How to study poker (Part 2): Mid-stakes
Yesterday I discussed how to study for low-stakes games. Today I'd like to move up to the next level.
Studying for Mid-Stakes players
You learned the basics. You have a good idea of which hands you can play from each position, the standard betting sizes on each situation, and how to value-bet versus bad players, etc.
Now you want to move up and try to beat the mid-stakes, but things are not working as they used to at the low-stakes. The average player is better, and they won't pay you off with bad hands as often as they did at the low-stakes.
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What can you do to keep improving now?
Since you already know the basics, I recommend that from now on you focus on studying one single topic per week or even per month. If you try to study too many different subjects during a short period of time, you will probably not really get the full benefits of your studying time, and you will forget what you learned after some time. It doesn't matter how much you are learning now. What matters is how much you are retaining.
Regarding time management, you probably need to spend more time playing at this point if you have bills to pay, but I would recommend that you to spend at least 20% of your poker time studying, and if you can manage it maybe up to 50% of your time.
Don't forget that studying poker is a never-ending process.
I think that at this point two things can be introduced into your Studying routine:
• Using Poker Software
• Getting Coaching
Using Poker Software
There are two main kinds of Poker software that you need to know about:
Trackers will allow you to get information about your opponents and yourself. The calculators will help you figure out what to do with that information.
Holdem Manager and Poker Tracker are the two most popular Trackers/HUDs. These tools will save the poker hands generated from the PokerStars client and turn them into a database where you will be able to search for specific kinds of scenarios and have stats available while you play.
As for the heads-up display, I think that it's optional. There are many top players that play without it. However, I think that at this point the tracker part can be extremely helpful.
Once you have a database with some hands, you can filter specific spots of your game to find leaks, like checking how you are performing with each different hand by position, how your three-bets are performing, review a particular tournament or session, etc.
Also you will be able to see the hands that you played against a particular player and study the tendencies of your opponents in order to beat them. By doing this not only you will learn how to beat a specific opponent, but also opponents with similar styles.
These tools have a trial period, so you can try them out for free and see which one you prefer.
There are many different calculators available, but I think that everyone should get PokerStove no matter what game you are playing since it's free and it is pretty good at calculating the equity that a hand or a range have against another hand or another range.
If you are playing tournaments, you should either buy a subscription of ICMizer, HoldemResources Calculator, or buy a license of Sit-n-Go Wizard.
These calculators allow you to do some complex ICM calculations that you would spend way too much time doing on your own and get a feeling of what are the best ranges for the most common situations. It will also map them out in a spreadsheet if you feel the need. You will also be able to study how different structures affect the play and that the exact same hand with a different tournament structure can be played in a different way.
After talking with some pros I get the feeling that sit-n-go players prefer ICMizer and tournament players prefer Holdem Resources, but they usually have some free queries or free trials, so you should probably try them all out.
If you are playing a lot of flops, I also like Flopzilla. It calculates how a hand or a range of hands will perform in a type of flops and how often they will flop a certain holding. This will let you understand better what to expect from each hand after the flop, which will lead to better pre-flop decisions. It will also help you understand how your opponent's range will perform in a certain flop or flop kind, and this will allow for better post-flop decisions.
I think that getting coached is probably the fastest way to learn. The obvious drawback is that unless you have a friend that will coach you for free, you will have to pay for it. So, I think that it's more adequate for mid-stakes players since at this point you will already have a bankroll, and you will be able to get a good return on the coaching investment.
You can ask friends or at forums or social networks who are the best coaches around for the stakes you are playing and then try to reach them through their webpages or Facebook/Twitter pages.
You will have to pay per hour, and most likely it's going to be some hours of your hard earned money at the lower stakes. This means that you should get as much value as possible from the time you spend with your coach, and to do that you should ask in advance what he thinks is the best playing plan and studying plan for you. For each coaching session, you should spend some time preparing questions about the topics you are studying and hands that you specifically want to review with your coach and that you couldn't review on your own.
A good coach will not only help you with your questions, but will be a guide. Last year during my challenge I had some coaching sessions with former Team Online member Andrew Brokos and I strongly recommend him as a coach.
You can watch for free some of our coaching sessions and not only learn from them, but also get a better feeling about how the coaching process works.
Questions to ask
How to apply what I learned while studying?
When I study everything looks easy, but then when it's time to play, I can't apply the concepts. How do I fix that?
How do I really absorb the concepts in the long run and not just forget after a while?