Level 1: Noob
Are you ready to take your poker game to the next level? If you’re a beginner at poker theory, you fall into the category of “noob” player. Even if you’ve been dabbling in the game for a while, it’s time to take your skills to new heights. Typically, players at this level are just starting out at low and micro-stakes tables and may not have the best win rate yet.
But fear not, there is a clear path to improvement. The number one way for you to sharpen your skills is by delving into the fascinating world of combinatorics. Specifically, combo counting and range analysis are key concepts to master. These techniques will allow you to accurately gauge the strength of your hand in relation to the board and the preflop ranges of your opponents. Instead of getting bogged down in individual hands, you’ll learn to focus on the bigger picture – the relative strength of your cards in the grand scheme of the game.
One invaluable tool on your journey to poker mastery is Equilab. The free version of this software is packed with essential features to help you grasp combo counting. With Equilab, you can input your hand or range and compare it to your opponent’s, as well as rank your own hands within your range.
To really drive the concepts home, try this exercise for beginners: write down your preflop range and your opponent’s preflop range. Then, as the game progresses and the board changes from preflop to the river, think about where your hand ranks in relation to everyone else’s. Repeat this exercise a few hundred times and watch as your understanding of the shifting dynamics of the game deepens and evolves.
Level 2: Novice
Welcome to the world of poker, novice player! You’ve taken the first step towards mastering the game by wanting to improve your skills and beat those micro and low stakes games. But don’t worry, even the best players started out where you are now – with a win rate of around zero.
Are you ready to take your game to the next level? The key to your success is studying with a solver. Solvers are powerful tools that can help you analyze your game and make better decisions. But, as a novice player, it’s important to remember that creating your own simulations is not the way to go. It’s easy to make mistakes and you might end up wasting your time. That’s why I recommend using the simulations of more advanced players. Zenith Poker has an extensive library of free simulations for the solver GTOplus. GTOplus is beginner-friendly, easy to use, and inexpensive. Plus, you can watch free videos on how to use it on the Zenith Poker website.
As you start using a solver, make sure to incorporate solver study into your training routine. Consistency is key when it comes to improving your game. I recommend studying for one hour for every 3-5 hours of playing time. And don’t forget, play is also critical at this stage, as you need to make mistakes during play to improve.
Another way to improve your game is by analyzing your own hands. Compare the hands you played to similar spots in the solver. How did the solver play that particular combination? Did the solver choose a different bet size for that combo? What is the EV of this combo in this line? How much equity does it have against the opponent’s range? Where does this hand rank in my own range? These are all important questions to consider as you improve your game.
Creating a basic study routine should be an early goal for you as a novice player. Even if you only play one session per week, make sure to include an hour of study into your schedule. This will prime your mind to play and identify your weaknesses.
Finally, don’t be afraid to reach out and connect with other players. There are many free or paid poker study groups that you can join online. One free group to meet other players is the Zenith Poker Community Discord group. You can find a link to this group in the description. Pinging ideas off other people and comparing notes on hand histories is a great way to improve quickly. So, grab your solver and let’s start dominating those micro and low stakes games!
Level 3: Regular
As an intermediate or Regular player, you’re on the cusp of greatness. You’ve put in the time, and you’re starting to see the fruits of your labor with small-positive win rates at 25NL to 100NL. But, to truly take your game to the next level, it’s time to step up your study game.
Gone are the days of grinding for hours on end without incorporating good study habits into your routine. Instead, think of your study sessions as going to the gym or practicing for a sport – it’s consistent and sustained deliberate practice that will take you from low stakes to small stakes. The key is to increase your study volume. I recommend one hour of study for every 2-3 hours of play for players looking to move up rapidly.
But what should you study? My advice is to take a breadth-first approach. The game of No-Limit Hold’em is vast, and there are countless different formations and scenarios. By getting exposure to a wide variety of spots, you’ll train your intuition about the game more effectively than studying a few spots in extreme detail. A great way to do this is by looking at large databases of simulations, such as the free sims in the Zenith Poker Library. With over 3000 sims on a variety of different formations, you’ll have over 200 hours of study time if you spend 1-2 hours on each database.
