Everyone wants to play better poker. By playing better we will win more money in the long run and eventually we can win enough to make poker a profession. But how do we go about improving our play? Well first and foremost we need to admit that our game could improve. Poker is excellent because you are never done learning…ever. I’ve been playing for 9 years, coaching poker for 5, and still learn things about the game to this very day. So break down your ego, admit your shortcomings, and let’s look at 5 ways to win more at poker.
So many players burn up their entire win-rate by tilting. Tilt is when we let our emotions guide our decision making and it almost never works out for the best. That being said, there are two kinds of tilt:
Winner’s tilt: When our current winnings negatively influence our decisions such as booking a win or playing looser with “free money”
Loser’s tilt: The traditional tilt when we are losing and make bad plays to try and quickly recoup costs or gamble due to anger
Whichever kind of tilt you suffer from you need to curb it ASAP. Start to understand what tilts you and just as importantly WHY it tilts you. You may think that tilt doesn’t really influence your winrate, but think about it this way: If you play $2/$5 live and tend to play 5 hour sessions, if you tilt off 1 buy-in per session that means you need to win at $100/hr just to BREAKEVEN! And in the longrun, you aren’t winning at $100/hr at $2/$5…so let that sink in for a minute…
Focus On Preflop
It never ceases to amaze me how many players take coaching that never really want to discuss preflop lines. They want to discuss a little bit about 3betting, restealing, and 4betting…but nothing more. The truth of the matter is that many players make massive preflop errors that only hurt them in the longrun. Simple things like opening an incorrect range or calling opens too liberally are typical leaks areas. One of the big things I check during a LeakFinder is how a student performs when opening different hand types from EP…and that filter alone gives me tons of information on a student. So focus on your own preflop game and make sure you are entering pots correctly. Think about things like:
- Open ranges by position
- 3-betting strategy from LP
- 3-betting strategy from the blinds
- All-In preflop ranges
- Calling open-raises
Gather & Use Information
Poker is a game of information, both gathering info and using that info to create optimal lines. As poker players we should constantly be looking for information and ways to use it in real-time. For online players this is much easier with the use of a hud, but live players should also be paying incredible amounts of attention to their opponents to find out valuable ways to exploit them later. This includes things like their open-raising ranges by position, when they use pot control, the size of pots they create with certain hand types, their bet sizes and how they relate to their hand strength, etc. But gathering the information is only half the battle as we need to know how to use that information to exploit them. For instance, if they raised from UTG but tend not to do that with KJ, they obviously can’t have a nut straight on an AQT flop. If they bet huge with big hands should we really call their big river bet with just a single pair?
Become a machine that notices everything, records everything, and puts that data to use to generate more profit. If you ever find yourself staring off into la-la land while playing you are missing opportunities to collect info. In fact, for the first hour while playing live at a new table I don’t listen to any music…I just focus solely on collecting info so I can get a better idea on who is good, who is awful, and the kinds of mistakes they are likely to make. Even over small sample sizes it’s not perfect…but noting that someone called down 3 streets with a junk pair is huge info that can help us make better decisions in the future (hint, by value betting that person relentlessly!)
Let’s be honest…bluffing is sexy and fun. It’s what people think of when they think of poker. However, the majority of our value actually comes from value betting as opposed to bluffs. Case and point, look at your database and see which hands are making you the most money. Chances are they include hands like AA, KK, AK, QQ, and other top-side strong hands:
Why people would rather focus on bluff double barreling than focus on making more money with AA and KK is beyond me. By improving your play with big hands, both preflop and postflop, you can dramatically improve your winrate. So focus on playing your big hands better. Focus on maxing more value from your sets, focus on maxing value when your draws improve, focus on value betting more with QQ+/AK. Learning how to play these hands better preflop and postflop will help you play better poker overnight. And fwiw, part of playing these hands better is knowing when to fold them. Hint, when the nit gets really active when you have a single pair postflop…it’s likely time to panic!
Study & Play Poker
To get better at poker you need to play AND study. You need to study hands you’ve play and concepts you don’t fully understand. And then you need to play and put all of your new knowledge to work. Just doing one or the other is useless…yet most players spend so much time playing that they ignore studying. There needs to be a healthy balance between the theory and practice and how much time you spend studying is going to vary over your career. I usually suggest that new players study and play at about 1:1, so for each hour of play they study for an hour. As you get better and better you may change that to play:study 2:1. But I will suggest this as well…when you are about to move up to a higher limit I would suggest increasing the hours spent studying.
If you aren’t sure how to study poker I would suggest picking up this video now. It gives some great tips on how to study away from the table and how to analyze hand histories deeper to get more out of your study time!