In this blog post, I will list and explain 10 things you can start doing today that will improve your poker game. Even if you only apply one of the tips listed below, you will increase your win rate. There is never a better time to start improving than today.
1. Start reraising with a polarized range.
Most amateurs simply reraise with their premium hands. This is an awful strategy because it turns all of their premium hands face up, allowing their opponents to call when getting the proper implied odds or fold when they are not getting the proper implied odds. If you turn your hand face up, you allow your opponents to make perfect decisions, costing you a ton of money.
Once someone becomes aware that reraising with only premium hands is a losing strategy, they usually shift to reraising with a linear range, meaning they reraise with both their premium hands and hands they perceive as strong, such as A-J and 7-7. While this can be a great strategy against players who call reraises with hands that are easily dominated, such as A-9 or K-T, it is not a good strategy against players who only call reraises with premium hands and hands that do well against a linear range, such as 2-2 or 6s-5s. You will find very few thinking players opt to call reraises before the flop with hands that do poorly against a linear range because they recognize how detrimental it is to be dominated on a regular basis.
Most of the time, the ideal reraising range will be polarized. This means the range consists of the best hands, such as A-A, K-K, Q-Q, J-J, and A-K, as well as hands that are not quite good enough to call a raise with, such as Ac-9d, Kd-5d, and 9s-6s. Notice that by calling instead of reraising with most of your good, but not amazing, hands, such as A-J, K-Q, and Ts-9s, you get to see if you flop well before investing a significant amount of money.
Reraising before the flop with a polarized range also allows you to play a wider range in an aggressive manner, drastically increasing the profitability of your premium hands. If your opponents are unsure if you have the nuts or nothing, they will have a terribly difficult time playing against you, forcing them to make costly mistakes.
2. Start continuation betting more in heads up pots.
While most amateur players know to continuation bet on the flop when their hand improves, they often fail to continuation bet when they totally miss the flop. When against only one opponent, especially on flops that should be good for your range and bad for your opponent’s range, you should continuation bet almost every time.
For example, if you make a preflop raise from early position and only the big blind calls, if the flop comes A-7-3, K-Q-2, or 8-4-2, you should continuation bet every time. Flops you should consider checking behind on include 8d-7d-2s and 6c-5c-4c because, on average, those should be much better for your opponent’s range than for yours. That being said, if you raise from all positions with a decently wide range, as I suggest in my books, you can get away with continuation betting on almost all boards a high percentage of the time because any flop could conceivably connect with your hand. Notice if you only raise with a tight range from a specific position, you should continuation bet less often on certain flops because it will occasionally be clear that the flop is terrible for your range.
3. Start two barreling more.
While many players have become somewhat comfortable with continuation betting on most flops, they have yet to realize that they should often be firing again on the turn, even when they have nothing. As the continuation bet has become more main stream, observant players have started calling or raising them with a wider range. To combat your opponents calling your continuation bets with a wide range, you should continue betting the turn with a wide range, at least until they make additional adjustments.
Also, make a point to almost always bet again on the turn when the board drastically changes, such as when an obvious draw completes, or when you pick up additional equity, such as when you turn a flush draw, assuming you do not expect to get check-raised. You will be surprised at how often a turn bet will steal the pot.
As you move up to higher stakes, you will find that most of the large pots occur due to betting after the flop. The problem with this, at least for most amateurs, is that they only have experience playing before the flop. This is because most local casinos have a goal of getting tournaments over quickly so the players can hop into cash games.
If you want to move up in the tournament poker world, you must get comfortable with not getting all of your money in before the flop. While this creates more situations where you are uncertain about the relative strength of your hand, you will find that, with practice, the turn and river become where you want to invest most of your money.
5. Start putting your opponents on a range of hands.
If you are not putting your opponents on a range of hands during every hand of poker you witness, you are not playing correctly. If you only pay attention when you are involved in a pot, you will fail to develop vital reads on your opponents, costing you a ton of equity whenever you enter a pot. By failing to pay attention, you also miss out on time spent learning how to put players on ranges. If you make a point to mindfully practice whenever you are at the poker table, your skills will improve. If you don’t pay attention, expect to lose in the long run.
6. Start practicing other forms of poker.
Especially if you want to play poker tournaments, I strongly suggest you learn to play both short handed and heads up. The vast majority of amateur poker players are deathly afraid of playing against only a few opponents because they are forced to play hands they view as weak. In reality, they don’t understand how hand values change. This causes them to either over adjust or under adjust, leading to huge errors.
While this lack of understanding is not much of a problem if you constantly play at a full table, in tournaments you are forced to play short handed when most of the money is on the line. If you don’t know how to play short handed, you will be at a huge disadvantage.
