How Beginners Can (Sometimes) Beat Pros at Poker



In this post, I’ll show you how Phil Gordon trained me in 5 days to have a fighting chance against pro poker players. Here’s the video teaser.

Before we filmed the experience for The Tim Ferriss Experiment (currently the #1 TV Season on iTunes), I had never played a hand of poker.

Phil’s crash course purposefully did not cover all the bases. It couldn’t. We didn’t have the time.

Instead, his program (and this post) will show how a gambling idiot (me) can magnify strengths and cover weaknesses to an absurd degree…at least for a few hours in order to win real cash.

Let’s be clear: I am not a good poker player, and perhaps you aren’t either. But that doesn’t mean you can’t win.

If you understand a few principles and follow them religiously, Lady Luck (and strategic aggression) might smile upon you. Especially if you learn how to leverage “short-stack strategy” or “heads-up play,” both of which I’ll explain.

This post has three parts:

– My video explanation – This is the actual video I sent to TV post-production. I sent similar videos for all 13 episodes (parkour, the dating game, building a business, etc.) right after we finished each week. This is nuts and bolts of how Phil helped me pull off miracles.

– My real notes from my notebook – These are PDFs of the notes I explain in the aforementioned video. For a novice or intermediate, they are only really useful once you’ve watched the video.

– Phil’s one-page cheatsheet – ‘Nuff said.

– The full TV episode (preview and links)

Let’s get started on the how-to…

The Video Explanation – The Real Nuts and Bolts

I mention “VO” a few times, which stands for “voice over.” To see more of the notebook text, you can expand to full screen.

My Poker Notes (Plus Some “Escape and Evasion” Notes)

How to Play Poker – The Tim Ferriss Experiment by tferriss

Phil’s Cheatsheet

Poker Cheatsheet – From Pro Phil Gordon by tferriss

The TV Episode

Here’s the full episode (and 12 others) — check it out! If you found any of the above interesting, I think you’ll love it.

Posted on: May 10, 2015.

Please check out Tools of Titans, my latest book, which shares the tactics, routines, and habits of billionaires, icons, and world-class performers. It was distilled from more than 10,000 pages of notes, and everything has been vetted and tested in my own life in some fashion. The tips and tricks in Tools of Titans changed my life, and I hope the same for you. Click here for sample chapters, full details, and a Foreword from Arnold Schwarzenegger.

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150 comments on “How Beginners Can (Sometimes) Beat Pros at Poker

  1. Slow play is the preferred junk food of weak players. To wit: one pro flopped quads against another pro. He led out and bet the flop. He then checked the ace on the turn as if afraid, and bet the river. He got paid on 2 streets of value which is incredibly hard with quads. Most amateurs would have checked it all the way down out of position waiting for someone else to bet.


  2. Tim, one last: you dismiss tells at the start. But them smartly highlight at least two critical potential tell dynamics. One, how long, and in what style, a player looks at the flop, and what I can glean from your behavior. Two, how long a player looks at their cards when first dealt. Tells experts recommend the precise number of seconds when looking at cards (and 5 seconds BTW is too long). Thanks again for trying to make a complex game approachable.


  3. You can easily tell if someone is a good poker player by the way they describe a hand they played.
    You have to be able to follow the action to understand the dynamics of poker. This is a combination of many key factors. Some basics are “the position” of the players involved in the hand, the “effective stack” they are playing, the “image of the player”, “the stage of the tournament” and their ability to make an opponent fold, known as “folding equity”.
    An Amateur player would say:
    -I played a huge pot 88 against AK and AQ and lost omg.
    An Experienced player would say:
    Young aggressive player opens the action from utg, old guy with 25bb playing passively, flat calls in middle position, I reraise 6.5bb from button position with 40bb effective stack. Initial raiser goes all-in with AQ, so does the old guy with 88, I call with AK.
    If someone can comprehend all the above and add some bankroll management they are near achieving the 80/20 rule for poker.


  4. I am glad I found more information on this episode!

    40 minute VO and notes is just what I wanted to flesh out the episode.

    If you are interested in feedback, it feels like the episode violates the minimum effective dose principle, because you didn’t exclusively learn the heads up game, which is a drastically different game than a multi-handed one. For your final challenge, I would have liked to see you run three single table tournaments (winner take all, or top two get pay outs) against the same four to five players and the episode culminating in how you rated against your opponents (maybe by average finishing place).


  5. thanx for sharing great tips for poker……but some more tips and triks for new users and experinece players also here which is very important in poker rooms at poker table……at nobleaces online poker


  6. Story Tim,

    A fellow Hurler here leaving a comment all the way from Dublin, Ireland. I just discovered (Awesome btw) and during this video I noticed a number of cool apps on your mac, is there any chance you could make a kit of apps/software you use regularly and what you use it for please? I recognise there are ample out there but it would be interesting to see if there are any golden nuggets that you use regularly for random stuff that we mightn’t have heard of yet or thought of.

    Cheers bud 🙂


    • It is difficult to say. You have to figure out how often your opponent is reraising and how your hand fares versus the reraiser’s range. Sometimes a hand like AJ is great and other times it is garbage. you will find that in order to really understand poker, you have to be incredibly specific.


  7. wow can’t believe I have never seen this before.

    Looking forward to watching it.

    It’s particularly interesting to me because i’m a big fan of TIm and a poker player/coach.

    [Moderator: link removed]


  8. Tim (Tim’s VA staff); the documents shown in this post that are hosted on “scribd” are no longer there. When you click on the notes or the cheat sheet links the site says “Notice – This document has been removed from Scribd.”

    Is there alternative way to view the notes and cheat sheet?