How to study poker (Part 1): Low-stakes
Some decades ago, people would just play poker, think about hands on their own, and maybe read one of the few poker books that were available at the time. They could only play a few hands per month, and it would take a lot of time to learn the fundamentals.
Nowadays it's a lot easier to learn how to play and improve at poker, so while things might be a lot worse for the lazy ones since the games got a bit tougher, they are definitely better for the people that are eager to work hard and improve.
Are you eager to work hard and improve your game, but you don't know exactly what to do? Than this article is for you.
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Reasons to Study
Poker is a game of mistakes where your goal is to make fewer mistakes than your opponent, or at least less costly mistakes. To make fewer mistakes you will need to spend some time studying, and this is a process that never ends because most of your opponents are working on their game as well and trying to make fewer mistakes. Whoever studies less or less efficiently will be the one losing the battle of mistakes.
If you just keep playing, you will most likely end up doing the same things over and over, creating a lot of repetitiveness, and most likely get stuck in stakes or have to move down eventually. While if you study, you will keep learning new things and keep the game fresh and new for yourself.
If you find yourself wondering during a downswing if you are playing bad or it's just negative variance, that probably means that you need to study. By getting solid data/reasoning to support your plays, you will be more sure about them and you will find yourself more focused on improving your game and less focused on the daily swings.
To be honest , starting to study sometimes can be like going out to run on a rainy day. I rarely feel like leaving the house, but once I do it's awesome.
Since you will need different studying methods as you move forward on your poker career, I will divide the article in two parts to keep things organized and try to share with you what I learned in my years as a professional Poker player:
Today, I'll address low-stakes. Tomorrow, I'll talk about studying for mid-stakes.
Studying for Low-Stakes Players
When you start there are a few options to learn and I think that it really depends on what fits best your personal style.
When I'm learning a new format, I personally like to read a book about a game, play a bit on my own to try out some concepts and then try to review some hands that I struggle with while playing. Then when I feel like I got all the concepts from the book, I like to move to videos that tend to be a bit more advanced.
I try to spend around 50% of my time studying and 50% playing, but if I don't feel like playing, I will spend a bigger share of my poker time Studying.
But that's me and you will need to find out what works better for you.
You probably need at least two of the following four methods to really optimize the learning process:
• Reading Books
• Watching Strategy Videos
• Participating in Forums
• Discussing hands with Friends
Reading a good Book can speed up the learning process a lot.
Back when I started playing Fixed-Limit cash games were very popular, and I still remember reading my first poker book ("Internet Texas Hold'em: Winning Strategies for Full-ring and Short-handed Games" by Mathew Hilger). I learned a lot from it, and I started showing a consistent profit right after.
Nowadays fixed-limit games are not as popular as they used to be, and I strongly recommend starting with a Texas Hold'em No Limit game, so I will give you my personal suggestions for books depending on which format you choose:
• Cash Games: "Small Stakes No-Limit Hold'em" by Ed Miller, Matt Flynn and Sunny Mehta
• Tournaments: "Secrets of Sit'n'Gos" by Phil Shaw
Both books are very well organized and really give you a good structure to start learning either game.
Watching Strategy Videos
Videos are my next option, since most people tend to retain information better when they watch a video than when they read a book.
One thing that I must warn you is that I'm not telling you to watch live tournaments videos or live cash games. While there is certain value in these videos, new players will probably get more confused from watching this kind of videos than not, and by trying to use a high-stakes play in the wrong context they will just fail miserably and become the type of player that says:
"I don't like to play low stakes. People never fold! If I had more money, I'm sure I would beat the higher stakes. To win at poker you need money!"
While there Is some truth in these sentences, these players fail to understand that to win at poker you always need to adjust to the games you are playing, and if at low stakes people are clueless and their biggest mistake is to stack-off too light, then you should just try to get into that kind of spot as often as possible with a stronger hand and build your bankroll like that.
So, what kind of videos should you watch after all?
1. Explanations of theoretical concepts
2. A good player playing low-stakes and explaining his/her thought process
You want to watch videos from players that can beat higher stakes, then the ones you are playing and are good at explaining their thought process. These videos will allow you to learn the fundamentals in a very structured way, and very often you can leave a comment on the video page asking for questions creating a very interactive form of learning.
While some sites with videos require you to pay, for beginners you will find a lot of great content on PokerSchoolOnline and my YouTube page for free.
Participating in Forums
Studying poker by reading books or watching videos can be kind of a lonely road.
Participating in forums on the other hand can add a social component to studying and make it more interesting, while everyone involved improves together.
Keep in mind though that forums work by giving and receiving.
You should feel free to post hands and ask questions about the stuff you are studying. You should read the feedback you get very carefully but not take anything people say for granted. Listen to everyone and think about what people say, but in the end you will need to use your own brain to decide what makes sense or not. I guess that this is also true for book and videos, but since you are learning from a professional, it's less of a concern. Also follow threads that interest you and if you can help someone, just do it.
There are a lot of poker forums available online, and once again while some are paid, you can use PokerSchoolOnline forum for free, as well as the 2+2 forum, which is the most popular.
Discussing hands with friends
If you have friends that are interested in the same games and stakes, you can discuss hands with them. Nowadays with Boomplayer it's super easy to boom a hand, share it on Twitter/Facebook or Skype and ask your friends their thoughts. I guess that it's similar to forums, but you get to choose who sees your hand, while the forums I mentioned are open communities.
You need to choose very carefully who you listen to, because there is more bad advice going around than good advice, and if you have a friend that is successful at higher stakes, ask him/her as much as possible since that will probably be a very good source of advice.
Balancing Playing with Studying
Most people playing low-stakes are not playing poker full-time and with a very limited amount of time to dedicate to poker, a common question is: "How many hours per week should I study?"
I think that at this point you want to study at least as many hours as you play, because you don't have to worry about paying your bills from poker, so there is no pressure on you to grind.
On the other hand, you want to try out what you are learning and see it working, so there is a need to find a fine balance and not just over-study.
I would suggest studying between 50% and 75% of your poker time and playing between 25% and 50% of your poker time.
Tomorrow I'll discuss studying at mid-stakes. Now, get to work.