Tuesday, April 3, 2018

35 Things I Would Do Differently If I Was Starting Poker Again in 2018

Starting Poker Again in 2018
I started playing poker nearly 15 years ago. And things were a lot different back then.

Online poker was just starting to become popular. It was really hard to find any good information on how to beat the games. And most people were really bad at poker.

Fast forward to today in 2018 and the poker environment both online and live has changed drastically. There are countless online poker sites to play on and you can find a poker game in most casinos around the world.

It is also much easier to learn how to get good at the game in a far shorter amount of time. However on the down side, people tend to play quite a bit better nowadays as well. 

So in this article I am going to discuss 35 things that I would do differently if I were just starting out again in poker today in 2018. 

Hopefully this will help some of you newcomers to the game get a faster start. Let's go!


1. Play Tight


Some things never change and the first thing that you need to learn if you want to win is how to play tight. Luckily for me this came pretty naturally. But for some others this is a real struggle. 

If you find it difficult to play tight then I would suggest adding more tables if you play online. This forces you to be much more selective in which hands you play because you will simply be too busy to play trash!

As a general rule you should look to play around the top 15% of your hands in a full ring game (9 or 10 players) and the top 20% in a 6max game (6 players). 


2. Learn to Play Aggressive


Something that took me a long time to learn was how to be aggressive in poker. I am naturally a pretty easy going and soft spoken kind of person, so this doesn't come very easily for me. 

However in poker you have to play aggressively in order to win. This means that you should be raising or re-raising most of the time when you enter the pot preflop. You should also be the one doing the betting or raising most of the time after the flop.

There is definitely a time and place to just call or check. But if you try to be the one in control most of the time, you will find it easier to win more pots. 


3. Understand Position


Something else that took me a long time to learn was the value of position in poker. There is an old saying in poker that "the money flows towards the button" and it couldn't be more true. 

If you go into PokerTracker for instance and sort your winnings by position you might be shocked at just how much more you profiting from the button and cutoff than from every other position at the poker table. 

So it is vitally important that you learn early on to start playing more of your hands in position and also using your position to take away pots after the flop. 


4. Develop a Preflop "System"


A lot of preflop poker in 2018 is essentially solved at the lower stakes. Now I don't mean that there is a 100% best way to play in every scenario possible. But you can definitely create a sort of "if A, then B" system for your preflop decision making. 

With most of your preflop decisions such as what hands to play from each position and what hands to call with or 3Bet with, these actions really be automatic. In other words you shouldn't have to actually think about it. 

I include starting hand charts with all of my books. There are plenty of other resources like this that can be found around the web as well. 


5. Learn How to Plan Postflop


Postflop poker (flop, turn and river) is a lot more complicated and this is why it is not possible to create some sort of system or set of charts for what to do in every scenario.

However, you should still have a good general plan of what to do in most situations based on the board texture and the player type. 

So for instance, you can plan to always CBet (continuation bet) on dry uncoordinated flops like A72 or 885 versus passive regs. 

This again takes the "thinking" out of the equation and just standardizes your decision making. A lot of this comes with experience. But poker is a lot easier to play when you don't have to think about every single little detail. 


6. Understand Player Types


So this is why I spend so much time talking about player types like TAG, LAG, Nits, SLP and so on in my blog posts and books.

Because by knowing the basic categories of how people play, this means that you will know what their strengths and weaknesses are. From there you can learn or create the strategies to beat them. 

So for instance, double barreling versus the Nits on turn scare cards has long been a favorite tactic of mine because I know that they like to call me a lot on the flop but will fold on the turn if I continue to apply the pressure. 


7. Cut Out Superstitious Thinking


This is why it is also important that you remove any superstitious thinking from your approach to poker. Many people will have a "favorite hand" or decide to pot control a strong hand because they keep getting "sucked out" on lately. 

You have to remove this sort of archaic and superstitious thinking from your game. Poker is cold hard mathematics, odds and statistics. It doesn't care about your random thoughts, short term thinking or emotions. 

This is why it is so important to develop a system of play to standardize your decision making in as many scenarios as possible. The very best players are able to consistently make the best play no matter what the circumstances.


8. Start Small


When I started playing poker 15 years ago I started at the very lowest stakes online, 1c/2c. It isn't that glamorous and let me tell you that nobody gets rich winning $2 at a time!

