Whether you’re playing against buddies in someone’s mancave or taking on shades-wearing shysters in Vegas, poker is a lot more fun when you’re actually winning cash. To help you out, we tracked down a legendary pro: Daniel Negreanu, a.k.a. Kid Poker, who has taken more than $16 million in live tournaments. Check out his insider tips to amp up your game and yoke your pocket the next time you sidle up to the felt.
You might not normally slow-play a monster hand, but try it against an aggressive player. “Why do the pushing when the donkey will do the pulling?”
1. Stay focused
Say your blonde server looks ridiculous in her short-shorts. Or your college team is locked in a nail-biter on your buddy’s flat-screen. Be strong, friend, because Negreanu says the way to win more pots in poker is simple: pay attention. “If you’re not looking around the table for physical tells from your opponents, you’re just not going to see them,” he says. In particular, study their eyes; when the flop comes out and they look straight at their chips, it usually means they like what they’ve seen.
2. Change your style
Basic football strategy dictates that you pass when the defense plays run and run when the defense plays pass. Profitable poker is no different; you play tight when opponents are loose, and loose when opponents are tight. For example, you might not normally slow-play a monster hand, but try it against an aggressive player who is using chips to push you around. “Why do the pushing when the donkey will do the pulling?” Negreanu quips. “Be flexible and react to the pace of the game.”
3. Bluff sparingly
Bluffing can be the SCUD missile of your poker arsenal. The secret is deploying at precisely the right time. “You want it to be believable,” Negreanu says. “Bluffing on the turn and river end up being higher-percentage plays. This means you aren’t going to bluff more than once or twice a game.” Furthermore, it’s important to understand that you can’t bluff everybody. “Choose an opponent who is capable of making a decision based on a read. You want them to overthink it.”
4. Bet believably
The way you bet reveals a lot about your poker skills. If you’re playing in a cash game, an appropriate raise is about three times the big blind. “If you deviate from this approach, it’s saying you don’t understand the game that well,” Negreanu says. We’ll spare you the math behind why this strategy works well, but trust us when we tell you that raises of this size usually put you in the best position to win. “You want your raises to scare off weak hands but keep enough marginal hands in the pot.”
5. Prepare to strike
According to Negreanu, the elimination of online poker in 2011 has flooded card rooms and home games with players who, for lack of a better word, suck. This means most opponents will make tactical mistakes sooner or later. When they do, you must be ready to pounce. “You’re not going to have a chance to take down every pot, but a missed opportunity is like leaving chips out there for someone else to grab. Like anything else, in poker, to earn money, you have to work for it.”