Poker is a game that is always changing and if you aren't constantly trying to improve, then you will get left behind.
This doesn't mean that you need to be committing to hours upon hours of study each day of course, but you should be making at least a little bit of effort to think through some aspects of your game, be it theory or even stuff away from the table, on a fairly regular basis.
That said there are some great ways to learn out there and some pretty bad ones as well. I know this from experience but also because I have been exploring some more of them lately.
I will probably say a couple contentious things in this article but that's ok because I am a polite Canadian so I can get away with it from time to time.
But seriously, I prefer to keep things as real as possible to provide you guys with the best information possible. With the good also comes the bad and providing the whole story and letting you decide is the best policy in my opinion.
I will go from best to worst.
1) Play a lot of poker
This has always been the best way to get better at poker and nothing has changed. If you look at the top players out there you will find one thing that they all have in common; it seems like they are always playing! Like anything else in life, practice makes perfect and we learn through trial and error. You don't get better at something by sitting around talking about it. That does help but only to a certain extent. You get better by experiencing firsthand what works and what doesn't, and making adjustments from there.
I almost put this one lower on the list for reasons that I will talk about in a second, but the potential value in getting coached by a great player is huge. If you wanted to learn how to play golf there is no question that going out and playing the game a lot is going to help you the most. But second best will be some one on one time with Tiger Woods (or whoever is the best nowadays, I don't really follow golf much).
There are a couple of reasons to be wary of this option though.
Firstly, there are a number of almost "scam coaches" out there now. Maybe "less than honest about their abilities" is a more polite term. Let's go with that one.
These are guys who might be good teachers and all. Heck, they might be fantastic teachers! But they aren't capable of beating the games that they are teaching. If that isn't a big deal to you, then don't worry about this. It would matter quite a bit for me though.
Make sure you check their results thoroughly. Don't fall for the "PTR lost all my winning hands" story. While PTR is not perfect by any means, it is good for showing general trends.
More than anything just look at their website, coaching pitch or book sales page and see where their results are listed. Most people who truly are crushing the games will stick these in your face at the first opportunity. Those who aren't will hide their stats or make them hard to find.
Lastly, the price with coaching is a bit of a downer sometimes. But all and all, if you are working with the right coach, one who is a good teacher and an elite player, it's probably well worth it for you in the long run.
3) Joining a Training Site
This is a really good option especially when you consider the cost versus getting coaching; a month's subscription at a training site is usually not even enough for a full hour with a coach. However, like coaching you need to do a little bit of research before you decide upon a site.
I am of course biased towards DragTheBar. And the biggest reason why is because DTB is the only site to my knowledge who links directly to the coaches PTR or OPR pages right on their site. This kind of transparency is what drew me to them in the first place.
4) Talking with other top poker players on Skype/MSN etc.
This is a pretty big thing. As they always say, try and surround yourself with people who are better than you and you will rise to their level. You will probably have to message them initially at the tables though or try pm'ing them on a forum, because as I said before, they are probably spending a lot of their time playing poker, not talking about it.
5) Studying your DB
This could easily have been #2. It has been #2 for me because I have never really utilized coaching, joining training sites or discussing hands with other top players enough. One of the benefits of playing a lot is a mountain of reliable information on your game and that of others. I have spent countless hours messing around with the filters in Hold'em Manager and studying the games of other players who I think are really good.
6) Reading Blogs
And not just any blogs. Blogs of top players. I pretty much read the blogs of the guys who are the top winners in the games. I don't need to name them. You can go to PTR and find this year's top winners at each stake and those are them. You can definitely learn a lot by reading about what makes them tick and how they think about hands.
It sucks to put this one so far down on the list especially as I am in the final stages of writing my own book. But it needs to be said. There is a lot of crap being released that is paraded around as a "poker book" these days. It's similar to the less than honest coach thing. Who are these people? Where are their results? Forget the $24.99 that I just blew, why should I spend my time reading this? I don't believe that these types of questions are being adequately asked or answered enough of the time.
I don't want to paint this whole category with a bad brush though. There are some fantastic books out there that have helped me a lot. It's like anything though, you just have to dig through a lot of rubble to find the gem.
And finally we have forums. Yes they are that bad. One of the easiest ways to see this is by remembering that somewhere in the neighborhood of 80% of all poker players actually lose money in the long run after the rake.
Now let's give forum members a little more credit as being more serious players and therefore more likely to be winning players. It would probably still be generous to put that number at 50% though. So basically this means that every second post on a poker forum (on average) is made by a losing poker player. Does this sound like a good environment to learn from?
I don't want to completely rag on forums. There are a lot of nice people that visit them and try their best to help. And I am also mostly just speaking about the bigger forums here. I think the community on a smaller forum like the one at DragTheBar for instance is a lot more knowledgeable and friendly on average than at the larger ones.
And there is a lot of good information on them sometimes as well. But you have to remember that forums are kind of like a social gathering place for many people as well. It just so happens to be that poker is the topic. As I stated above a couple times, remember that the top players are at the tables playing poker, not making thousands of posts on forums.
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