Poker is a marathon, not a sprint. It's possible that you'll get lucky the first time you sit at a table. I got lucky the first time I played in a live poker tournament at Trump's Taj Mahal. I finished in the money (3rd place out of 165 players) and thought that I was a poker master. Sadly, the truth was that while I had some fundamental poker skills, they needed to be honed through many more sessions if I were ever to become a better poker player. I needed to find a mentor who has played the game longer than I have and could guide me, hopefully helping me avoid mistakes that they made during their poker journey.
If you like to play poker and have anything to add to this list, please feel free to branch off of this list and add your ideas.
In poker, your mindset is everything. It's vital that you are disciplined when you play poker.
You will run into obstacles if you play this game for any significant amount of time: players that dominate you and can read you like an open book, long periods of time where the cards you're dealt are terrible, bad beats where you made all of the right decisions but got unlucky, etc. When you run into these obstacles, you'll have two choices: do a brutally honest self assessment on your strengths and weaknesses, work on strengthening your mental fortitude or be stuck forever at the same skill level.
As with any game that involves gambling, poker is prone to variance. In a small sample size, variance has a much greater effect compared to the effect it has on a much larger sample size over a longer period of time. When your pocket aces get cracked by some joker who called your pre-flop raise with Jack - 9 and flopped a straight, cleaning you out, will you lose your cool, get angry and lament your bad luck? Or will you congratulate him/her, remain disciplined, and win back your money the next time they make the same mistake? Poker is more about making the odds work in your favor and having a solid frame of mind that allows you to stay strong during the times when nothing seems to be going your way than it is about being right all the time.
In general, when we feel emotional, we tend to make worse decisions. The same holds true in poker. Your strategy should be developed away from the table. Ideally, this will stop you from making expensive mistakes that can destroy your chip stack. If your emotions are getting the best of you, call it a day. There is no shame in taking a break and quitting when the cards aren't going your way and coming back another time when you're better rested and have your emotions under control.
The first step towards mastering the game is to conquer your mind.
Can you quickly calculate the odds of you making your flush or straight draw? Once you've figured that out, can you calculate in your head whether or not it makes mathematical sense to call the all-in bet that your opponent just made? I know that you WANT to call it.....but SHOULD you call it? Can you look at the flop and determine the exact number of cards left in the deck that you need to make your winning hand in a matter of seconds? There's math in everything, and poker is no different. You don't need to be a PhD in Calculus, but you do need a solid understanding of poker math: # of outs, pot odds, equity, expected value, fold equity, break-even %, implied odds, etc. You should have a solid grasp on these concepts before you sit down at a poker table.
3. Bankroll Management
In life, you need money to survive. Poker is no different - if you want to play poker, you need to have funds. If you have limited financial reserves, you should stick to low stakes games until you build up a larger bankroll. Once you've built your bankroll and improved your game, only then should you consider playing in games with higher stakes. Be mindful of the fact that higher stakes games will usually attract players with better skills, more experience, and more money. They will be harder to beat than your typical low stakes player, and if your game is not solid, they will exploit you when you make mistakes and you can lose your shirt.
If you really want to do well in poker, you need to play aggressively. When you play aggressively, you can lose all of the chips in front of you, so it's important that you be able to reload when this happens. If you can't reload, you must play very conservatively.
Before you sit down at a game, determine how many buy-ins you will need in a worst case, average case, and best case scenario. Stick to your plan.
4. Honest Self Assessments
Most drivers think that they're the best drivers in town, especially in New York. Many poker players think that they're better players than they actually are. Self-awareness is very important - you must be able to assess yourself honestly, acknowledge your weaknesses and the flaws in your game before you are able to improve on them.
There are two types of poker players:
1) Self-aware players who know what they need to work on in order to improve
2) Players who aren't self-aware.
Don't be the latter.
5. Positional Play
Do you understand how positional play works in poker? Poker is a game of incomplete information. When you're last to act, you are in a position of relative strength, as your opponents must act before you, and you benefit from being able to factor that information into your decision. When you're first to act, you are in a position of relative weakness, as you must make your decision without any information from your opponents decisions. When you are in a position of relative strength, you can expand the range of cards you choose to play. When you are in a position of relative weakness, you should narrow the range of cards you choose to play.