How to Get Better at Poker

Some people who teach poker advise their students to read certain books. Others advise their students to forget all about books and just play a lot of hands instead. Which is the better approach to getting better at poker?

I’d contend that a combination of those two approaches is crucial to your success. I suppose plenty of players improved without ever having read a book, but if someone is an expert, and they’re willing to share their insights with you, wouldn’t you be a fool to pass up that opportunity?

The other problem with getting all of your learning by playing hands is that it’s costly. Some beginners might think that they can just play free games online or microstakes and learn everything they need that way, but in reality, skills and strategies change as you go up in stakes. The same strategies that work in a microstakes or play-money game will fail miserably in a higher stakes game.

One suggestion you seldom see is to keep a journal or a diary. Getting good at poker has as much to do with learning about yourself as it does with learning math or reading other people. One of the best ways to clarify your thoughts about yourself is by writing in a journal.

What kinds of things can you write about in your journal? For one thing, you can track your wins and losses. If you’re a losing player at a certain game at a certain limit, that information should be easy to track back to your journal.

For another thing, you can track how well you perform in certain situations. If you’re tired and/or on tilt, you have a record of how much money you’ve lost.

If certain situations put you on tilt, you can realize what they are and strategize about how to prevent those situations from affecting your game in the future.

You can also spend some time reading about poker strategy on the Internet, but keep in mind that the Web obey Sturgeon’s Law—90% of everything is crap. When it comes to poker advice on the Internet, the total might be closer to 99%.

How do you know the difference? Think about the math. Pay attention to how much advertising is on the site, too. Sites that bombard their visitors with tons of flashing ads are less interested in sharing information and more interested in making money from ad clicks.

The most important thing you can do in poker is to track your results. If you play online, you can use a software like PokerTracker for this, but even if you only play live poker, you can track your results with a pen and a piece of paper.

One of the best managers I ever worked for told me that performance measured is performance improved. I believe that’s true of poker as well as other human endeavors.