Cash game players are not exempt from this concept. The most profitable opportunities in cash games often arise when you can start a game with only a few other players or late at night when the table is about to break. This allows you to play many more hands than normal against the weakest players at the table, allowing you to have a huge win rate. If you refuse to play short handed, you will miss out on these prime earning opportunities.
I also suggest you learn to play other games besides no-limit hold’em. Learning other games will force you to break free from any sort of default thinking you may have about standard poker strategy. That being said, don’t spend too much time on the other games because most of your time should be focused on the game you expect to be the most profitable in the long run.
7. Start getting in shape.
Most amateur poker players think poker is only played on the felt. Most players at the very top of the game perform the technical aspects of poker amazingly well. What separates them is their mental and physical conditioning. If one player can play well for 8 hours and another can play well for 12 hours, the player who can play well for 12 hours will almost certainly win more money in the long run. Being in excellent physical shape will allow you to play longer hours without losing mental focus or emotional control.
The most obvious way to get in better shape is to exercise regularly. If you are just starting to work out, don’t push yourself too hard. There is nothing wrong with starting slowly and gradually progressing to a more strenuous routine. If you are clueless about where to start, hire a trainer or study the subject online. I suggest you work out moderately before each of your poker sessions. This will help you get in the zone, allowing you to think more clearly.
While working out is obvious to most people, eating right is often ignored. You must become aware that what you put into your mouth will directly alter your physical condition and mindset. If you constantly eat pasta and ice cream, you should expect to have cloudy judgment and be overweight. If you eat lean meat and vegetables, you will think clearly and be in shape. Going from eating total crap to eating a healthy diet has changed my life. I strongly suggest you look into it.
8. Start sleeping right.
I know that if I do not sleep for at least 7 hours per night, I will not play my best poker the next day. It is as simple as that. I make getting at least 7 hours of sleep my highest priority when I know I will play poker the next day. If my friends want to hang out late at night or there is a business issue that demands my attention, I ignore them and go to sleep. I much prefer thinking with a clear mind. If I am tired at the poker table, it means I made a severe error the previous night.
9. Start writing down and reviewing your hands.
If you do not review your play at the end of most of your sessions, you are missing out on lots of valuable educational time. I suggest you carry a notebook with you and write down every significant hand of poker you play for the rest of your life. You will be shocked how your memory will fail you if you try to remember all of your hands. I have created a free video explaining exactly how I have recorded all of my hands at the poker table for the last few years.
Once you have your hands recorded, you can then discuss them with your friends and poker coach. You can also review them at the end of the day to see if you made any clear errors. On most days, I am usually unhappy with a few hands I played. I make a point to figure out where I went wrong and adjust accordingly. Over time, you should hopefully see your errors decrease and your win rate increase.
10. Start studying poker.
If you spend most of your time dedicated to poker actually sitting at the poker table, you are not studying enough. Before I ever played a hand of poker for real money, I diligently read over 10 poker books. By studying before I played, I had a huge advantage over my competition who learned primarily through experience. Once I started playing, I became excellent at the game by spending around half of my time studying and the other half playing.
Today, you can easily learn by watching training videos and reading books from the best players in the world. I have published a number of books as well as a training site, FloatTheTurn.com where I post poker training videos on a regular basis. Of course, I suggest you study from other world class players as well. I am a member of several training sites and I study poker training videos on a regular basis.
I have discovered that live webinars are a much better learning tool than either books or standard training videos because they allow for a high amount of interaction between the audience and the instructor. Interaction is the key. I host a monthly Q&A webinar for all FloatTheTurn.com members and I also produce a webinar about once per month where I discuss a specific subject in great detail. Going into a high amount of detail on a specific subject is an excellent way to learn, especially for advanced players who have already mastered the basic fundamentals of the game. For information on my past webinars, check out my product page. For information about my future live webinars, sign up for my email list.
If you have the resources, I strongly suggest you hire a poker coach. You will find that the most cost-effective way to do this is usually to hire someone who plays slightly higher stakes than you play. If you normally play $2/$5 at your local casino, hire someone who beats the $5/$10 games. If you play $1,000 tournaments, hire someone who does well in the $3,500 tournaments on a regular basis. If you find you do not work well with a particular coach, find someone else. As the customer, you should make a point to get everything you desire from a poker training experience. I have provided a coaching page at FloatTheTurn that lists a few coaches who I know do an excellent job at varying price points.
I hope you have enjoyed these 10 tips to help you improve your poker game.
If you have any suggestions or comments, please let me know. Thank you for reading!