However, if I was starting poker all over again today I would be even more likely to start from the very bottom. And this is because most people are a lot more competent at playing poker these days. 

Don't make the mistake of starting too high and over-judging your abilities. If the lower stakes games are too easy for you, then you can quickly move up. There is no rush. 


9. Table Selection is More Important That Ever


When I started playing online poker in 2004 I didn't even know what table selection was. And for the most part I didn't need to. This is because there was always a fish on any micro stakes table I sat down to play at. 

In 2018 this is definitely not the case though sometimes even at the very lowest stakes. It is not an option anymore whether you table select or not. It is a must if winning big in this game is your goal.

You can check out my complete guide to table selection right here.  


10. Site Selection is Also Very Important


Site selection is also something that I would take a lot more seriously today if I were starting poker all over again. Some poker sites out there are well known to have softer games (more fish) than others. 

Bonuses and rakeback are also an important thing to consider when you are first starting out. On many poker sites you can still get signup bonuses that get you several hundred dollars which you unlock as you play. 

I took advantage of many of these when I was first starting out and they helped me tremendously in growing my first bankroll. 


11. You Gotta Have the Bankroll


Speaking of bankroll, which is the total amount of money you have available to play poker, you need to take this very seriously in today's games. 

As I often say, you wouldn't try to start a business with $10 or $20 would you? So why would you think that this is a sufficient starting capital investment for a poker career?

I would recommend having at least 30 buyins for whatever stake you choose to play these days and quite frankly more is always better. The ups and downs are a lot bigger these days and you need to be prepared. 


12. Don't Waste Your Time With Play Money


Some people might think that it is a good idea to just play for free online in order to practice their poker skills. Sounds great in theory and I thought so too. But I ended up wasting far too much time playing these funny money games at the start of my poker career.

This is because people play vastly different if even $2 is on the line when compared to nothing. When something is free in life nobody cares. The play money games are complete chaos, nobody folds anything etc.

In other words, it's NOT poker.

Real money is totally different. This is why you should only play in the play money games for a week at the most in order to learn the basic rules of how the game works. 


13. Get a Playing Schedule


The most important thing when you are first starting out in poker is to play regularly and learn from the mistakes that you will inevitably make. So this is why I suggest that you get a regular playing schedule. 

If you have a full time job or school that's fine. Just play in the evenings. I did this for an entire year before becoming a poker pro. Just keep it consistent no matter how you do it. 


14. Study the Game


Studying poker is just as important these days and something that you should be doing regularly. This is something that I will often do on the weekends when I have more time. 

What does studying poker mean? It means reviewing your hands and your opponent's hands in Pokertracker, it means studying poker strategy books, videos, courses or even posting your hands on forums.

In short, it means anything that is going to help improve your poker game in 2018. 


15. Don't Bluff


I know it might sound a little crazy but I would suggest not bluffing very often at all when you are first starting out at the micro stakes. The reason why is because most of your opponents at the lower limits are not going to fold. 

Also, you probably don't know the right spots to bluff yet as well as you might think. Don't get me wrong. You can and should be making a flop continuation bet and sometimes on the turn as well without a strong hand. But apart from this your bets should mostly be for value.


16. Learn to Value Bet Wider


But there is of course a ying to every yang.

And that is why something else I wish I knew when I was first starting out was just how much I could get away with in terms of value betting especially against the recreational poker players. 

If they are going to call you down with anything (which is why we don't bluff), well then all of the sudden you might be able to get a little bit more out of them with that middle pair or even bottom pair hand of yours.

Always be thinking about what they can call you with and don't be afraid to go for that thin value. This is often one of the biggest differences between the top winners and everybody else. 


17. Dumb Everything Down


One of the biggest things that I wish I knew when I first started playing poker was that most of my opponents are nowhere near as intelligent as I gave them credit for.

They might be successful doctors, lawyers, academics or very smart people in general away in their regular life. But put them on a poker table and they just don't really get it.

And what this means specifically is that most of your "fancy plays" will just fly right over their heads. This is especially true with recreational poker players. 

For instance, as I discuss in the "fish psychology" section of Crushing the Microstakes, most rec players view a big bet as a bluff. 

Many people still make the mistake of trying to "small ball" or slowplay their big hand against them though. When in actuality all they had to do was just make the most blatantly obvious play of betting big. You need to dumb everything down at the micros.


