Like most forms of gambling what the recreational player *thinks* is important versus what the professional *knows* is important is vastly different. When it comes to poker in general and Texas Hold’em in particular there’s a world of difference between the extremes. The ‘square’ watches a little bit of poker on TV and thinks he can ‘bluff’ his way to riches. He thinks what is important is having the stones to see every flop and to develop a grating personality with which to ‘intimidate’ opponents. He gives no thought to the theory of poker, or the importance of seeing the flop only with a strong hand. Don’t even think of him even considering the possibility that pot odds might be important. He quit paying attention to math in junior high school.

The experienced player knows that all of the fundamentals are the essential foundation on which you build your game. It’s like playing jazz–you’re not going to pick up a horn and play like Miles Davis. One of the best ever quotes about gambling–and expertise in many other areas of life–came from jazz legend Dizzy Gillispie (variations on this concept have been attributed to Charlie Parker and others): “Practice your scales, practice your scales, practice your scales–then forget your scales and just play”. The point of this is that even if it looks ‘free form’ and effortless it’s not. Even if it is something completely unorthodox there is a foundation of fundamental mastery at work–the expert realizes this but the novice ignores it.


We’ll talk about many of the things that expert poker players develop mastery at going forward. Understanding pot odds and how to calculate them is one very important competency for a poker player. Having discipline in playing hands, knowing which hands are strong enough to ‘open’ and knowing when–and most importantly when not–to bluff are also essential qualities. Perhaps the most important concept of all is one that most novice poker players don’t think about at all–or even know what the term means: the importance of position.

‘Position’ in poker means simply to be the last to act in the current hand. This happens when you’re ‘on the button’ or the players behind you in the hand have folded. Many poker experts suggest that position is the single most important thing to have working for you at the poker table. If you watch the pros closely–and this means watch them play hand after hand, not just in televised highlights–you’ll often see that they’re ‘break even’ at best when they play out of position. When they play in position, however, they make a ton of money. The worst ‘position’ spots in a poker game are the blinds since every player at the table acts after you. One of the easiest and most profound improvements you can make in your poker game is to play in position as often as possible.


There are several reasons that position is important. For one, it makes bluffing much easier and particularly among experienced players. Good players know the danger of playing out of position and if you put them in a situation where they’re going to have to call or raise a bet out of position to match your bet in position they’ll often fold rather than take the risk. Additionally, being in the final position means that you have more control over the size of the pot as well as the ability to calculate more accurate pot odds.

The most important advantage from playing in position is very simple to understand–you have more information on the hands, cards, bets and opponents than anyone else at the table. There are few things more powerful than this type of asymmetrical information–not just in gambling but in life in general. The more you know about the variables of a given hand the more confidently you can act and the better decisions you can make.