As an enormously popular game on both national and international levels, competition in poker is tough. Many of the contestants in an average tournament might have been playing for decades, which can make your own success a seemingly impossible task. With that in mind, it should be remembered that poker is a sport, like any other, which depends on slowly gathering skill.
Nobody in this game is instantly the best, and nobody can join the upper echelon without first putting in their miles. Understanding this, we want to focus on how a player can get better results from their play in a gradual manner. Greatness isn’t made overnight, but with dedication and attention, you can increase your odds of future success.
Caption: Winning big isn’t just a matter of luck
Picking Your Practice Point
Before you can see improvement, you first need a way in which to quantify this improvement. Lists online can help you find the best poker tournaments in major cities like Vegas. A good online resource here can tell you all you need to know about the biggest games in your local area, including tournament times, buy-in costs, average turnouts, and the food and drinks on offer.
Larger casinos will also offer ways to keep you entertained in your downtime, which is a great way to relay before hitting the tables. Take a swim at the Aria, gain inspiration from the Bellagio’s fine art collection, or catch dinner and a show at Excalibur. The surrounding environment can have a big effect on your game, so keep this in mind.
Of course, players who are the newest of the new might instead consider more basic starting points such as home games or smaller casinos, but we’re going to assume you already understand the game’s very basics.
So what is the right tournament for you?
That depends on your previous experience, and what you wish to learn. In terms of general improvement, the best bet is to practice among your peers. On the other hand, serious experience getting crushed by the best in the game can also give you an indication of your shortcomings, and what the best manage that you do not.
Examining Your Wins and Losses
Speaking of getting crushed, players should remember that this is, in itself, an opportunity for growth. On any loss you take, big or small, you should make a conscious effort to remember exactly what happened, and how. This will give the opportunity to later reflect on the hand or hands leading up to this point, that you might better combat this issue in the future.
Did you lose with flush? Could you have seen that coming? Did you see somebody pull out a win with a pair of 8s? How did they read the table?
Caption: It’s not just the results, it’s how you got there
This is, however, not without its own difficulties. As a form of gambling, poker inherently includes a degree of chance. It is quite possible to commit no mistakes, and still lose. This is the nature of the game, with the random element meaning loss due to bad luck is not a possibility, but rather an eventuality.
The difficulty here is knowing where to draw the line between unavoidable bad luck, and something which might have been picked up through better calculations of the odds, and observance of fellow players. Too often we can let our egos get in the way, and this can inhibit our growth.
Yes, sometimes the cards are bad, but other times we can blame the cards for our own poor play. The difficulty here comes in being able to address your ego, to understand and accept when you play poorly. Confidence is certainly important, but crossing this line into arrogance will mean you won’t improve.
Similarly, you need to remember your success, and not just the way winning made you feel. Rather than entirely focus on the glory, you need to understand how you were playing when you ended up a game or tournament. How were you focussed, and what good decisions did you make at key points?
Through proper reflection, it becomes possible to build your own personal strategy. Knowing your own strengths and weaknesses gives you something to build on.
A big part of this is understanding how you come across to other players. Our own mental images of ourselves often don’t mesh with the personality we show at the table. You need to learn if a strategy like aggressive bluffing is possible with the image you exude. Maybe you would be better off folding a poor hand or taking a deliberate loss on a low pair to make yourself appear foolish and lower your opponent’s guard.
Even folding a poor hand on the flop can massively throw off how the other players view you.
Observe the Pros
Learning while playing will help you understand to a large degree, but it’s not the only way to improve your game. Watching top-tier games either in person or through the internet or television is another way which can open opportunities you might otherwise miss.
The advantage here comes from the idea that when you are not directly involved yourself, it opens another angle which you would otherwise miss. Seeing the moves of the best without fearing them, without competing against them directly, lets you gain a wider appreciation of their skill and tactics.
Caption: Watching without playing can be a huge help in learning new tricks
This is especially the case for forms of viewing live or recorded games which let you see the player cards. This takes much of the guesswork out of trying to detect bluffs and mental games. In turn, it becomes easier to adopt these lessons into your own play, once you understand how they are being utilized.
Understand the Meta-Infrastructure
Improving your game isn’t just about going all-in with new poker strategies and knowledge. Getting better results is also born from improving your own endurance, fitness, and mental wellbeing. Poker is a sport, after all, and as a sport, the best players tend to be those with the best levels of health.
It’s not football, so you aren’t exactly expected to sprint a quarter-mile, but even so, physical condition plays an enormously important part. As little exercise as a 20-minute walks for the usually inactive can help build up a person’s ability to stay alert. This works for higher levels of fitness as well, so if you need a reason to exercise, consider the improvement of your poker game as a cornerstone.
This also comes down to the fuel side of the equation. No professional athletes compete on an empty stomach. No food or unhealthy food means less energy and concentration, which can make more difference than we realize.
Similar concepts apply to drink, especially alcohol. It might make long games pass by faster, but it also dehydrates and lowers mental acuity, which you need to keep in mind.
Building a Better Player
This might seem a lot to remember, but with a little practice, all of these tips will become second nature. Just as with any other skill, the best determinant of success is experience, and a willingness to apply introspective thought, even against your own ego.
Take your time if this seems overwhelming, and incorporate everything you learn in blocks until it forms into a cohesive whole. Be diligent, and better results won’t happen overnight, but they will happen.