How to win at poker is a fair question and we really want to have an answer to that. Let me give you mine – probably it is easier that you think. If you are willing to spend some time, learning and analysing your game, as well as concentrating on things that really matters you are up for the good start and I will show you how to win at poker.
Evaluate your game
Firstly, you need to figure out what leaks you have in your game and what mistakes you are making right now. To be honest, often it is quite hard to do that on your own. Since we are so used to the way we play, a lot of the time we are not able to notice even obvious mistakes. Naturally, the best way to go around that is to ask your friend for help or get a coach to review your play. Of course, poker coaching requires some investment, but if you choose one spot where to put your money – this would definitely be it. However, if you have an option of asking some poker friend to help you, it could be a good start as well. Just make sure that he is a better player than you are and preferably plays a bit higher stakes with some experience.
So how you should be evaluating your game? Well, let us start from the beginning and one thing that you really should do is your Database analysis.
You will need Poker Tracker or Holdem Manager for this task. My choice here is HM2 since it has a bit more powerful tools, but both programs are fine and you can use one, which you have or like more. If not sure, you can get free trials of both and figure out which one you like more. Let’s move back to the database analysis.
If you have no clue how to do that, but still want to make it on your own, just filter out biggest winners in your game and compare your stats to theirs. Figure out how much they are 3-betting, how they are defending facing 3bets, how they play post flop and what lines do they take.
This way you will have quite a good idea what winning players at your stakes do. If you are doing something very differently and are losing money right now, there is a good chance that their approach is a bit better and you could change your game to that point.
Then I would hardly suggest filtering out hands where you lose the most money. Remove all set-ups and coolers where you stack off preflop or both of you flop very strong hands and concentrate on analyzing hands, where you lost big pots post flop. Where you could have taken a different line, where you bluffed in wrong spots or contrary, did not bluff when you should. Again, doing this on your own is quite hard and if you can’t get any help from your friends and do not want any professional coaching, posting those hands on forums such as 2+2 is a good idea. Sure, you will get some crazy answers there, but it is a good place to start and some advice are really valuable. You just have to sort out what is good and what is bad there.
When you have a basic understanding of your mistakes, it is time to take it one step further and record your session. This is extremely beneficial and when reviewing your play, you will surely notice some of your mistakes, which you was not to identify before. You are so used to the way you play, that it is very hard to find your own mistakes and this quite normal. Again, it would be a great idea to ask a friend to review it or get a professional look at your play since other people can easily spot things, that you will not be able to spot on your own.
Remember, this first step is by far the most important one! In order to make a good plan, you need to know what mistakes you are making. Invest some time in figuring it out and take it very seriously. Even better – get a professional poker database review and have long lasting results. Any coach who is offering this will help you identify your mistakes and will make a plan how to proceed with your learning further on. Another option is to find your leaks yourself. If you want to do that, check out my step-by-step guide how to find your poker mistakes!
When you have a full analysis of your game and know what mistakes you are making, the next step is to make a detailed personal plan and fix it one by one. We can call it “How to win at poker” plan.
Make a plan
When you evaluate your game, it should be much more obvious how to win at poker. This is the time when we should make a plan how to fix your mistakes. If you chose to get professional database review, you will have a plan and can go straight to fixing your mistakes one by one and become a better player.
If you did not get some help in analyzing your game, you need to do that yourself and have a structure, since randomly going over hands will not help you learn much. In order to know where to concentrate your attention, you need to make that plan.
Your plan should contain:
- Prioritized you mistakes – identify the most important areas where you need to improve (you should know your leaks from evaluation part);
- Make a list from the biggest to smallest mistake – concentrate on fixing biggest first;
- Plan how to fix each of your mistakes – know are you going to take video courses, get some poker coaching or do all the work yourself by reviewing your hand histories (plan how you going to fix each mistake separately)
- Schedule for learning and playing – you have to devote specific time for learning. Otherwise, you will very likely skip it. Thus, decide when you going to learn and stick to that plan. Always know when you will be reviewing your hand histories or recordings of your play and be consistent with it. It is a great idea to plan your learning sessions at least once per week and do always do that on the same day to easily make a habit out of it.
