Everyone wants to win at poker, but unfortunately most do not. Due to the charge from the casino around 80% of all players are losing money. So how do you learn to become a winning poker player? Or move to the next level and continue winning there? Here are some guidelines that can help you on the journey.
Play a lot of poker
To become good at something, you must do it a lot. So obviously you need to play a lot of poker to become a winner. To get more out of the time you play, consider the following:
- Until you are a solid winning player, make sure you do not play on levels you are not comfortable with or too many tables.
- Sometimes play fewer tables than normal to analyze and reflect on both your play and your opponent’s play.
- When something interesting happens, make sure to mark the hand for later analysis (more on this in the Analyze section).
To master poker, you need to study it. Very few strong players have become good by just playing a lot of poker and having natural talent. Different people learn in different ways. If you prefer learning from videos there is plenty of content on YouTube. Some of it is good, but the nuggets can be hard to find. If you are willing to pay to make sure you get access to high quality content, poker training sites are a better option. Some of the poker training sites have dated content, so it is a good idea to do a bit of research before signing up.
If you prefer reading books, there are a lot of those as well. It is a bit of a minefield though, since poker has evolved a lot over the years. A book from 2015 is in many parts dated in 2022. If you are an advanced player, you can benefit from GTO (Game Theory Optimal) books. This is a mathematically sound approach to the game and even though our understanding of it is still developing, a lot of the foundation for GTO will not change over time. For example No-Limit Hold ’em For Advanced Players by Mathew Janda, Play Optimal Poker: Practical Game Theory for Every Poker Player by Andrew Brokos or Modern Poker Theory: Building an unbeatable strategy based on GTO principles by Michael Acevodo are all good (but heavy reading).
It is hard to find effective ways to practice poker. At Poker Trainer you can practice:
- Poker hand ranking (beginner).
- Finding the best hand (beginner).
- Preflop ranges for opening, calling, 3-betting, calling 3-bets and 4-betting from all positions (all levels).
- Poker hand reading to practice assessing which hand is likely to be best if it is played all the way to the river (all levels).
- Poker odds (intermediate to advanced).
In general, you first need to learn and understand the concepts (there are tutorials for this purpose). But you also need a lot of practice. It is not enough to be able to assess which hand is best, you need to be able to do it quickly so you can spend time thinking about the more challenging parts of the game. The same is true for all exercises on Poker Trainer. Until you have reached Pro level (highest level is Legend) in all exercises you are not particularly good. It is called Pro just to be nice :-).
If you are serious about learning poker, you will also need to spend quite a bit of time analyzing. These are the main approaches I recommend for poker analysis:
- Mark interesting hands when you play and review later.
- Discuss and analyze hands with other players, for example with friends or in a poker forum, such as TwoPlusTwo.
- Use a poker tracking tool, such as PokerTracker 4.
- Use an Odds Calculator (also known as Equity Calculator), such as Poker Trainer Odds Calculator.
- Use a GTO solver, such as GTO+ to analyse the best play in different situations.
Analyzing with a poker tracker
Most serious poker players use a tracker to track their results and to be able to see their opponent’s tendencies through a HUD (Heads-Up Display). But to get the most out of a tracker you should also use it to analyze your and your opponent’s play. It is amazing what you can do when you invest time on this. For example, you can analyze your profitability from each position to make sure it is over benchmark, analyze your results when 3-betting from the blinds or if you have any hand type or flop type that is challenging. When you see the results, you will be able to dig deeper and find what things are causing losses and which situations you are managing well. The opportunities when you have a lot of played hands in your database are almost endless.
Analyzing with an equity calculator
With an equity calculator (also known as an odds calculator) you can enter a range and a hand and analyze the equity (probability of winning) all the way from preflop to river. You can make assumptions about which hands a specific opponent will continue with, analyze the results, and see how changes in assumptions lead to different results. Doing this for hands you have marked for review is helpful in making you spot mistakes and evolve your understanding of hand ranges and equity.
Analyzing with a GTO solver
The analysis with a GTO solver is similar to the analysis with an equity calculator, but usually you start with the assumption that the opponent is playing GTO poker, which is – they are playing optimally. Even if this is never true, it is great for learning. In general, the advice is to aim to play GTO when you do not have specific reads on your opponent and play exploitative poker when you are confident you can outplay your opponent. But to play optimally you will have to learn how to do it. Doing this kind of analysis with a GTO solver for interesting hands is an effective way to analyze mistakes (or great plays) and learn more about GTO.
When you are a solid winning player, it is important to have a structured approach to making changes in your poker strategy. The approach is often called the Scientific Method and it means that you should make controlled changes, follow-up the result and use the feedback to continuously improve. In practice this means that if you for example have concluded that you believe you could be more profitable by adding more hands to your button opening range you should see that as an experiment. This means you will formulate a hypothesis for the result you are expecting, define how you will do the follow-up (and when).
One of the most important aspects is that most of the time you should only change one parameter. In this scenario it would be impossible to draw good conclusions from the experiment if you decide to both open more hands from the button and to c-bet the flop at a higher frequency. How would you know if a change in your results is a consequence of one or the other of these changes?
In summary, there are many ways to learn how to play better poker. The more serious and enthusiastic you are about improving, the more of the approaches you will use. If you are a pro or considering becoming a pro, you should do all the approaches listed here – and more! Playing poker is more fun (for most), than learning how to do it better. But if you really enjoy the game and want to become better, investing the time and effort is extremely rewarding – from both a financial and an emotional perspective.
I wish you the best of luck on your poker journey!