The 24 Poker Principles I Live By (#17 Will Shock You)

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 PokerNews.com 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 and you are ultimately more calm, confident and relaxed at the poker table.

This is why 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 big part of my mental edge at the poker tables comes from 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 consistently 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.

I do not set an alarm clock in the morning by the way. This is the complete opposite of what most people do.


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.

My recent viral blog post about how online poker allowed me to "live the dream".


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.

And if you want to know about my day to day life as a poker pro traveling the world, make sure to follow me on Instagram.


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




23 comments:

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    S . . . Hope You have a Great Day Nathan

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    1. Thank you for reading Dfox, have a great day as well!

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  2. I like your articles a lot!

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  3. Superb advice as always .

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  4. Hey Thanks man for ur all advice. Since I started reading and following ur guides I definitely have seen an improvement in my game which is evident by my bankroll. But I have a question about Poker Tracker because I play on Bovada so all players are anonymous so am I out of luck as far as any HUD goes?Everything I read online is nothing compatible with Bovada.

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    1. Hey Jmm87 that's awesome, glad to hear you are making progress at the poker tables!

      There are few poker sites that do not allow HUDs and Bovada is one of them. On sites like this I will still play on them as long as the games are good. You just have to play a more basic ABC style of play since you are essentially always playing unknowns.

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    2. Ok but my hand history is downloadable for as far back as 7days... Would I be able to use that info on Poker Tracker to at least go over my leaks

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    3. Yes, I would definitely suggest doing that.

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  5. This is an amazing article. Fantastic advice!

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  6. this is the best thing ive read for a long time so thanks bud, and come say hello in microballers poker group at facebook!

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    1. Thanks KD glad you enjoyed and thank you as always for sharing my articles in your group!

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  7. Agree 110% about working out. You said it all, a healthy body almost always has a healthy mind.
    Only thing I did not agree with was Winter. I like Canadian Winters, I can always dress for the cold but not much I can do about the heat at times, do not like air conditioning or being stuck inside. Thanks for a great read Nathan, later, Len

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  8. About half way through your micro stakes book, and really helping me understand position and what cards to play, loved the videos, that was an eye opener to see how you toss seemingly good cards away that I have always thought wow must play but you explain that UTG not that great. Still trying to get a bank roll together because we in South Africa are at 13-1 exchange rate and not many sites except us,Still on Freerolls on local sites but hopefully soon I will take the plunge, thank you. Nigel

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    1. Hey Nigel,

      Glad my book is helping! Let me know how it goes for you when you hit the real money games.

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  9. yes most players do not have patience to reach long run ie 5 years , they will go broke in short time by playing bigger games because of boredom. Yes, many players overestimate their skills.

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    1. Ya it's kind of the nature of the game. Same thing in business though, most startups fail. Those who really want it, they get there.

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  10. Hi, really like your advice about playing overrolled. I've come to same conclusion a long time ago, but I don't really remember any of the poker coaches\writers mentioning it as something significant. Personally I'm even more conservative - I use about 120-150 BI, and it allows me to also play higher (sometimes even 2 steps higher) than my regular stake in case I see some huge fish sitting at the table.
    Btw fresh example (ALARM: downswing story): a couple days ago such shot resulted in -15 BI, lost in different all-ins with advantage being mainly 75%-90% (and I ran two weeks of expenses under EV). Of course I was totally raging at the end of that day, had to take a couple days off, etc. The point is though that even after such a terrible day I'm still more than bankrolled to keep comfortably playing (although it hurts, really hurts, and that's why I have to let other people who read the comment section FEEL MY PAIN)
    Have a great day everyone!

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    1. Thanks I am glad that advice helped you. I used to have bad problems with tilt and I personally needed to make the switch to playing super over-rolled as well.

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    2. Some of the 20 buyin bankroll advice, you see out there, really is fairly ridiculous. Especially when people define it as the bankroll, you start with, and not something, you need to have at all times.

      At The Poker Bank they have an older video with an example of, how bankroll management protect you from going broke during a 50 buyin downswing, if you start with 2.000 $, play 100 NL and move down, when you only have 20 buyins for the next level.

      And theoretically it does, but thats really missing the point, because you end up playing 2NL with 40 $. And thats really not, where you want to be, if you came from 100 NL with a 2.000$ roll. For all practical intents and purposes, you are broke, and you might as well just use your credit card to redeposit those 40$ and start all over again.

      So even as a part time player you need to use a bankroll management scheme, which help you manage tilt, and also protect you from losing the majority of your bankroll. People have different tolerance levels for variance, but for me personally I would hate to lose more than half my bankroll, and I never have.

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