How to Play Winning Poker (It Might Shock You)

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Let's face it, the game of poker is mostly all in your head. It is about how you perceive your relationship with the game.

Go to any poker forum, comment section or even your local casino and you are bound to find somebody who can't wait to tell you their tired old bad beat stories. You know, the bad beat stories that nobody actually cares about except the person who is telling them!

This game makes some people go so crazy that they literally convince themselves that it is all rigged against them. It's all one big conspiracy man! I picture them foaming at the mouth like a rabid dog.

The bottom line is that all this craziness of course inevitably leads to terrible play at the poker tables and therefore terrible results. It is like a self fulfilling prophecy.

But it doesn't have to be this way at all. By implementing the 5 simple mental techniques that I am going to discuss in this article, you can learn to think like a winner instead. And therefore you can finally start playing winning poker now.

1. Stop Expecting Fast Results

The biggest reason why some people lose their mind in this game, go on tilt and throw away their money, is because they expect the game of poker to provide them with immediate positive results. Even if you are the very best player on planet earth, this is simply not the way that the game works.

It can take as much as 100k hands or even more in order for basic variance to sort itself out in poker. For an online poker player who plays quite a bit this could represent months of play. For a live player, this could represent years of play.

This is the hardest thing to overcome in this game. The idea that results can take months or even years. If you can learn to overcome it though, you will be able to bend this game completely to your will.

When you really think about it poker is very much like building a small business. You are essentially a one man team as a new startup. There will be many ups and downs in the early going.

You really should not have any expectation of significant results in the first 6 months or even year. This is almost like a testing period to separate the weak from the strong.

Poker is basically the exact opposite of a "get rich quick scheme." If you need fast results, I am sorry but this is probably not the game for you.

While it is always nice to "book a win" in a session it ultimately means nothing in the grand scheme of things. Keep grinding. Keep applying a winning strategy against bad players and the results will come in time.

There is no other way.

2. Bring Your "A Game" to Every Session

Ironically though, even though you should expect to wait months at least in order to achieve any real results in this game, if you don't bring your best effort to the tables every session, those results will never materialize.

In today's tougher poker environment it is simply not enough anymore to routinely sit down and play your B, C, D or worse game. You need to be playing your A game at all times. You need to play solid poker all the time.

This means that you are not tired, distracted, hungry, angry or depressed. You should be completely dialed in to play your best and your concentration should be solely focused on the action at hand.

So this means no texting, no Facebook, no Tinder, no TV, no anything. Turn everything off except some music (if that's your thing) and focus on playing poker.

If you want your results to be great in this game, then you need to approach it like a professional. Respect the game and it will respect you back.

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3. Confidence Bordering on Arrogance

If you listen to the very best at nearly anything in life they often have a confidence about them that is unflappable. In fact it borders on arrogance with some. This is the approach that you need to have at the poker tables as well.

When I am playing at the lower stakes I would be lying if I said that I respect all of my opponents. Because honestly, I don't.

In fact I have gotten some flack in some of my videos before for having open disdain for some of them. I think most of them are terrible. I also not only believe, but know, that I am way better than most of them.

You can call this arrogance, elitism, whatever you want. It is completely besides the point. If you don't believe in your own abilities with unshakable conviction, you really need to ask yourself why you are even playing.

Now of course you should only be playing in soft poker games that have at least one huge fish in them. So that even from a totally objective viewpoint, you have a clear edge in the game.

But you should also never fear any player at the poker tables. You should tackle them head on and believe 100% in your own abilities. In a game that is so mental, both literally and figuratively, those who believe in themselves the most are much more likely to succeed.

You don't have to convince yourself that you are the best player on earth. That is probably delusional. But you should believe that you are the best player at any poker table that you choose to sit down at.

I talk about the mental approach to success in poker in much more detail in my recent, and very popular, 10 years as a poker pro post.

4. Aggression is the Name of the Game

Show me a poker player who doesn't believe in himself and I will show you a losing player. But also, show me a timid poker player who likes to call a lot, "wait and see" what their opponent does, limp along etc. and I will also show you a losing poker player.

Winning poker players are aggressive by nature. You can see this most emphatically in the middle to late stages of tournaments. There is always "that guy" who is willing to move the chips into the middle much more easily than everyone else and ends up building a huge stack without having to show a hand.

The same thing happens in cash games although on a much more subtle scale. The best players are routinely picking spots to pounce on their opponent's weakness. They make plays when they know that the other player cannot possibly call.

This is one reason why over-betting is such an incredibly valuable and under-utilized weapon in No Limit Hold'em. It allows you to stick so much money in the pot that even if your opponent thinks that there is a high probability that you are bluffing, they still won't call unless they have the absolute nuts.

Now I am not suggesting that you start over-bet bluffing the river every hand against a bunch of calling station donkeys at the lower stakes. This would in fact be a very bad strategy!

What you need to do instead is look for spots both preflop and postflop to take control of the pot and win more often without having to show your hand.

Check out my popular 9 point guide to fixing your red line (non-showdown winnings) for more on that.

5. Play More, Study More, Win More

This last technique is less of a mental adjustment and more of just something that you do over time which helps with everything above.

One of the biggest reasons why I have 100% confidence that I am the best poker player in any game that I choose to sit in is because I have probably played more hands of poker than everybody at the table combined. I have almost certainly studied the game more than they have as well.

I have also trained myself to almost completely forget the short term and never expect quick results in poker. This again is something learned through playing millions of hands and seeing first hand how variance really works.

I have also trained myself to be more aggressive over the years. I am actually a pretty soft-spoken, non-aggressive person by nature. I am usually the last person to get in an argument or a fight.

But at the poker tables my play can sometimes be described as maniacal aggression. This is the result of years of training myself to play this way and learning the right spots to pull the trigger on a huge bluff for instance.

Lastly, I almost always bring my A game to the tables when I play. Turning pro helped a lot with this because dicking around becomes much less of a viable option when your bills depend on results at the tables.

The bottom line is that when you choose to work harder and put in more time than the rest, you will become better in all of these areas by default.

Final Thoughts

As I said off the top, the game of poker is mostly all in your head. Playing winning poker is much less about what you know and more about what goes on between your ears in the heat of the moment.

With a basic tight and aggressive strategy, some emotional control and a little bit of game selection pretty much anyone can have success at the smaller stakes at least.

If you can train your mind to think like a winner at the poker tables though, then you can achieve huge success in this game. Hopefully the 5 techniques outlined in this article helped a bit with that.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. Do you have any mental strategies that have helped you achieve better results?

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  1. Hey Nathan

    I am very confident in my abilities.
    When I sit down at the table I know I am the best player.
    My numbers back me up.
    I don't think I'm arrogant.
    I am just very confident and I have earned it through very hard work.
    I study the game a lot and I know that 99% of my opponents don't study a single minute and that's their fault.
    You don't have to study that much to be a profitable player.
    Just understand the basics and apply them.
    It's easy to learn the basics and yet most microstakes players don't know them which is baffling to me.
    Keep up the great work, Nathan.

    1. Good stuff 6MaxGrinder! Agree totally. Thanks for reading as always :)

  2. Aggression,tilt control and confidence I've been saying this (quietly) to myself over and over again for years total respect to you for sharing what you've learnt over the years,partly the reason the games have got so tough these past few years is because bad players have started unlocking the keys to winning poker.
    Wether this is good or bad is up to debate but I would never of made it from 2nl/5nl to 25nl/50/ with out a lot of your insights so a massive shout out to you!! Also I'm loving the resent hand example's please keep them coming (maybe slip in the odd cheeky 25nl examples)
    Big up Nate!