakes players, playing too tight and too weak (afraid to play a big pot without the nuts).

Now with all that said, I actually do not recommend this strategy for most newer players because it involves a lot more marginal decisions and variance. Advanced and experienced poker players though should try making the transition from TAG to LAG.

Principle #5: Know Where the Money Comes From

As fun as it is to steamroll all the nits with a LAG strategy you will still never get rich doing this because tight players don't make a lot of huge mistakes.

That's what fish do.

It is important to be aware of where the recreational player is at all times on every poker table you are playing. And you should be isolating them again and again.

Indeed, the whole point of the game is to get in as many pots with the fish as possible. Most people do the opposite these days, they focus on outplaying the regs, which will never earn them a big profit.

In fact as I stated in a recent PokerNews article of mine, this is precisely the reason why most Modern Poker Theory is Backwards.

Principle #6: Exploit the Profit Source

So once you know who the fish are it is also important to exploit that profit source. As I talk about at length in Crushing the Microstakes, all the normal rules regarding stuff like bet sizing gets thrown out the window versus the recreational players. 

One of the biggest reasons why I have some of the best results in online poker history at the micros is because I make the fish pay the maximum every single time. 

Still to this day I see people half potting it or slowplaying against the fish with top pair or a nut hand. You just aren't ever going win big at poker until you to start making the fish pay the maximum every time.

Principle #7: Position is Everything in Poker

Another extremely important poker principle to understand is just how important position is. 

If you take two equally skilled poker players and have them play heads up every day but give one guy position in every single hand, the guy with position will eventually take the other guy's entire bankroll.

That is how important position is. With direct position you can even turn a profit against somebody who is more skilled than you. 

So first things first, always focus on getting direct position on the fish because you will make a lot more money. But secondly, and this is important too, keep the strong regs off of your left!

Principle #8: Preflop 3Bets Are a Dime a Dozen

I remember when I first started playing poker online in the mid 00's and back then a preflop 3Bet (raise and re-raise) meant an extremely strong hand, often AA, KK and maybe sometimes QQ or AK.

These days it is totally different. Many players even at the lower stakes know how to 3Bet with a much wider range including hands like small and mid pairs, suited connectors, broadways, suited aces and so on.

So you should be aware of this and flat 3Bets quite a bit wider these days in position and expand your 4Betting range a bit as well.

Principle #9: Preflop 4Bets Are Usually the Nuts

4Bets however are still usually the nuts these days. I personally use the 4Bet Ratio stat on my PokerTracker 4 HUD and I still find that most regs at the lower stakes these days are a 1 or a 2.

A 4Bet Ratio of 1 or 2 is literally AA, KK and sometimes QQ and AK. In other words, tight, very tight.

So while 3Bets are very common these days at the micros and can represent a wide range, you should still respect the 4Bet from most players. They aren't messing around.

Principle #10: Flat Wider Preflop in Position

Another big change that I have had to make in recent years is learn to flat wider in position especially against many of the regs. 

Now I know that I said before not to focus on them too much but the truth is that there are so many regs these days that if you don't learn to outplay them a little bit, you are losing EV (expected value).

One of the best ways to grind out a profit against the regs is to flat preflop with a wider range in position with speculative hands (suited connectors, suited aces and broadways) and then outplay them after the flop.

Principle #11: Float the Flop Like a Champion

One of the most effective poker strategy principles that I hammer on again and again in my latest book, The Micro Stakes Playbook, is floating the flop.

This is one of the absolute best ways to beat the lower stakes regs these days because so many of them will have a huge gap between their Flop CBet% and their Turn CBet%.

In other words, they will fire a bet at you on the flop but if you stick around and they don't have anything on the turn (which they won't most of the time), then they will simply give up.

From there you can fire a simple half pot bet when they check to you on the turn and take down pot after pot against them with what is often the worst hand.

Principle #12: Turn Raises are Usually the Nuts

Another important poker strategy point to remember is that turn raises at the micros are still usually the nuts. By this I mean something stronger than a one pair hand.

So at least two pair but sometimes even stronger like in this hand.

So for instance you raise your pocket AA preflop, fire the flop, they call, you fire the turn again and they raise. Regardless of the player type, they are usually going to have something that beats your pocket aces here.

It is not until the higher stakes that you see a significant amount of people who are capable of raising the turn with a bluff, draw or a middle strength hand.

Principle #13: River Raises are Always the Nuts

Now while turn raises are usually the nuts, river raises are literally always the nuts at the micros. And this is because once again, most micro stakes players are simply not capable of making this play as a bluff.

As I talked about before, most players at the lower stakes these days play weak. That is, they are afraid to put in large amounts of their stack without a very strong hand. 