18. Get Position on the Bad Players


I talked about the value of position already before but many people forget how important this is vis a vis who you are seated with at the poker table as well.

If you have direct position on somebody (i.e. you are seated on their immediate left), then you can literally print money against them because you get to act after them in almost every single hand. 

So this means that getting position on the bad players will allow you to get their chips in record speed. It is totally fine to jump around from seat to seat or table to table. Always try to get on the direct left of the recreational players. 


19. Keep the Aggressive Regs on Your Right


But on the flip side though, it is also extremely important that you keep the good aggressive players on your right and not on your left. 

There is nothing worse in the world than having a skilled aggressive opponent on your left. They are going to make your life hell and prevent you from getting in pots with the fish which is the whole point of why you are at the table in the first place! 

Don't get your ego involved and try to outplay a strong opponent who has direct position on you. This is an uphill battle that you are very unlikely to win. Change seats or leave the table. 


20. Avoid Reg Wars


Building off that last point, you should just avoid reg wars in general. The regs (regular opponents) are unavoidable in today's games. You will have to play the majority of your hands against them. 

However, it's kind of like going to that club or cocktail party which is mostly dudes but has a few hot women. It's fine to talk to the dudes for a bit but please always remember why you are there in the first place!

So while you do want to learn the strategies to beat the regs, you want to avoid getting into protracted and pointless ego battles with them. Always stay focused on the real reason why you are at the poker table. The fish!


21. Put the Regs on Tilt


While I do my best to avoid pointless ego based battles with the regs I do make it a priority to regularly screw with them for strategic reasons. 

This means that I will often pick one specific reg who I happen to have direct position on and just bet and re-raise the hell out of them for the entire session. After this I will return to totally normal play versus them in all future sessions. 

This often manages to put them on tilt (which is awesome) but even more importantly it makes him think I am a total maniac and some other 4 letter words.

This often allows me to get paid off super light way down the line (sometimes months later) because they think that I play this way all the time, when of course, I do not.  


22. Balance Your Range Versus the Regs


Something that you will have to start learning once you climb up the stakes a bit is how to balance your range against the regs. While you should dumb everything down versus the fish and just make the most stupidly obvious play, this won't work against the thinking players. 

So it is important to mix up which hands you bet, raise and call with versus them in order to keep them constantly guessing about which hand you will show up with this time. 


23. Build a Poker Network


Something that I wish I did better when I was first starting out was build a poker network. This is a group of friends who you can learn from and help motivate each other to succeed. 

Now ideally you want to find people who do not play in your games. It is of course also vitally important that they are actually winning poker players!

It's super easy to network these days on social media so that is the first place where I would start. I am on all of them so make sure you start by following me: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram.


24. Forget About the Money and the Fame


Many people massively stunt their growth in poker by thinking too much about the money, "going pro" and counting all their future riches. You really need to forget about all that stuff for now and just focus on getting better each day. 

The people who focus on the money in this game and often some of the least likely to succeed. Poker is anything but a get rich quick scheme. If you are just in this for a quick buck, you are in the wrong game.

If you work hard enough in this game the money, the bracelets the fame and so on will come. But this is a byproduct of years and years of applying your craft.


25. The Variance Will Be Crazy


Variance, which is the technical term for the natural ups and downs of poker, is a lot crazier in 2018 than what it was when I was first starting. Downswings (meaning you don't make money or lose) for periods of 10k, 30k or even 100k hands are commonplace in today's games. 

To put that in perspective that can mean month's of play even for a regular player who multi-tables online. You need to really be prepared for the craziness that this game can and will throw at you.

There is no way to sugarcoat it. This game is not for the faint of heart. And you need to be very strong mentally in order to truly survive and prosper over the long haul.


26. Don't Be Afraid to Step Down


So when I am in the midst of a protracted downswing something that I will often do is just drop down in stakes for awhile. I know this can be a hit to the old ego but being able to get yourself winning again versus the weaker opponents is often exactly what you need during these times.

Don't think that there is some weakness in doing this. Don't believe that only "pussies" drop down or some other BS. There is no macho advantage in poker, believe me.

In fact this game will humble you again and again.

You are also on nobody's schedule for what stakes you have to play. It is often a good idea to just drop down and play at very low stakes for awhile to regain your sanity and winning ways.


