This article was written by blackrain79.com contributor Fran Ferlan. “There is no such thing as standing still. You either move forward or regress.” - Bohdi Sanders Mastering poker is a lifelong journey, and it’s never really complete. Poker is an incredibly competitive endeavour, and like anything else in life, success comes to those who are willing to work hard to outperform the competition. No matter where you currently are in your poker journey, the first step to improvement is willingness to do so. If you are reading this article, congratulations, you’re on the right path. Even if you are a solid winning player, there is danger in becoming complacent and thinking you have it all figured out. You don’t. Why is it Important to Always be Improving Your Poker Skills? Even the world class professionals continually strive to improve their game. In fact, this is what made them world class professionals in the first place. If you are going to the gym and see a guy or a girl with perfect physique sweating and working their ass off, you might wonder: why the hell are they doing that? They’re already ripped. They don’t need to do it anymore. But the reason they’re in such great shape is exactly because they’ve worked their ass off. And sure, they can go out to enjoy life and be attractive, but they chose not to get complacent. They’re maintaining their physique and their health. They enjoy the process, and are not overly focused on the end result (i.e., looking good). Improving in poker is no different. Improvement itself is its own reward. The end result (like making more money, moving up in stakes, winning a huge tournament , etc.) is just the byproduct. It is worth mentioning right off the bat that your motives for improving will be a major factor in determining how successful or unsuccessful you’ll be. If you want to improve in order to win more money, that’s certainly a legitimate reason. There’s nothing wrong in wanting to be more profitable, and at the end of the day, how much we win is how we measure our success in poker. But if making money is your primary concern, you’d be better off finding some other more stable and certainly less stressful income sources.Why Hard Work Beats Poker Skill and Talent Making money in poker comes in due time to those who work hard to improve, but they do so for other reasons, rather than prospective monetary gains. Above all else, they have a deep passion for the game, and want to improve because they want to be good in what they do. Money is just the icing on the cake. Another reason you need to improve is the aforementioned competitive component that’s inherent to the game of poker. Its evolving constantly, especially in today’s fast paced digital age. If you don’t improve, eventually you’ll be left behind the competition. Today’s complacent winner is tomorrow’s loser. Sure, you might be able to crush oblivious weekend players, but so can the other regulars. And the games are getting increasingly harder. In the post-Moneymaker era, money seemed to keep falling out of the sky, and you were able to make a decent sum of money if you knew what you were doing. A lot of pros assumed easy money would keep pouring in, but there’s no such thing as easy money, and all good things come to an end. Today the games are nowhere near the joke they were back then, and the pros that couldn’t keep up got left behind. But not everything is bleak as it seems. As of writing this in 2021 poker can still be incredibly profitable for those who are willing to put in some time and effort to improve their game. By wanting to improve, you’re already ahead of the majority of the player pool. This article will give you 5 ways to take your game to the next level. Let’s get into the actual tips, starting with the basics. 1. Get The Fundamentals Down When first trying to improve, it can be a daunting task. Maybe you started with reading articles such as this one, or watched a couple of BlackRain79 Youtube videos. Then all these articles have links to other articles, you’re encountering a bunch of terms you’re not familiar with (as every other industry, poker has a language of its own). And then you soon find out that poker is an incredibly complex mixture of math and psychology (sprinkled with a dash of art for good measure) and there is just so much to learn. It’s enough to make your head spin, and you’re left even more confused than you started off with. In today’s information age, there’s so many sites, courses, books, articles and videos to choose from, and it can get quite overwhelming quite fast. There is such a thing as too much information. Before the internet, information used to be rare and precious like gold. Today it’s common and useless like dirt. Fortunately, the basics of poker are not that difficult to grasp. The math part is no more complicated than what you learn in middle school. When learning about poker, it might be far more enticing to learn about advanced river check-raise bluffing strategy rather than boring odds and percentages, but that’s putting the cart before the horse. When you are building a house, you don’t start with the roof. You build a solid foundation first, and then you slowly build up on it. It’s the case with everything else you do in life, so poker should be no different. You should start with the basic TAG (tight and aggressive) strategy. This includes mastering your starting hands selection preflop: About the top 15% percent of hands in a full-ring game and the top 20% in a 6-max game, playing tightly in early position and opening up in late positions (cutoff and button), playing in position (being the last to act) and playing fast and aggressively post flop in most situations. As for the math part, you need no more than basic multiplication and division. You should be familiar with pot odds, implied odds and stack-to-pot ratio (SPR). All of this information is readily available online, and all the topics are already covered extensively here on blackrain79.com Even though you might feel you have the fundamentals down, it’s better to assume you don’t have it all figured out. Being familiar with something and understanding it deeply are not the same thing. If you think you have it all figured out, here’s a challenge for you: try to teach poker to somebody who doesn’t know the rules at all. You’ll soon find out that even something as basic as absolute/relative hand strength and blinds structure can be challenging to convey in a clear, comprehensive way, let alone all the other intricacies of the game. Get the fundamentals down. Amateurs practice till they get it right. Professionals practice till they can’t get it wrong. 