So when they raise the river on you (the biggest money street in Hold'em) they are almost never messing around. 

I know how painful it can be to lay down your pocket AA once again, but you need to remember that there is no such thing as a crying call in poker. There are only bad calls. 

When they raise the river, you gotta fold your one pair hand.

Principle #14: Use Your HUD Stats to Your Advantage

I have mentioned HUD stats several times already throughout this article and that is because they are extremely important especially when multi-tabling online poker. 

Having a good HUD is in fact still my #1 poker software recommendation these days.

24 poker principles poker hud

And that is because it is so useful in telling you what type of player you are up against, what their tendencies are and so on. 

If you take online poker seriously at all, I would highly suggest investing in a good HUD or at least trying the free trial which are available for both PokerTracker and Hold'em Manager.

Principle #15: Your Poker Database Has All the Answers

But what if you play on an online poker site that doesn't allow a HUD? Short answer, yes you should still use PokerTracker.

Because the other great thing about these modern poker tracking programs is the ability to study your own hands and fix your leaks. In fact this is actually far more important than the HUD!

There is arguably nothing else that has been more important to my development as a winning poker player than studying my own hands, finding out what I am doing wrong, and fixing that.

PokerTracker also allows you to study the hands of best players in your games and find out what they do better than you.

This allows you to cut all the BS and simply learn from the top winning players. All the information is right there in front of you!

Principle #16: Put Them on Ranges, Not Hands

So whether you use a HUD or not one of the most important things you should be doing at the poker tables is putting players on a range, rather than specific hands. 

Advanced poker players understand that nobody ever shows up with a flush in a certain situation 100% of the time for example. No, they will show up with top pair, middle pair, a busted straight draw or even a total bluff some of the time as well. 

It is your job to correctly assign a range of hands for them. I like to think in multiples of 10. Ask yourself how many times out of 10 do they have the flush, top pair, bluff and so on.

Principle #17: Winning Poker Starts in the Gym

I think many people just laugh when I continue to say this but that's ok. Most poker pros who I know take their fitness and training very seriously.

That is probably why they are poker pros and most people are not!

They understand that there is a direct connection between the physical and the mental. When you get your body right, the mind tends to follow.

You feel better, you sleep better, you feel more calm and on and on. It's like a snowball effect.

I workout (cardio or weights) pretty much every single day. I know this gives me the mental advantage over my opponents at the poker tables when the pressure is on.

Principle #18: Winning Poker Also Starts in the Kitchen and With Proper Sleep

Again, some people will just laugh at this but I know for a fact that a huge part of my mental edge at the poker tables is eating right and being focused on getting the right amount of sleep each night.

With my diet, it isn't always perfect but I think once you get into the habit of making healthy choices and you have an active lifestyle you aren't even going to want that pizza or ice cream as much anymore.

Because all it does is give you 5 minutes of oral pleasure and then you pay for it mentally and physically throughout the rest of your day and week.

I consider my mind and body like a Ferrari. I am not going to put shit quality fuel or oil in it. No, if I want the best performance, then it needs the right fuel.

Same thing with sleep. I consider it to be extremely important to my poker success. So much so that I actually set an alarm that goes off every night so that I know exactly when I need to go to sleep.

Principle #19: Always Play Over-Rolled

Something else that helps me keep my mental sanity at the poker tables is to use way more conservative bankroll management than most people.

While I recommend 30 or 40 buyins these days in reality I personally use more like 100 buyins. I have always done this because it gives me the mental confidence to overcome any downswing.

I just laugh at routine 20 buyin downswings because I have 80 more bullets behind. But somebody who is only on a 40 buyin roll is going to be sweating hard when the big downswing comes.

Principle #20: Control the Inputs

As I talked about recently I don't read poker forums or poker reddits, at all. I stopped reading them many years ago in fact.

And the main reason why is because most people lose at poker in the long run and therefore most of the advice you are getting in these places is from losing poker players.

No thanks!

So I prefer to narrow my poker input to only a handful of solid winning pros who I know personally. I also read many books and study poker courses from well known pros.

I think it is very important that you restrict the poker advice you are taking in these days if you truly want to succeed.

It's nothing personal.

Everybody always has an opinion in poker and that's great. But not all opinions are created equal. I only listen to opinions from those who are proven winners.

Principle #21: The Right Poker Setup Matters

I am a huge proponent of quality over quantity when it comes to poker. So this is why when I am playing online poker I make sure I have the right setup.

First things first I put my phone on airplane mode and there are absolutely no other distractions in the room.

My airpods go in my ears, the poker site gets opened and I start playing. There is absolutely no Facebook, Instagram or any other BS.