27. Don't Play Too Many Tables


Some people play way too many poker tables online. I used to be very guilty of this as well. While it might seem cool to copy your favorite grinder and try to play 20 tables at a time, this rarely works out well in today's games. 

It is a much better idea to drop the table count considerably because this will give you much more time to focus on table selection which I talked about before. But also, this will just give you more time to make higher quality poker decisions. 


28. Use a HUD


How do I make "higher quality poker decisions?" Well, when I am playing online this often means that I am looking at any HUD (heads up display) stats that I may have on the person. 

I already talked about this above when I mentioned a nitty player type who calls the flop too much and then folds the turn if you can continue applying the pressure. Well, the numbers that are on my screen via my HUD helps tremendously in letting me know who these players are.

I can see for instance that a certain player only folds the flop 40% of the time but folds the turn 70%. No guesswork needed. This is an easy spot to profitably double barrel.

I have created two custom HUDs that I have personally used for years. You can download them both for free right here.


29. Learn How to Quit


One of the biggest differences between the top winners and everybody else today isn't how well they know how to play their AK in a 3Bet pot. Instead it's what goes on between their ears especially when the cards go south on them. 

The biggest problem that most people face at the poker tables is tilt. You need to develop a good quitting strategy for those days when you just can't win. And you need to eliminate any destructive tendencies that you may have such as jumping up stakes to win it back.  

Learning how to quit is seriously one of the best things that you can possibly do as a new poker player. It takes many people years and years to do this and countless destroyed bankrolls. And some never learn at all. 


30. Tilt Control is Vital


But most of the time you can play through the adversity that poker will bring. And this is when you need to be able to exercise better tilt control than you opponents. 

You need to start viewing this game as a long term venture. Days, weeks and sometimes even entire months of play do not matter. You are in this for the long haul and it is only your results after hundreds of thousands of hands or years of play that matters.

This is truly what separates the vast glut of mediocre players and amateurs from that small handful of elite winners. Most people are caught up in the illusion of the short run and lose their mind because their AA got cracked a few times.

You can't think like this if you want to be a top winner in this game.


31. Take Care of Your Life Away From the Tables


For me personally one of the best ways that I ever found to get better tilt control was to take care of what I do away from the tables. This means eating right, regular exercise and good sleep. 

This also means having an active social life and hobbies away from the poker table. In short, you need to treat this game like a professional if you want to get professional level results.

Winning poker is a way of life. It is not just something that you do when you sit down to play. 


32. Always Bring Your "A" Game 


But despite your best intentions sometimes you still just won't be in the best state of mind to play. Life happens to everybody, believe me I get it. 

It is not a good idea to be playing poker when you are tired, angry, stressed out or depressed for instance. This can be a good time to do a session review though or even figure out how to plug your leaks. 


33. Work Ethic is How I Built My Poker Career


With all of that said, you also have to want this much more than the next guy. That might mean that poker is your whole life for awhile sometimes especially in the beginning. It certainly was for me. 

If you really want to succeed in poker then you can't "dabble" in this game like most other people do. You have to be fully committed to putting in the long hours at the poker table and studying just as hard as well. 

I built a 10+ year career out of this silly little card game by being the guy who played way more hands than everybody else and put in way more time away from the tables as well.


34. Time Management is the Key


And this is why time management is the key to your success in poker. When I am at the computer I am either playing the game, studying the game or writing about it like I am right now. Nothing else. 

I am not on Facebook chatting about politics or the latest cat video. I am not on Youtube watching stupid prank videos. And I am not arguing about cryptos with some nerds on Reddit. 

I am 100% focused on this game and always improving at it.


Bonus time saving tip: As a free bonus tip that will probably end up changing your life I am going to recommend that you go log on to Facebook right now and unfollow absolutely everyone.

Yes, even your mom and even your grandma and kid sister.

Your "newsfeed" will be completely empty from now on. It might take a few days to get over the shock and withdrawal that goes along with this.

But this will ensure that you finally stop wasting time on the single biggest time waster in human history, which is Facebook.

Once a week you can go and search about 5 or 10 people who truly matter in your life like your mom, best friend and kid sister. Check out what they have been up to and like and comment on their stuff.

I did this many years ago and it literally changed my life. Seriously, try it.


35. Patience Young Jedi


The final suggestion that I have to offer new poker players in 2018 is patience. Now I know patience sucks, we all want immediate results. But poker doesn't work that way unfortunately. 

