Poker is a simple game with a lot of complexity to it. That might sound wrong, but once you get past the basics of the game, the strategies actually get very complex. That is why you can have players that lose thousands of dollars playing, and players that win millions of dollars. The best players in the world spend years studying the best ways to play when to play certain hands, when to raise, and when to fold. They know exactly what the optimal play is in all situations. Although there is some luck from hand to hand; poker is ultimately a game of skill when played over a long period of time. As a result, there are definitive things you can do to learn how to get better at poker.
One of the biggest problems new players have when playing poker is that they play too many hands. They get bored sitting around waiting for strong hands, which results in them playing hands that they will lose the vast majority of the time. As a result, if you are going to learn how to get better at poker, you are going to need to play fewer hands. Ideally, you will be playing between 15 and 20 percent of your hands. This is indicated by your VPIP which stands for "voluntary put in pot". This stat indicates how often you are voluntarily putting money into the pot before the flop. A VPIP of 15 to 20 percent is not too high, and it is not too low. It is perfectly optimal for new players.
Additionally, players are far more passive with the hands they play. They will call the blinds and then not play aggressively post-flop. This is a recipe for losing money. When you decide to play a hand, you should be raising more often than not. That is because you want to either take down the pot pre-flop or isolate the hand so that it is between you and one other player. Having a multi-way pot is not ideal because it severely lowers your chances of winning. When more people are in the pot, there is a greater chance that weak hands will hit on the flop. So, you should be raising before the flop so that you only need to play against one other player.
You should also avoid letting up after the flop. If you were the pre-flop raiser, do not be afraid to bet after the flop even if you did not hit. You need to be aware of your range and bet if it is a good flop for your range. Sometimes this means betting when you have a weak hand. You need to represent a strong hand if you are going to win.
Limping is when you call a hand without raising it when there are multiple players behind you. Being the first to limp is a bad play in almost all situations because you are giving your opponents the opportunity to raise and get you out of the hand. You will then lose the chips you put in without ever seeing the flop. Unless you are trapping with an incredibly strong hand like aces, you should avoid being the first player to limp.
The best time to limp is when multiple players have limped behind you and the price is fairly cheap. Even if you have a bad hand, you will be getting good odds to limp and try to hit the flop. Since multiple players are in the hand, you can put in a few chips because the payout, if you hit, will be incredibly high. However, unless you are in those select situations, you should avoid limping.
One of the biggest weaknesses of new players is knowing when to bluff. That is one of the keys to learning how to get better at poker. Beginners do not bluff often enough, and when they do bluff it is usually a bad time to bluff. When you are bluffing, it is usually a good idea to bluff with hands that have win equity. Do not bluff with a hand that has no value in the hope that the player will fold. You need to be able to logically represent certain hands so that your opponent will be tempted to fold. That means you need to remember how you have played the rest of the hand so that you are aware of what your opponent might think you have.
A great time to bluff is after the flop or turn when you have flush or straight draws. You might only have 10 high at that point in the hand, but if you have a flush draw and a gutshot, you can make a bet with the hope that your opponent folds, but if they do not, it is ok because you still have some outs. If you are bluffing without any equity, you are doing yourself a disservice.
The only time you should be bluffing without win equity is after all the communal cards have been revealed. At that point, you can take certain risks if you feel like you have your opponent pegged. If you feel like they have a better hand that is not incredibly strong, you can make a bluff to try to get them to fold. For example, if there is a 7, 5, K, J, 9 board and you think your opponent has a pair of 9s, you could try to represent a hand like K 10 or Q 10. You might have a hand of A Q which is weaker, but you could realistically represent those hands. In that situation, your opponent might not feel comfortable calling a bet when they only have the third best pair. This is of course dependent on how you have played the hand to this point.
Learning how to get better at poker is not an easy thing to achieve. There are many things to learn and study when it comes to poker strategy, and it will take many years of practice. That being said, there are a few things you can quickly learn to become an effective player. Learn which hands to play and when and learn how to bluff. Adjust your betting frequencies and sizes so that your opponents cannot accurately predict your hands. If you do those things, you will be a better player.