Most of us aren’t lucky enough to play poker for a living, so we have only limited time to devote to the pursuit. When we finally do get to carve out some time, most of us would rather spend that time playing the game, rather than devoting any time to practice or study. While this is certainly understandable, you must devote some of your time to practicing in order to become a better poker player.
A friend once told me “poker isn’t poker unless it hurts”. He was talking about playing real poker for play money. It’s a funny line, but I no longer agree with his statement. You can play real poker for fake money – and I think doing so adds an important tool into your arsenal as you try to improve your game. That tool is the ability to practice.
I think that most people (like my friend above) have trouble playing poker for play money because they aren’t focused on the correct goals. Ask 100 people what the goal of playing poker is, and I think the majority will tell you “to win money”. While they’re not wrong, I tend to look at things a little differently. To me, poker is a game of constant decisions, and if your goal is to focus on making good decisions as often as possible, then winning pots and money will follow.
“focus on making good decisions as often as possible”
Once you look at poker this way, then playing for fake money becomes easier. You can fire up a play money game with the goal of practicing making good decisions. Because there’s no real money involved, you can tailor a play money session to practice certain situations – perhaps playing in 3bet pots,
Where To Practice
Almost all of the real money online poker sites have a play money equivalent. You can use these sites for play money even if you’re a US player who has been shut out of online poker since 2011. I personally still log onto my old Full Tilt account to learn how to games in which I don’t have much experience, like Pot Limit Omaha or Omaha High/Low. I’m finding that I can learn the nuances of these games without making mistakes that would eat into my real poker bankroll.
Working on your game through study is just as important. There are so many resources for improving your game that finding them will never be your excuse. (hint: several of them can be found on this very site). Let’s go through a list of resource types that you can use to improve your game through study.
SplitSuit has some of the most popular modern poker books available on his website. I heartily recommend “Easy Game” by BalugaWhale and “Poker Plays You Can Use” by Doug Hull. I have read both of these books cover-to-cover and then opened them up again for repeated readings. These books are a bit on the advanced side, but you can find excellent material no matter what your skill level. Split’s own book, “Dynamic Full Ring Poker”, is one for a less advanced reader, and is also excellent. One trick – fire up Amazon.com and look for the “New Releases” sidebar – I found half dozen recent releases that I had never heard of just this week! As a total poker book hoarder, I can’t get enough good written material on the game. And I recommend you do the same.
Another excellent source of study – buy some videos, load them up on your smartphone, and listen to them in the car or on the bus while travelling to work. Split’s videos are excellent value for the money he charges – he explains concepts clearly and thoughtfully, while also providing sharp, easy-to-digest illustrations. You can find videos on other training sites as well.
One word of advice – I often find that the “watch me play 12 tables of online 25 NL” style videos are not as useful as ones that attempt to teach a specific concept. The action moves too fast in many of these videos, and the author doesn’t always have time to explain the reasons for taking the action he’s taking. I see him squeeze with a junky hand, but I’m not always sure why he felt that decision was profitable.
If you see a online play video with 2 or 4 tables, the chance of getting good information out of it becomes much greater, in my opinion.
The 2+2 poker forum is the granddaddy of poker forums (it’s actually one of the biggest forums on the internet, of any subject). There are plenty of others as well only a single good search away. All of these forums let you post hand descriptions and get the opinions of several excellent players
Private coaching sessions are among the more expensive forms of study – but they can also find and fix problems in your game faster than any of the other methods. A good coach can zero in on errors in your play and the reasons you might be making those errors (fear, lack of understanding, inability to range opponents, etc). He can then offer further resources for studying those specific areas. Good coaching will often pay for itself in just a few sessions.
There are several long-running poker podcasts out there. Bart Hanson has been running various podcasts for years now (his older ones are free, his more recent ones are available via a monthly subscription). 2+2 runs a weekly podcast that leans more towards news and interviews than strategy, but is still useful on keeping up with the poker scene. Rounder’s Radio is another good source of podcasts.
Your Online Hand History Database
Most people buy the PokerTracker or HoldemManager software as a way to get their Heads-Up Display running for their online sessions, but many don’t use the wealth of knowledge their hand history database provides as a tool for study. The great filtering provided by both of these tools lets you zero in on certain classes of hands. Are you profitable when you play Jack-Ten suited out of position? Are you winning with “trouble” hands like King-Jack or Ace-Ten?
These databases can uncover countless leaks in your online play, if you take the time to dig.
A Poker Buddy
It is extremely helpful to have a friend to talk poker with. I have a couple different friends that I can text message hand descriptions to, and ask their opinion on how I played the hand. It helps to have friends who play different styles than you do – my one friend plays a much more loose-aggressive style, and hearing his opinion on looking for opponent weakness or turning my weak pair into a bluff have definitely made my game better.
As you can see, there is really no end to the resources available to you to improve your poker game. Make sure to devote some of your time to both study and practice – both will help you eliminate mistakes and improve your win rate.