Winning in poker: how to increase your chances

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Updated 23.05.2024
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Winning in poker is the cherished goal of any player, be it a beginner or a professional. However, to achieve the goal, you need to choose the right tactics and game strategy, as well as train a lot.

Who determines winnings in poker?

There are always arguments between players both during live tournaments and in online rooms. Disputes usually arise among beginners due to ignorance of the rules.

To avoid controversial situations, you need to study the rules of poker in advance, so you know during the game who wins the pot. Often, but not always, the player with the strongest kicker wins. If several players get a straight and a flush, the value of the highest card in their hand decides.

In real poker clubs, a dealer is responsible for an ongoing hand. At the showdown stage, he determines the winner by comparing the cards in the hands of the players. Theoretically, the dealer, like any person, can make mistakes. In practice, this rarely happens, since poker club employees undergo preliminary training.

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In online games, the role of the dealer belongs to a computer program. In this case, all the possible outcome are taken into account by the programmers. Again, at showdown, hands are compared and the winner is determined automatically.

Controversial winning situations in poker

Some novice players forget the hand strength order. To avoid making mistakes, it is extremely important to remember that, for example, a flush is stronger than a straight, and two pair is weaker than a set. It is useful for beginners to use a memo during the game, which describes all 9 poker combinations.

If no player has a made hand, the winner is the one holding of the highest card. Often poker rooms help players by showing the exact combo they have. Although when you have a draw, you have to determine your outs on your own.

In Texas Hold’em, players make combinations with two hole cards and five common cards. It is actually possible to make three pairs or two sets, although it doesn’t help at all. And while you have seven cards total at your disposal, you make a combination using any 5 of them.

High card, pair

At showdown, players not always have a made hand. There are times, when highest card determines the winner.

Professional players very rarely have controversial situations. They either fold weak cards or resort to bluffing to take the entire pot without getting to showdown. You may also have high cards of the same rank; in this case the winner is determined by the second card in hand.

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Mostly, hands end with a showdown. And the most popular combination is one pair, which you can make using both hole cards or one hole card and one card from the board. However, this combination is far from strongest.

Sometimes the pair is common for both players, because it completes on the board. In this case, player with the highest card wins. For example, a jack beats a nine.

Two pairs, set

For a set (three of a kind) and two pairs, the higher cards win. So, two queens and two sevens are a stronger than two nines and two sevens. If two or more players have the same highest card, the second highest cards determine the winner.

If you have, for example, two kings in your hands, when there are two pairs of sevens and tens on the board, your combination is two pair Kings and Tens.

Such combinations can be controversial in Texas Hold’em. When players have the exact same hand, including kickers, the pot is chopped. With sets (three of a kind), such situations happen less often. With sets the higher trips wins, but if trips are same, it again comes down to the highest card (kicker). Set of aces is the strongest trips, set of deuces is the weakest.

Straight, flush

For a straight, the ace plays a key role. You can make a straight with ace both as highest and lowest card. Five consecutive cards make a straight, including hole cards, so kickers are not involved here. To determine the winner, it is enough to know the highest card of the straight. If several players make same straights, the pot is chopped equally between everyone.

The flush combination is evaluated not by suit, but by the rank of the cards. A player with a higher card of the same suit that makes a flush wins.

Same with straights, kicker doesn’t matter here. Also, it is not possible to make 2 flushes of different suits in one hand at the same time. If several players make a flush of same value, how to split the pot? In this case, the bank is chopped equally between all of them.

Full house, quads

When evaluating the full house, the trips comes first and the pair comes second. If all the cards are exactly equal, the pot splits equally. Since it takes all five cards to make a full house, the kicker does not play.

The quads combo creates controversial situations more often. It takes 4 cards to make four of a kind (quads), so kicker plays here. This really matters if there is a complete quads on the board. If, however, two or more players have kickers of same rank, the pot is chopped in equal parts.

Four of a kind is one of the strongest hands, since it appears quite rarely. Often, making quads is enough to win the hand.

Some poker rooms even generously reward losing players who end up with four of a kind at showdown.

Straight flush, royal flush

These card combinations are the strongest and appear extremely rarely. The probability of making those in poker are:

  • 1 to 72,192 (straight flush),
  • 1 in 649,739 (royal flush).

Both combinations require 5 consecutive cards of same suit. The highest card determines the winning combination if both player have straight flushes.

Depositing in poker

There are practically no controversial situations here. Two players at the table almost never have a straight flush and a royal flush. The latter would win in this case.

If the royal flush completes on the board, the pot is split among all participants. Kickers do not matter here.

So, when comparing strength of same combos, the number of cards that make a combo is very important. For “complete” combos, which require 5 cards to make, kicker does not play and you have to compare ranks of the combos. For example, a straight to an ace is stronger than a straight to a queen. When comparing sets, two pair combos, quads and full houses, it is all about card ranks. If ranks are equal, the pot is split between players in equal shares.

Three simple tips to increase your winning percentage in poker

Situational bluffs

A player’s ability to bluff at the right time and consciously take risks in certain situations has a significant impact on success in a game. From the point of view of professional players, bluffing is an integral part of the strategy and in the long run it brings huge winnings. However, to make bluffing profitable, a player has to know when to bluff and have a game plan.

