How Do You Get Really Good at Poker? (The Honest Truth)

How Do You Get Really Good at Poker?

This article was written by blackrain79.com contributor Fran Ferlan

Beneath the surface, poker is an incredibly complex game. 

It takes a lifetime to master, and there is always something new to learn about. So to truly get good at poker will take some time, effort, and perseverance. 

Fortunately, in today’s age it’s easier than ever to learn new skills, poker included. There’s plenty of information available if you know where to look. 

But it’s not just the availability of information that’s key. It’s what you do with it and how you apply it. This article will break down some of the best techniques to boost your learning process. 

The first step to improvement, of course, is wanting to improve, so by reading this article alone, you’re already on the right path.


1. Practice Makes Perfect


Poker is a game of skill. Like with any other skill, you get better at it with practice. 

However, merely playing poker for years and years won’t make you a better player by default. Studying off the felt and working on fixing your leaks is also a must. 

Still, the best way to learn just about anything is through direct experience. 

Once you get the basic concepts down, your best bet is to sit down at the table and get the repetitions in (while also designating a specific amount of time for studying). 

You might have heard about the 10,000 hours rule, originating from Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers. According to the theory, it takes approximately ten thousand hours to truly master a skill. 

There are a few problems with this theory, namely the fact that it’s an oversimplification that doesn’t take into account individual circumstances and abilities, as well as huge differences between skills. 

It certainly doesn’t take 10k hours to learn to drive a car, and some skills require a lifetime to master. And you can get really good at poker in far less than 10k hours. 

Still, there is some truth in the theory in the sense that it does take a certain amount of time to achieve substantial progress, and it can’t happen overnight. 

You can’t just read a book, or speed through a course and expect to crush the high stakes by next week. 

There’s really no secret formula only the pros know. They are pros simply because they take poker far more seriously than your average recreational player, and put in far more effort into their game. 

Practice makes perfect, but not just any practice. 

Only conscious, deliberate practice is what counts. So in order to truly get good in poker, you should always look for ways to implement what you learn in your game.

And of course, you want to be studying the latest most advanced poker strategy as well.


2. Watch Poker Strategy Videos and Treat Them Like a Class


Depending on your learning style, you might prefer watching videos to improve your poker skills. 

Videos are an easy, engaging way to break down poker concepts in a digestible way, but if you really want to get the most of it, it’s not enough to just passively consume content.

A better, more efficient way is approaching it like you would an online class. 

In fact, many of the best online poker video courses like The Upswing Poker Lab are already setup to be consumed in this manner.

So having a pen and a paper at your side is a must. Writing things down is proven to dramatically increase retention for a couple of reasons. 

First of all, by writing, you are compelled to think through the concepts, and you have to distinguish between what’s important and what isn’t. You can also articulate parts of the game you might be having trouble with. 

This solves the problem of the illusion of knowledge, i.e. thinking you have something figured out before you actually do.

For example, many people continue to play bad poker hands (which costs them money), as Nathan discusses in his latest video, even though "they know better."  


Being familiar with a concept does not mean understanding it fully. That’s why it’s advised to pose questions to yourself throughout the study session. 

If you’re feeling stuck, asking a question like: “what is it that I don’t understand?” can help a lot. Simply defining a problem is the first step to solving it.

Another benefit of writing is saving your notes for future study sessions, as well as developing a systematic approach to your studying. 

Just like building a house, you start with laying the foundations, and work gradually from there. 

Without having a system like this in place, it will be easier for you to get overwhelmed with the plethora of available content. You’ll jump from topic to topic without ever making any significant progress. 

This, in turn, can make you more likely to give up trying to improve altogether. 

Conversely, if you can see some progress, however small, it will make you more likely to continue improving. It’s all about implementing habits that create positive feedback loops like this.

Lastly, don't just pick any poker video training course. Make sure you are learning the most advanced proven strategies from today's best poker pros. 


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3. Hand History Review is the Single Best Exercise to Improve Your Poker Skills


One of the most efficient ways to improve your poker skills quickly is conducting a hand history review. This technique works extremely well for a number of reasons.

First of all, there’s no better way to learn than through direct experience. 

Analyzing your own hands allows you to test your assumptions and detect areas in your game where you might be struggling, then using it as a reference point for further improvement.

Secondly, doing this exercise trains you to think analytically, and you can transfer those skills on the felt. 

You can also post your hands on poker forums or Facebook groups to get public feedback. Or even review them in YouTube videos, like Nathan often does, for example:


The more you think through different concepts off the felt, the more likely you’re to repeat it in in-game situations as well.

And thirdly, you can also study your opponent’s tendencies and see the mistakes they’re making, which you can exploit later when you play against them again. 

This way you’re killing two birds with one stone: not only are you improving your poker skills, but you’re also finding leaks in your opponents’ game.

In order to do a hand history review, first you need some hands in your database. 

If you’re playing poker online and are using a tracking software like PokerTracker 4, get into the habit of marking the hands for later review. 

PokerTracker 4, for example, allows you to colour-code the hands, or even use different icons for certain spots depending on what you want to tag. You can get as creative and as specific as you want. 

For example, if you’re learning about light 3-betting, you can tag the spots where you had an opportunity to 3-bet. If you’re practicing thin value betting on the river, you can tag those spots. 

The more hands you have tagged in your database, the more accurately you can see the patterns emerging. 

I personally prefer tagging hands where I believe I made some sort of mistake. This has a couple of benefits. 

First of all, I can review it later and find a potential leak in my game. 

