Here are the top 47 things that I wish someone had told me before I started playing poker. They are not in any particular order. I am sure that I missed a few important ones even though I managed to almost make it to 50. Also, I am sure that a few will be controversial! You can feel free to leave your comments at the end.
Without further ado...
1) Tight is Right. I actually did figure this one out very quickly. Most of the bad players play too many hands. Play better quality hands than them and you will have an immediate (and huge) advantage over them.
2) Use Position. The immense power of position cannot be over-stated in poker and it takes some people (including myself) years to fully understand this. Have a look in your poker tracking program and look at your winrate by position if you don't believe me. You should be using position to take down pots on a regular basis.
3) Steal the Blinds A lot. Most people at the micros, even in today's games, are tight and passive. They will only fight back if they have something really good. Even if they do call you still have position which as mentioned has a massive impact on your likelihood of success. You should be abusing the button and cutoff in most micro stakes games today.
4) CBet A lot. You can still easily get away with CBetting at 80% versus most opponents at NL10 and below. You only need to get somebody to fold around 30% of the time in order for a standard 60% of the pot CBet to breakeven. Pretty much everybody folds to CBets at least this amount of the time, even most of the biggest fish.
5) Fold When They Fight Back on the Big Money Streets. By big money streets I mean the turn and the river. When you get raised by one of the legions of passive players at the micros on the turn or river, your one pair hand is almost always no good.
6) Abuse the Weak/Tights. The micros are still chalk full of pseudo TAG's. These players only present the illusion of being solid aggressive opponents. In reality they are bad regs who back down when the pressure gets too hot either preflop or postflop. You can find these players by looking for a high fold to 3Bet, a high fold to 4Bet or a low WTSD%. Frequently bluff them and take the pot.
7) Don't Bluff the Fish. Seriously, don't bluff them. Some things never change in this game. Fish love to call. Why would you want to bluff somebody who loves to call?
8) Don't Bluff the Calling Station Regs. The opposite of the weak/tight TAGfish regs which were discussed in point #6 above are the calling station regs. These players are easily found because they will have a low fold to 3Bet, low fold to 4Bet and a high WTSD%. Don't bluff on the river with air. They will look you up with third pair.
9) Relentlessly Value Bet the Fish. Thinking of hitting the check button with your mid pair? Make a bet instead. It never ceases to amaze what crazy crap they will call with. Even if you don't get called it makes you appear more aggressive which is always a good thing.
10) Relentlessly Value Bet the Calling Station Regs. Once again, bet thin versus players who love to call. Easy game right?
11) Get a HUD. Don't be an idiot like me and play 4 million hands of poker before finally admitting that a HUD is a good thing to have. Sure you can win without one but you are without a doubt giving up potential winnings. Go get the free trial for Pokertracker 4. There is nothing wrong with Hold'em Manager 2 either and they also have a free trial. I just personally use and slightly prefer the former. The main point here is this: if you are serious about this game, get a HUD. Stop underestimating how important they are.
12) Play More on the Weekends. Bad players don't have as much time to play during the week because they have jobs to attend to. They like to unwind on the weekends with a little online poker. The games are always a bit better on these days. Try to play more on them.
13) Play More During Prime-time Hours. Most of the bad players come from affluent countries such as America, Canada, England, Germany and France. Play more when it is prime-time in these countries.
14) Start From the Lowest Stakes. Don't be a hero. Even if you have been "killing it" at your local casino in the $1/$2 game, chances are NL10 will still present some difficulties for you. Online players on average are way better than their live counterparts. Check your ego at the door and start at NL2 (this is 1cent/2cent). What's the rush anyways?
15) Exercise Proper Bankroll Management. 20 buyins at the very least for a recreational player. 40 or 50 for a professional or semi-professional. This minimizes your chances of ever going broke and having to re-deposit.
16) Play With Bad Players. I cannot possibly stress how important it is especially in 2014 to make sure that you are consistently playing with bad players. Winning in this game is all about playing with people who are worse than you. And when they are far worse than you, this is when you will really win big. Get these players on your table and isolate the living crap out of them.
17) Make Sure You Are on the Left of the Bad Players. It isn't enough just to find the bad players. You also need to make sure that you are on their left as well. Having position makes a massive difference in your ability to tilt them and get max value when you have it.
18) Play Less Tables. Don't try to copy your favorite mass multi-tabling hero and pull up 34 tables at once. This will lead to poor decisions at the table and an inability to table select effectively. As the games have tightened up in recent years quality decision making and table selection have become much more important factors in your overall winnings.
19) Rakeback is Massively Important. Rakeback is still huge though. It is important to understand how the rakeback program works on the site that you play on and/or what levels it really starts to kick in on. For instance, Pokerstars has a volume incentive yearly based program where the rewards in cash games don't really start to kick in until about NL25. You should plan your play strategically around this.
