One of the reasons that poker is such a popular game is that it takes equal parts skill, strategy, and luck to succeed. Understanding human psychology plays a major role with both skill and strategy when playing poker, as you not only have to be familiar with basic human reactions and tendencies but also know exactly who to use them to your advantage.
Successful poker players quickly learn an important lesson; play your opponent, not the cards. Whether you play poker online or at live games, your real profits in the long run come not so much from being dealt good cards but from being able to know when to bluff — and when to fold. That knowledge comes from both experience and from understanding the fundamentals of psychology and poker.
Entire books have been written on poker psychology, but many of the basic tenets are pretty straightforward. The single most important factor to consider is how most people react to losses, or what happens when people go “on tilt”, to use the poker parlance. No matter how strong your hand is, in most cases there’s an outside chance you may lose, if you get very unlucky with the cards still to come.
Losing a big pot at an online poker site or a local casino when you’re a huge favorite can be very upsetting, to the point that it affects how some opponents will play for hours after the actual hand itself. Knowing when an opponent is on tilt (and taking advantage of it) can be a huge psychological edge, and just one of the ways to turn psychology to your favor at the poker table.
As far as other common situations, body language can often be a major tip as to how strong or weak your opponent’s hand may be, as well as physiological reactions such as shaking hands, a flushed face, or increased breathing rate. You should also try to get into the general mindset of your opponent to try to understand their motivations, as far as whether someone is out for a fun night of poker in Vegas or desperate and playing with their last $100, as it can effect the way they play.