Poker Tips From James Howard

Play Like a Pro: Poker Tips From James Howard

Ever wanted to play poker like a professional? We interviewed James Howard, who played his first competitive game at the age of 18, before going onto become a professional poker player. We got an insight into the mind of poker players and picked up a few valuable tips along the way.

When did you get started in poker?

“When I was around 14 (2003), poker was just starting to be aired on mainstream television. I remember just flicking onto an episode of the World Series of Poker and becoming very interested in the game, for the next few years I took a loose interest in the game. On my 18th Birthday I went to my local casino and played my first competitive game. I remember finding it very intimidating and I struggled to overcome my nerves long enough to actually enjoy the experience.”

Do you have to be good at maths?

“I would say being good at maths is advantageous but not required to do well. The majority of poker maths has already been done by someone else and posted on the internet. You just need to understand how it was done and how you can use it to create a good strategy.”

What tips do you have for people wanting to get better?

“Honestly the best way to improve is to take some of the time you would normally use to play poker and use it to review your gameplay or study different concepts. Of your poker time I’d say using at least 30% of it to study is the way to go.”

What would you say is the most important lesson you learned from playing poker on a professional basis?

“The most important thing I learned was how to be honest to myself about my skill level and the mistakes I make. The only way to understand how to improve is to be able to objectively review the choices you make and appreciate the difference between being unlucky and not playing well enough to win.”

As a professional, what was the biggest win you ever had playing Poker?

“I spent most of my time playing cash games online which unfortunately leads to smaller wins on a consistent basis rather than the huge results playing tournament can provide. I did once win £19,000 from a second place finish in £300 buy in tournament though.”

How important do you think having a good 'Poker Face' is, and does playing online help even the playing field a little?

“I think that having the basic ability to not show your feelings is useful, but the whole ‘poker face’ thing is blown out of proportion. When you watch live poker mostly people are just less animated when they are playing hands, generally speaking that’s all you need.”

As the Live Casino Manager, what does a normal day look like for you?

“My daily workload is really varied and depends on what project I have running at the time. Right now I’m mostly spending my time on our new Live Casino app, the redesign of our thumbnails and creating upcoming promotions.”

What advice would you give beginners just getting started?

“Don’t worry about playing differently to others. People are very keen to tell you what's right or what you did wrong, but as a new/recreational player your aim should be to enjoy yourself as much as possible so just have fun with it.”

What are the biggest mistakes that beginners tend to make?

“New players nearly always play too many hands, they understandably want to see lots of flops because they don't want to miss out on the time that they would of made a strong hand.”

“Beginners also want to see what you have and don’t want to get bluffed which causes them to call too many bets. Pretty universally, experienced players will have a simple strategy to beat new players, don’t bluff them and make strong bets when you have strong hands.”

Which variation of Poker is your personal favourite?

"I strongly prefer to play cash games, they allow you to start and finish playing at any time, giving you the flexibility to play around your life."

Is the mental side of the game as important as it seems, in your opinion?

"Poker is a game where your short term results are ultimately dictated by luck. This means that on any given day you could play the best poker of your life and also lose heavily. Over time these things balance out and if you are truly better than the players you are playing against, you will make money. But it takes a certain amount of mental fortitude to keep playing your best poker through the inevitable periods of bad luck, failure to do so could see you lose all of your bank roll."

How much of an average game of poker is skill, and how much is luck?

"I see it as a sliding scale. Over one hand the game is almost entirely luck and over one million hands your results will be based entirely on your skill level. The more you play the more reliable your sample size becomes."

"When you consider that even the largest tournaments in the world see the winner be decided over just a couple of thousand hands, it’s fair to say in most cases, the person who won any 1 tournament did so because they had the best luck of all the players who entered."

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