Becoming A Successful Poker Player

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One of the greatest pieces of advice you can ever get as a poker player is summed up in the title of Dusty “Leatherass” Schmidt's 2012 book:

“Treat Your Poker Like a Business”

For example:

  • You’re not going to play as effectively when you’re tired, so don’t play then.
  • You’re not going to play well when you’re emotionally distressed, so don’t play then.
  • You’re not going to make good decisions when under the influence of alcohol, so don’t play then.
  • You’re not going to be a successful poker player by constantly breaking your own bankroll management rules, so don’t break them.

On the flip side:

  • Get your mind settled and “in the zone” by watching a training video briefly before your session.
  • Make sure you don’t set yourself up to be easily distracted during your sessions (i.e. phone off, TV off).
  • Take deep breaths and relax your mind beforehand to promote peak awareness and optimal decision-making at the table.
  • If you have a choice of table selection, pick the table where you see more fish, instead of trying to always swim with the sharks.

Ultimately, when you treat your poker like a business instead of a fun pastime, you will enhance your gameplay, optimise your decisions, increase your ROI, and improve your overall skill.

Throughout this chapter, we’ll be sharing with you some of the key personality traits and elements for a successful poker career. You must cultivate them and continue to practise them in your life, to be a consistent, profitable poker player in the years ahead.

Mindset of a Pro

As we’ve said before, poker players have to be mentally resilient. Not only must they have solid hand-reading and reasoning skills, but they must also be in-tune with how their opponents are likely to think and act throughout a hand. All the while keeping a firm grip on their emotional state.

To promote this, they must embrace playing poker as a lifestyle and business and continuously think of it as such. For example, every professional realises that the amount of money they make isn’t only based on what happens when they’re at the tables, but also what happens when they’re away from the tables.

Let’s elaborate on some of the factors that contribute to the mindset of a successful poker pro.

No Tilting

Poker professionals must be able to accept variance and not allow the bad beats negatively influence their gameplay. Optimal play comes from sound logic and not from emotionally influenced decisions. If you want to be profitable, you must keep a firm grip on your emotional state.

Fish can tilt, and it’s somewhat expected of them. However, it’s the sharks’ responsibility to feast on the fish, even more, when they’re tilting, as opposed to allowing tilt to get the best of their own play.

Some poker professionals know that they don’t take bad beats well. They tend to bleed off more chips and reload again and again after each loss. While having this trait is not necessarily a good thing, being aware of it is. A simple fix some pros implement is imposing a “stop-loss” limit for each day of play.

For example, if they lose any more than two buy-ins in one day, they stop playing for the remainder of the day. By doing this, they allow themselves time to cool down and repair their current negative emotional state, all while preserving their bankroll from being depleting into oblivion.

Rest Up!

The importance of getting enough sleep each night cannot be stressed enough! The human brain cannot function at its peak with a lack of sleep. Therefore, it’s important to get at least 7-8 hours of sleep every night on a consistent basis.

Poker players may create their own schedules, but a lot of the time, their sessions can turn out to being very long ones. Whether these lengthy, extreme time frames come from super-long cash game grinds or multi-day, 12-hours-a-day live tournaments, the grind can become mentally exhausting. To maintain an edge over the other players, it’s important to stay sharp and keep a solid mental state. Getting enough sleep each night can easily rectify that, keeping you sharp and raring to go.

Just think. In a tournament, one poor decision can cost you your tournament life (whether you’re just starting out, on the money bubble, or battling it out heads-up for a huge cash prize jump).

Rest is an important part of the game. You must be diligent to get enough rest on a daily basis, so that you can minimise your mistakes and play optimal poker during each hand of play.

Take Breaks

Having to stay sharp for hours on end can wear you down. However, tournaments usually have regularly scheduled breaks, and for cash games you can take a break anytime you please. Be sure you take advantage of these breaks whenever you can! Getting yourself away from the game, even for small periods of time, can certainly help you stay refreshed and focused while at the table.

