How Much Should You Study Versus Play Poker? (2024)

how much should you study vs play poker?
A question that I get asked a lot these days is how much should you study versus play poker. I think the answer to this question really revolves around where you are right now in your development as a poker player.

Here is the quick answer though:

Beginner poker players should spend as much as 80% of their time studying poker and only 20% playing. Novice poker players should spend 50% of their time studying at most. Advanced poker players should only study 20% of the time.

So this is why I say that it totally depends where you are right now in your understanding of the game.

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
  • Straight
  • Flush
  • Full House
  • Four of a Kind
  • Straight Flush
  • Royal Flush

After that I would suggest creating an account at an online poker site and just playing for play money (fake money). 

Focus on learning the rules of the game and don't worry about making mistakes. After all, it's not real money.

Learn the game first with play money and make sure you know all of the hand rankings. Then start playing for real money at the very lowest stakes online.

The absolute best thing you can do to study at this point is download my free 50 page poker cheat sheet and read it 3 times.

I am serious.

This free little guide has absolutely everything you need to know to start beating the lowest stakes games online. That is indeed why I wrote it, to get you winning right now.

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.

Studying poker has been a key factor in my success:

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.

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. 

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 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?

Maybe you have already gone pro? 

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 latest one The Micro Stakes Playbook or my previous one Modern Small Stakes.

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.

Final Thoughts

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. And that is why I would recommend that you focus on learning the most advanced poker strategies available today only.

My top suggestion for advanced and very serious poker players is my new Elite Poker University.

There are 17+ hours of advanced poker lessons, hundreds of step by step example hands and downloadable "cheat sheets"

If you are serious about taking your poker game to the next level, enroll today.

Get $100 OFF Use Code: ELITE100

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.

Make sure you grab a copy of my free poker cheat sheet no matter what you do. This is the #1 free way to quickly improve your poker game available today.

Let me know how much you study versus play poker below. What mix has benefited you the most?

study poker or play poker


  1. Another great article nath I study reading hand ranges at the different stages flop,turn,river and how much ranges change at the different stages through out a hand depending on player type and of course wheather we have the betting lead which of we should have most the time.
    Reading hands well allows you to make informed decisions at every stage through out a hand I'm not brilliant yet but have much improved and it allows me to make good lay downs when necessary and extract that thin value when needed that perhaps others may miss as they say practice makes perfect.... God bless poker tracker hey lol

    1. Thanks Matthew and agree 100% about the hand reading!

  2. Hi nath thanks for putting this info out I have been using your website and strategy videos of late and even though it is very early days and I could just be on heater , for the first time in 10 years of playing poker I feel like I might actually get out of the lowest stakes and stop being a fish ! Recently purchased poker tracker on the back of your advice and really started to the game seriously on played about 10k hands but I am beating 2nl for 20bb/100 so thanks and let's hope in another 20k hands I'm there or there about a and will move to 5nl, sorry for the long post but just wanted to show my appreciation for the stuff you put out and when not if I make it to 10 and 25nl I promise I will purchase modern micro stakes to say thanks and hopefully that will help beat those games too! Good luck with the grind man ,

    1. Awesome stuff Aaron, glad to hear that you are having success! Glad I could help in any way :)

  3. Hi,

    As always, interesting.
    In this article u mention the free E-book contains 50 pages while when i got it a couple of weeks ago it contains 24 pages?
    Did u change it?

    Kind regards,


    1. Hey B,

      Ya I updated it recently and added a bunch of new stuff. Much like with my paid books I don't publicly announce when I make changes. If you would like the new version though you can feel free to email me.

  4. One question : I believe posting hands on forum and waiting for everybody to answer and give you advice on how to play it better is the worst way of learning because everybody has an opinion and you will get advice from multiple sources .... you won't know what to do anymore ... so I am asking you if you really think that is wise ?

    The same applies for watching multiple training videos from multiple trainers ... If I go and watch your videos and other 5 trainers I will get different opinion at some point because inevitably every trainer has his own style and your opinions will contradict each other .... that's why I decided to follow only your advice ... because if I try and learn from other coaches too ... I will get confused for sure. Do you think this applies to everybody or some guys can learn from multiple sources with no problem ? How many coaches were you following when you were a begginer ?

    I can only speak from my personal experience that happened to me in Pick up artists industry .... it's an industry where men teach guys how to have succes with women and fuck multiple girls .... it exists and it's real. When I first started out I did the exact same thing : following multiple coaches and got advice that contradicted with other trainer advice .... then I decided to follow only one guy and ignore everybody else's opinion on the same thing and it was infinitely better for my growth ... short example : you can approach a girl in a direct manner or an indirect manner ... I choose always direct ... whenever somebody tries to give me advice on indirect manner I immediately ignore it and never listen to it .... it worked great for me so far.

    1. I personally don't use forums much anymore for the exact reasons that you state. But I think for people just starting out who might be making big fundamental errors, they can be useful. Also, they don't cost anything to use. I agree with what you said about training sites as well. Listen to the advice of one or two coaches at the most and apply what they say.