Me, music and poker. That's it. This is how I stay dialed in and focused 100% on every hand.

Principle #22: I Believe in Me

A huge key to my poker success is the confidence that I have in my own abilities. And a big part of this comes from endlessly applying my skills for years and years and playing millions and millions and millions of hands.

I don't take days off. This game isn't a "hobby" for me. This is my job, this is my life. I eat, breathe and sleep this game.

So this inner confidence comes from a deep knowledge and belief that I have done more than them. I know I am more prepared.

I have spent more hours away from the tables as well studying my hands, studying my opponents and updating my poker knowledge.

In short, when I sit down at the poker tables I already know that I am the best player at the table. There is absolutely no question about it in my mind.

And this isn't some sort of arrogance. This is the deep seated confidence that comes from superior preparation and experience.

Principle #23: Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

It might sound crazy but one of the best things I ever did for my poker game was move halfway around the world to the wacky land of Asia.

Not only did landing in a strange faraway land provide incredible new life experiences and force me to open up and meet a lot of cool new people, but it gave me that push to finally take this thing to the next level.

That is, to put even more effort into achieving success in this game. And to build this large business that I now have teaching the game as well.

This has also spilled over into better social connections, healthier living and just a generally increased feeling of happiness.

And yes of course I do miss my family and friends back home and that is why I try to travel back often. But I won't lie, I don't miss the Canadian winters!

Look, moving halfway around the world definitely isn't for everybody.

But for some of you who are feeling a bit stuck in life and nothing much is working, sometimes drastically changing your environment (even just for a little while) can give you that little nudge you need to finally start living with more purpose and chasing your dreams.

Principle #24: Don't Be So Serious

Seriously though, even with everything I have said so far my #1 poker principle that I live by is simply to always have fun!

I started playing this silly little card game 15 years ago and I fell in love with it right away because of the excitement of the all-in, the big bluff and outsmarting my opponents.

It is important that you never lose this feeling of a kid in a candy shop. Yes, there will be many terrible soul crushing downswings throughout your poker career.

But that's just the way the game works.

The very best poker players learn how to disassociate themselves from both big wins and big losses. Whereas you will often find that amateurs get highly emotional about their short term results.

Just have fun and enjoy the ride. Some days you will win. Some days you will lose. Just play your best and always keep a smile on your face.

Poker is a beautiful game!

Final Thoughts

So there are the 24 poker principles that I live by. I have definitely added to this list over the years and taken some out as well because the game is always evolving.

However, I hope that at least a few of the principles on this list resonated with you in some way. No matter where you are in your poker career right now, I wish you all the best at the tables.

Lastly, if you want to know more about how I became a poker pro and the strategy I use, make sure to grab a copy of my free poker cheat sheet right here.

Let me know in the comments below what poker principles you follow. What is the best piece of poker wisdom you have ever heard?

poker principles

5 Easy Ways to Stop Overplaying Your Overpairs

Overplaying Overpairs
One of the biggest mistakes that I see small stakes poker players making these days is overplaying their overpairs.

You know, they have a hand like pocket queens and the board comes all low cards. They get all of their money in the middle without even thinking what the other guy is representing.

And of course he turns over the set or two pair to win the pot.

This also happens when there is an overcard on the board. For example, many people will get married to their pocket kings even when there is an ace on the flop and the other guy very likely has it.

So in this article I am going to give you 5 easy ways to stop overplaying your overpairs and start saving money!

1. An Overpair is Just One Pair

The first way to stop overplaying your overpairs is just to restructure way that you think about them. You need to understand that your pocket aces, pocket kings and so on are just one pair.

That's it.

You don't have a license to print money just because you get dealt one of these hands. In fact they will wind up NOT being the best hand at showdown around 25% of the time which is by no means an insignificant amount.

And if it is a large multi-way pot (as often happens at the micro stakes) then the chances of your pocket rockets ending up as the best hand at showdown may not even be above 50%!

overplay overpair pocket aces

The bottom line is that it is ok to get a little bit excited when you look down and see two beautiful aces, kings, queens, jacks etc. but you should also realize that this is just one pair.

Usually in No Limit Hold'em when a big pot is played the winner will show up with something that beats a one pair hand.

2. Recognize When There Are Overcards and Slow Down

The next way to stop overplaying your overpair so much is to recognize when there are overcards on the board and respect that.

Here are the chances of an overcard flopping when you have a big pocket pair:

KK - 23%
QQ - 43%
JJ - 59%
TT - 71%
99 - 81%

As you can see with pocket KK you will see an ace on the flop nearly 1 out of 4 times and by the time you get down to pocket 9's it is overwhelmingly likely that you will see an overcard on the flop.

