Concentrate on Poker’s Fundamentals

In the old days, before the Internet took over the world (and, to some extent, our lives), poker was a mix of understanding, sound judgement and psychology.

Of course, this is still true today, too, but many players nowadays fail to appreciate that these same fundamentals form both the foundations of their game and, subsequently, contribute in a major way to any success.

Perhaps it’s a symptom of our increasingly impatient modern society, where instant gratification seem to pervade every aspect of life, that has led in recent years to new poker fans wanting to skip the basics and jump straight into what they perceive will most quickly lead to stardom.

Before they’ve even started to get a feel for the game, too many players these days get bogged down with number-crunching, Game Theory Optimal (GTO) poker, attaining some mystical state of being unexploitable, Independent Chip Model (ICM) theory, HUD… there’s a seemingly never-ending list of almost scientific strategies (and accompanying software) to incorporate into our game and ultimately master as we strive for world domination.

There’s no doubting the significance of all of the above (and more) in poker in 2021 – especially online poker, where there’s a smorgasbord of variants and games available 24/7, every day of the year, and where the facility to play numerous games/tables simultaneously does indeed require amassing knowledge and time-saving shortcuts for the more ambitious players, for whom time is literally money.

But for the vast majority of players, who represent the recreational masses populating tournaments, various Sit & Go jackpot games and lower stakes Cash games, the best approach is simply to develop an increasingly coherent understanding of the game on as many levels as possible, from the key poker odds to the importance of Position, and everything in-between.

Maybe the much edited highlights of poker on TV is to blame, or the ‘I want what they’ve got’ impatience of (very) amateur players watching established, successful poker gods broadcast their big wins for all to see online. Whatever the root cause, it’s a fact that so many players undermine their progress right from the beginning in wanting to run before they can walk. No game or sport with even the smallest element of skill can be mastered by skipping the initial learning levels, and nor should experience be underestimated. And poker is up there at the top in being such a complex, evolving game which, like chess, will always require us to constantly learn and improve. Just as world class divers started on a 1m board and gradually climbed higher and higher, so poker players should start with the basics and move on only when this or that aspect has been fully understood. As the late, great Mike Sexton famously said “The name of the game is no-limit Texas Hold’em, the game that takes a minute to learn but a lifetime to master” … this is more than just a soundbite – it should be in the back of the mind of every ambitious poker player in order to keep us grounded.


Most online poker fans will have much more success in the games they play (as well as a better chance of optimally improving their game) by sticking to and honing their appreciation of the fundamentals. Should it be justified at some point in spending time and effort on the ‘next level’ strategies and tools that the dedicated, full-time professionals need to make a living, then so be it. But, in the meantime, I recommend that new and inexperienced players to some extent look into the past to better pave the way for the future. Take advantage of whatever learning materials the internet brings (and there’s no need to pay for any of it!), but learn the good old-fashioned way – with patience.

Have fun!



AngusD switched from pro chess to poker two decades ago and has been professionally involved in the game on numerous levels since the very beginning of online poker, including playing as a poker ambassador both online and at major festivals around the globe. He has written much about the game over the years, and brings to YPD a wealth of experience in all aspects of the poker industry. Meanwhile, his many years on the pro chess circuit (he’s an International Master and prolific author) afford him an interesting perspective on the psychology of poker.

· Published 25.03.2021 · last updated 25.03.2021

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