2. Focus on One Thing at a Time Poker is a game that takes an hour to learn, but a lifetime to master. So there is no need to rush anything, and no need to learn all at once. Slow and steady is the way to go, especially when we talk about learning and improving. It can be a long and tedious process, but knowledge is difficult. So in order not to make it any more difficult than is necessary, you should avoid overwhelming yourself, especially at the beginning. It can be demoralizing when you start to understand how little you actually understand and how much there is to know, but it’s actually a good thing. It means you’re starting to realize how deeply complex the game is, and starting to grasp the areas with which you’re struggling with, and that is the first step to improvement. If you feel overwhelmed and terrified with the complexities of it all, give yourself a pat on the back. It means you are on the right path. The first step to understanding is figuring out what you don’t understand, so start with that. Ask yourself: What is it that I don’t understand? Be specific. Make a list. You might realize that you are struggling with a number of things, but again, this is to be expected, and it’s actually a good thing. If you have a list, rank order it, starting with the fundamentals (i.e., the things you’re struggling with most often). For newer players, preflop might be a good place to start. Pick one thing from the list, and focus on it until you have it figured out. Then move on to the next thing. Rinse and repeat. A great way to go about this might be focus sessions. Before you fire up the software and sit down to play, you can start with a pre-game warmup. During the warm up, you study the concept you’re trying to implement in your game. It’s worth noting that it should be something you are somewhat familiar with already. It shouldn’t be something that is completely foreign to you, or way beyond your current level of understanding. Then, during the session, you look for opportunities in which you can apply the concept. You might be surprised how many profitable spots there are where you know where and what to look for. Note the spots where you weren’t sure what to do, or where you think you’ve made a mistake. After a session, review the hands you were struggling with. For example, one simple concept you can start with is SPR. After you have familiarized yourself with the stack-to-pot ratio, and how different SPR influences your starting hand selection, you can practice calculating it for every hand you play. Keep doing it consciously and deliberately until you do it automatically. It’s basically a simple division math problem, so there is absolutely no excuse not to do it. Improve Your Poker Skills Quickly With My Free Poker Cheat Sheet Are you having trouble consistently beating low stakes poker games online or live? Are you looking to make a consistent part time income playing these games? That is why I wrote this free little 50 page poker cheat sheet to give you the exact strategies to start consistently making $500 (or more) per month in low stakes poker games right now. These are the exact poker strategies by the way that I used as a 10+ year poker pro. And I lay them all out for you step by step in this free guide. Enter your details below and I will send my free poker cheat sheet to your inbox right now. 3. Get PokerTracker The single best investment you can make in your poker career is Poker Tracker 4, guaranteed. It is an indispensable tool for tracking your hands and results, and has an in-built HUD (heads-up display) that keeps track of your opponents statistics as well. It basically pays for itself, because the reads you’ll be able to get from your opponents will more than make up for the price of the software itself. BlackRain79 actually made a YouTube video showing you how to setup your PokerTracker HUD in less than 5 minutes.Also, PokerTracker offers a 30-day free trial, so there’s no excuse not to give it a try. But HUD aside, the real value of the software is that it helps you study and take your game to the next level. It automatically saves all your hand histories and shows you your results in a clear, comprehensive way. It’s extremely user friendly, even if you’re not particularly technology savvy. And if you have any questions, it offers great customer support. The features of the program are too numerous to even begin describing here. It deserves its own article. But one that might be worth mentioning here is Leak tracker. Leak tracker shows you your stats based on your hand history, and shows you exactly where your skills might be lacking, and where your stats fall out of norm for solid winning players. This means the guesswork is completely out of the equation. It tells you exactly where you’re bleeding money. You can’ improve what you can’t measure, and PokerTracker 4 measures everything for you. The beauty of the software is that you can go as deep down the rabbit hole you want, and can filter for any situation you want, no matter how