The same idea of taking breaks can also be applied over the long-term. For example, whether you’re suffering from losing too much money, severe emotional distress, not making optimal decisions, or simply not feeling up to playing poker anymore, don’t be afraid to take day- or week-long breaks in your schedule. Taking a bit of time off can help re-ignite that spark and restore winning ways to your play.

So, whenever you feel the need to take a break – whether it’s a few minutes or a few days – take it! It just might give you back that winning edge you’ve been lacking,  allowing you to come back even stronger!

Don’t Play Other Casino Games

Believe it or not, this one isn’t just for live players. Even online poker websites are now starting to include easy-to-click links that take you to other casino games they offer.

Remember, any casino game other than poker is not going to give you as big of an edge. Casino games are just pure gambling – flipping a coin, weighted in favour of the house. While you might experience short-term wins in slots or other table games, the casino will almost always beat you over the long run in non-poker-related games.

In poker, however, you have the ability to control your EV by using your skill to outplay opponents. You can choose to fold certain hands to minimise your losses, while value-betting others to maximise your wins.

Therefore, it’s a good idea to stick to poker and leave the title of professional “gambler” to the hardcore players.

Whole-Body Wellness

Science has shown a strong relation between mind and body interconnectivity. What this means is that you can’t expect to have a sharp mind, if you don’t take care of your body. Similarly, you can’t expect to have great health, if you don’t take care of your mind. Therefore, if you want to have a healthy brain to help you make optimal decisions at the poker table, you must consciously work to have good physical health, as well.

Getting 30 minutes of physical activity 3 times a week should be the minimum amount of exercise you should strive to achieve. The easiest way to stick to a workout schedule is to get into a routine, enabling you to follow it automatically, without too much thinking.

Getting 30 minutes of physical activity 3 times a week should be the minimum amount of exercise you should strive to achieve. The easiest way to stick to a workout schedule is to get into a routine and be able to follow it automatically, without too much thinking.

Simultaneously, eating healthy foods is imperative for poker players, especially considering their sedentary lifestyle and the need for a peak mental state while playing. Certain junk or fried foods may be okay in moderation, but these should never be the staples of your diet. Avoid having too many high-carb foods, as they will make you feel sluggish while you play.

Bottom line, always watch what you eat, both at and away from the tables, and be sure to keep fit and exercise each week.

Studying, Training & Preparation

Just as in any other line of work, if you want to be at the top of your game and a leader in your industry, continuous study and training are always required.

The same can be said for poker. You must always explore other methods of play and strategy while keeping up with the game’s trends. You should also be open to new ideas, concepts, tips, strategies, and playing styles.

It can be said that, in poker, half of your results comes from preparation and the other half from your actual play. Just as a footballer would never step out onto the pitch before a game, without having first practised, warmed-up, and kitted up with the right gear.

Likewise, it would be detrimental to your results, to not include any sort of training or review sessions included in your weekly schedule.

If you want good results in poker, you have to put in a decent amount of study and preparation. Here are a list of various studying options and activities you can do to improve your skill level. 