20) Move Up Slowly. Moving up is not a race. The slow and steady approach is always superior. This doesn't mean that you need 100k hands at each limit before you should consider moving up, but you should have enough to prove that you are a solid winner (20k or 30K is a good benchmark). Furthermore, you should feel very confident in your abilities at your current limit and absolutely know that you are one of the best players there.
21) Know That You Are the Best Player at the Table. If you aren't the best player at the table (or close to it) then why are you sitting at the table? As mentioned in point #16 winning at poker is all about playing with people who are worse than you. If you can't confidently state (and know) that you are among the best players at the table, then you probably are the fish.
22) Don't Waste Your Time Playing Play Money. I did this for over a year when I first got started with online poker. It did allow me to build a bankroll out of nothing but it was a total waste of time. Nobody plays for real in play money because there is no risk to them. Once you have the basic rules of the game down you should move on to the very lowest stakes cash games.
23) Play Cash Games. I am not here to put down SNGs, MTTs and other formats but cash games are where the most potential money is. I would actually put SNGs closely behind in second place due to the ability to reach amazing levels of rakeback with them especially on Pokerstars. Check out this blog of a friend and prolific SNE grinder for instance. MTTs are a distant third though. Don't be fooled by the flashy scores. Most of the top MTT players, both live and online, don't make close to what the top cash game (or online SNG) players make.
24) Put People On Tilt. This is such a massively important thing to be doing especially in 2014 cash games. And this especially goes for the bad regs. Once you get a reg on tilt they can literally become your personal ATM for weeks or months on end. This is why I saved a big section which explains exactly how to go about doing this near the end of my latest book, Modern Small Stakes.
25) Sign Up to a Training Video Site. I don't want to sound biased since I make videos for DragTheBar. It is a good site with many great coaches. However, there are tons of other good training sites out there as well that fit all needs and price ranges. Find the site that makes the most sense for you and watch videos related to your games and take notes on them. Both of these are important points. If you play NL25 what good is watching a video on NL2k going to be for you? These games have absolutely nothing in common. Also, these videos are not meant to be watched passively like some TV program. You get what you put in. Take notes and ask the coach questions on the forum or in a private message.
26) Find a Poker Circle. Finding a close circle of poker friends can be beneficial to your improvement as a poker player. It is always better to know people who are better than you. People who are worse than you are not going to be very helpful. Make connections at the tables, on forums and elsewhere. Set up sweat sessions as well. I actually have a sub-forum on my forum specifically designed for people to organize these.
27) Don't Waste Too Much Time on Forums. For the most part, I would go so far as to say that the big poker forums today are pretty much useless. There are just way too many uninformed opinions, spammers and pointless squabbling. You are much better served to stick to smaller forums in my opinion with a close group of dedicated and talented people.
28) Read Poker Books. I think poker books still hold a lot of value in 2014. Seminal works such as David Sklansky's "Theory of Poker" and others really helped my career take off by forcing me to think about the game in the right way. I really wish that somebody had written my first book Crushing the Microstakes before I got started. This would have saved me more time than anything else on this list.
29) Review Your Sessions. It is very important in the early going of your poker career to review your sessions. It is easy to get off track when things don't go your way and make poor decisions. By regularly reviewing your decisions in key pots you will force yourself to make sure that your current knowledge base is getting implemented at the tables as often as possible. Reviewing your sessions during prolonged downswings (and getting a second opinion) is also vitally important.
30) Conduct Regular Database Reviews. At a certain point, the only way to really push through in this game is to be able to think through hands on your own and figure out what the best line of attack is based on the opponent and the situation. Database reviews can allow you to find out what macro strategies work the best in the games that you play in. They can also allow you to learn from the best possible source of information out there which is the people who are currently crushing the limit that you play at.
31) Don't Rush Into "Going Pro." A lot of people have dreams about quitting their day job and playing this game for a living one day. It isn't all roses and sunshine though. Playing poker for a living is a "hard way to make an easy living" as the famous saying goes. This is something that requires a lot of careful planning and forethought.
32) Consider Moving Abroad (or Travelling). This is also not for everybody but one of the benefits of playing online poker for a living is being location independent. This means that you can essentially work from anywhere in the world as long as you have a laptop and a reasonably decent internet connection. As I have mentioned before, Thailand has been a huge magnet for online poker players in recent years (this is where I have lived for several years now). But there are many other areas that are popular as well such as Playa Del Carmen and Rosarito in Mexico, The Philippines, the island of Malta and my hometown of Vancouver, Canada. Sometimes a change of scenery can be a very good thing and it can also allow you to meet like minded people.
33) You Have to Play the Game. A lot of people like to sit around on poker forums talking about the game. You have seen them, the guys with 9,000 posts in the last two years. Don't be like them. There is one common denominator that almost all of the best poker players share. They are usually found at the tables. That's right, they spend most of their time playing the game instead of talking about it.
