How a Little Pressure Can Help Improve Your Game

Hourglass representing time

If you know anything at all about poker, then you know that the common-held belief that it is a game of luck is a complete myth. The fact is poker is a game that requires incredible levels of concentration and no small amount of skill. And when it comes to improving these skills, there are plenty of tips and resources available online. However, no matter how much you practice, there’s only one way that you can develop the right mindset to succeed, and that is by adding a little pressure to your game.

So, what do we mean by pressure? Well, that’s easy enough to answer: playing for money. You see, the pressure of losing your stake (no matter how small it is) adds another dimension to your game. And that’s what often sets players on a path to success.

Friendly Games are a Good Start

Now, don’t for a second think that we’re suggesting you cancel your regular Friday night game with friends. Not at all. These friendly games playing for pennies or chips of no real value are the best possible place to start. It is in this low-stress environment where you will learn the basics of the game and about playing styles from your poker-playing buddies.

The friendly game is also the best environment for asking questions. After all, if you can’t ask your friends questions about the game, then who can you ask? Here you will undoubtedly learn a little about yourself, too. Do you have the patience for the game? Do you have the potential? And most importantly, do you love poker enough to stick with it for the long haul?

But as good as the friendly home game is, the dining room table is no place to hone your craft. For that, we need to hit the casino or move into the world of online poker. But don’t worry, you’re not going to go too far out of your depth. We did say a “little” pressure. Right?

Pressure Pays

There’s a school of thought that believes that pressure can help improve performance. CEOs swear that it improves a company’s bottom line while football coaches believe it brings the best out of their players. But there’s a catch: place a person under too much pressure, and their ability to decide may be somewhat impaired. So, to improve your poker skills, it’s necessary to find that perfect balance of enough pressure to make you sweat a little but not so much that you forget all your lessons.

Adding the real possibility of losing (or winning) cash to your poker game is the obvious route to take. By playing a few hands with real cash, you’ll no doubt find that your levels of concentration improve, which, in turn, leads to better decisions. That could mean that an average home game player could improve tenfold in a cash game given that they are taking the game more seriously. The key word there though is could. You still need those skills we mentioned earlier.
There are, of course, other ways to add pressure to your game. Let’s take 888Poker for example. Their addition of the BLAST feature to Omaha Hi-Lo sets players on a timer. And once that timer runs out, everyone at the table is all-in. If ever there was a way to improve your speed when it comes to decision-making, then this is it.
Poker table analysis

But isn’t that a lot of pressure? Well, that depends entirely on your budget, and if you are a beginner-level player, then you should play low-stakes poker in the first place. Right? And that brings us to our next point.

Playing for Money

We spoke earlier about adding the possibility of winning or losing cash to your game, and it is the best training you can give yourself. So, pretending that your chips are worth real dollars doesn’t have the same effect as seeing money flow into your bank account or cashing in your chips for bills at the casino. But again, it’s all about finding the right balance.

Players looking to improve their skills by playing for money should always adopt a low-stakes strategy at the outset. That involves placing smaller bets and playing low-risk poker. The idea is to play to win small but often. While seasoned players won’t feel the strain when playing for small amounts, newer players will enjoy the thrill of winning and have that fear of losing their stake.

It’s also a known fact that budgeting can help improve financial decisions. And setting a budget for your poker-playing has the same effect. Knowing that the well could easily run dry makes you take a little more time over your decisions and encourages you to play with your head instead of trusting your gut feeling.

In time, when your skills and decision-making improve, you can up the ante and raise your stakes and budget. But it’s crucial that you don’t get overconfident. Pace yourself and stick to your budget for at least a month, especially when playing online poker. Playing online is more convenient, so people tend to do it far more often than visiting a casino. While this means that you could improve at a faster rate, it also means that you could spend more if you don’t stick to that budget.

So, whether you’re an average player looking to improve your skills or you’re a complete beginner trying to get a handle on the game, adding a little pressure to your poker playing could be the answer. Keep your friendly games going but best not to introduce too much action to those. And while the casino is an option for some, the best route for most is probably online poker rooms. That makes it easier to find games within your budget, and best of all, you don’t need to leave the house or even get out of bed to play.

Ognian Mikov

CEO of Ultimate Poker Coaching

I have nurtured a deep love for poker for over two decades and took my first significant steps in the game during the summer of 2010. Since then, I’ve played millions of hands both online and live.

Poker has remained a significant passion of mine, and I’ve committed a substantial amount of time to enhancing my skills, teaching others to play, writing about it, and managing this poker coaching platform.

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