Many players struggle to understand the most efficient way to learn poker strategy and improve their game. The first thing that I try to explain to all of my students is how the learning process should look if you really want to achieve success in poker. Below, I lay out a general framework of the proper approach you should take.
What is the best way to learn?
Understanding “how to learn” about poker is probably the most important step, which makes it kind of ironic that so many players often overlook it. So how should you be learning and what approach will yield the best results?
Naturally, reading and reviewing strategy articles can help you build a better understanding of the game. If you are able to find good, high-quality content, you can even end up learning new moves to add to your arsenal. The same is true for poker videos. They could be a valuable source of information but, frankly speaking, many poker videos serve more to entertain than to teach. What I mean to say is that watching how someone plays will often not help you much, especially if you are watching someone playing for higher stakes than you do and implementing advanced concepts that are not very relevant to your game.
One notable exception to this, however, is poker strategy videos that concentrate on a specific topic. Because they focus on specific scenarios and elements of the game, they can certainly be very beneficial – even an optimal way to learn. However, before jumping into watching good poker strategy videos, you first need to figure out what parts of your game you need to fix.
Pinpoint your mistakes
There are several options for how to go about this.
You can – and should – mark hands while playing, specifically the ones where you are not sure what the optimal line is. You can then post these hands on a poker forum or ask a more experienced friend for advice after your session.
You could also choose to record your (online) session while playing and ask someone to review it. Someone else is much more likely to spot your mistakes than you are. If you have a friend who plays for higher stakes and has a better understanding of the game, I recommend asking for his help or advice. You might even want to consider getting that video reviewed by a professional coach. Such a review would likely serve to highlight your leaks and point you in the right direction with your learning process.
Neither of these options, however, is as effective at pinpointing your mistakes as database analysis. This is by far the most efficient, informative, and precise method. The only problem with this method: it does not come very cheap if you want to have it done by a professional coach. If you are prepared to invest that kind of money, then by all means go for it. It would be money very well spent. However, if you’d prefer to save money, you can also do your own database analysis.
To start, you will need tracking software, such as Holdem Manager 2 or PokerTracker 4, in order to analyze your stats. Assuming you have a reasonable amount of hands in your database (I recommend at least 30,000), you’ll be good to go. Generally speaking, the larger your database the more accurate the results of your analysis will be.
If you have no idea how to conduct a database analysis, I suggest analyzing stats of the best regulars in your game and only then jumping into your hands and comparing those stats.
Simply open a notepad or any other app for note taking (by the way, for live poker play I use Poker Notes Live) and write down everything that you spot while analyzing your hands. Start by taking a look at your pre-flop stats:
- Are you opening enough/too many hands from each position?
- Are you 3-betting aggressively and putting pressure on your opponents?
- Maybe you are folding too much when facing 3-bets?
- Are you squeezing enough and aggressively isolating vs. limpers?
- Maybe you are not defending blinds enough? This is a very common leak that many players have.
Once you are able to answer all of these questions, you will build a clear picture of your pre-flop strategy and will almost surely find some areas in which to improve. Write all of this down and then move on to post-flop analysis. The following list covers some of the most important areas in that respect:
- What is your aggression by street?
- Are you not folding too often to c-bets on the flop, turn or river?
- Are you not folding too often in general? Almost everyone is.
- What is your river call efficiency? This is a very useful stat to identify if you are bluff catching in the right way.
- How are you playing in 3-bet pots post-flop?
Using tracking software allows you to filter out almost any scenario that you can imagine. There’s no better way to pinpoint your mistakes
While the above can be quite overwhelming and require a lot of time and effort to do properly, I assure you that it’s totally worth it. Your game will benefit immeasurably from the results.
If you’re looking to make your life a bit easier, you can check out the course I’ve created, which gives you a step-by-step guide for how to analyze your database, go over every aspect of your game like a professional, and fix your poker mistakes and leaks.
Making a plan and fixing your leaks
Once you have completed your analysis and identified all your mistakes, it’s time to make a new list. In your list, you should prioritize your mistakes starting from the most important (i.e., the one you make most frequently or that’s costing you the most money) and try to fix them one at a time.
While it might be tempting to try and tackle all your mistakes at once, from experience – and from the experiences of my students – you will achieve the best results by concentrating on improving one leak at a time.
Once you understand the best way you can learn to improve at poker, pinpoint your mistakes, and formulate a plan for fixing them, you can properly attack all of your leaks one by one.
Remember, this is not a one-time thing! If you want to stay ahead of your competition, you need to be constantly working on your game and putting in that extra effort. Keep learning, and you will be crushing your opponents for years to come. THAT’s a blueprint for poker success!