Playing your first game of poker can be fun and exciting — but it may end up frustrating you if you don’t know what to look for or how to start. Balancing the fun and excitement with learning and strategising may be difficult, and your losses may quickly rack up if you don’t know what you’re doing. Aside from knowing the basics, we’ve outlined a few tips that can help give you a head start on gaining valuable experience as a player.

Don’t be afraid to fold as much as you want

Beginner players tend to lean towards calling and raising often during their first games so they can “learn” — but this is not a good playing habit. Brian McAdam explains that knowing when to fold is a really important skill both in and out of poker, as it involves looking at the concrete circumstances you are in, and having enough prudence to cut your losses. For instance, if your opponents who call all the time start raising out of nowhere, you may have to consider folding — even your strong hands. It may be difficult to let go of these hands at first, especially for a beginner, but as you learn to consider the circumstances around you, you’ll learn to let go of even the strongest hands if needed.

Start small and build yourself up

Our writer David Koech emphasises the importance of only betting an amount you can afford to lose — after all, it’s simply responsible betting. As a beginner player, you may feel excited to win some games, but this excitement may cut your play short. Start small bets, set a limit, and discipline yourself not to go beyond it. There is comfort in knowing that if you lose, not a lot of your money was on the table. Once you win consistently, only then should you move up slowly to a higher stakes table.

Avoid relying on physical tells

A lot of movies dramatise poker, pointing out physical tells that an observing player can recognise. In real life, however, while physical mannerisms do play a part, it’s only a small part in a much bigger puzzle. The more reliable signs lie in “timing tells” and betting patterns. For instance, if your opponent is taking too long to act, then betting big or raising, it almost always indicates strength, and you should probably look out.

Understand poker etiquette

There are unwritten rules that everyone needs to follow, which we’ll refer to as “poker etiquette.” Like most activities, proper etiquette at the poker table is essential for a good game. These are behaviours that promote good sportsmanship, an enjoyable speed of play, and a healthy atmosphere amongst players. partypoker have ‘how to guides’ teaching players good poker etiquette, that involves things like acting decisively as being the opposite stalls the game and signals a lack of confidence in your hand. A big thing to avoid is impeding the game, whether it’s through talking too much, being on the phone, or causing arguments. In any case, you want to remain respectful and avoid being disruptive at the poker table — whether it’s online or in real life.

Keep emotions out of the game

Emotion is the number one enemy of all strategic games. If you decide to play in a bad mood, you won’t start out too great. Your opponents may also sense your mood and take advantage of it, and any rising frustration may lead to you betting more than you can handle. Experienced players know how to keep their cool, especially with large amounts of money on the line. In fact, the University of Helsinki found that experienced poker players can tolerate mental and emotional pressure better than those who do not play, which confirms the cliché of a cool, calm, and collected player.

Starting out as a beginner in poker can be challenging, but remember to be observant, stay cautious, keep a clear head, and respect your opponents. Soon you’ll find yourself gaining more experience and may even dominate the tables.