PokerPlayer’s 12-step poker program

Game in a rut? Make 2016 the best poker year of your life with our 12-step guide to winning at the tables…

Poker’s constantly evolving and it’s easy to let your game stagnate, especially if it’s not your full-time job. That doesn’t mean that you should give up on effecting change though. We’ve come up with a 12-step program that will see you playing better poker, winning more money, enjoying yourself and bringing joy to others, as well as making you healthier in mind and body. Sounds too good to be true? Read on and start the revolution!

1. Set some goals

It’s pretty hard to achieve something if you don’t know what you’re trying to do. A goal that simply says, ‘Make some money’ isn’t enough. If you’re a semi-serious cash player then a year-end goal is good, but it’s important to be realistic. Playing 100k hands across the year with a win rate of 4BB/100 is tough but achievable.

If you play for fun set yourself a bankroll challenge. If you’ve got $50 in your account, try and get this up to $500 by the end of the year.

If you’re a tournament player, targeting a live event is a great goal. Set aside some money and try to qualify via satellites, but pick a budget you’re happy spending and stick to it. The World Series Of Poker boasts loads of affordable tournaments and you can combine it with a holiday in Vegas, top of any half-decent bucket list.

Whatever they are, take the time to sit down and write out your goals and the date(s) by which you want to achieve them. Having tangible targets on paper will serve as a great motivator, encouraging you to put in more time and play better.

2. Prepare

Most players have realised playing your A-Game isn’t compatible with partying the night away. If you want to give yourself the best chance of winning you should try to be as healthy as possible – in body and mind.

If you’re playing a big tournament you should get an early night and plan exactly what you’re going to wear and what time you’re going to arrive at the tournament venue. Basically, you should try and eliminate any decisions on the day that don’t involve poker. A massage and a spot of meditation wouldn’t go amiss either. Relaxation is key.

A quick run or gym session in the morning, followed by a healthy breakfast is the ideal preparation. And don’t drink alcohol while you play, unless it’s a fun game. In your head you might be Phil Ivey at the high-stakes tables. Back in the real world you’ve just bluffed off 20 buy-ins.

3. Bankroll management

You might have started playing for fun, but making money is important. If you’re a consistently losing player the fun can drain from the game as quick as the money in your bank account.

Stop randomly depositing and start playing with a proper bankroll. As esteemed poker author Tommy Angelo put it in his excellent book Elements of Poker, ‘A poker player’s bankroll is like a carpenter’s hammer. It’s his main tool. He has to have it or he can’t work.’

The size of your bankroll depends on the games you play. If you’re serious about poker and you don’t want to keep your entire bankroll online, consider setting up a separate bank account – your bankroll should remain apart from the money you use day-to-day.

For a detailed feature on bankroll management, check out issue 126 of PokerPlayer in your app now.

4. Evolve

Is it impossible to win at poker any more? It is if you spend all your time off the table whining about how bad your luck is on it. Poker’s an ever-changing game and if you don’t move with it you won’t survive. This is going to be even more important this year which is set to be the biggest period of change since Chris Moneymaker won the Main Event back in 2003.

For starters, The Global Poker League is launching, giving pro players a new platform to showcase the game to the world. We don’t know if it’s going to work or not, but it deserves your support.

New variants of the game, that merge elements of eSports, are set to be unleashed as well, and we’re hoping they bring new people into the game. (Click here to play HoldemX, from the people behind the GPL.)

Don’t look for excuses as to why you’re not winning. Effect change and start winning.

5. Work on your game

These aren’t the days before Super/System… There are lots of ways to improve your game today. You can read strategy books (Harrington on Hold’em is still a great read, but check out Moorman’s Book of Poker, The Mental Game of Poker and Excelling at No-Limit Hold’em too), sign up for online training with sites like CardRunners and Grinderschool and watch top pros play and give analysis on Twitch. Jason Somerville is a good starting point.

We’ll also bring you the very best strategy each issue in our magazine and we’ve also got one of the web’s biggest strategy archives, as well as loads of back issues that you can read for free. In our app you’ll find every issue of PokerPlayer back to August 2011 and we’ll be adding more in 2016. Want to identify some common leaks in your game? Check out ‘The Scariest Small- stakes Mistakes’ two-parter in issue 81 and 82.

Talk about your game. If you haven’t got a group of poker friends join an online community and discuss your hands rationally. You need to be prepared to take criticism if you’re serious about improving – leave your ego at the door.

6. Free stuff

Go back ten years and it was easy to find freerolls with serious prizes kicking off pretty much every day. Those halcyon days might be gone, but there’s still tons of stuff you can get for free – and you’d be a fool to ignore it.

Our magazine is your first port of call. We’ll be bringing you exclusive added-value tournaments and the very best freerolls.