Intuitively you would want to fix everything at once, but that is not going to work. After years of playing myself and teaching others, I am sure, that you need to separate your mistakes and fix it one by one. If you try to fix everything at once, you will get in a lot of trouble. You will not remember everything while playing so fixing one thing and only then, moving to another is a superior strategy.
There is no better place to start than mastering preflop strategy and this is where you should concentrate next.
Master preflop strategy
I talk about this a lot, but still feel like many players are missing the point. You simply can’t play good post flop if you make a lot of mistakes preflop – it is just impossible. If this is the case, then you end up having too many weak hands, bluffing too much or not bluffing enough. Either way, everything starts with your preflop strategy. If you really want to learn how to win at poker, you should start there as well.
Since I am playing 6max cash games and coaching this type of poker, I will concentrate on that. It is easy to find some hand charts of what hands you should be opening from different positions and if you have no idea about that, you can get my opening ranges by subscribing on the home page of this site. However, this is just a one drop in an ocean of information. You want to know what hands to defend when facing 3-bets in position and out of position, simply by calling or when to 4-bet. Moreover, you just need to have balanced 3-betting ranges yourself and build good fundaments in the way that no one could exploit you.
When you know how to defend your opening hands, you need to study blinds defense ranges, something that many people are missing. Most players defend same hands when they are facing 3x or 2x open and that is a huge mistake, you are getting different odds so you need to defend different ranges by calling and change your 3-bet range accordingly to that.
Lastly, just to finish the sweet list, you really need to learn your fundamental strategy and then learn how to exploit your opponents changing that strategy in the way, that you would be winning most money against a specific opponent.
It is a lot of information, so make sure to take your time and cover all of that. If you want to go easiest and fastest way I do have great news. I have an advanced course on preflop strategy – Preflop master. Every single student who took this course loved it. Most of them said that it was the best course they ever had and opened their eyes quite a bit. I cover everything that we talked about here in this course and if you decide to take it, you will have all your questions answered and play as good as possible in every single spot.
If you do not want to spend any money on learning this material, it is perfectly fine, you can do it yourself. It is going to take a bit more time and effort, but you can make a plan in the same way as we talked before. List all preflop areas that you need to learn and go over that, fixing it one by one! Remember, this step will allow you to have balanced ranges post flop and will save you from a ton of trouble later, so do not miss this part!
Learn to play versus different opponents
We touched this a bit in the preflop discussion, but it is an essential part if you really want to know how to win at poker. Well, winning is one thing, but if you really want to be a big winner and constantly move up, you have to be good at this and know how to exploit different opponents.
Most understand the need of it, but the problems come when you try to implement it in your game. Sure enough, you are aware what you should not be bluffing against a very passive recreational player. You know that you should 3-bet completely different ranges against good regular, someone who is folding too much or not folding at all.
Same goes post flop, it is easy to see this in practice when deciding what hands to c-bet. You really must have a balanced range versus regulars and include a fair share of value hands along with good bluffs. However, this approach is not the best one, against recreation players, since it is very likely that they are making a mistake of folding too much or floating too much. Depending on the mistake that they are making, we want to adjust our ranges and start betting much more as a bluff if he is folding too much, or betting weaker hands for value if he is not folding at all. This is the approach we should be taking in many different spots, thus we have to learn how to play versus different opponents.
If we do not have too many stats or specific information on our opponents, we should try to balance our ranges since we will not be able to guess how he plays. The truth is that if we are playing fully concentrated and absorbing all the information that we have, not just the stats of the HUD, we will quickly realize which kind of opponent we are playing against and adapt our strategy to crush him.
Thus, you need to prepare for this in advance and understand the value of different strategies. As we said, using a balanced approach and learning GTO poker strategy as your starting point is a great idea. When you know where to start you can simply use it against regulars or unknowns. However, when you encounter weaker players you want to be prepared for that and understand how to exploit passive or aggressive players by countering them with strategies made specifically to crush that type of players.
