Poker is much more complex than it looks to the casual observer. Yes, there are the basics of playing strong starting hands and betting when they turn into made hands, but there’s more to it than that. The key to getting better at poker is to take on the learning mindset and study the right resources.
Poker Strategy Resources
First, I recommend every get a copy of the book Winning Low Limit Holdem by Lee Jones. There are a lot of beginner-level books out there, but this one is the best of them all. Not only does the book explain all the basics (such as which hands to play before the flop) but it also explains why certain plays should be made.
Next, get the book Theory of Poker by David Sklansky. This is another beginner book, but it goes into even more detail about why we make the plays we make. The book also includes a little math to further explain why certain plays should be made. The things you learn in Theory of Poker can be applied to nearly every poker variant out there. It’s one of those books that I expect to see on every serious player’s bookshelf.
Ok, now that you have those two books, you’re done spending money for a while. So far, you’ve spent maybe $40 if you bought both books new. Study those books and put the things you learn into play at the small stakes games near your house or online. Experience will help you get better at applying what you’ve read and better at reading the board and becoming comfortable with the game in general.
The next big step is to join the 2+2 poker forums. Sign up for a username and start hanging around the poker strategy boards there. TwoPlusTwo has something like 200,000 active members. Thousands of new posts are added there every day. Hang around and soak up everything you see.
TwoPlusTwo has members of all skill levels, ranging from absolute beginners to some of the most successful players in the world. You’ll see specific hands, theory discussions and get a deep look into some of the most talented minds in poker.
The one thing you may not like about 2+2 is that there’s a lot of noise there. You’ll have to hang around for a while to get a feel for which members actually know what they’re talking about. Ignore the people who complain and post negative things. Follow the people who legitimately help one another.
When you get comfortable with how the forums operate, start participating. Post some of your most difficult hands and ask for advice on how you should have played those hands. Much of what I learned about advanced poker strategy came from the 2+2 forums. The forums aren’t perfect, but they are free and there is a lot of good stuff in there.
Get a copy of Holdem Manager (the free trial or paid version will work fine) and learn how to use that piece of software. Holdem Manager is a poker tracking tool that will watch every hand you play and save it in a massive database.
This database will show you a complete list of hands that you play, how much money you make with hands, how much money you win or lose in each position, how much money you make, and much more. I cannot express strongly enough how useful Holdem Manager is. I’m not affiliated with the software in any way. Just ask any serious poker player what he or she thinks about it.
One way in which Holdem Manager will help you get better at poker is that it can be used to identify leaks in your game. For example, you might find out that you lose too much money with suited connectors in middle position. You can then adjust your strategy to plug those leaks and improve your overall win rate.
Poker Training Sites
One of the best players from the early 2000s started a poker training site called Cardrunners.com. He set it up as a subscription training site complete with advanced poker strategy, poker training videos and forums for people to discuss strategy.
Since then, dozens of other poker training sites have opened for business. Find one of the better ones (a couple of my favorites are CardRunners.com and DeucesCracked.com) and join it. Poker training sites are relatively expensive, so hold off on it until you have the money to comfortably pay for it.
Poker training sites are worth the cost if you’re serious about the game. If you apply yourself and take full advantage of the membership, you WILL make more money with poker. The cost of the subscription will eventually be negated by the extra money you rake in at the tables.
Again, I’d like to make it clear that I am not associated with any poker training site. The only reason I mention specific sites above is because I truly do believe in them. I’m not trying to sell you on anything here.
Experience is the final and ultimate key to becoming a better poker player. Start out at the low stakes games and get your feet wet. Nothing can compare to putting in real time at the tables. The low stake tables are a great place for you to learn how to play, how to read the board and how to deal with real human opponents.
Sign up at an online poker site and hit the tables as often as you can (within reason). You don’t need to jump in to the high stakes games. The low stakes tables play wild and loose sometimes, but that’s OK. It’s still real poker.
Continue studying and learning as you play at the low stake tables. Then, make it a goal to start moving up in stakes as your bankroll allows. Once you can beat those games and have built your bankroll up, move on up to the next level and learn how to beat those games.
Every time you move up in stakes, the opponents get a little better. Take your time moving up and practice bankroll management. If you get beat at the next level up, move back down a level and rebuild. Eventually, you will improve your skills to the point at which you can hang at the next level up. There is no rush to move up in stakes.
Control Your Tilt
Nothing will retard your progress more than going on tilt. If you get mad and play poorly, no amount of poker strategy will help you. You have to remember that poker is a competitive game and you will not win every time. Sometimes it will be a result of being outplayed; other times it will be simple dumb luck.
Just get used to it now. Bad players will get lucky, good players will talk crap to you and you’ll make boneheaded plays. It happens to everyone. If you let the bad hands get to you, you will not make it anywhere in poker.
If you ever feel yourself getting hot under the collar, take a break from the tables. Poker will always be there in some form or another. And please, whatever you do, do not let tilt cause you to move up in stakes just to get even. That is a sure-fire recipe for disaster.
Never Stop Learning
The last thing I’d like to leave you with is the understanding that you will never stop learning in poker. Even the best poker players on the planet continue their poker education. No matter how far you get, there will always be new things to learn.
Don’t let your ego get the best of you. The games are always evolving and you need to keep up with the times. Continue your training memberships and continue participating in the poker discussion forums online. Not only do you need to continue learning new things, but it is good to keep the fundamentals fresh.
This is how you get better at poker.