When I started learning poker, the entire space was different. We didn’t have solvers or many great training materials, and most of the books out there were garbage. But times have changed, and there are plenty of resources available to help you improve your game.
That said, it can still be overwhelming when you’re just starting out. So, I’m here to give you six of the key things I wish I had learned first when I started playing poker years ago.
If you’re a newbie to the game or looking to sharpen up your skills, these tips will help you get a solid foundation. And if you’re a seasoned player, stick around because you might just learn a thing or two as well.
Push play to get started, or continue reading…
Poker Folding Frequencies
Alright, let’s dive into the first thing I wish I had known when I first started playing poker: folding frequencies. This concept is all about understanding how different hands or ranges will hit or miss different flops, and especially how often they’ll fold when you’re bluffing.
Why is this so important? Well, for one, it helps you gauge how successful your bluffs will be. If you know your opponent’s range is going to miss the flop a lot, that’s a great spot to apply pressure and expect them to fold.
But it’s not just about bluffing – understanding folding frequencies also helps you evaluate your own hands objectively post-flop. Most starting hands are going to miss the flop, which means you’re going to be bluffing a lot of the time. But if you fold or check-fold too often, you’re going to lose in this game.
Using Flopzilla Pro To Understand Frequencies
So, what can you do? There are different tools you can use to study folding frequencies between sessions, but my personal favorite is Flopzilla Pro. Take a hand like Ace King, which is the strongest non-paired starting hand you can get. Even with that hand, you’ll only hit top pair on the flop about 29% of the time.
And if you include gut shots as technical hits, you’re still only looking at a hit rate of 44%.
The other 56% of the time, you’re going to be weaker and weaker, all the way down to ace-high.
Or consider pocket Kings, which is the second strongest starting hand you can get. Even that hand will be a pocket pair below top pair about 21% of the time when an Ace comes on the flop. Most people don’t realize that, so they get frustrated when they think their pocket Kings should always win.
And it’s not just about individual hands – understanding folding frequencies for ranges is also key. For example, let’s say we raise pre-flop and our opponent calls with a range that only includes pocket pairs below top pair and some middle pairs. On the flop, they’ll only continue with about 50% of their hands.
That means we can get a lot of profitable bluffs in there by betting and getting them to fold their misses, or by creating a profitable double-barrel plan.
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Now, I want to clarify – you don’t use Flopzilla Pro while playing. You use it as a study tool to better understand how different hands and ranges hit and miss flops, and then craft strategies based around that. That way, when you’re in real time, you can recall that information and find more bluffs and opportunities post-flop. It takes some work, but it’s worth it if you want to improve your game.
Poker Math Is Easier Than You Think
The second thing I wish I had known when I was learning poker is that the necessary poker math is a lot simpler than I initially thought. When I started out, I wasn’t particularly great at math. It took me a while to grasp concepts like stats, and I wasn’t too thrilled about it.
But when I got into poker and saw all the stats, pot odds, break-even percentages, and EV calculations, I felt overwhelmed. However, I realized that these things are all graspable. If I put in the time and effort, I could learn them even if I’m not naturally mathematically inclined.
That’s why I developed the Poker Math & Preflop Workbook – to lay out examples of the most important poker math fundamentals and basics. You don’t have to be a math genius to get the benefit of this. Even just a few pages per day can help you understand the key concepts that will make a big difference in your game.
And here’s the thing – learning this kind of math not only helps in poker but in life too. It helps you think about things objectively and logically. So, if you’re interested in learning more about the workbook, head on over to splitsuit.com/prefab to get your copy.
Don’t be intimidated by the math – it’s simpler than you think, and the benefits are worth it.
GTO Poker Is A Foundation
The third thing I wish I had known when I started playing poker is that GTO (Game Theory Optimal) is the baseline, and exploitative play is the actual aim.
Now, when I first started playing poker, GTO wasn’t really a thing because there were no GTO solvers or software. We knew what GTO bluffing was in theory, but we didn’t have the tools to work with it.
Learning poker nowadays is made easier with readily available GTO solvers. However, it’s important to note that GTO is simply the baseline. When two players are playing perfectly against each other, GTO is what gets enacted. But, since we’re playing against humans, deviations from GTO create exploitative opportunities.
