Advanced Poker Psychology Tips for Outsmarting Your Rivals

Learn how to read your opponents by analysing faces, interpreting verbal cues, recognising betting tendencies to evaluate how hard a hand your opponent is playing, and adjusting your actions accordingly.

Finally, high-level poker psychology is an acquired skill that you will need to work hard on: this is as much about persistence and a good attitude as it is about intelligence and quick thinking. A good cognitive psychology-based poker psychology toolkit can make the difference between you winning and losing in the long term. But controlling your various cognitive bias and building your poker psychology mental muscle will give you an edge at the table.


To play good poker takes both skill and tactics and a vicious mental game, often missing in lesser players: if you can take advantage of your opponents’ flaws, using them against them at the tables, you will consistently be able to make better profit. One way is for you to discover ‘tells’, which is shorthand for ‘reading’ your opponents’ body language (or what they’re signalling through non-verbal communication). This might be down to the simple act of spotting their stack (you’ll often notice one person putting down chips slowly). It might even be spotting things such as shrugs and sighs which provide clues that your opponents have some idea of what their hand might be. Step one of an overall constituent strategy is to measure your emotional readiness to play. Emotional disturbance is apt to lead you astray to instant decisions and the accompanying losses of money; knowing yourself and the state of your emotions helps you focus like a laser at the table.

Analytical skills

The value-add offered by analytic skills lies in a player’s abilities to identify what aspects of a situation can be analysed, and to make decisions informed by verifiable data. Incubation skills create immunity within a team to misapprehension; players learn to question common assumptions and stereotypes. Some writers have likened analytical to Andrian, the Greek for ‘to break apart’. Analytical thinking is the process of breaking complex objects or processes down into more easily analysed components or ‘parts’. It is a mode of analysis associated with the academics, clinicians and researchers: the doctors, lawyers, scientists and mathematicians who analyse their subjects of inquiry. For those wishing to work on their analytical skills, playing logic games (such as Sudoku) can help enhance critical and logical thinking, and some of these subjects are taught directly through online courses. Smart poker players form an intel-driven profile of each of their opponents’ playing personalities and preferred hand types, and make better decisions about when to call knowing what opponents might have and how they’re likely to play out a hand. You have to switch up your strategy occasionally so that opponents don’t become predictable, and so that it’s difficult for them to pick up on your bluffing.

Dynamic adaptability

One of the more advanced poker plays involves changing your game plan depending on what you read about your opponent’s style – the kindest tell you’re going to play is when they talk without thinking about what it means. They’ll be giving away information, but if you pay attention, you’ll know exactly what you’re looking for, and use it to your advantage. Whether you’re playing tournament or cash game, they’re going to affect what you do. For example, if an opponent made the call on the river with a weak draw, he has now made some profit with that play and will want to maximise his win in this hand. A bluff bet might be able to convince the opponent to call your flop and turn bets as well. To bluff successfully takes a considerable amount of skill, and is something to which one can only hope to attain, having been endowed with the necessary facility, knowledge and style that it takes to carry someone great expectations of having a hand superior to theirs. This involves the cocky psychology of skillful observation combined with physical stance.

Communication skills

You could rightly describe poker psychology as being just as much about understanding your own brain as it is about reading the brains of those you play against. A keen grasp of poker psychology can give you an edge over your opponents, helping you keep your emotions under control, achieve a state of equilibrium at the table, bluff successfully, make quick decisions under duress, and more. Another of poker’s underappreciated psychological aspects is the ability to read correctly your opponents’ nonverbal behaviours – particularly their facial expressions, hand movements and postures, and figure out from them whether their hand strength or confidence levels are high or low, and how best to execute a winning strategy. Poker psychology is learning to spot when and how such cognitive biases as confirmation bias, the sunk cost fallacy and overconfidence bias are interfering with your decision-making processes, and increasing your real-time awareness of them so that you’ll make better decisions in the future and avoid similar mistakes next time around – and the more you practise such subtle poker psychology skills, the better they’ll be at serving you in the heat of poker action!

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