People write to me all the time, telling me their poker history, which inevitably ends up with the same question: “What can I do to improve my game?” Many people use the new year as a time to assess where they are and where they want to go — whether it’s in life or as a poker player. Each person is different and learns in different ways, but here is a list of things that I like to recommend to players to help them improve their game.
Get a Coach
This is the most obvious but likely the least common approach in improving one’s game. In practically every endeavor in life, at every skill level, there are people who teach or coach you to be better — so why not in poker? Many golfers at some point have received instruction from a pro, whether they are rank beginners or even current professionals looking to improve their swing. Yet, poker players often do not take this route. Even if you are an experienced player, a coach may be able to help you identify a leak or two in your game that will more than pay for his services.
Join a Poker Forum
There is no question in my mind that the most beneficial tool in helping me improve my game over the last six years has been my participation in a poker forum. A good forum keeps you up-to-date with the latest strategies and thinking of top players, while providing you access to a community of players who are interested in improving their play. In fact, my best friends in poker were developed in an online community, rather than in live games.
Watch Poker Videos
I’ve always believed that the best way to learn is to emulate others. You can read books, forums, articles, and so on to get a great understanding of poker tactics, but watching videos done by top players is likely to be the best way to learn how they approach poker in general. How do they think? What are the key factors they consider in every hand? What kind of overall approach can you derive from following their play of hands? How do they evaluate their opponents?
Watch Replays of the PokerStars Sunday Million
Every week, PokerStars runs a replay of the final table of this tournament, with the hole cards of all of the players exposed. You can learn a lot by watching players in action in what is for many of them the biggest online final table of their careers. Identify the mistakes being made and watch the top players. If you see an interesting hand, post it in a forum.
Play Heads Up
If you are a tournament player, play some heads-up sit-and-gos. If you are a cash-game player, play some low-stakes heads-up games. Poker is about exploiting your opponent’s weaknesses, and there is no better way to focus on a single opponent than to play heads up. Once you develop your heads-up game, you should start seeing a lot more opportunities when playing in your normal shorthanded or full-ring games. For tournament players, it is essential to develop your heads-up game, as this is where players compete for the big money.
Learn a New Game
Learning a new game provides several benefits. It helps sharpen your mind simply by getting you away from your normal routine. Some of the things that you learn in one game can help you in another. For example, floating in pot-limit Omaha will help you identify more situations to float in no-limit hold’em. Betting for value in a limit game will help you identify marginal value-betting spots in big-pot games.
Read The Poker Mindset and Other Poker Books
I know, this is a shameless plug, given that I am a co-author of the book. Nevertheless, in my biased opinion, The Poker Mindset should be essential reading for every poker player. Although I’m listed as a co-author, I give full credit to my co-author Ian Taylor, whose ideas will help pave the way for you to develop and play your A-game all the time. The Poker Mindset and the slew of great poker books available today should serve to remotivate you as you prepare your New Year’s resolutions in regard to poker.
– Matthew Hilger
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