For total beginners my answer to this question is going to be very different than for somebody who has been playing awhile, has had success and moved up several stakes.
So in this article I am going to answer the age old question of how much should you study versus play poker. And I will discuss it from the perspective of total beginners, novices and advanced players.
Absolute Beginners Should Study A lot
If you are completely new to the game of poker, then you should probably spend upwards of 80% of your initial time (i.e., the first few weeks or month) studying the game.
Assuming that you know nothing at all, I would suggest that you first learn the rules of the game. This can be easily found with a simple Google search ["rules of texas holdem"].
Next, make sure that you memorize the top 10 hand rankings in poker - what beats what.
Here they are listed from worst to best:
- High card
- One Pair
- Two Pair
- Three of a Kind
- Full House
- Four of a Kind
- Straight Flush
- Royal Flush
After that I would suggest creating an account at any popular poker site and playing play money for your first couple weeks. Start at the lowest limit. Here is my complete guide on how to beat play money.
If you don't know which poker site to pick and you don't live in America, then just choose Pokerstars. It is the largest poker site in the world and has the best software.
If you are from the States head over to Pokerscout.com and play at any of the sites that have a green check mark beside them (USA friendly).
So to sum up.
Learn the game first with play money, risking nothing. Commit the hand rankings to memory, study the basic strategy tips for play money in my free guide linked above. And most importantly of all, just have fun.
Poker Novices Should Still Study Quite a Bit But Be More Focused
But what if you are past the whole does a flush beat a straight phase and you have even got started with real money play either online or live?
Well I think that at this stage of your development it is still important to spend quite a bit of time studying the game. Probably around 50% as a rough estimate.
Basically what you want to be doing at this stage is building a solid tight and aggressive strategy, learning the basics of game selection and working on your mental game.
I will be a little bit biased here but I have already written a free 50 page ebook which walks you through all of that. So I think that this is undoubtedly the best place to start. You can download your free copy here.
At this stage I think it would also be a good idea to start looking into a few basic strategy books and maybe a video training site subscription. These are some of the best ways to improve your game in the early going.
I would also suggest checking out a HUD and the associated poker database program that comes with it at this point. These programs provide an invaluable way to do what I call "self study."
This is basically the ability to analyze your play in depth and that of your opponents as well. This becomes increasingly more important as you move up. To learn more about what a HUD is and how to get one set up check out this article of mine.
There are plenty of good free basic strategy videos on Youtube as well. Splitsuit and the Poker Bank put out excellent stuff if you play cash games. Gripsed is good if you play SNGs or tournaments.
I actually have 30 or 40 free strategy videos on Youtube myself. Just search BlackRain79. And yes, I know I need to put out more! One of my New Year's resolutions will be to stop neglecting my Youtube channel so much.
Twitch streams and strategy forums are two other free resources that can be helpful in the early stages. A lot of top players stream live these days, especially tourney pros. And forums can be a good way to get feedback on your hands.
A Word of Caution!
It is important not to overload yourself though.
Don't go order 12 different books, watch 6 training videos every day, make 10k posts on a forum and neglect your play. I see this all too often, total information overload and not putting into practice what you have learned.
Pick a few trusted resources and then work on applying that information at the tables. This is the most important step that most people miss.
Becoming a winning poker player is a lot like learning a new language. You can read books and watch videos about it all day but until you actually speak the language with other native speakers on a regular basis, your progress will be slow at best.
Studying is fine. But at least 50% of your time should be spent applying that knowledge at the tables and learning through direct experience.
Advanced Poker Players Should Study Less Often and Cutting Edge Stuff Only
How about advanced players who have been around for awhile, had lots of success and moved up several limits? Well at this stage I think that playing the game should probably comprise about 80% of your poker time and therefore studying 20% or less.
It is important to keep abreast of the latest strategies and continue your development as a poker player, but there is a certain point where the application of all your knowledge is key.
This is especially the case if you are a winning player. Remember, you don't get paid to study the game, talk about the game or watch videos about the game. You get paid by grinding it out at the poker tables and stacking fish again and again.
There are some advanced resources that I would suggest studying at this point although once again, keep it in moderation. These would be advanced books such as my second one, Modern Small Stakes.
There are many other good new titles that have been released lately as well if you lean more towards a math GTO approach to the game.
A subscription at a premium training site like RunItOnce would probably be a good idea as well at this point. For a cheaper but still solid all around training site with excellent coaches I would also recommend Deucescracked.com
Hiring a coach is something that you might also want to look into at this point as well. There is nothing that can take your game to the next level faster than a good coach. Make sure they have a solid track record of success themselves and plenty of solid feedback from students.
Lastly, as I mentioned above self study should play a huge role in your study time at this point. Using either Pokertracker or Hold'em Manager, you should be regularly reviewing your sessions and doing database analysis.
This means running filters to check for the profitability of certain plays, finding and fixing your leaks and studying your opponents in depth.
To answer the age old how much should you study versus play question is, it depends. It depends on what stage you are at in your poker development.
If you are a total beginner, then you should be studying the game a large amount of the time, learning the rules, some basic strategy and mashing buttons at the play money tables.
Once you have gotten your feet wet a bit though with real money small stakes poker, you should start to learn some proper TAG strategy, game selection and mental game control. There are countless free and paid resources out there to help you with that.
Lastly, when you become the poker end boss and you are crushing souls and moving up quickly, studying should take up less and less of your time. You should of course stay on top of the latest cutting edge strategies.
But as I talk about all the time on this blog, in both of my books and everything that I put out, increasingly you need to be the one creating those cutting edge strategies in order to truly become an elite player at the higher stakes.
You do this primarily through experience and self study. However, a few select advanced books, premium videos or a coach can help with that too.
Let me know how much you study versus play poker below. What mix has benefited you the most?