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 different 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 were 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, and you can find your leaks yourself. If you want to do that, check out my step-by-step guide on 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 on how to fix your mistakes. If you chose to get a 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 your 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 if you are 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 raising 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 Texas Holdem 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.
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!
To get a quick start, you can get my opening ranges in Texas Holdem cheat sheets format.
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 for it, but the problems come when you try to implement it in your game. Sure enough, you are aware of 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.