This game will try to break you again and again and again. There will be times when it seems like you will never win again. Most people end up cracking under the pressure.

And I am sorry to tell you, but this doesn't magically go away one day. It happens to pros all the time too. You simply have to trust in the process and keep making the same high quality decisions every day at the poker tables. 

This is how winning is done.

Always remember why you started playing this game in the first place. It was because it was fun and exciting!

When you always keep that front and center in your mind you will realize that all the beats and coolers are really small stuff at the end of the day.

You get to play a card game and make money at it. It really doesn't get much better than that. 


Final Thoughts


If I had to start poker all over again in 2018 there are quite a few things I would do different.  

In some ways it is actually easier to get started today because of the vast amount of educational resources out there to help you improve quickly. Even just blogs like one simply didn't exist 15 years ago. 

And speaking of that. This website of mine is one of the best ways to learn how to beat the micro stakes in 2018. I publish new articles on how to crush the lower limits every single week. 

Make sure you are signed up to my free newsletter (you also get my free book with this), and you will never miss a thing!


What would you do differently if you were starting poker all over again today? Let me know, comment below.

Starting Poker Again in 2018

15 comments:

  1. Ah, one thing HU poker is leaking mone. If you're against a tight reg and both are the same level, you could lose 50bb to rake in a single hour!

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  2. Great article Nathan! Very true that you need to keep it simple and "dumb everything down" still to beat the micros today.

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  3. Great article again. Simplicity is the key and you explain perfectly. I started playing around the same time you did, but back then when the game was exploding it was all about aggression, even over aggression. It was about the bluffs and outplaying your opponents. I blame that on my exposure to the Gus Hansens on tv. The bully style of poker was what sold the game. We all thought we could be like them. We saw the fortune and glory overnight for a lot of that generation.

    A lot of us tried to mimic those players. Knowing what I know now, it's easy to see that dumbing it down, patience, and ego control we're the things that have held me back. I wish I could go back in time and simplify things and think about the long run.

    You're simple breakdowns motivate me to keep on improving.

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    1. Thanks Kent, glad I could inspire or motivate you!

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  4. Nathan please help me here with number 18 this keeps reoccurring in your posts and books and not just by you but by other pros too. But how the hell can you choose your seat. These Days online I know at PokerStars you have to wait to join a table and then you're given a seat you don't choose it and then once you're sat at the table how on Earth do you move to any other seat this all makes no sense to me whatsoever so clearly I'm missing something here please help.But still great article as always. Mike

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    1. Hey Mike,

      Choosing your seat is usually done by getting on a waiting list, taking the seat on the left of the bad player and rejecting it if it is on the right. Or even more simple, just join shorthanded tables and immediately grab the seat to the left of the bad player.

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    2. Thanks Nathan I will have a go at that lol

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  5. Hi Nathan, another class post!
    I'm kind of giving up on poker but cant but help wonder if its worth another go and still read your blog to reaffirm this...

    I'm very interested to see the answer to Mike's question (above) as I have the same issue with this and just thought it was me!?

    Thanks my friend 👍

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    1. Thanks Mike glad this post helped. Hopefully the answer above also helps clear that up.

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  6. Hi, Nathan! You have amongst the best poker related articles ever written!

    I`m just curious, why didn`t you make the efforts to take the game to the next level and I mean to go higher than micros - min 100-200NL and above ? Is it because the money you were making was simply enough to live the lifestyle you wanted or it was just the easier path for you and you didn`t want to go much further than your comfort zone ?

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    1. Thanks Ananta! I have played these limits and higher before.

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  7. Call me an idiot,but making efforts to sit at the wrong side of the competent reg,has helped my game quite a lot.Especially live,with bet sizing and range selection i give the aggro regs rope to hang themselves.Limp reraises,light 4bets,check raises,weak open raises and other stuff will make them think twice before trying to mess with you.Since most low stakes aggro players dont balance their bluff/value ranges enough,you can exploit them oop more often than ip and tilt them.Ofc its best to be ip but my point is that since we cant always pick the best seat at the table,its important to learn to make money oop as well.

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  8. Great read BlackRain79, David here, I would also add take a free Open Yale Courses on Game Theory I have found it will help build connections much easier as You will have a deeper understanding of why and how the game works, Hope all is well Much Love . . . 🦊 😎
    https://oyc.yale.edu/economics/econ-159

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