A Structured Way to Improve as a Poker Player
No matter what stakes you currently play at, you probably look to the top professionals for inspiration, the ones who have the ability to buy-in to a big game or tournament for $10,000 and dominate a game. While this level of play doesn't need to be your final goal, you can learn a lot from these players and how they approach the game.
Not all of their actual playing techniques are applicable to lower levels, but the way they constantly learn is, and you should follow their methods to be the best player you can be.
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Learning is Done Off the Table
Contrary to popular belief, you improve fairly little from playing the game once you get past the initial learning curve of the game. If you want to reach a high level of play at any level, you need to dedicate time to your game before and after playing sessions.
There are two main reasons that education is more conducive to spending time apart from the actual game:
1. Limited Time to Think
When you're in a game, especially online, you have a short period of time to make a decision. If you're playing multiple tables, you have even less time. What this means is that you don't have time to fully think through decisions while you play, which forces you to revert to your instincts and habits. While you may be a good player and have good instincts and habits, you won't get any better from making the same decisions over and over.
2. Results-based Thinking
In your limited time to think at the table, if you are confronted with a decision, you will typically go with the most obvious and easiest choice because you don't want to make a mistake and lose money.
Poker in particular is a game where you can learn a tremendous amount by considering different ways a hand can be played out and how opponents will react. Growth comes from putting yourself in tough situations and thinking your way out of them.
Consistency is King
It's easy to look at top players and attribute their success to great poker instincts, and while some do have unbelievable talent for the game, the vast majority have gotten to the top through their dedication to improvement.
No matter what skill level you are at, at one point in time all top professionals were at the same level. Through millions of hands of play and analysis they have developed their instincts and knowledge to get to the point they are at now. Many top players spend as much time learning about the game as they do playing in order to stay ahead of the game.
No matter how lofty your goals of improvement are, one thing that is crucial is that you must be consistent. Schedule dedicated time to analysing your game and other's in order to improve.
Ways to Learn
There is no right or wrong way to learn about poker or any game. The fastest and most effective way will depend on your individual preferences. Regardless of how you learn best, there is a way out there for you.
1. Session Reviews
Everyone should spend at least a bit of time doing session reviews whether you find them highly fun or not. The reason is that identifying your biggest mistakes in your sessions is a way to address the weaknesses that are hurting you right now. It also helps you learn about some of your opponents that you are likely to play with again in the future.
All poker sites have a hand history viewer that you can use to look at your hands in a session. If possible, use something like PokerTracker 4 or Holdem Manager 2 to let you sort through the hands and find the most important ones to analyze.
2. Books and Videos
If you prefer the written word there are several great books on poker out there. If you are beginner to the game, older books that are rated highly like Super System and Phil Gordon's Little Green Book will provide you with knowledge about the fundamentals. Once you are passed this stage in your development you can look for more current books from high level players that address the current landscape of the game.
Most players prefer to use videos instead, or at least use them in combination with books. Videos are a great way to see how multiple high level players think about the game while they play. Instead of theoretical situations, you get to see real hands being played out. There are many high quality video training sites out there that you can browse if you are interested.
3. Game Analysis
If you are a data nerd like I am you may find analyzing different aspects of your game fun, but don't feel obligated to if you really don't enjoy it. Using a hand tracking software like discussed above you can learn a lot about your profitability in different situations. These programs have the ability to be filtered to show just about any situation, so the only limit is your creativity and imagination.
Putting it Together
Now you know why it's so important to improve, along with what methods you should be using to do so and how to do them. The next step is to design a custom learning plan for yourself and implement it into your playing schedule. If you want to dominate any level, you need to dedicate time and energy to improving your game.