Next, remember that every poker site wants your business. If you’ve stayed loyal to one or two, 2016 could be the year to branch out. First, make sure you get a rakeback deal on any new account. Most sites will refund around 30% of the rake you pay if you sign up through an affiliate such as The benefits are huge – even a casual $50NL player stands to benefit from over $1,200 per year.

Similarly, don’t be afraid to be a bonus whore. Most sites offer huge sign-up bonuses that boost your bankroll before you’ve even started. Click here to get the latest and biggest offers.

Keep an eye out for overlays too. These can happen on smaller sites who overestimate the number of players they can attract. There’s no science to finding this sort of value, but it’s always worth looking out for, especially on weeknights.

Some big live events don’t hit their guarantees either – follow us on Twitter @PokerPlayer365 for the latest live tourney news.

7. Be positive

It’s hard to stay positive when you get your Aces cracked on the bubble. Or when you’re in the middle of a two-month long downswing when you can’t win with a dominating Ace if your life depends on it. Thankfully it doesn’t.

If poker’s your chief source of income it can be brutal, but that’s why you employ good bankroll management. Either way, if you start feeling negative about your game things will only get worse. Don’t dwell in the past – when a hand’s over it’s over, move on. As Kipling once said ‘to be a man…treat defeat and victory the same’.

The simple concept of positive thinking can really turn around your results at the poker table. Instead of believing you’re the world’s unluckiest player after a bad beat, think the opposite, remembering all the times you’ve got it in behind and sucked out. You’ll find the bad beats won’t affect you as much, you won’t tilt so expensively, and the natural swings and variance of the game will become just that – natural.

8. Respect

This is an easy one. In 2016 your job is to bring joy to people at the poker table (while taking their money). Treat your opponents with respect and try to make their time with you is as enjoyable as possible. That way, if you beat them they’ll be happy to come back for more. If they’re beating you it’s important that you acknowledge this by making changes to your game, not by berating them in the chatbox.

Poker’s struggling to bring new players in and the last thing it needs is hostility at the table. Keep a smile on your face and a compliment in your heart. And, if you can’t think of anything nice to say, better to say nothing at all

9. Play a regular home game

The best fun you’ll ever have at the poker table is at a home game. There are a few easy rules to ensure yours is the best home game going. Make sure you’ve got the right equipment – decent chips, enough chairs for everyone and a poker table or felt table-top. Play for the right stakes – high enough to mean something and low enough that people don’t mind losing. Invite the right people round and settle in for the night.

It’s probably best to set a finishing time, or it can go on forever, but if you don’t mind about that just start playing. Add in some different games for maximum fun, or if you just know hold’em, try a Pineapple variant (deal everyone three cards and get rid of one either preflop or after the flop).

10. Play fast

How long do you ned to make a decision? 10 seconds? 20 seconds? Ten minutes? If you’re making a decision for your tournament life, take your time. If it’s preflop and you’ve got 10-3 offsuit, what are you tanking for?

The 2015 Main Event final table was notable for stalling and it led to the biggest call for a shot clock since the debate began. We’d be surprised if one wasn’t introduced in 2016, but don’t be a part of the problem.

Antonio Esfandiari put it pretty succinctly. He thinks players should take five to six seconds on every fold and added, ‘A lot of younger players are destroying poker by taking 40 seconds over every decision. It’s completely uncalled for and they should be 86’d from every tournament.’

So, make 2016 the year you play fast. If you’re tanking, staring at your cards and your opponents, but thinking about what you’re going to have for dinner, give yourself a slap and fold your cards.

11. New game

The world doesn’t start and end with no-limit hold’em. If you’re feeling jaded from playing the same game night after night, mix things up. You can learn to play any variant of poker you want – including Open Face Chinese – online and for whatever stakes you’re comfortable with.

You might find that your game is more suited to another variant and switching could give your bankroll the boost you’ve been looking for. Either way, you’ll improve as a poker player if you play different variants and it’s a lot easier to learn than you might think. There’s a good reason that a lot of pros have switched from hold’em to mixed games

12. Have fun

We saved the big one until last. Dream big, work hard, but most of all… remember why you started playing the game. If you’re not enjoying yourself it’s time to change things or give the game up. Try to recapture the thrill that you got when you first started playing.

All of the things we’ve talked about in this feature can help you get the poker bug back again. Losing, unfortunately, is a big part of the game. You’re going to lose a lot, so start accepting it.

Set yourself a challenge and watch your game improve. Stay positive, play fast and bring joy to as many people as you can at the poker table. Play live, play online and get involved in a poker community – virtual or in the real world.

Try and give as much back as you take from the game. You’ll feel better for it. If you’re winning, donate something to charity. Take pleasure in your achievements and keep a track of your results. Start winning in life as well as at the poker table!

PokerPlayer is the world’s best poker magazine and you can read it for free here

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