Read this guide to playing better poker now but only if you want to be more successful
Stage 1 – Practise, practise, practise
Summary: Sit down, play some cards
- Focus on playing games you enjoy and not games where you think you have an ‘edge’
- Make notes of hands you think you might have misplayed and analyse them later
- Don’t play when you’re tired or bored as it does more harm than good
- Stick to micro-stakes cash where you can play a lot of hands in a short space of time
This is the painful stage. Sorry about this, but it’s going to hurt a little at first. So if you feel a bit squeamish you might want to skip this stage and go for one of the more gambler-friendly options further down the list. But, sadly, if you want to be a long-term winner at poker there is no avoiding this simple truth: you get out what you put in.
Poker is a game of information, experience and decisions. If you lack the first two it’s going to be really hard to do well on the third. The best way to get better is to play a lot of hands, and the best way to do this is focus on a game you enjoy. Don’t worry about winning at this stage, in fact it’s better if you make a lot of cheap mistakes. You’re here to learn after all.
It’s also really important you don’t play when you are bored, tired or drunk. The last thing you want to do is get into bad habits in your play, or to reinforce long term losing plays. Stay focused, spend some time analysing your play afterwards and then get ready for one of the next stages.
Hero: Phil Ivey
Back when he was called No Home Jerome, Ivey would catch the bus to his local casino in Atlantic City and play seven-card stud until his eyes were ready to pop. It’s not some innate genius that makes him so good, it’s thousands of hours sat at a poker table learning to read people and situations. He spent years honing his game, going broke, building up again and eventually figuring it out. If Ivey can do it, then so can you.
Stage 2 – Play lots of satellites
Summary: Embrace the grind, and set big targets
- Focus on the one big target, so you don’t feel you’ve ‘won’ if you win one feeder satellite
- Play lots of small feeder satellites where the standard of play is terrible and take them seriously
- Don’t be tempted to buy straight in to the big satellites, go back and grind your way up
Right from the days of Chris Moneymaker winning the WSOP Main Event in 2003, the satellite route has been one every poker player dreams of. Buy in for $40, and win $4 million, what could be simpler? Sadly it’s not that easy and for every Moneymaker there are thousands of losers. But played smartly satellites are your best bet for making big money.
First, work out is what you are playing satellites for? Some players enter satellites to major live events to either play a tournament they are not bankrolled for or reduce the variance. Fine and laudable reasons, but it’s not what we’re talking about here. This is about investing a little to win a lot. Yes, most of the time you will not win, but you’re only losing a little. That is the key point.
Start small, think big. What you should be aiming to do is play lots of small freerolls or $1 and $2 super-satellites into tournaments like the Sunday Million. You can even play in super-satellites for the bigger live events, but remember your ultimate target is to make money and your chances are far higher in the online tournaments than in big deep-stacked live events with a field full of pros.
The winner of the 2012 WCOOP main event was a Russian low-stakes tournament player who entered via an FPP (frequent player point) satellite. Despite his normal stakes being $6.50 tournaments, he managed to turn a few loyalty points into a $1 million win. He won his $5,200 seat only after several stages of FPP satellites and beat one of the toughest fields in the game for his life-changing score. Living the dream!
Stage 3 – Use poker software
Summary: Install software, increase profits
- Invest in the low-stakes versions of PokerTracker or Hold’em Manager
- Take time to learn how the software works and use it to review hands from sessions
- Use a HUD when playing online as much as possible
Yes isildur1 doesn’t use it. And yes neither does Phil Ivey. But guess what? Almost every other winning player does. Daniel Negreanu credits poker software with helping him go from online also-ran to an online winner. By poker software we’re talking about things like Hold’em Manager or PokerTracker.
These pieces of software not only track your hands, but those of every player you’ve played against. The ability to go back through hands and see where you went wrong is invaluable. And the ability to see live stats on your opponents is even more crucial. Not sure if you should three-bet in a spot? How about if you knew your opponent folded to three-bets 90% of the time?
Poker software won’t turn you into a winner overnight, but it will add a big edge to your game if you use it correctly. Try not to rely on it, and don’t be afraid to turn it off every now and again. But definitely shell out some cash and get some. It will likely be the best money you’ve ever spent (apart from on this issue of PokerPlayer of course).
Hero: Daniel Negreanu
The Canadian poker superstar really embraced the online game when he first signed for PokerStars taking to the online tables with real enthusiasm. But he found it tough going adjusting to his lack of reads and information on the players at his tables. He says that installing poker software and being able to assign players to certain types helped his game massively. If it’s good enough for Kid Poker it’s probably good enough for you, eh?
Stage 4 – Play lots of tournaments (especially on French sites)
Summary: Get on the grind
- Focus on tournaments that suit your skill set
- Shop around to find the best value tournaments online, including checking out some of the French sites
- Focus on lower-stakes big field tournaments
Let’s face it, the days of spinning up $50k by playing cash games online are all but over. There are far too many online grinders out there and the general standard of play is ridiculously high at the mid-stakes. You would have to get stupidly lucky to only run into recreational players on your way through the stakes these days.
But the same is not true of the smaller stakes online tournaments. Sure there are a lot of pros, and good players, at the $11+ stakes online, but they are not the majority of the field. In fact, if you head over to pokerstars.fr or winamax.fr you might even find they are in the minority. The French sites are a bit more of a slog to sign-up for, but are full of fish and a great place to play tournaments due to the smaller field sizes.