The bottom line here is that when you have any pocket pair (excluding AA of course), you should expect to deal with seeing overcards on the flop, turn or river often.

And you need to respect this. While an overcard on the board doesn't necessarily mean they have it, you need to respect the fact that they might have it.

Here is an example of an overplayed pocket JJ on a queen high flop.

When you have a large pocket pair and an overcard falls on the flop, turn or river you simply have no choice but to slow down.

You should be check/calling most of the time and even check/folding in some cases. You definitely should not be raising unless you are playing against a total maniac.

Remember this key point and you will stop losing so much with your overpairs.

3. Understand the Difference Between a Coordinated Flop and a Dry Flop

There are a ton of different flop textures in Texas Hold'em.

In fact if you have read my 2nd book Modern Small Stakes then you will know that starting on page 244 I break down 11 different types of flops including:
  • Single broadway
  • Double broadway
  • Triple broadway
  • Rainbow paired
  • Raggedy
  • Coordinated broadway
  • Coordinated middle
  • Coordinated small
  • Bingo
  • Two-tone paired
  • Monotone double broadway

Now you don't need to know the specifics of how to play every single one of these flops nor do I have the time to get into all that here anyways. That is why I write poker books!

What you do need to know though is the difference between a highly coordinated flop and a dry flop. Most flops in Texas Hold'em are the latter, dry.

This means that it is hard for anybody to have hit them hard. There aren't many draw possibilities or plausible two pair hands either.

Here are a few examples of dry flops:



Coordinated flops as you can probably guess are the exact opposite. They are action heavy boards that contain multiple draws, pair + draw, two pair and set possibilities.

Here are a few examples of highly coordinated flops:



One of the best tips that I can give you to stop overplaying your overpairs is to respect coordinated boards like this and try to play a smaller pot like I just discussed in overcard situations.

Most of the time versus any kind of competent opponent, if you choose to play a really big pot on coordinated boards like this they will either have you crushed or have massive equity with a huge draw.

In other words there is no scenario where you are winning big. Slow down on action heavy coordinated flops. You don't need to play a huge pot every time you have an overpair.

4. Understand When Your Overpair is Not the Best Overpair

The next common mistake that I see newer poker players in particular making with overpairs is not recognizing when somebody is representing a higher overpair.

Let me give you an example of this.

You have 99 and you raise it up preflop from early position.

A tight regular re-raises you from middle position and you call.

The flop comes 552

You check, he bets and you call.

The turn comes 6

You check and he bets again.

What should you do???

This is a common spot where many people will just blindly call down with their pocket 9's without even realizing that their opponent is very clearly representing a higher overpair here.

It all starts preflop when a tight regular 3Bets your early position open. This is a very strong play and usually represents a big pocket pair or a big ace at minimum.

Then he proceeds to double barrel you on a small rainbow paired flop and another low turn card. You can choose to call down but I can guarantee that he is going to show you TT, JJ, QQ, KK or AA here very often.

Or you can recognize when somebody is clearly telling you that your overpair is not the best overpair and make the correct laydown.

5. Recognize the Power of the Turn and River Raise

Something that I talk about a lot is understanding what certain lines mean in micro stakes poker games. By this I mean knowing what a preflop 3Bet and a double barrel from a tight player means as we just discussed in the previous section.

The great thing about the micro stakes is that most players do not mix up their ranges very well. In other words, they tend to make the same actions with the same hands again and again.

And this of course makes them incredibly easy to read.

So another common line that lower stakes players take that is super easy to read is the turn or river raise. In fact as I talk about in Crushing the Microstakes:
  • The turn raise is usually the nuts
  • The river raise is always the nuts

You can literally take these two principles to the bank if you are playing any kind of low stakes poker game online or at the casino.

When they raise the turn they are usually going to have something that beats one pair. When they raise you on the river, they are always going to have something that beats one pair.

Always remember that an overpair is just one pair.

Final Thoughts

One of the biggest steps that you can take to start improving your poker results is to stop overplaying your overpairs. So many small stakes players routinely do this and it ends up costing them big time.

So first off you need to always remember that your overpair is just one pair. Yes, I know those two queens look so pretty but it is just one pair. It can easily lose.

Secondly, you need to recognize when there are overcards on the board or you catch a highly coordinated action heavy flop. You need to slow down and play a smaller pot in both of these cases.

Lastly, you need to remember to read lines correctly at the micros from various player types and understand when they are representing a higher overpair or something that beats one pair when they raise the turn or the river.

If you want to know the complete strategy I used to create some of the highest winnings ever recorded at the micro stakes online, grab a copy of my free poker cheat sheet.

Do you overplay your overpairs? Let me know in the comments below.

overplay overpairs