Mastering poker is a lifelong journey which is never really complete. Poker is an incredibly competitive game, and like anything else in life, success comes to those who are willing to work hard to outperform the competition.
Making money in poker comes in due time to those who work hard to improve, but they do so for other reasons, rather than just making money. Above all else, they have a deep passion for the game, and want to improve because they want to be good in what they do. Money is just the icing on the cake.
If you don’t improve, eventually you’ll be left behind the competition. Sure, you might be able to crush some weekend players, but so can the other regulars. And the games are getting increasingly harder.
This article will give you 5 ways to take your game to the next level. Let’s get into the actual tips, starting with the basics.
1. Learn the fundamentals of the game
Basics of poker are not to difficult to learn and the math part is also not very complicated. But that is the easy part. You should start building your strategy by learning the basic TAG (tight and aggressive) strategy. This includes mastering your preflop starting hands selection.
About the top 15% percent of hands in a full-ring game and the top 20% in a 6-max game, playing tightly in early position and opening up in late positions (cutoff and button), playing in position (being the last to act) and playing fast and aggressively post flop in most situations.
As for the math part, you need no more than basic multiplication and division. You should be familiar with pot odds, implied odds and stack-to-pot ratios (SPR).
Even though you might feel you have the fundamentals down, it’s better to assume you don’t have it all figured out. Being familiar with something and understanding it deeply are not the same thing.
2. Try focusing on one thing at a time
Poker is a game that takes an hour to learn, but a lifetime to master. So there is no need to rush anything, and no need to learn all at once. Slow and steady is the way to go, especially when we talk about learning and improving. It can be a long and tedious process, but knowledge is difficult.
So in order not to make it any more difficult than is necessary, you should avoid overwhelming yourself, especially at the beginning.
A great way to go about this might be focus sessions. Before you open up your software and sit down to play, you can start with a pre-game warmup. During the warm up, you study the concept you’re trying to implement in your game.
Then, during the session, you look for opportunities in which you can apply the concept. You might be surprised how many profitable spots there are where you know where and what to look for. Then keep repeating that until you do it automatically.
3. Get yourself a HUD (Heads-up display) software
The single best investment you can make in your poker career is buying a HUD software (Holdem Manager, PokerTracker…). It is an irreplaceable tool for tracking your hands and results and it also keeps track of your opponents statistics as well.
It basically pays for itself, because the reads you’ll be able to get from your opponents will more than make up for the price of the software itself.
But HUD aside, the real value of the software is that it helps you study and take your game to the next level. It automatically saves all your hand histories and shows you your results in a clear, comprehensive way.
4. Review your hands
The most cost-effective way to learn is to learn from other people’s mistakes. And what better way to do so than with hand history review. What makes this exercise so effective is the fact that you’re not just passively absorbing information, as is the case with reading articles and watching videos, for instance.
Not that there's anything wrong with articles and videos, but it’s only a part of the learning process. It is also about applying what you learn.
When you review your hands off the felt, you force yourself to think and ask questions, and this is where true understanding comes from. The best hands to review are the ones that went to showdown, because not only can you study the lines you took, but also try to estimate your opponents’ range and narrow it down street by street. That way you’re basically studying multiple things at once.
While reviewing your hands, talk to yourself out loud, and tell yourself all the information you have. This forces you to apply what you know already, and highlight the areas where you might be struggling.
5. Play more
Poker is a game of skill. Like any other skill, you get better at it with practice. Taking the time to study and improve off the felt is invaluable, but at the end of the day, you need to take that knowledge to the felt.
Theory without practice is empty, and practice without theory is blind. You can play poker all day every day without so much as reading a single article, and you’ll stay a fish forever.
There needs to be a balance between the two. Most people would benefit from more studying (because let’s face it, nobody likes to study, and we all love playing), but there’s only so much you can learn in theory. Putting it into practice effectively is where real knowledge comes from.
Progress takes time, but the more you do it, the better you’ll get at it. Action is the greatest teacher, and there’s no better way to learn than through direct experience.
So go out there and practice. But practice consciously and deliberately. You won’t see any progress day to day, week to week, or even month to month, but when you look back, you might be surprised how far you’ve come.
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