Talk it out!
People often talk about how much tougher poker is today than it was four years ago. They're right about that but that doesn't mean that the games are unbeatable. It just means that the old ways of improving aren't the best ways anymore.
When I started to play poker 8 or 9 years ago I had no information. I had no good players around me. In Hungary, the whole poker boom had just started. I was one of those guys who was starting to hit international tournaments. I didn't have too many friends to discuss strategies and basic ideas about the game. Back then I bought a bunch of books and tried to learn from them.
Now I find that analyzing my own game with other people is probably the best way to improve - and it's a lot faster as well. Now I feel that in one day or one session I can learn ten times more than I could in a month when I first started to play.
The basis for most of my knowledge these days is five of my poker-playing friends. These guys are all Hungarians. We met each other playing live poker in Budapest or at EPT events and became friends really fast. We share everything with each other and try to learn from our mistakes.
The five of us have sessions every Thursday where we come together and talk about poker for six to eight hours. Before a session starts, we figure out what type of hands we'd like to discuss. Maybe it has be a 4-bet PLO hand with no aces. Everybody collects his own hands and then we get together and run through them one by one. Everybody's got his laptop open and we just go hand by hand on a big-screen TV. We talk about the hand, the graphs, the stats of the opponents, everything.
With five of us, usually everybody has a different idea about how to play tough hands and about the best way to maximize your value or minimize your losses. There is one guy who is a little bit tighter than the others and one guy who is a crazy maniac. We also have a 10-15 year gap in ages in the group. Bringing all these viewpoints together is a great way to find different ways to play in different situations against different opponents.
We focus most on complicated decisions. Usually they come up in a deep cash games instead of tournaments. Lately we've spent a lot of time discussing 6-max PLO. The best value to me of these strategy sessions is finding my biggest leaks and trying to remove them from my game. At the same time, I get to share my opinion about my friends' leaks and maybe that's the way we find new strategies.
To me this is the most important part keeping up with the other guys, with the regulars you see day in and day out, the guys who are the big winners. You have to talk things through with other people. It may take more work than it did when I first started to play online poker, but with a great group of friends that you trust 100% it's not as difficult to keep up with the game as it might seem.
Richard Toth is a member of Team PokerStars Pro