You Can Become A Winning Poker Player
I usually keep the tone of articles here light, friendly and deliberately non-preachy… After all, just because someone is new to poker and wants some concepts explaining does not mean they are not intelligent and successful people!
This time it is different. This time I want to get some home-truths out there – address a recurring theme on poker forums, blogs and in chat-boxes which kind of bugs me.
The kind of questions I’m referring to are these:
- ‘I am playing great poker, so why can’t I win?’
- ‘How can I make money when so many donks are making bad calls and sucking out on me all the time?’
- ‘Poker site X must be rigged against me’
- ‘I’m a great player, just constantly unlucky’
- ‘Should I move up levels to where people understand and respect my raises?’
If you can identify with any of these questions then this article is for you.
90% Of Players Feel They Are In The Top 20%
Ok, the statistic is just my estimate, however the vast majority of poker players do think they are naturally talented, or somehow innately better than their peers. When evidence accumulates (they lose!) that, well, they might not be such a phenomenon after all several mental defenses come into play. You’ll tell yourself that you are good but unlucky, that the blame lies with ‘bad players’ who do not understand your skillful play and then keep getting lucky against you – or even that poker sites rig the games against you.
These defenses are all well and good. They explain your frustration and keep you believing that you’ll break through one day…
Except you won’t break through.
You need a change of mindset to do so.
These defenses hold the huge majority of players back. Once you get over them you can start to work on your game in a constructive way, to give yourself a real chance of breaking through.
Here are my 3 ‘core realizations’ which players need to make in order to start constructively working on their games. I’ll deal with each point below.
- – Poker is not rigged, and you are not the most unlucky player who ever lived.
- – If you can’t beat bad players then you will get crushed by strong players.
- – You are not some innate super-talent, you need to study and work hard on your game.
Realization #1 – Poker Not Rigged, You Are Not Exceptionally Unlucky
There have been billions of poker hands played online, even the smaller sites are in the 10’s of millions. These hands are tracked by the various tracking services and individually by millions of players using databases like Holdem Manager 2. You know what, the deal is random. Any perception you have otherwise is not supported by any evidence over large sample sizes. It is 2013, let us put this ‘rigged’ thing to bed once and for all!
Luck in poker is short term in nature. While a downswing can be brutal, the upswings will eventually compensate. What holds players back is blaming ‘bad luck’ as an excuse not to work on their game… the chance element evens out in the end, get over it.
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Realization #2 – Too Many Donks Are Impossible To Beat
I know, I know, you read the strategy, studied the forums to see how the experts handle certain situations and played that hand damn ‘perfectly’. Then, *boom* some idiot who did not have a clue about solid poker strategy made a bad call and cost you your stack. This keeps happening again and again… and its getting to the point where you feel the only solution is to move up levels to where people understand your play and don’t make those stupid calls which end up costing you.
This thinking is extremely common, and deeply flawed.
First, players who make bad – as in negative expected value – calls are the easiest of all opponents to beat. Sure, they will stack you with some random hand occasionally, but you have a positive edge every time you play them. Over time you will accumulate money and they will lose it, period… all you need is to play as many hands as possible.
Secondly, poker strategy never works in a vacuum. It is never a case of ‘do x for $$$ every time’. The core of strategy is about playing against an individual opponent – if you are incapable of adjusting your strategy to exploit players who consistently make negative expectation plays of their own free will then you need to work on your game. Instead of thinking about the ‘best way to play hand XX in situation YY’ you should focus on the best way to exploit the weaknesses of players who make mistake ZZ.
If are not capable of understanding the adjustments needed to beat the worst players then those players who are capable of doing this will take your bankroll. They will see your tendencies and weaknesses and play in such a way as to exploit them, sometimes taking small edges repeatedly and sometimes attaching big leaks.
Newer readers, please – poker is about learning to spot and exploit the weaknesses of your opponents. No ‘bag of tricks’ will help you for long if you do not understand this!
Realization #3 – You Are Not Some Natural Talent
Sorry, I’d love to bring you the happy news that you are the next poker superstar – and that you need not work on your game along the way… unfortunately it just is not true. In fact, poker is tough, if you do not work hard on your game those people you label ‘lucky donks’ who have put in the hours will have an edge on you…
What is more this edge will only grow over time.
You see, the players who study their hand histories, locate and plug their leaks, go through areas with friends (virtual or real), read, watch videos and think about how they can maximize the value by changing their bet sizing in different situations (for example) are the ones who will show a profit over time.
The players who feel they know enough and simply log on and play will find themselves getting behind.
What is more, those who get a solid foundation through study will be best equipped to add new ideas and strategies to their games. Instead of an ‘trick’ they can integrate ideas into their solid understanding, knowing how and when to use the new idea to max advantage.
Luckily you can make fast improvements in this area by simply taking one hour of play from every 5 hours and using this for study instead. Or of course you could always blame bad luck!
Playing Great And Still Losing – You Can Become A Winner
I’ll end with some good news, you can become a winner – anyone of average intelligence + and a little motivation can beat online poker.
How far you go depends on how much effort you put in. Not just to education, but aspects like site / table selection, focus on the games and bankroll management too.
Once you get over the ‘excuses’ holding you back you can make the decision on whether to commit to the task of becoming a long-term winner, or relaxing and treating poker as a bit of fun – while enjoying the occasional win.
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