Improving at poker can be a daunting and intimidating experience. The game is so complex that it often feels like there is no way you will ever learn all of the concepts and apply them while playing at the table. Improving at poker takes time and patience, but with the right approach it not only becomes more efficient but also a lot less stressful.
Don’t Try to Do Everything at Once
When you read a poker book or watch a video your mind gets flooded with new concepts. While you’re learning it sounds easy to incorporate all of the new things you learned into your game and start crushing your opponents. You want to soak up all the information at once and completely turn your game around. Then when you sit down to play you feel overwhelmed because there is an overload of information that your mind hasn’t properly digested yet.
The solution to this problem is to take things slowly. When you read a chapter in a book that covers C-betting the flop, take your time to cement this new knowledge until you feel completely comfortable with it. You can give yourself a time frame, for example one week, in which you will ignore everything else and just focus on this topic.
When you’re preparing to play, make applying the new concept the only goal of this session. This also helps with avoiding results-oriented thinking which is a big problem among poker players and a major source of tilt. You should never focus on how much money you win or lose in a session. The variance in poker is so big that a single session or even 10 sessions in a row are completely meaningless. Make improving your game the objective every time you play and only check your results after a month or so. You will find that not only will you be less prone to tilt, you will also have a lot more fun if you focus on the strategic aspect of the game instead of hoping for big wins in every session.
Learn From Your Mistakes
The thing that caused me to tilt more than anything else in the past was getting angry at my own mistakes. I felt like there was no way I could ever become a great player if I kept making the same stupid mistakes over and over. Things started to turn around for me when I realized that mistakes are essential for improving as a player.
If you don’t make mistakes, you’re not improving. It’s as simple as that. You can grind NL2 for the rest of your life and hardly make any mistakes because you know what to do in almost every situation. But if you want to improve you have to challenge yourself and step out of your comfort zone. Yes you will lose money every time you make a mistake. Yes you will get frustrated at first. But if your ambitions are to become a great player you absolutely have to realize that learning from your mistakes and not beating yourself up over them will set you on the path to approach poker with a positive and constructive mindset.
This mindset isn’t reduced to poker by the way. It extends to every aspect of life and every successful person out there has realized the importance of appreciating mistakes and set-backs as learning experiences. It doesn’t matter what you do in life, you will fail a number of times. The thing that separates the people who find success in the end from those that give up is that they recognize temporary failures as part of the process and pick themselves up and try again harder.
So next time you launch a big river bluff just to get snap-called by the obvious monster your opponent was holding, don’t slam the table thinking to yourself that you are the worst f***ing player on earth. Instead mark the hand and later analyze what went wrong so you can play better when that situation comes up again in the future.
Pick the Right Resources
There is an overwhelming amount of information about poker out there. You can learn from books, videos, forums and blogs. You can analyze your weaknesses by looking at your stats, working through hand histories or by hiring a coach. With all of those different options it’s important to find out what works best for you.
A lot of this comes down to personal preference but there are a few important things to consider when choosing how to improve your game.
In my opinion books are the best resource for people new to poker. When you’re just starting out you need to develop a fundamental understanding about the basic strategy of the game. Watching a high level pro play a session will only confuse and intimidate you. Furthermore a book allows the author to deliver his information in a very concise and elaborate way. It’s a lot easier to explain a complex concept on paper than it is on video, especially when the author has a style of writing that is easy to follow.
There are literally hundreds or maybe even thousands of poker books out there. Some are aimed at beginners and some require the reader to have a deep understanding of the game. Some are written with the current poker climate in mind and some are wildly outdated. And of course some are timeless classics that will always bring a lot of value to readers regardless of how far the games have progressed.
I have by no means read or even heard about all of the poker books out there. I did read a few of them though and here are some recommendations I can make:
Crushing the Microstakes by Nathan “BlackRain79” Williams
This is the book that got me started on the way to becoming a winning player. If you’re struggling at the micros this is the definite guide to set you on the path to success. It will help you develop a good understanding of all the important concepts needed to play winning poker. It won’t teach you how to crush aggressive regs at NL400 but for learning how to beat the lowest stakes there is no better book out there.
Playing the Player by Ed Miller
Next to BlackRain79’s book, this is the one that had the biggest impact on my game. It will teach you how to truly maximize your winrate and move away from playing the robotic style that has become the norm among small stakes TAG players. The whole book focuses on ways to exploit the specific mistakes your opponents make (and at NL25 and lower, you won’t encounter a single opponent who doesn’t have any significant weaknesses). It’s not aimed at beginning players though, you should be comfortable with things like hand selection, blind stealing and other basic strategic concepts. While working through the book my motivation just exploded and I couldn’t wait to go out there and find every one of my opponents’ weaknesses and exploit them until they ran out of chips.
