Also, to complicate matters further, not all of this information is good. Some of it is bad and you might actually harm your progress by following it. Lastly, it is also important to remember that everybody learns differently. What might be effective for one person might not be for another.
So I decided to put together this list of the top ways that I would choose to improve my game if I had to start all over again today.
1. Play an Insane Amount of Poker
If there is one unifying trait that all of the biggest winners always seem to have in common it is this:
They always seems to be at the tables playing poker!
Why wouldn't they after all? The whole point of the game is to play it and make money. There is simply no way that you can ever become great at poker if you spend most of your time sitting around watching it, talking about it or reading about it.
But there is another hidden benefit when you make playing the game your main priority. It might sound cliche but I have always maintained that learning from your own mistakes is the number one way to improve your game.
I got my start in poker during an era (mid 00s) when many of the educational resources that I will discuss later on in this article were simply not available. However, I was still able to teach myself to win primarily by seeing what works and what doesn't firsthand.
When you play millions and millions and millions of hands of poker like I have then you tend to see the same situations over and over and over again.
Eventually, even the most stubborn person on earth will notice that they keep losing repeatedly when they do X. They will eventually start doing Y.
2. Review Your Play
The easiest way to start learning from your own mistakes is to review your hands after every session. Maybe every session is taking it a little bit too far but when you are just starting out regular session reviews are an absolutely invaluable way to improve your play.
When I wasn't throttling millions of hands of online poker into my brain I was spending countless hours reviewing my own hand histories and finding ways to improve.
It is really a very simple formula:
1. Find out what works and do more of that
2. Find out what doesn't work and do less of that
If you ever want to push through and become truly elite in this game then you are going to have to learn to think the game through on your own anyways. I think it is a good idea to start working on those habits right from the very beginning.
3. Effective Use of a Poker Tracking Program
The easiest way to review your play by far is with the aid of a poker tracking program. This is one of the biggest reasons why I suggest getting familiar with one as soon as you get a little bit of experience playing online. You don't even need to use the HUD if you don't want to.
Many people seem to think that the HUD feature and the ability to track their results is the whole point of these programs. This could not be further from the truth.
One of the best features of poker tracking software is the ability to filter for specific scenarios. This allows you to get the exact data over a big sample on whether you are winning or losing in a specific spot.
For example: When I raise the flop with a draw am I showing a profit or a loss?
If I am showing a profit then I will keep raising them and if my winrate is really high then I will do it even more. If I am in the red in this situation though then I will reconsider my strategy and look at some specific hands to see why I am losing.
You can't argue with the raw data and results over enormous sample sizes. It is black or white. You are either winning or losing and you can make adjustments from there.
I personally use Pokertracker 4. Hold'em Manager 2 is a good poker tracking program as well. You can filter for specific scenarios like the one that I mentioned above in both of these programs. You can also try out either of these programs for free.
I have written extensive guides on both how to study your opponents and run filters as well as optimal HUD setup for Pokertracker 4.
4. Study Training Videos
Training videos revolutionized the poker education industry several years ago and I still think they are an extremely valuable way to improve your game. It is simply amazing to be able to "look over the shoulder" of a top winning player as he plays live and lets you know what he is thinking.
There are many good training sites out there. I think the real key though is researching the coaches first and taking advantage of the free trial or video teasers.
This is because what you really need to know is whether or not the training site regularly puts out high quality videos from coaches that actually play at or near the stakes that you play in.
There is simply no point whatsoever in watching some high stakes crusher talk about NL2000 when you play NL10.
These stakes have absolutely nothing in common.
There is actually a good chance that you will get worse results by trying to emulate what you see in these videos in your own games. This is because you are learning a set of strategies and a way to think about the game that simply flies way over the head of your current competition.
Likewise, there is often no point in watching some high stakes phenom play NL10. This is because he likely hasn't played in these games in ages and will bring the same high stakes mentality to a very simple game which requires a very simple strategy to beat.
Join a training site that has plenty of current content made by coaches who actually play in the games that you play in on a regular basis.
Lastly, it should be noted that I used the word "study" above instead of "watch." Poker training videos are not like movie night. No popcorn is needed.
They should be treated instead like a university lecture. In order to benefit the most from them your complete attention is required. This also means taking notes and asking the coach any followup questions that you may have.
5. Study Poker Books
Some people learn better through reading than watching. And also of course, a full length book allows for a much deeper analysis of any topic than any 30 minute training video could ever provide.
I think poker literature has improved greatly in the past several years. Just 5 years ago literally all we had were a bunch of books written by some aging live poker pros with little to no experience playing online poker. In fact many of them were written before online poker even existed!
Thankfully, this is not the case anymore.
In the past several years a ton of quality new titles have been released by online players specifically which provide valuable insight into the way that the game is played today. They also often cover the software that we use today in the modern game such as the poker tracking programs that I just discussed above.