More importantly, it gives me a piece of mind to continue playing my best without having the compulsion to go through the hand in my head over and over again. I simply tell myself I’ll review it later and let it go. 

If you’re playing live, there are a number of apps for the similar purpose, or you can simply write down the hand details in notes on your phone. The idea is the same either way: write it down, and let it go. 

Then, when you are studying, you should have plenty of materials for reference. The best hands to review are the ones that went to showdown. 

This way, not only can you study potential weaknesses in your game, but you can also practice putting your opponents on a range, and narrowing it down street by street. 

This exercise will also help your in-game hand reading tremendously. You can start reviewing your own hands right away by trying out PokerTracker for free.


4. Keep a Poker Journal to Track Your Progress


Before you scoff at the notion, I’m not suggesting keeping a diary in which you bemoan all your bad beats and suckouts. Although now I mentioned it, it might not be such a bad idea.

There are no hard and fast rules for journaling. You should do whatever you feel might work best for you.

But the basic idea is having a system that keeps track of your progress. You can’t improve what you can’t measure, so finding a way to keep track of your progress is a must if you wish to improve your poker skills. 

What you decide to write down is totally up to you, as long as it is in some way related to the particular area you’re aiming to improve. 

Here are a few ideas you can implement.


A) You can measure your poker stats and/or results monthly or quarterly 


I wouldn't put too much emphasis on short-term results, though. You’d be better off tracking stats on the aspects of your game you’re trying to improve, like being more aggressive, for example.

And you also want to periodically have a look at your long term poker results as well.

How Do You Get Really Good at Poker?

There are plenty of good free poker HUDs available these days to help you graph and keep track of your poker results.  

Of course, if you’re having bad results for an extended period of time, it could be an indicator there’s something wrong in your game and should be addressed. 

The point is focusing more on the things you can control (like being more aggressive), as opposed to your monetary results, which are beyond your control. 


B) Poker hand history review for spots you’re having trouble with


As mentioned previously, this exercise can help you identify your leaks, and it can also improve your hand reading skills.

I highly recommend studying your medium sized losing pots in particular. Because I think these are by far the most important spots to improve.

You don't learn that much from your winning hands (you probably played them well), and you also don't learn much from your big losing hands (it was probably just a big cooler, KK vs AA etc).

So focus on the medium sized losing pots and see where you can improve. In order to do this, just use a program like PokerTracker.


C) Keep Track of how often you tilt, or which situations cause you to tilt

 
A particularly useful technique is writing down what happened immediately after something caused you to tilt. 

If you feel like your fuse is blown and you can’t get back to playing your best, you can simply quit and try venting out on a piece of paper. 

Swearing is allowed, of course. 

By capturing your emotions on a piece of paper, you can put it out of your mind more easily and go on with your day, instead of ruminating about it. 

After a while, you might notice patterns emerging, which could help you with your tilting problem. Defining the problem is always the first step towards solving it.

Make sure you also learn the tilt control strategies that only the top 1% of poker pros know about.  


D) Grade your poker performance

 
You can try to assess how you’re doing on certain game aspects, like your technical or mental game, or even give an estimate on what sort of variance you were dealing with.

For example, are you tilting too much and giving away all your profit like Nathan talks about in his new video?


The bottom line is that it is important to be honest with yourself.

Call yourself out and be brutally honest. 

If you have been playing like crap, don't sugar coat it, admit it and find ways to improve in the areas that are holding you back.  


E) Keep track of the poker subjects and topics you’re studying


Write down what aspect of the game you wish to focus on in a given session (like c-betting, 3-betting light, thin value betting and so on). 

As stated above, this will help you approach your studying in a systematic way. 

It’s also useful for measuring your progress (or lack thereof) for future reference. You might be surprised how much progress is achievable once you really put your mind into it.

Lastly, make sure you use a good free Texas Hold'em cheat sheet in order to remind yourself of all the most important poker strategies.


Summary


Poker is a game of skill, and like with any other skill, you get better at it with practice. However, not just any practice will do, no matter how long you keep at it. 

But like Angela Duckworth discusses in her powerful book "Grit", only deliberate practice counts. 

This means consciously working on improving certain aspects of your game, as well as designating a specific amount of time for studying some advanced poker strategy.

If you’re an audio-visual learner, you can watch videos online on just about any topic. Again, merely consuming content is not the most efficient way to improve.

If you prefer to learn more through books, there are tons of high level poker strategy books available these days that will help you improve your game quickly.  

Either way, a more deliberate approach is needed to truly learn the right way. 

Writing things down not only helps you learn faster, but also helps you expand upon your existing knowledge in the future. As you improve, details become more and more important.

It would be great if we could learn from other people's mistakes, but sadly, the most important lessons come from our personal blunders. 

With that in mind, it pays to reflect on your own mistakes to improve. The best way to do so is conducting a hand history review. 

It has the added benefit of improving your hand reading skills, which is arguably the single most important poker skill that separates the pros from the rest.

In order to keep track of all your progress, it’s useful to have a journal of sorts. 

The beauty of journaling is there’s really no wrong way to do it. You can write down and keep track of anything that works best for you, and it’s for your eyes only.

The best part is reflecting on where you’ve started and how far you’ve come since. It’s hard to see progress day to day or month to month. Only after you zoom out a bit can you see the full picture. 

So grab a notebook and start writing. The future you will thank you for it.

Lastly, if you want to learn how to make $1000+ a month playing poker, make sure you grab a copy of the free BlackRain79 poker cheat sheet.

How Do You Get Really Good at Poker, Fast?