Treat Your Poker Like a Business by Dusty “Leatherass” Schmidt
For anyone taking the game serious and having ambitions that go beyond playing as a hobby, “Treat Your Poker Like a Business” is a must-read. It doesn’t contain much strategy but it’s full of great advice on how to organize yourself as a player. Topics from bankroll management to the impact of nutrition and sleep on your game are covered in detail and Dusty is a great example to follow if you have any aspirations of becoming a professional player.
The Course by Ed Miller
This is one of the newest books out there and it’s targeted exclusively at live play. It aims to teach players how to beat live NL Hold’em at stakes ranging from NL200 to NL1000. Just because it’s missing advice on how to set up a HUD doesn’t mean it has no value for internet players though. On the contrary, I think it’s a very good guide for beginning to intermediate players and has a lot of useful information even if you’re playing small stakes online. Like all of Ed Miller’s books it’s also very well written.
Modern Small Stakes by Nathan “BlackRain79” Williams
Picking up right where “Crushing the Microstakes” left off, Modern Small Stakes is a great follow up for anyone that feels that the games at NL2 and NL5 don’t provide enough of a challenge anymore (or who just wants to make more money). Using countless hand examples, the book does a great job of teaching you about a variety of different situations you will encounter after leaving the micros behind. It’s an invaluable resource for players of NL25 and up and has taught me a lot about how to deal with those aggressive games.
The Mental Game of Poker by Jared Tendler
Dealing with tilt and other mental problems is an area of poker that is still being ignored by an overwhelming amount of players. With everyone learning the strategy of the game, there is a huge edge to be gained by having more control over your emotions at the table. For everyone dealing with tilt, motivation, anxiety or any other mental issue, The Mental Game of Poker is by far the best way to overcome their problems.
Videos are a great resource for improving because they give you a glimpse into the mind of winning players. You can watch the pros at work and see how they handle different situations in real time. What helped me in a big way was the realization that the pros are often just as lost in a hand as I was. I used to think these guys always had an answer to any situation so it was a great confidence boost to see that they make mistakes just like the rest of us.
Of course there are also other types of videos than live sessions. By using PowerPoint presentations or hand replayers, training videos are a great way for professional players to explain strategy in an easily accessible way. Watching training videos has had a great impact on my game and I would recommend signing up with a training site to anyone looking to find out what makes the pros play the way they are.
Here is a list of some of the best websites for poker videos:
Deuces Cracked has been one of the top sites for poker videos for as long as online poker has been around. They have an incredible collection of high level players producing content that includes big name pros like Dani “Ansky” Stern, Aaron “WiltOnTilt” Wilt and Andrew “BalugaWhale” Seidman. The quality of the videos is fantastic and there is an unbelievable amount of great information to be found on the site. You can get a free 7 day trial and check it out today!
Tournamentpokeredge is a very well run training site that focuses exclusively on tournament poker. The videos are incredibly well made and feature top tournament players like Andrew “focault” Brokos, Danny “DannyN13” Noseworthy and Mike “GoLeafsGoEh” Leah. Signing up with Tournamentpokeredge will give you access to over 1.000 videos and over 200 strategy articles to master tournament poker. If you’re playing Sit & Gos or MTTs, this is the definite site for strategy videos.
I am personally not a big fan of poker forums. The fact that anyone can voice their opinion about a question means that you have to be very careful with separating good from bad advice. I think I have posted about 2 hands on a forum in my life and the responses I got were so mixed that it was very hard to figure out who was telling the truth.
While I don’t think you should rely too much on forums as a way to improve, they can still offer some good value. The fact that you can discuss hands with like-minded people is great. Whenever you talk about your reasoning in a hand you will find that by articulating your thought-process you learn a lot about your game.
Many poker players make the mistake of only improving from the top up. They constantly learn new concepts instead of making sure the things that they added along the way are actually learned correctly. If you keep doing this for a long time it’s very easy to develop bad habits. And the longer you play with those bad habits the more they become reinforced and the harder it will be to break them.
Working with a coach from time to time is hands down the best way to figure out what parts of your game need improving. If they are good players (and good teachers) then they will spot your weaknesses quickly and give you actionable advice on how to change your game. Investing in coaching is one of the more expensive ways to improve but it can offer you invaluable insight into the flawed parts of your game.
I hope this guide helps you decide for yourself which way of learning poker makes the most sense for you. In the end a combination of the different resources will always bring you the best results. Just try to take things slowly and don’t get frustrated when you hit some bumps along the way. Poker is still a game and it should always be a fun experience to learn about its strategic aspects and to develop the skills needed to crush your competition.