How to Succeed in Poker

We want to explain some things that are going to be vital for your success in poker. If you want to become a semi-professional or professional player or just a profitable amateur, you are going to have to do more than just study the game. All of the best poker players know you need proper bankroll management, a bankroll management plan, a way to manage tilt and crucially start building a database of your play. 

Developing your bankroll management plan

Almost all of the richest professional poker players started from nothing and if they kept going broke throughout their career they wouldn’t be where they are today. As we explain in the bankroll management section, bankroll management depends heavily on the stakes you are playing, how easy it is to replenish your bankroll, and if you are relying on poker for your main source of income or not. It’s a personal decision for you. If you are playing 5nl after work, we recommend taking more risks if you can replenish a $100 bankroll easily as the rake is so high in the micros you are best trying to move up as soon as possible. If you are playing 100nl or 200nl it may not be feasible for you to just go and replace your bankroll and so you need to be more careful. You need to protect your bankroll like you would any other income-producing asset. You would insure a house or monitor your investments in the stock market and your poker bankroll is no different. Protect it and monitor it. 

Let’s say you have 20 buy-ins at 50NL, you now need to come up with a strict plan. Type the plan out and save it to your phone or computer. The plan should detail exactly when you are going to move down in stakes and exactly when you will shot-take. For example, with your 20 buy-ins at 50NL you may decide you will be willing to lose 5 at that stake and when you drop to 15 buy-ins you will go down to 25NL (giving you 30-buy-ins at that stake). If you lose 10 buy-ins at 25NL then you might decide to drop down to 10nl giving you 50 buy-ins at that stake). You may decide to take a more aggressive approach, but the important part is you worked it out ahead of time and created a plan that you now need to stick to. 

Managing tilt

Any professional poker player will go on bad losing streaks from time to time. Do you remember Daniel Negreanu’s horrible run on high stakes poker? Most people have seen the famous quads hand vs Gus Hanson. This is part of the game and your success depends on how you manage it. The absolute best tip we can give is to stick to your bankroll management plan. If you stick to it you will avoid going to go play higher stakes to try to get your money back. This is probably the number one cause of someone losing their entire bankroll.

We highly recommend you decide how long you are going to play before you start playing and never play for too long. Being tired is a form of tilt. You may believe the other players are so bad you can beat them even when tired, but you are too tired to realize the mistakes you are inevitably making. If you are an experienced player you probably won’t make many big obvious mistakes, but you will likely make lots of little mistakes, especially in small pots. You might misread the board, miss an easy bluff in a small pot, or get into difficult spots where you have to decide to bluff catch while you are playing other tables and your brain can’t process all the available information fast enough. You may not think this happens to you but it does, it happens to everyone.

If you are going to play poker full-time it is best to play 2 – 3 hours at a time and take a break between those sessions. A good schedule might be that you play two hours from 10 am to 12 pm, two hours from 1 pm to 3 pm and two hours from 5 pm to 7 pm. You can then spend the rest of the night reviewing hands or studying or go back for another session for 2 – 3 hours before bed. You just need to adapt it to work for you and your lifestyle. What you shouldn’t do is wake up and play 5 or 6 hours straight. You won’t realize it at the time, but you will start making some big mistakes. There are going to be exceptions to this rule if there is a big whale at one of the tables but in that case, you can start limiting the number of tables you are playing and you should still be able to get a coffee, some water, or a snack between hands if it is just one table you have opened. 

Creating a database

On most poker sites you can download your hand history or use a HUD to save your hands into a database on your PC. We recommend PokerTracker 4 if you play on Ignition because you get an Ignition hand grabber for free. Otherwise, you can use either PokerTracker4 or Holdem Manager 3. The benefit of these programs is they have some excellent database analysis tools.

Database analysis involves going through the hands you have played and working out the spots where you do not win enough or lose too much. You need a good sample size for this, especially for uncommon spots. You should start to get an idea of your win rates in very common spots after about 20,000 hands though. You may see that you are losing too much in the big blind or not making enough money when you raise on the button or in the small blind. That can give you a clue for areas where you need to focus your study. Later on, when you get a larger sample you can start looking at 3 bet and 4 bet pots, your win rates when you check-raise or call a check-raise as well as gain some insights about how regulars in your pool tend to play.

Performing an analysis of your database is quite simple in a technical sense. Both PokerTracker 4 and Holdem Manager 3 make it quite easy to do and you don’t need any technical know-how but if you are new to database analysis you may not know what to look for. You may be able to find your win rate when you raise first in when in the cutoff but you may not know if it is a good win rate or not. A coach can be very helpful for this.

As this is a beginner guide, we are not going to go through how to perform a database analysis here but we may do so in a future blog post. What you should focus on right now is building your database so you have something to work with. It’s very hard to improve and plug leaks in your game without having a database. For this reason, we recommend live players also try playing some micro stakes online games to build a database. 

You can build a database on most sites. If you can’t then we recommend you play elsewhere. Even on soft anonymous sites such as Ignition Casino, you can build your database. While you only get session stats for the HUD, all your hands can be captured by PokerTracker 4. The anonymous aspect just means you only see their stats for as long as they are at the table. If you want to use a HUD when playing we recommend America’s Card Room (ACR).

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