(JTA) — Ari Engel, the son of an Orthodox rabbi, has become one of the world’s best professional poker players over the last few years (read JTA’s profile of him here). Engel says poker is a game of skill, not chance. We convinced him to share his top five tips for becoming a better poker player.
1. Patience is a virtue. I know you didn’t travel to the casino or home game to fold, but sometimes that’s what you need to do. Playing bad hands because you are bored is a recipe for a losing session. By being selective with the hands you play, you will have a better hand than your opponents over the long run. Even though you may get unlucky at times, in general you will end up with the winning hand.
2. Aggression is key. A good question to ask yourself is whether the hand you have is good enough to play. If it’s not, refer to point No. 1 and fold. If it is a good hand, be aggressive and raise. Either you will win the pot right then (a good result), or you will force your opponents to put money in the pot when you have a better hand than them (another good result).
3. Take your time and think things through. Many a time I’ve rushed through a decision only to spend my hourlong drive home wishing I had taken a few extra moments to think about all the factors before rushing into judgment. Don’t rush.
4. Play within your means. Poker is such an amazing game when you are playing for the right stakes. Ideally you want a game where losing a buy-in hurts a little but is not too painful. If you aren’t winning, don’t move up in stakes to chase those losses. Instead, drop down in stakes to where the games are going to be easier (and therefore you will be more likely to win). The game is a lot more fun when playing in games and with stakes where you are comfortable.
5. Have fun! Poker is an amazing analytical game whose rules only take a short time to learn. On the other hand, there’s always someone better than you, and you can never fully master it. The game can be humbling, so enjoy the ride and make the most of it.