When it comes to simulations, quality is key. Low-quality simulations can lead to missed or suboptimal bet sizes. Look for simulations with three or more sizes per node, including multiple raise sizes. The player making a raise is often doing so to set up the stack to pot ratio over the turn and the river for an all-in. A solver that lacks sufficient raise sizes will have a suppressed raising frequency.
In short, as an intermediate player, the key to success is to increase your study volume and focus on high-quality simulations. With consistent effort over a sustained period, you’ll be beating 200NL in no time. And who knows, you may even find yourself joining the ranks of the elite.
Level 4: Expert
As an expert player, you are a force to be reckoned with at the low-stakes and have the courage to take on the small and mid-stakes. You have been studying poker consistently for over a year and have even started creating your own simulations. Battling at the 200NL and 500NL levels, you have a broad understanding of the game and are comfortable in the most common formations. But don’t let that comfort fool you, the road to becoming a true poker elite is never-ending.
My advice to you, the expert player, is to make sure you have a solid foundation in optimal theory. It’s crucial to have studied a wide variety of formations at least once, but for the more common ones, you should spend more time digging into the subtleties of each simulation. Focus on playing optimally across many different runouts and learn different ways of playing the same combo for that runout. For example, try comparing how a particular hand plays as a bet vs as a check-raise. As an expert, you need to have both breadth and depth in your game.
Once you feel comfortable playing close to equilibrium, it’s time to take it to the next level and look for deviations from equilibrium. By doing this, you can increase your win rate against weaker players. Take the equilibrium solutions and work with the solver to node-lock the opponents’ deviations. The solver produces an answer that increases your win rate above equilibrium. But be careful, for nodes you have not locked, the solver produces strategies for the opponent to counteract the mistake locked into the simulation.
This is the time when you should start considering getting a coach or paid training. Having a coach means you have a professional player giving you objective feedback about your game. They will point you in the right direction and help you optimize your study. Paid training will also help broaden your approach to the game, as you will get an elite player’s explanation about the nuances in the solutions during the training. So don’t be afraid to invest in yourself, it’s the best way to take your game to the next level.
Level 5: Pro
As a professional poker player, you’re in the upper echelon of the poker world. You’ve put in the time and effort to master the game, and now it’s time to take your skills to the next level. But how do you do that? How do you continue to improve and increase your profitability?
One key to success as a pro player is to focus on your hourly rate. This is the amount of money you make per hour, and it’s determined by your win rate (how much you win per hand) multiplied by your hands per hour. To increase your profitability, you can either win more per hand or play faster. However, it’s important to remember that playing faster can decrease the quality of your play and thus decrease your win rate. On the other hand, playing higher-quality hands takes more time per decision, which can decrease your hands per hour.
To strike the perfect balance, I recommend pro players focus on increasing the number of tables they play. Playing at least 2 zoom tables or more than 4 regular tables is critical to long-term success as a pro. However, playing too many tables can also be detrimental. So, my recommendation is to play 2-3 zoom tables and 4-8 regular tables simultaneously.
Once you’re comfortable with this many tables, it’s time to focus on the quality of your play. With an increased rate of play, it’s easier to make mistakes, so it’s important to play your A-game for as long as possible and on as many tables as possible. One bad session can wipe out multiple winning sessions, so it’s crucial to keep your focus sharp.
Another important aspect of being a pro player is managing fatigue. When you’re playing hundreds of hands per hour, the number of decisions can drain your mind. To combat this, it’s vital to schedule shorter sessions with lots of breaks. I recommend playing at most 3 sessions of 2 hours each per day. If you’re not feeling well or well-rested, it’s better to take a break and focus on studying.
Finally, it’s important to treat yourself like an e-sports athlete. Since online poker is a sedentary activity, it’s crucial to maintain your physical fitness. Regular exercise can help with clarity of thought, and sleep is also important for making good decisions and learning from your studies.