Winning poker is difficult to define and everybody has a slightly different definition. Most players want to know how to play winning poker but don’t know how to get there. I’ve played the game for nearly a decade now (casually and more seriously) and there are some critical lessons I have learned along the way.
Playing exploitively is the key to winning poker. Far too many people are distracting themselves focusing on GTO ranges when they should be finding their edge and maximizing it. To the extent that learning GTO means understanding basic ranges so you can deviate from them where appropriate, fantastic… However, if you are failing to think creatively and exploitively about the game because your mind is immersed in GTO, then you have a problem. I even wrote a book on it, literally. If you don’t already grab a copy of Exploitive No Limit Holdem, shameless plug :).
Adapt or die! Winning poker means that you have the ability to adapt when necessary. In my 10 years in the game I have played multiple games. At times I have played tournaments, limit hold’em, no limit hold’em, pot limit omaha, and occasionally even omaha hi/lo. The best players are the ones that are able to reshape themselves as necessary to play in the game that offers the greatest opportunities. Don’t be afraid to explore new opportunities if they present themselves.
It is easier to be a TAG vs a LAG over time. I have seen a lot of young players come and go who played a super LAG style of play. Unfortunately, if you are a LAG there are often many more marginal situations to deal with. Some players don’t deal well with these situations – this is particularly the case when they are running horribly. So, in the long run most players are better off putting themselves into positions where they have a more clearly defined edge. Personally, I think hybrid TAG / LAG players are the most effective because they are able to toggle between the modes depending on the situation. In situations where there is a very high value player at the table they will be a LAG, but at the end of the day when exhausted they may act more like a TAG. I consider myself to be LAG / TAG hybrid who generally leans toward being a LAG. Frankly, I just can’t help myself lol.
Managing your bankroll is extremely important. Every player needs to find their own ideal strategy, but it should be clearly defined. I like to have a “primary roll” and a “backup roll” that I can play at smaller stakes with in the event I bust my primary roll. This allows me to be a bit more aggressive with my primary bankroll and maximize opportunities. What size of roll is appropriate for you will depend on the games you play in and your skill level. The higher your win rate the less downside variance you will experience and the lower your winrate the greater downside variance you will encounter.
Managing your emotional state is important. It is easy to get too high or too low in this game, and over time you need to strike a balance. Shorter sessions can help to keep your emotions in check, and I always recommend exercising and a generally good diet.
Your red line matters. Any tight player can show positive showdown winnings, but only high quality players are able to have flat or positive red-lines while maintaining positive showdown winnings. In my experience it is good to have your non-showdown winnings be close to the flat-line.
Learn to fold top pair hands is an important part of playing winning poker. This is an issue that many beginning poker players struggle with. In particular it may be difficult to get away from top pair good kicker and even small overpairs. However, if you are only in a raised pot it is generally best to proceed with caution unless you are up against a very weak player.
Don’t fix your ranges (3 bet, 4 bet, fold 3 bet, flop c-bet %, fold cbet %, etc, etc) too much. This ties in a bit with #1. Your ranges should vary dramatically at times depending on the opportunities that present themselves.
Don’t overplay your draws. Keep in mind that most draws are at an equity disadvantage and putting too much money in while behind is never a good idea. There are times when it makes sense to play draws aggressively early in the hand to exploit huge weaknesses on later streets. However, I see far too many players just slinging chips in with draws when they should be more passive with them. Bottom line: unless you have a reason to play a draw aggressively wait until it hits and then put the chips in.
Sweat the small hands. Over thousands of hands the little decisions add up and often exceed bigger hands. In fact, big hands often play themselves while small situations are more complex. When you are conducting hand reviews make sure you find a balance between big hands and small.
I could go on, but for now that is it! If you get one thing from this post just remember to think exploitively!
-ThePokerCapitalist (No nonsense, no ads, straight talk on poker)