As an online poker player myself, I have written two of these books for the lower limits:
Crushing the Microstakes (NL2, NL4 and NL5)
Modern Small Stakes (NL10, NL25, NL50)
There are plenty of other good books out there as well covering all aspects of the game from the mental side, exploitative theory, math basics and GTO. You can easily find all of these titles (except for mine) with a simple search for "poker books" on Amazon. Check the publication date.
Once again, and just like with training videos, you will get exactly what you put in with poker books. They are not meant to be skimmed. And they weren't written to entertain you.
The main goal of any poker book should always be to improve your winrate at the tables. So they should be studied like a college textbook. The material should then be applied at the tables right away.
6. Hire a Coach
Hiring a coach is probably the single most effective way to improve your game. A highly skilled coach can make specific suggestions that are tailor made for you. But this is also the most expensive option out there. Finding a good coach can sometimes be a bit of a challenge as well.
When searching for a coach some red flags to look out for are the lack of actual results at the tables and the excessive use of "testimonials" and other gimmicky marketing tactics. Highly sought after coaches have no need to advertise their services in this manner. The get plenty of referrals coming their way through word of mouth alone.
I would only hire a coach if you have played quite a bit online, moved up a few stakes, but have hit the proverbial brick wall. Because if this is not the case, then there are probably better (and cheaper or free) options out there in the mean time to help you get the fundamentals down.
However, some people prefer that personal 1 on 1 interaction and specific attention to their game and are willing to pay for it. Hiring a quality coach can make a big difference for them.
7. Join or Create a Study Group
Getting a regular study group together or a circle of poker friends to discuss hands with is another great way to improve your poker game. Although it rarely happens, these groups should be taken seriously and conducted in the same manner as a business mastermind group.
That is, there is a clear schedule set for when you meet up and what you will discuss whether it is in person or online. And each member of the group is held accountable by the others and pushed forward to succeed.
The biggest problem though is finding the right people.
You need to remember that only about 5-10% of people are actually really big winners in this game over the long run. These are obviously the people who you want in your group or circle of friends.
Furthermore, it is also better to discuss the game with somebody who does not play at your stakes (higher is always better). It is not a good idea to become friends with people who you see at the tables on a regular basis. You don't want a reason to ever soft play versus anyone.
Twitter and forums are probably the two best ways to get to know other poker players and make friendships or form a study group. There is strength in numbers and poker does not always need to be such a solitary endeavour.
8. Read Poker Blogs
Unfortunately most poker blogs do not last very long because it takes a rare combination of somebody who is a long term winner in the game and also likes to write about it on a regular basis.
Most people get all excited to blog about poker at the beginning but as soon as things don't go their way for awhile or something else pops up in their lives, they quit.
The other issue is that even when you find a regularly updated blog from a big winner most of the content is often only about their results and travel adventures. Therefore it sort of lacks in any real educational value.
However, it is still very useful in my opinion to gain insights into the mind of a top winner and especially how they react when adversity strikes. If nothing else it might inspire you.
Here are a few of the blogs that I have followed over the years which inspire me:
- TimStone (small/mid cash)
- TonnaMunz (small/mid cash)
- Frosty012 (small/mid cash)
- Daleroxxu (small/mid PLO/MTTs)
- Abarone68 (small/mid SNGs)
9. Poker Forums
Poker forums (at least the big ones) have unfortunately gone downhill quite a bit in recent years. On the largest one that everyone knows about there was actually a concerted effort about 5 years ago by a lot of winning players to "stop posting strategy."
You know, don't educate the masses.
I actually agreed with this sentiment at the time as well and stopped posting. However, I soon realized how futile this was. Regardless of what I choose to say in public the information is going to get out there through training sites, books, coaching, blogs and so on.
But still to this day I don't know very many big winners who post frequently on huge forums like TwoPlusTwo. And I don't think it really has anything to do with not wanting to educate the fish. It has more to do with the large amount of noise and endless flame wars that all big open public forums like this suffer from.
It should be noted that most big-time winning poker players have never posted much on forums to begin with though. Why? Because they busy at the tables playing! You don't get paid to make 10k posts on a forum.
High level poker discussion still does exist on the internet but it has gone much more underground in recent years especially via private Skype groups and in some cases on smaller forums.
The best forums these days are actually often attached to training sites. The members there are usually paying subscribers and are therefore much more likely to be serious about the game.
There are many different ways to improve your poker game these days. Which one is right for you depends a lot on how you learn the game best. A variety of different methods is probably the way to go though for most.
However, what I do know for certain is that there are very few big winners out there that haven't played an absolute ton of hands and spend a lot of time reviewing them as well.
I am not saying that there isn't any value to training sites, books, forums, coaches and the like. All of this stuff is great and will help you improve. But it needs to be done in moderation.
The guys who are actually crushing the games are often predictably right where you would expect them to be. On the left of some fish and counting stacks.
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