specific. So how much value and knowledge you get out of the software depends entirely on you. You can download PokerTracker for Windows or Mac, right here. 4. Review Your Hands The most cost-effective way to learn is to learn from other people’s mistakes. But we all know that’s not how it usually goes. The biggest life lessons we learn usually come from our own epic failures and tragedies. We can read strategy articles and watch youtube videos for days and weeks on end, but some things just won’t go through our thick skulls until we get burned personally in one way or another. And even then, most people won’t get it. They’ll blame something external, as one usually does. Personal experience is the greatest teacher, but only if we are willing to admit our own mistakes and recognize our shortcomings. And what better way to do so than with hand history review. What makes this exercise so effective is the fact that you’re not just passively absorbing information, as is the case with reading articles and watching videos, for instance. Not that there's anything wrong with articles and videos, but it’s only a part of the learning process. It is also about applying what you learn. When you review your hands off the felt, you force yourself to think and ask questions, and this is where true understanding comes from. The best hands to review are the ones that went to showdown, because not only can you study the lines you took, but also try to estimate your opponents’ range and narrow it down street by street. That way you’re basically studying multiple things at once. While reviewing your hands, talk to yourself out loud, and tell yourself all the information you have. This forces you to apply what you know already, and highlight the areas where you might be struggling. Also, by doing so, you’re training yourself to think actively on the felt, which will make you more likely to think about the game on a deeper level. Make it a habit, and you’ll be making better in-game decisions in no time.For more on how to fix your leaks and review your hands check out this article by BlackRain79. 5. Play More Poker Poker is a game of skill. Like any other skill, you get better at it with practice. Taking the time to study and improve off the felt is invaluable, but at the end of the day, you need to take that knowledge to the felt. Like they say, theory without practice is empty, and practice without theory is blind. You can play poker all day every day without so much as reading a single article, and you’ll stay a fish forever. On the other side of the spectrum, there are people who approach poker with a scientific devotion, read every book, watch every video, have hundreds and thousands of posts on different forums. They know all about cutting edge strategies, 4-bet bluffing, blind defense and polarized river ranges, yet they barely play any poker at all. All talk and no action. There needs to be a balance between the two. Most people would benefit from more studying (because let’s face it, nobody likes to study, and we all love playing), but there’s only so much you can learn in theory. Putting it into practice effectively is where real knowledge comes from. It’s like weightlifting. Sure, it’s important to know how to do the exercises with the proper form and learn a thing or two about a healthy diet, but it doesn’t mean anything if you don’t put the reps in. Progress takes time, but the more you do it, the better you’ll get at it. Action is the greatest teacher, and there’s no better way to learn than through direct experience. So go out there and practice. But practice consciously and deliberately. You won’t see any progress day to day, week to week, or even month to month, but when you look back, you might be surprised how far you’ve come. Summary Improving in poker is not an easy task, but being willing to do so is certainly a step in the right direction. It may be daunting at first, but that is precisely the reason most people won’t bother with it in the first place. They just want to have fun. And this is where the opportunity lies for those who are determined to go the extra mile and put in some time and effort in their game. In order to do so successfully, it’s important to start with the basics and building up from there. When you build a house, you need to build a strong foundation first. Focusing on one thing at a time allows you to progress at a comfortable pace and not get overwhelmed with too much information. Also, you’re more likely to celebrate small victories along the way and keep the momentum going, instead of getting discouraged and throwing in the towel before even giving yourself a chance to succeed. If you’re serious about improving your game, investing in poker tracking software is a must in today’s competitive environment. Not only will you be able to get better reads on your opponents, you’ll also have a reliable tool at your disposal to plug your leaks and learn from your mistakes. It will also allow you to tag hands during your session so you can review them later while you are studying off the felt. Hand history review is arguably the single best exercise, because it allows you to study multiple things at once, and trains you to make better decisions in-game. And lastly, if you want to improve, go out there and get the volume in. If you want to learn to swim, you can read a hundred books on the topic, but you’re going to need to go into the water eventually. So go out there and start flailing. So there you have it. None of these tips are exactly groundbreaking stuff. No quick and easy hacks to get great results fast, but that’s because they work. It isn’t sexy, but there are no shortcuts to success. It’s about repetition and perseverance. The more you practice, the better you’ll get. And that’s a guarantee. .
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