Poker is a game of relative strength. It does not matter how strong your hand is; it matters how strong your hand is relation to other people's holdings. Many players just concentrate on the strength of their own hand and do not factor in what other people might be holding. Breaking this thought process is of paramount importance to becoming a winning poker player. Think about your opponents' playing styles and consider what hands your opponents might be holding.
Multi-table tournaments tend to have a greater luck factor than traditional ring games. Often, there will be over 300 players competing in a tournament that lasts around 6 hours. While there is certainly skill involved, the luck factor is enormous. Large portions of the prize pool are often dependent on a few coinflip hands.
While tournaments are certainly enjoyable, it is difficult to consistently win money. It is also harder to learn the skills necessary to succeed at poker. Since people who play in tournaments play very few hands postflop, it takes them longer to learn a lot of the finer aspects of the game.
Ring games are available for very low stakes. The players at these games are generally not that good, so it is possible to work on your skills without risking a lot of money. It is certainly fine to play tournaments as well, but I would advise against solely concentrating on tournaments for most people.
A lot of good players play a lot of poker but do not take the time to keep track of their wins and losses. Not only is this potentially necessary if you live in a country that taxes gambling winnings, it is very important for analyzing your game.
Good players generally do not perform universally well across all games and locations. People generally do much better at certain games, limits, and poker rooms. Keeping track of statistics can help you focus on games that have a higher expected value for you.
Many good players end up losing a lot of money or going broke because they keep on playing in games they cannot beat. While nothing can stop some people from bankroll destruction, accurate statistics can sometimes help people smell the coffee and improve their game selection.
This is more of a problem for no-limit players than limit players. Even at lower stakes, you are bound to be at the same table as a couple of decent players. These players will pick up on betting patterns if you always bet the same way. Mix up your style a bit at times to throw people off. If you play online poker and often play too predictably, switch tables often so you are frequently up against fresh opponents.
There's an old saying: "jack of all trades, master of none." This is an accurate description for many intermediate players who constantly switch between No-Limit Hold'em ring games, Limit Hold'em ring games, tournaments, Omaha Hi-Lo, etc.
Intermediate players should begin to focus on excelling at one game before they start frequently playing many different types of games. While it is a good idea to give different games a try, this should mainly be done just to figure out what sort of game one tends to perform the best at. Once you have identified your best or favorite game, concentrate on improving at that one poker game.
This is one of the most common mistakes in poker. People get fed up with the bad beats entailed with playing lower limits, so they play higher limits, thinking it will somehow help them win.
Lower-stakes poker involves a lot of variance because people will play just about everything. However, with this variance comes higher expected value because your opponents make a lot of mistakes. Provided you can take advantage of their mistakes through skilled play, the common bad play at lower limits is to your advantage. For more tips about how to handle loose games, check out some of the other strategy articles on this site such as Dynamic Hand Value.
If you are losing because of bad luck, then that should even itself out with time. No person is "luckier" than another person in the long run; it all evens out.
If you are unable to defeat the lower-stakes players over time, then it is highly doubtful you will beat the higher-stakes players. You make money at poker because other people make mistakes. If players are making less mistakes, then you will make less money. You want people calling your raises with Q 5; it's as simple as that. Sure, they may win sometimes, but you come out much more ahead against people calling you with Q 5 than with K K. It may make you upset that they will win sometimes, but that's poker.
A lot of intermediate players play well preflop. However, their postflop play is horrid, especially in low-limit hold'em games. This often is not because they call down too much; rather, it is because they fold too much! Many players over-correct themselves and constantly fold postflop unless they have a very strong draw or a very strong hand. They think they are playing smart tight-aggressive play. In reality, they neglect to remember the odds they are getting.
For example, suppose you hold K 8 in the big blind. Someone raises in middle position, 4 players call, and you call. The flop is K 10 2. The small blind bets out.
Some players would fold here, which is a horrible mistake. While your kicker is not the greatest, you are getting great odds for your money. Not only do you have top pair, yu might end up hitting trips or a two-pair. Sure, there is a good chance someone else will win the pot, but there is so much money in the pot that you should go ahead and call at least one bet.
A fold can often be the biggest mistake in poker. Please read When to Fold and Big Mistakes for more information about this.