Professional players recommend studying the playing styles of your opponents. For example, if your opponent tends to play passively and fold many hands, he provides a great opportunity to bluff. It’s all about context. Spontaneous bluffing is unacceptable. There must be a logical justification for such a decision. Moreover, you need to make sure your opponent doesn’t realize you are bluffing.

Let’s say in a Texas Hold’em tournament we have a single-raise pot. Flop brings 3 cards that do not help one of the players at all. At this moment, this player should look for any signs of weakness from his opponents (checking, folding, etc.). If he spots one, there is a fine opportunity to bluff.

The aggressive style of play with hard table control works exactly because of bluffing. Here, as in any other strategy, it is necessary to evaluate the situation constantly, using all the pieces of information you can get.

Proper bankroll management

To be successful in the game, it is extremely important to adhere to bankroll management. According to professional poker players, bankroll management is an essential element of any long-term strategy and it ultimately determines what kind of poker success a player can expect. Bankroll management protects players from going broke during long downswings.

As a rule, a player should put 1-5% of his bankroll in the game (one table or whole session). The specific size depends on the playing style, experience and personal preferences of the poker player. With this approach, the influence of negative factors is minimized and reliable funds management is ensured.

Let’s say your bankroll is $1,000. You decide to put 4% of this amount to the session, which is $40. With this approach, even if you lose your whole stack number of times, you are still protected from going broke.

Bankroll also determines the stakes and number of tables you play. It is necessary again to avoid going broke during downswings. The danger of losing everything appears when player plays at the stakes that are too high for his bankroll.

Selecting the optimal table

The professionalism of a poker player also lies in his ability to choose the optimal games to play. In other words, such a player pays due attention to table selection. This component of the gaming strategy also implies the study of various game parameters in order to maximize winnings.

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When choosing tournaments and tables, you should take into consideration the level of opposition’s game, it should be lower than your own. In addition, not only you analyze their overall skill level, but also should consider their playing styles. A table full of weaker players would be a great start of increasing profits for you.

Game selection also involves selecting a game format based on your own skills and playing style. For example, someone may be most comfortable playing No-Limit Hold’em. Then NL Hold’em is the way to go.

Playing online tournament assumes players of different skill level and different styles. Therefore, it is important to focus on games with small buy-ins and large guaranteed prizes. This way you can increase the chances of success and reduce risks.

Proper game selection for a professional poker player is just as important as bankroll management. It helps to achieve maximum winnings with minimal risks.

Frequently Asked Questions about Winning at Poker

How the pot is distributed in controversial situations?

In classic poker clubs, dealers are real people who sometimes make controversial decisions. In such cases, it is reasonable to contact the management of the establishments for help. Such situations are impossible in online rooms, where rules are just a part of a software.

The program simply will not allow the player to make a premature move. Hand comparison is also automated, without human intervention. Any, even non-obvious, controversial situations are resolved automatically.

What are the biggest winnings in poker?

In the history of the game, there have been several truly large winnings. We list the biggest winnings from lowest to highest.

  • Peter Eastgate ($9 million). This native of Denmark did not even think about winning millions. He simply loved the game of poker and played tournaments winning them repeatedly. One day Peter decided to take part in the famous Ladbrokes tournament. Without much effort, he defeated more than 7,000 opponents and reached the finals. The decisive battle went for two whole days. Eastgate’s victory was unexpected for him.
  • Martin Jacobson ($10 million). Before his professional poker career, this Swede wanted to learn to be a chef, but at some point, he changed his mind. The game attracted him more than cooking gourmet dishes. In 2014, Jacobson was able to claim a big win in one of the tournaments. Despite his fame and achievements, Martin is known for his modesty and friendliness. Martin’s total winnings over his 12-year career were just under $15 million. However, Jacobson does not intend to stop there.
  • Jamie Gold ($12 million). The tournament in which this famous poker player participated is known for its record prize fund (almost $83 million), as well as a huge number of participants (almost 9 thousand). Many players and viewers described Gold’s behavior at the table as arrogant and self-conceited. However, he managed to improve a good starting hand to claim the title.
  • Daniel Colman ($15.3 million). To win such an impressive amount, this American player spent three whole days at the table. Both he and his opponents were already pretty exhausted by the end of the fight. The spectators began to lose their nerves, and some of the players even lost consciousness. Subsequently, Coleman, who won this competition, shared with reporters that poker for him is a very tough game that does not bring any joy. The amount won, however, did not disappoint the winner.
  • Antonio Esfandiari ($18.3 million). The maximum winnings in poker in the entire history of the game belong to this American. The record amount was earned during the WSOP 2012 tournament. It is noteworthy that before becoming a professional poker player, Esfandiari worked as an ordinary magician, not reaching the stars. At that time, none of the professional poker players perceived him as a dangerous opponent. However, to the surprise of the players and viewers, he became the winner of the difficult two-day tournament.

How do professional poker players calculate probabilities?

In professional poker, probability theory helps players making decisions a lot. In particular, the chances of getting a certain combo are determined by it. This in turn helps the player choose the bet size and decide whether to call or not.

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Nik Maslov Professional poker coach since 2021
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