My Texas Hold ’em Poker Strategy

I don’t profess to know a lot about poker, or even to be good at it. But the fact is, the last nine times I have played, I have won. Not just a little – I’ve either been the big winner of the evening, or the close runner up. I haven’t lost money playing poker in over a year.

Let me repeat that – I have not lost money playing poker in over a year.

The odds say that shouldn’t happen – especially for a fairly novice player like me. I enjoy the game. I don’t live it, I don’t have any poker books. I have never had a lesson (unless I was paying for it at the table – by playing).

Some of the things I hear when I play poker are:

  • “Shit – you should have folded that hand before the flop”.
  • “WTF were you doing staying in when I raised you after the flop?”
  • “On the river? On the fucking river? You GOT to be kidding me!”
  • “You won’t win as much once you learn how to play”
  • “99% of the time you would have lost that hand”
  • “You do understand that the cards on the table count too, right? The ones in your hand are just part of it?!”
  • “On the fucking river AGAIN!?!?!”

And so on.

But what people don’t know about me (generally) is that I cannot win online. I may win a few hands, but I suck online. I lose 76% of the time online (I DO have the stats). Luckily I play online for free (usually).

So I can only credit my winning playing against humans that I am co-located with. People I can see, and get to know.

And before you jump to conclusions – no, I do not really look at other players looking for “tells”. I DO talk to them if they want to – these are generally social games, so talking is not only ok, but encouraged. They are friendly games – even if I haven’t met many of the other players before. I know them through someone. Generally someone else at the same table.

Before I go on – I should note – I have played less than 50 nights of Texas Hold ’em Poker against other humans in my entire life. I am not a habitual player. I bet the number is closer to 30.

But the first 10 times or so, I didn’t know the game at all – I was paying to learn it (don’t ever do that!).

But then online gambling came along – where I could play “for free”. I probably have played the equivalent of 500 nights of online poker over the years. 76% of the time I lost.

But I’ve probably won 15% of the human poker I have played – and much more like 70% over the last 25 of those human games.

If you are following – I win a HELL of a lot more playing against people-in-person than I do playing online. Some might argue this is because most of my online time is not played for money – and this affects my game (meaning I would bet more aggressively playing for free than playing for real). But people that have played against me would disagree – I am aggressive even with real money. Even with my own money.

I really hate sharing this here, because a lot of the real people I play with visit this blog – so I am giving away my secret (as much of it as I understand anyway).

The reason I think I win more against real people is twofold –

1) I honestly played the game with people 10 times before I really understood it. I played for money. And lost everything I played. During the next 20 people games or so I also started paying online poker – and I learned the game. I knew the rules! So the real-people numbers are totally skewed by a wide variety of factors. Not a real data set.

2) I’m generally good with people. This is, I am sure, my “secret”. Give me just a little bit of a budget, and the proper support, and I will turn a pissed off customer into a lifelong customer. I know – it sounds braggadocios – I didn’t intend it that way. But I really have been very successful in dealing with customers – even really, really angry ones. I *know* this helps me in poker – especially since I rarely looked ANY of my customers in the face when I talked to them – I ran a global support organization – and I was located in a remote office. I RARELY even met a customer. But I talked to them – a lot. On the phone.

I learned to read them without looking at them – or even ever meeting them. Over time, I think I got to be very good at reading people – even people I had never talked to before. And that is what I do when I play poker – if you play with me, watch me – I never look at you – not if I am in the hand. If I look at you, I will misread you. And it doesn’t matter what MY hand is – I won’t look at you.

I will listen – I will notice the slight things you do – things I generally only learned by listening over the phone. Like a sigh, however softly (or loudly – and recognizing the difference in your mind-set based on it). Or a pause, where usually you do not pause. The cough that only comes when you have a hand, or the “tsk-tsk” that only comes when you are bluffing. The way you brush your cards across the table when you are bluffing, or the pattern in which you stack your chips when you are not.

I’m lucky – I don’t have to look at you. I just need to sense you on the other side of that phone line. If I am successful at it, then my hand will always beat yours.

And I should add a third factor here – I think I am hard to read because I play so wild. Sometimes recklessly wild. Hard to read reckless. I went from 50 cents left of a $20 buy in to winning the pot once by being very aggressive – and extremely lucky. I went all in for about 7 out of ten hands. And won most of them. Sometimes it was luck. Sometimes I had the right cards.

And sometimes I heard a really long sigh.

I love poker. And people.