34) Remove All Distractions. You need to treat poker like a business. Your time for playing this game is not to be mixed with Skype, Facebook, forums, your kids, some unimportant phone call, the latest episode of the Walking Dead etc. All of these things can wait. When you are playing poker it should be just you, the tables and whatever software you are using. Lock yourself in a room, only have poker software installed on your poker computer. Do whatever you have to do to make this happen!
35) Turn the Chat Box to Silent. Seriously, don't waste your time with the chat box. Poker is a game where egos clash and emotions run high. Some of the most toxic, pointless discussions in the history of humanity can be found in the chat box at online poker tables. Always turn this crap off and stay focused on what matters, taking everyone's money.
36) Make Sure that Your HUD is Setup properly for YOU. As I mentioned in point #11 having a HUD is vitally important in today's games. Make sure that your HUD is setup in the most efficient manner. This means having the right stats in the right places, using color coding if need be, the right font etc.
37) Tag the Bad Players Right Away. Always make sure to tag the bad players on whatever poker site you play on right away. These colors or tags literally stay there forever and they make your table selection decisions so much easier in the future.
38) Don't Bother Taking Notes at the Micros. This is especially the case if you play on one of the bigger sites like Pokerstars. With the sheer volume of opponents that you will face on these sites it is literally pointless to make notes on individual players. Also, notes typically only have a sample size of one. What if your opponent is savvy enough to balance his range well? Now your note is not only incorrect but downright dangerous.
39) Balance Your Range Against the Better Regs. It is not enough to play the highly exploitative game that I talk about in my first book, in many of my blog posts and elsewhere once you get to the upper limits of the micros. By about NL25 you will start to encounter a few "thinking" regs. You will need to start learning how to take different lines in the same situation versus these players in order to prevent yourself from becoming predictable. You need to learn how to balance your ranges.
40) Don't Listen to all of the GTO Fanboys as it Applies to the Micros. GTO (game theory optimal) has become the big fad on poker forums and in some books in the last few years. If you play anywhere at the micros (NL50 or below) you are wasting your time and money by studying this stuff. In order to be effective GTO theory assumes an environment full of solid, well balanced, thinking opponents. This is not the case in literally any micro stakes game on any site in 2014. Exploitative play is still far superior to GTO play at all levels of the micros.
41) Don't Think About Poker in Terms of Money. When you are first starting out you should be playing the game because of your passion for it and an urge to get better. Too many people want to be armchair accountants and figure out what their hourly is going to be before they even get started. Poker does not work this way. Play for the love of the game and the money will come to you in time. If a regular salary is what you want then go work in an office.
42) Take Care of Yourself. In today's online poker climate you need to fight for every little edge that you can get. You should be exercising regularly, eating healthy and getting a good sleep. Treat this game like a sport. If you typically play when tired, hungover, in a bad mindset, hungry etc. then you are doing yourself (and your winrate) a major disservice at the tables.
43) Never Play Drunk. You should never play poker while intoxicated because your emotional control and ability to make logical decisions are both heavily compromised. You are putting yourself at a severe disadvantage. There is a good chance that it will not end well for you. Don't worry if you have done it in the past (I have too). Just make sure that it does not ever happen again.
44) Consider Hiring a Coach. Having somebody who is as good or better than you look over your play for a session or two can sometimes make a huge difference in your game. Even if they notice just one small thing that you are doing wrong this could add up in a huge way over the long term. Not all coaches are created equally though. Make sure that you vet coaches first and stay away from the ones with flashy marketing and excessive use of "testimonials." The real coaches out there have no need to advertise in this way.
45) Be Aggressive. One of the biggest things that separates micro stakes players from mid and high stakes players is aggression. When people are just starting out they tend to think that they are aggressive but in reality they aren't at all. This doesn't mean you should be triple barrel bluffing your opponents every chance you get. However, you should be taking advantage of spots to make bluffs against weak/tight players on a regular basis. You should have an ability to shove preflop sometimes without the nuts etc.
46) Downswings Suck. They also happen to everybody. Sometimes they can defy reality in their intensity and length. This is when your will and dedication to this game will be tested. Think about how many others will just give up or play terribly when this happens to them.
47) Poker is ALL About the Long-Run. This game will drive you mad on a regular basis. This is normal. However, once you fully understand that nothing in a single session, a handful of sessions or even an entire month's worth of play holds any meaning, then you will come to terms with this game. Master this skill and you will have a massive advantage over the large majority of your opponents.
That's all I can think of! Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. Anything you would add or take out? Agree or disagree with something that is included?
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Go check out my "Start Here" page for links to dozens of articles that I have written for this website which detail exactly how I crush the micros.