Amongst the practically infinite amount of poker strategy content out there these days, you’ll find many lists: how to win, what to do, what to avoid, and so on. Even my last article here on Cardplayer Lifestyle was a list! The truth is that if you really want to be a consistent winner, and not a one-time success, you need to put in a lot of work. Only then will you truly see great results.
The reason many players fail over the long term is that they struggle to realize what the most important areas of their game are to improve at. So what should you do? What is the best way to improve your game? There’s plenty of ground to cover, and at the end of this post, I’ll recommend some additional materials that I know you’ll find helpful. In the meantime, let’s agree that the 5 steps towards becoming a better player include: evaluating your game, making a plan, mastering pre-flop strategy, learning to play vs. different opponents, and mastering poker’s mental game.
1. Evaluate Your Game
Naturally, it is going to be close to impossible to fix all your mistakes if you do not even know what they are. Thus, evaluating your game is probably the most important step in becoming a winning poker player.
Ideally, you’d want to get some professional help and get coaching or at least someone to analyze your game and highlight your mistakes. If, however, you’re not ready to spend any money on that, you can just ask a poker-playing friend of yours for some help. Just be sure to choose someone who you feel is a better player than you, with a good understanding of the game.
So what are the ways to analyze your game?
This is by far the most effective method. I’ve helped hundreds of students instantly improve their online poker game and have tremendous results using database analysis. That’s not to say it’s easy, but it’s certainly worth your time.
For starters, simply filter out biggest winners in your games and compare your stats to them. If you have big differences in one area or another, chances are you are doing something wrong and can concentrate on improving this specific area.
Leak Finder Video
Record your online poker sessions and then watch how you played.
I am pretty sure that you will be surprised with some stuff you are doing and will find some areas in which to improve. More than in other spots, finding leaks via video is extremely hard to execute by yourself, since we are so used to the way we play and decisions we make; we might even miss obvious mistakes. So, again, getting professional help or asking your friend to help you review your video is probably the way to go.
Hand History Review
Tried and true, this is a well-known and powerful weapon you can use to become a winning player, but very few players realize the strategy’s full potential.
It is quite easy to mark hands while you play, assuming you use some sort of tracking software, so make sure you do that. Moreover, you can just filter out the spots where you are struggling or look at few of your biggest losing hands and review those while thinking about decisions you made.
As always, getting some help would be beneficial, so it’s best to try and discuss your hands with friends or post them on forums to get some reasonable answers.
2. Make a Plan
Once you finished analyzing your game, this is going to be the second step. If you get a professional review, most likely you have a list already of areas in which to improve. If not, you have to make one in order to concentrate on your most important weaknesses. This ought to be the process:
- Make a list of your mistakes and prioritize them from biggest leaks to smallest leaks. In other words, first focus on the errors that are costing you the most money.
- Make a plan for how you will fix each of these mistakes. Are you going to review hands in a specific area? Maybe you prefer to post on a forum and get some feedback? Perhaps you just want to read up on some strategy articles or watch training videos? Choose the most effective learning method for yourself.
- Schedule learning time. Our habits determine who we are and how we proceed in life. The same is true in poker. For instance, I like playing in the afternoons and evenings. I just stick to that schedule and I encourage all my students to stick to their own playing schedules as well. Scheduling is even more important when trying to learn and improve your poker game. Dedicate at least one or two sessions each week to learning, schedule them for a specific time, and stick to it. After a while, you will have a new habit that will lead you to success.
Just like a seasoned sports bettor doesn’t just bet randomly on his favorite teams, you need to remember to approach poker with a proper plan in place. You have nothing to lose and quite a lot to gain.
3. Master Pre-flop Strategy
I say it all the time: if you make mistakes and play badly pre-flop, it is close to impossible to play well post-flop. If this is the case, you will end up having unbalanced ranges, running too many bluffs, and so on. Thus, step #3 is where you can really start tangibly improving your game.
Here’s a list of the most important things to focus on improving on pre-flop:
- What hands to open with and how to expand your range vs. weaker players
- How to defend against 3-bets, which hands to call with, and which ones to 4-bet with
- How to 3-bet, how to balance ranges and exploit weaker players
- How to defend blinds and most importantly how to change your ranges facing different open sizing like 3x, 2.5x or simple min-raises. I find this to be a huge problem for many players since they have static ranges and defend the same hands vs. all open sizing that they face. As you can guess, this costs a ton of money. In fact, this alone might be what’s preventing you from being a winning player.
Having a balanced range is the starting point for improvement here. Only once you’ve mastered that can you properly move on to more exploitative play.
This area requires an enormous amount of time and effort to study on your own. If you’re looking to make your life a bit easier, I’ll recommend that you take a look at my Pre-flop Strategy Course. In it, I review all of these areas, reveal my strategy, help you build balanced GTO ranges, and show you how to exploit your opponents in the most effective way. It took me hundreds of hours and coaching sessions to fine-tune the methodology, so I humbly believe it’s one of the better resources you’ll find online for mastering pre-flop play.
4. Learn to Play vs. Different Opponents
We already touched upon this briefly in the previous step, but learning how to play against different types of opponents is even more important post-flop. By far the best help you can get here comes from your HUD. If you have proper stats in it, you will be able to see:
- When you should be playing more aggressive or passive
- When to c-bet more or less
- Whether you bluff a lot or if giving up is better
- If you need to value bet or is it better to let your opponent bluff
In short, realizing the full potential of your poker HUD is very important.
5. Master Poker’s Mental Game
The last thing that I want to touch upon is the mental game. I struggled with it for years and a majority of poker players have at least some mental game issues that prevent them from playing at their best. These days, winning margins are quite slim. That means that if we spew our stacks from time to time, we are going to a have a hard time realizing our full potential.
Try to keep your emotions away from the table. Never start a session when feeling bad or tired. People can get frustrated and angry while playing, so try to prevent this from happening by at the very least not beginning the session in a bad state of mind.
There are, of course, many things you can do to improve your mental game. For starters, I would strongly recommend taking a look at the works of Jared Tendler, renowned author of the Mental Game of Poker.
Taken as a whole, these 5 steps can certainly guide you towards becoming a winning player.
If you want to learn how to analyze your game and fix mistakes, how to play vs. different players, or realize the full potential of your HUD, I’ll again suggest that you claim your FREE course on “How to Win at Poker”. If you’re ready to learn some more advanced tactics, I’ve got plenty of Poker Strategy Training Videos for you to check out as well.
Most importantly, however, keep consistent with your playing routines, always leave enough time for studying and improving your game, and trust that eventually good results will come.
Yep, goal setting is what it’s all about. Making them small and measurable will help you succeed at the big goal of playing for a living.