A lot of people ask me what the best way to improve their poker game is and for many of them it would be if they quit playing poker. But there’s another group of people who may be decent poker players but they feel like they’re stagnating. They don’t feel like they’re improving.
This list is less about turning you from a losing player into a winning one and more about putting new life into an already decent game.
If you’re still learning the game or you’re a losing player there’s no harm in reading this article (I tested it on small animals first) as you just might find some of your leaks buried in here.
1. Identify Your Problem Situations
Most players I know have situations where they perform poorly. For some it may be what to do when they miss the board after raising with AKo out of position. Some get stuck when someone wakes up and bets into them after they’ve been doing all the betting and raising. Whatever it is, you likely have at least ten different scenarios where you find yourself making tough decisions.
So let’s make those decisions less difficult by doing the thinking ahead of time.
Take your ten problem scenarios and rank them in order of frequency. If you have any on your list that happen once in a jillion hands then replace them with more common scenarios.
Now that you have your list of ten sticky areas take just one and examine it from every angle. For instance, if we’re talking about missing the board with AKo start running through possible scenarios. Is it a family pot? Short handed? Heads up? What kind of opponents are you up against? Is the board coordinated or is it ragged? Are you in position or out of position? If you bet and get raised what sort of players will you lay the hand down against? When will you call? When will you re-raise? What has been your table image up to this point? Have you been caught continuation betting with nothing recently?
This isn’t easy. You should give each scenario at least a day’s worth of thought. But take two, three, or even seven days to really look at the situation from every possible angle.
When you think you’ve covered every possible angle that could come up jot down the situations where you feel the least confident that you’ve identified the correct play and discuss those situations with respected friends or post them on a message board like 2+2 or P5’s. Get some fresh input and see if your thoughts hold up. Don’t be afraid to defend your decisions just because another player tells you that you’re wrong. Defending a position often opens up new lines of thought. On the other hand don’t be stubborn if they appear to be right. That holds especially true when the margin between one move and another is relatively slim and both of you could be correct.
Then once you’ve done that for scenario one move on to scenario two and repeat the process until you’ve ironed out the bugs in all of your ten toughest situations. When you return to the tables your decisions will come more naturally and you’ll be more confident that you’re making the right play.
2. Help Someone With Their Game
Regardless of the subject matter I’ve always learned more about the topic when I had to teach someone about it. When someone asks why you raised with AJo the last hand and called with it this hand you have to be able to explain to them why the two situations were different. Explaining means you actually understand why you did it! It forces you to get out of your auto-game and to really be aware of how you’re playing.
The best way to put your teaching skills to the test is to teach from example. For online players I would suggest that you pull some hand histories as examples for your student. Yes, you will be surprised at how many hands there are where you have no logical explanation for your actions in a particular hand. That’s a good thing. It gives you something to think about. It reinforces the fact that most of us play the game too much on auto-pilot when we should be thinking.
If you don’t have access to willing student then go on your favorite message board and try to help people with their game. When people post hand histories and ask for feedback be one of those guys who volunteers to give a critique. Again, watch how many times you find yourself saying “Well, I probably would have played this the same way but I know it’s wrong.” The stinging feedback of your analysis from others on the message board will also be a good motivator to really put some time and effort into coming up with the correct moves.
3. Quit Reaching
Both out of peer pressure and pride many of us reach beyond where we should in terms of poker stakes. A good percentage of the highest raking (and winning) players in online poker play limits from $1/$2 – $5/$10. Granted some of that is NL but the point is that you don’t have to play Phil Ivey levels ($500/$1000) to be a good poker player. If you can make your nut playing $2/$4 on 18 tables for 8 hours a day you are far ahead of the guy losing his ass or breaking even at $30/$60 (limit) hold’em.
Quit trying to be a poker hero and concentrate on where you can beat the game. I know that when you tell people that you’re a good poker player and you have to admit that you’re playing low-limit poker it doesn’t sound glamorous but would you rather be glamorous asking people to stake you or playing low limits and sitting on a pile of cash?