Online tournaments are the best place to spin-up a chunk of cash despite what anyone else might tell you. If you are a recreational player, and put aside money for poker each month this is where you would be wise to spend your time. Of course, there is huge variance and you could go 200 tournaments without cashing, but we’re not playing for a living.
We’re looking for entertainment and a spin-up. If you play the tournaments with buy-ins under $10 and take a solid TAG approach you’re already miles ahead of most of the field. Keep your head, play at stakes you can afford to lose and give it a spin.
Hero: Chris Moorman
The UK’s leading online tournament player has won millions online, taking down some of the biggest tournaments around. But he’s also put in some enormous volume over the years with the Brighton-lad playing nearly 4,000 tournaments on PokerStars alone in 2012. If you want to win big, you have to be prepared to put the work in. Sorry about that.
Stage 5 – Find the fish!
Summary: Don’t be the value, find the value
- Don’t be the value in a game, if you are outclassed then stand up and leave
- Find players you can beat and don’t waste your time trying to beat better players
- Focus on your strengths and pick your games accordingly
Poker is a zero sum game. This means that for everyone who wins $10 there is someone else who needs to lose $10. That means you need to find players who are worse than you to win money from. It sounds so simple, but it’s something so many players forget.
This doesn’t mean you should spend your entire time bumhunting for fish, and only play terrible players. But it does mean avoiding playing in games where you are the value. Poker is no place for ego. If you constantly find yourself in games where you are getting outplayed then simply stand up and leave.
You also need to realise where your strengths lie. If you are a great preflop player stick to fast-paced tournaments and steer clear of deep-stacked cash games. If you are a great postflop player then don’t spend all your time playing sit-and-gos. Learn to spot the traits of bad players, such as those who call too much preflop and those who are too passive post-flop. And most importantly learn to recognise your own fishy tendencies and stamp them out. Don’t let yourself be the value.
Hero: Neil Channing
The Godfather of UK poker is well known for his skills at the tables, but arguably his biggest skill is his ability to consistently find good games to play in. This doesn’t mean Channing isn’t willing to mix it with the big boys, but he’s very astute at spotting soft spots and making the most money from them. That is, after all, what it’s all about.
Stage 6 – Take calculated risks
Summary: Use your profits to jump into bigger games
- Only take shots with profits and not with your bankroll
- Don’t play in games where you are scared money, and don’t jump up too many limits
- Have an exit plan, don’t spend more than you can afford
This doesn’t mean sitting with your net worth in a $25/$50 game where there are four massive fish sitting. And neither does it mean entering a $1,000 tournament with a $20k overlay when you have a bankroll of $2,500. What it does mean is risking some of your profit on taking shots at bigger games or big tournaments.
Say you’re playing $11 tournaments regularly and have a bankroll of 100 buy-ins. If you have made $200 profit that month there’s nothing wrong with taking a shot at one of the big Sunday tournaments. Your expectation of winning is tiny, but the upside is massive, and as long as you’re not doing it with your bankroll that’s fine with us.
Find the balance so you’re buying into tourneys you can really win a significant amount of money, but not risking the family silver to do so. The same applies to cash. Don’t take your monthly $1k profit and jump into a $5/$10 game. The important thing is to have an exit plan. This is pretty easy when you’re playing big tournaments but in cash it’s not so easy to resist the reload.
Hero: Phil Galfond
The man renowned for a somewhat liberal approach to his own bankroll management in his early days is the king of shot taking. Galfond would take frequent shots at the $5/$10 games when he wasn’t really bankrolled for them. But this was because he was at an age where the worst that would happen is grinding back at lower-stakes for a bit to rebuild. Eventually he cracked it and never looked back.
Six of the best
The six best tournaments for making big money from a small stake
Buy-in: $2.20 Sunday Major Turbos
Time: Daily (check lobby for times)
Format: These run all day every day and give a leg up into the bigger $11 qualifier sats for the likes of the Sunday Million or direct into the $11 Sunday Storm
2. Partypoker $200K GTD Daily qualifier
Format: This is a turbo super-satellite, qualifying players into the daily $58 satellite to the $220k GTD Sunday tournament. Well worth a shot.
Buy-in: $6.60 Friday $50k GTD qualifier Time: Every Friday at 7pm
Format: This is a satellite into the Friday night $109 rebuy tournament. While the field is tough, and you won’t be rebuying, the huge prizepool on offer makes it worth the small investment.
4. Grosvenor Poker
Buy-in: $3.30 Sunday $150k GTD supersatellite
Time: Daily (check lobby for details)
Format: These are super-satellites into the big $150K GTD event. The winners of these tournaments get a seat in the $33 mega satellites with up to 70 seats GTD
Buy-in: The Hot $0.55 $2.5k GTD
Time: Daily at 9.45pm
Format: This is a turbo tournament with a big prizepool and a truly tiny buy-in. Worth a late night blast to try and spin up some cash.
Buy-in: $3.30 Saturday Micro $25k GTD
Time: Every Saturday at 1.00pm
Format: This is a turbo tournament with a huge field and a truly epic prizepool for just a $3.30 buy-in. If you’ve not got plans then make sure you don’t miss this.