How you make money in poker

One thing that lots of beginners fail to understand is how you make your money in poker.  First of all, the profit margin in poker is very small.  The common estimation is roughly 1-2 big blinds per hour per table.  Obviously that depends a bit on your skill and how bad the opponents are, but it's never much more than that.  That means that playing $3-6 Hold'Em you can expect to make 3-6 dollars an hour!  Now, your variance is far far larger.  It's not extraordinary to experience variance of 100 big blinds per hour!!  If you go to a casino some night and win $500 - that was variance, not skill!  You hit good cards and got paid.  Obviously that's nice, but it's not how you make money in poker.  You're just as likely to take beats the other way around.  Some night you keep making flushes when your opponents make straights, and some nights it seems like your pocket Aces get cracked over and over.  That's all just the random luck, good runs and bad runs happen to everyone.

So, that's our first key point - good players do not make their profit by making big hands.  Often when a fish plays against a pro they feel like the pro is getting good hands all the time.  Obviously a pro doesn't make big hands any more often than a beginner, but they make a lot more money.  How do they do it?

Poker pros make their money (compared to amateurs) on every single hand - including hands they lose!  Your goal as a poker player is to A) win more pots, by making your opponents fold when they have the best hand, B) minimize your losses by folding when you're beat, or keeping the pot small with marginal hands, C) make the pot big when you have the best hand, that is win big pots, and D) have small statistical advantages all the time.  This is all done through lots of little moves and proper play which leads to better long-term statistical profit.  Pros will have bad runs just like amateurs - but their bad runs will be smaller, and their big runs will be bigger!  One way I like to think of it is that a pro allows luck to hit them.  This is especially true in No Limit tournaments.  To win a No Limit tournament, you're going to need to win some races, and probably win a few hands when you had the worst of it.  Amateurs often think they're losing just because of bad luck, like their high pocket pairs get beat, etc.  Pros take the steps to allow themselves to get lucky.  The primary ways you do that are by making good plays in little pots (like stealing the blinds) so that your stack is big enough that you can afford to run some 50/50 shots and not get knocked out.  You also do it by taking cheap shots at long-shots which will allow you to give someone bad beats.

In this book we're going to go into lots of little specific situations in poker.  The reason is that poker profit is in the details.  Your profit per hand is something like 0.1 big blinds!  Obviously if you make a mistake that costs you an extra bet, or if you could have gotten more bets in the pot, that a disastrous mistake compared to your profit margin.  These profit estimates are standard in the literature, but they are actually a little too conservative for modern online poker.  Online there are so many bad players in the low limits that your profit can be 3-4 big blinds per hour per table.

When you can put your opponents on their hole cards, you can make a lot of money.  Not necessarilly because you win the pot, but because you can fold when you're beat, and milk them for more chips when you're ahead.

Big pots in poker generally happen from pure luck.  They happen when someone makes a very big hand and someone else makes an even bigger hand, such as a nut flush against a full house, something like that.  These situations are enormously profitable, but they're basically random, they happen the same amount to everyone.  Your edge will be - to make sure you get paid off when it does happen, to make sure you still have chips to capitalize because you've been playing well previously, and to know when it's profitable to chase your draws, etc.

When you have identified some advantage you have - for example, say your opponents play too weak short handed - your goal should be to get into that situation; don't take risky gambles in situations where you don't have your advantage, try to conserve your money or chips until you can play them when you have your edge. Be patient, and allow your opponents to make mistakes.

Beginning players think that it's lucky to get a big hand.  Yes, it's nice to get AA in the hole, but that's no gaurantee you're going to win a big pot.  You make big pots when you make a big hand and someone else makes a hand that's good but worse than yours.  Often your biggest luckiest hands are when you have poor starting hands, because that way you can surprise people and win a lot of chips.  In the long run, even this kind of luck balances out.  Yes, you make a lot of money when you make a full house and your opponent makes a straight - but he makes the same money when it's the other way around!  You only make money in the long run based on the way the two of you play the hands differently.  eg. when you have the House and he has the Straight, you want to win a very big pot.  When you have the straight and he has the house, you want to lose a smaller pot.