Along with our concentration and observation of players and table dynamics, the most powerful tool to gain information is your poker HUD. Your HUD can change your edge against your opponents, give additional information and let you effectively change your strategy based on that. I made my Advanced Poker HUD publicly available and you can easily improve your game with it. I as well as many of my students are using this HUD with great results, you can see the most important stats HERE and make your HUD yourself, based on this information. However, it took me more than 100 hours to finish mine, so be ready to spend some time working on it. Feel free to look inside and find out what the most important parts are and how you can use it.
When you have all the stats, you can easily identify your opponents and chose the best strategy to deal with them. So always, be aware of what player type you are playing and change your game according to that.
Master mental game
You need to understand that the margins in today’s games are quite small. This will create some variance and your results will be constantly moving up and down. You have to keep your head clear in those times and continue playing your A game. Remember – if there would be no variance and strongest players would always win, who would play against them? Probably not many.
Shocking as it is – variance is a good thing for us! It lets weaker players win, from time to time, and keeps them in the games. Otherwise, we would not have anyone to play against. Always keep that in mind after a losing session or when someone sucks out – it is just the part of the game, which we all love. We can’t win at poker every time when we play and it is essential to understand this.
A tip here is not to let your emotions control decisions that you make, this is an essential part of becoming a winning player, but sadly, many miss it. There are many steps you can take to control this – you should be spending few minutes before you play to prepare for your games, turn off distractions and get in the zone. (full article on this). Moreover, if you separate your poker games from real life you will be doing yourself a big favor as well.
If you will be able to manage your mental game, you will be playing at your best much more often. Since in this section, we are concentrating on the psychological side, I hardly recommend reading my FREE POKER BOOK on the mental game and self-management and learning how to win at poker much more frequently.
Concentrate on your decisions, not your results and you are good to go. If you have AA and put all in preflop versus 85o, just to see him flopping two pairs, do not waste your time and energy on that, just move forward. You did all you can, made the right decision so let it go. Think only about the actions that you can control – your decisions.
Keep consistent and always be learning
Days when it was enough to raise preflop and c-bet, to be literally printing money, are gone and it will never come back. Games are getting tougher and that is ok, we just have to deal with new reality and environment of our game. In order to win at poker, now we need to put much more work than we needed before, but again ti could be a good thing. Some players will be too lazy to improve; others will fall behind for different reasons. Therefore, if you are willing to work on your game you will have a chance to take on this game.
I hope that by now, you have a good understanding how to win at poker and are ready to take necessary steps. Stick to your learning plan and find some time to analyze your game, stats and review hands. Many people, especially, when running good forget about this part and think that they know it all. In most cases, it is not true and spending some time to learn new things and analyze your game is something that will let you be one-step ahead of your competition and always keep winning.
When you have all of those pieces added together, you are good to go. Just keep consistent with your decisions, do not jump from one game to another. If you decided to play cash games and spend your time learning it, you should not run some MTT games on the side or play occasional SNG when you feel like it. You have to put your time and energy to mastering one type of game and your results will speak for itself. I am not saying that if you are cash player you can’t play MTT on Sundays or something like that, but don’t make it a habit. Do not mix your games daily and do not spend your time trying to learn different things like Holdem, Omaha, Stud or any other game that it is.
Decide what you really want, make a choice and stick to it – this is how to win at poker!
While it is impossible to know how to win at poker every single time when you play, your goal is to make sure you are winning in the long run and that is the most important thing.
There is no secret how to win at poker and the best players make sure, they continue to do that, by simply working on their game, analyzing mistakes and doing everything, they can in order to improve their game. You can choose from a number of options how to study poker strategy – you can do that on your own, get some poker coaching or take video courses. Whichever you choose make sure to keep learning and progressing. You just have to “work your ass off” to become better. Follow simple steps that we covered:
- Evaluate your game;
- Make a plan to fix your mistakes;
- Master preflop strategy;
- Learn to play versus different opponents;
- Master your mental game;
- Keep consistent and always be learning.
Lastly, make sure to invest some of your time and money in getting help from poker software. I made a list of the best poker tools so take a look what you want to have when starting out. Do everything that we covered and you are good to go!