  • Hand Reviews: In many HUD’s, you have the ability to “mark” a hand you recently played so that you can review it later for post-play analysis. You can review it on your own, or you can review it with a poker buddy and get someone else’s opinion on the hand. No matter how you choose to do it, evaluating your hands is an essential part of improving your play. Sometimes, it’s difficult to make good decisions when under the strict time-constraints that online poker rooms have for each move. Analysing your hands will allow you to identify your leaks and fix any mistakes in your gameplay or strategy. 
  • Friends: Talking poker with your poker buddies can be a great, fun, and easy way to improve all of your poker skills. It can keep you focused while still being open to new interpretations of how individual hands or the game (in general) should be played. Creatively discussing various options for gameplay with friends can be quite beneficial and helpful in improving your own game. 
  • Forums: With the emergence of online poker, you may not necessarily have any poker buddies who live close by, and who you can have face-to-face study sessions with. For this reason, forums are a great way to connect with the rest of the poker world and discuss the game of poker with others. You can get the opinions of many people at once (as opposed to just one), and it’s also a great way to develop friendships and make new poker buddies on a global scale. 
  • Coaches: Renowned pros have made this form of study famous, charging clients up to thousands of dollars for just one hour of their time. However, there are many less expensive, equally-as-valuable options for poker coaching to fit any player’s budget. These coaches have experience and results to back it up, and they can help increase the level of your game, in leaps and bounds, in a relatively short period of time. When sourcing a poker mentor, be sure to hire someone who has proven results, is reputable, and whose style of play you respect. 
  • Watch Training Videos: Many long-established websites provide training videos for aspiring poker players and professionals to help them improve their game. They are usually hand history or recorded session reviews of a poker coach discussing good poker strategy, as well as new concepts. In essence, this method is less personalised than having a dedicated poker coach, but it can be just as valuable. In addition to setting aside specific time to study via training videos, you can also watch one short poker training video before each playing session. This method will help you get into the zone and allow you to apply new, valuable concepts directly to your upcoming gameplay. 
  • Watch TV Shows: Even though these are produced mainly for the entertainment of the general public, there are several strategic subtleties of the game, that can be picked up from watching these shows. With play involving both amateurs and professionals, you can track how each player type interacts. You can also substitute yourself into a hand and examine how you would play the hand. By analysing the action in these shows, you can add a valuable study tool to your poker TV entertainment. 
  • Poker Training Apps: These can be very useful for people who need to practise at the same time as learning. With poker training programmes available on mobile phones and websites, these apps simulate poker hands against various types of opponents, in many different situations. You get to play as you learn and practise, without risking any money. With post-hand or post-session reviews available, you’ll get feedback on optimal playing lines and why some plays are better to make at certain times than others. For practical purposes, this is arguably as close as it gets to the real thing. 
  • Always Be Involved: Overall, if you can live and breathe poker, you’ll be doing yourself a big favour in terms of your overall training programme. By always being involved and continuously studying, your gameplay and results will thank you for it, by getting stronger and better.

Other Gameplay Tips

  • Identify The Fish: Fish are what keep poker profitable for the sharks. If it weren't for the fish and newcomers to the game continually depositing new money into the poker industry, the circle of existing funds would simply be passed back and forth amongst the regs – with the house raking their cut each hand. When you’re playing poker, identify the fish, then figure out how to best counteract their style of play. Wait for the right moment to capitalise on their weaknesses; then pounce! 
  • Get To Know Your Opponents: Identifying your opponents’ tendencies and playing accordingly is what separates the poker fish from the real poker pros. Amateurs make plays based on the two cards they’re holding. Professionals make plays based on the two cards their opponents are holding. Know your opponents and counteract their respective playing styles, accordingly. 
  • Always Know How Your Opponents Perceive You: Know what kind of image you have (i.e. tight, loose, passive, etc.), then identify how this is affecting the play of your various opponents. Try to figure out quickly if opponents are aware of how you play and if they’re trying to exploit your play, as a result. Only then can you fully grasp why they’re playing the way they are against you, and successfully counter this with your own smart play. 
  • Importance of Table Selection: We’ve touched on this briefly in previous sections of the eBook, but it’s certainly worth repeating. Don’t play at tables where there are only competent regs who can play at the same level (or better than) you. You're not going to many any real money over there. In poker, real money is made by taking advantage of your opponents’ mistakes, and inexperienced fish make the most mistakes – not seasoned regs. Find the right table first, and then you can focus on quickly and swiftly stacking your opponents. 
  • Be Disciplined: Having discipline is being able to create a plan and stick to it! For example, if you have a stop-loss limit, then quit playing once you’ve lost your buy-ins for the day. If you’ve had alcohol before a session, then make the smart choice and don’t pull up a chair to play – simple. 

This book has given you some insight into the world of professional poker players. It has also outlined several strategies you can use to become a pro yourself.  

However, in order to make that leap to the next level, you must have the discipline to implement these strategies and follow them to the letter. 

Need more incentive to go pro? Check out our conclusion to the series for a few extra tips.

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