That’s not to say you shouldn’t move up or that only low limit players are winners but many players would be better off playing for profits rather than to impress. I see this all the time when someone wins a lot of money and others in the poker world scoff at them for continuing to play low limits. In fact, I remember Chris Moneymaker being made fun of on 2+2 several years ago for still playing $2/$4.
There are tons of poker players who had a flash in the pan and couldn’t move back down to their skill level who are either currently or chronically broke.
Like I said, I’m not here to tell you not to move up in limits when you can. But sometimes your win rate at a higher limit doesn’t justify the move up and you need to do the math to figure out when that is the case.
Instead of worry about how many BB/100 or buy-ins you have in your bankroll you should be focused on your win rate. If you’re earning $12 per hour at $3/$6 (2BB/100) and $10 at $5/$10 (1BB/100) then the $3/$6 should be where you’re playing. Moving up to $5/$10 so you can roam with the big dogs only is of value if bragging rights are more important to you than money.
Keep sharpening your game and take shots. And if you can never beat the $5/$10 at an earn rate that is higher than your $3/$6 earn rate it doesn’t matter. If you are truly looking to maximize value then who cares about what everyone else thinks of you? Truth be told, over 90% of the people who play this game lose money. If you’re pulling down a profit then you’re already in an elite class. Would you rather be earning $4K a month playing $3/$6 or losing $10,000 a session playing $500/$1000?
4. The Murder’s Row Rule
This is a rule that Hank came up with in the infamous Murder’s Row games when we were all back in LA. In addition to getting your standard chips you would also receive a certain number of non-denominational chips. I think we used 3 or 5 chips.
The idea is that over the course of the evening you can use those chips to make your opponent show his cards AND explain why he played the hand the way that he did. Obviously this was all done at the completion of the hand.
This accomplished two things. The first was it allowed everyone sitting around the table to learn from each other. But the second, and I suspect unintended consequence, was that it made you think a little harder about the game. If you know that your opponent can make you table your retched cards after the hand and you have to explain to nine other experienced players why you played the hand as you did, you tend to play a little better.
And lest one think that the bad players were the main beneficiaries, even newer players can be good at picking up on tells or noticing patterns. The first time you hear “I knew you were on a draw because you always re-check your cards when you’re drawing,” is certainly an eye-opener even for experienced players.
5. Write About Poker
I started my blogging about poker because it helped me analyze my game. Putting it on the internet made me be more honest about my mistakes than I might have been had I been able to rationalize them privately.
I’m not telling anyone that they need to set up a blog. God knows there are enough crappy poker blogs out there today. What I’m saying is that you should spend some time getting the thoughts out of your head into written form some place. Write it on a blog. Write it in your own personal journal. Write it in a MS Word doc that only you review. Whatever method you choose, get in the habit of writing about poker.
Our minds are wondrous things. The more times you fire off certain chemical reactions in your brain the better your brain learns information. That’s why taking notes is such a good learning tool in school. Not only are you exposed to an auditory stimuli but when you write down a completely different set of functions kick in to reinforce the auditory input. Your mind fires off multiple types of functions which gives you different ways to remember and access the information.
Likewise, writing about poker exercises a different set of skills than does just playing the game.
Playing the game is very much about being in the moment. You don’t have time to go googling around for information or to discuss the hand with a friend. You have that time when you write about poker. You can take quick notes and then expand on them later when you have the time to perform some analysis.
Do what many of us early poker bloggers did when we first started out and use all of that research you’ve done to write a blog post to educate other people on that particular concept.
After we attain a certain level in poker where we can generally beat the game it often becomes difficult for players to advance to the next level. Their plays become too routine or they rely on rigid rules that they learned as beginners. The only problem is that as more and more poker knowledge becomes available to all players your opponents make less mistakes and your win rate begins to decline. Unless you are willing to make poker learning a continuous process that goes beyond what others can find in books you’re destined to be nothing more than a break-even player.
photocred goes to Idol