It’s important to understand that humans don’t always play perfectly. They often deviate from the GTO baseline, sometimes in small ways and sometimes in big ways. These deviations present exploitative opportunities that can be taken advantage of.
In my experience writing the book GTO Gems, I’ve come to the realization that GTO should be viewed as the baseline, rather than the end-all-be-all of poker strategy. By understanding GTO and its deviations, we can better exploit our opponents’ weaknesses and maximize our profits.
GTO vs. Exploitative Play
For example, let’s say a solver says a player should be folding 40% of the time in a certain situation. But your opponent is actually folding 64% of the time. That means they’re overfolding, and you should be bluffing a lot more to take advantage of that. This is where exploitative play comes in – you’re exploiting the deviation from the GTO baseline to make more profit.
But this also ties back into the first thing I talked about – understanding hitting, missing, and folding frequencies from your opponent. That’s how you can start assembling an exploitative strategy that takes advantage of your opponent’s tendencies. And when you combine that with an understanding of GTO as the baseline, you can create a lethal strategy that will help you win more consistently.
So, remember – GTO is the baseline, but it’s the deviations from that baseline that offer exploitative opportunities. And when you understand those deviations, you can create a winning strategy that takes advantage of them.
Controlling Your Actions and Reactions
The fourth thing I wish I knew when I started playing poker is that you only control two things in life – your actions and your reactions. Learning this early on was incredibly helpful for me, because believe it or not, I used to be a bit of a tilt monkey. I’ve broken countless keyboards and mice, thrown a computer out of a window, thrown my face through a wall – I’ve done some really dumb things in the past.
Poker Mental Discipline and Avoiding Tilt
But then I came across a video from Jared Tendler, who laid out a very simple framework – you can only control your actions and reactions. You can’t control what other people do, what cards come on the turn, or anything else. The only things you can control are your own actions and reactions.
And when I really started to integrate that advice, I stopped taking bad beats and bad turn cards personally. Instead, I focused on what I could control – my own actions and reactions. I put more energy into studying and working on my mental game, because I knew that was something I could control, and that would ultimately help me win more.
Understanding this basic principle was incredibly helpful for me, and it can be helpful for anyone. When you focus on what you can control, and don’t waste energy on what you can’t control, you’ll be able to stay more focused and make better decisions. So remember – you can only control your actions and reactions, and that’s where you should be putting your energy.
Stop Projecting Your Strategy
The fifth thing: when discussing a hand with someone else, it’s easy to fall into the trap of assuming that your opponent thinks and plays the same way you do. However, this is a mistake as not everyone approaches the game in the same manner. Each player has their own style, risk tolerance, and reasons for playing, so projecting your own playing style onto others can lead to problems.
Instead of projecting, pay close attention to your opponents. Look at their frequencies, pre-flop and post-flop actions, and how they think about the game. By observing their playing patterns, you can gain insight into their approach and make better decisions.
If you do find a player who plays similarly to you, it’s okay to assume they might have a similar approach. But keep in mind that this isn’t always the case, and you should always be cautious when making assumptions about your opponents.
In summary, projecting your playing style onto others is a mistake. Instead, observe your opponents’ playing patterns and adjust your strategy accordingly. Remember that everyone approaches the game differently, and assuming otherwise can lead to costly mistakes.
Edges Exist In Poker Study Others Won’t Do
The sixth lesson I learned early on in my poker journey is the existence of edges.
By doing work that others won’t do, I can improve my win rate against players who aren’t putting in the same effort. This means focusing on off-table work like math and folding frequencies to develop a strategy that can be used in real-time.
Studying poker can sometimes feel frustrating when the spots you’re studying don’t come up often. However, putting in solid study time is incredibly useful in developing these edges. Even if you’re going through a bad variance spell, the effort you put in will pay off eventually.
Developing these edges can help you achieve success in the game. Whether you’re looking to improve your win rate at your current level or move up to higher stakes and hold your own against better players, these edges are crucial.
And if you want even more tips, read this huge guide with tons of poker tips for new players.
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