Three ways to improve your poker score

Do you notice how magazine covers always have teasers that promise a list of X things that will be of interest to readers of that magazine? Like a body-building periodical: “12 Ways to Improve Your Abs.” I don’t know why they all do that, but it must work, else it wouldn’t be ubiquitous. 

So here you go: “Three changes that will instantly improve your poker score.”

I’ve stolen the term “poker score” from Tommy Angelo; it’s a great shorthand for, “lose less, go from losing to winning, or win more.” Thanks, Tommy.

1. Play fewer hands preflop

Your current starting range doesn’t matter; whatever it is, shrink it. And because you’re a clever sort of person, I won’t even tell you where or how much to shrink it. Just know that the more you shrink your opening range, the more your score will improve.

Of course, for this to work, you have to actually do it. So you can’t have any excuses for breaking your own starting range rules. Excuses including (but not limited to)

  1. I just won the last pot
  2. I had just gotten two-outed on the previous pot
  3. The table was really passive/crazy/loose/easy/tilted/etc.
  4. I got bored
  5. It was my first/last hand of the session.
  6. My friend was watching me
  7. Nobody was watching me

If it will help, write down your starting range. Every time you play a hand not in it, make a mark somewhere. When you get home, send $5 for every mark to a local food bank. You and the food bank will both feel better.

2. Play extremely tight in middle position and absurdly tight in early position

As an interesting exercise, take the playing range you created in section #1 above. Call that your “button/cut-off” range. Now lop off about half of that range and call that your “middle position” range, say under-the-gun-plus-3 to the hijack seat. Now cut off half of that range; that’s your opening range for under-the-gun and the two seats to its left.

When you’re counting hands in each range, remember to use the correct combinatorics:

  • Each pair (e.g. 77) is 6 combinations
  • Each random two-card pairing (e.g. AQ) is 16 combinations
  • Each off-suit pairing (e.g. AJo) is 12 combinations
  • Each suited pairing (e.g. ATs) is 4 combinations

The same rules about violating those hand ranges apply (which probably bodes well for the food bank).

At this point, you may be saying, “Lee, I’m playing basically no hands in the first three positions to the left of the blinds.” Excellent; the exercise is working perfectly. 

Note that I didn’t discuss the blinds. We’ll get to those in a later article; just try not to undo all the good you’re doing for yourself in the other seven positions.

3. No limping in preflop

Just for clarity, “limping in” means simply calling the big blind. This rule means you’ll never be playing an unraised pot except potentially in the blinds. If you’re the first one into the pot and you’re playing, then you raise. If players limp in front of you, you still have only the raise or fold options. When you raise, raise to 4x the big blind, plus one big blind for every limper in front of you (do not vary your raise size based on your cards). You are allowed to call a raise if your hand is in the upper half of the range you’ve given yourself for that third of the table.

Again, no exceptions. No limping in with 44 or 6-5 suited. The food bank will happily take your $5 bills for violations of this rule.


  1. Tighten up your starting hand requirements
  2. Play half as many hands in middle position as you do on the button. Play half as many hands in early position as you do in middle position.
  3. No limping preflop. Raise, call a raise, or fold.
  4. No exceptions, and find some way to force yourself to abide by rules #1-3.

Just the act of following these rules will make you feel more disciplined, like a karate black-belt doing her kata. As the food bank donations decrease, your poker score will improve.

Thank you for reading.

P.S. There is, actually, a fourth way to improve your poker score: get coaching from me. Try a free consultation to see if we're right for each other.