The first time I played live poker was sometime in late 2003. I had seen two or three episodes of Celebrity Poker Showdown and thought I was a genius. On a weekend jaunt to Las Vegas, I abandoned my spot at the blackjack table and bought in to a $3/$6 limit hold’em game at the Mirage for $100. Forty-five minutes and two white Russians later, I was broke. I sauntered back to the blackjack table and almost certainly lost whatever was remaining in my purse. But I couldn’t stop thinking about the poker game. The day I returned home I picked up a copy of Lee Jones’ “Winning Low-Limit Hold’em” and a few days after that I opened my first online poker account. I deposited $100 and within five days, I’d run it up to $1,436. I still remember the exact dollar amount. Was it really this easy?
Back then, it sort of was. A $2/$4 limit game wasn’t full of multitabling grinders, it was full of people a lot like myself who were playing recreationally or even trying out poker for the first time. No one was running tracking programs or a HUD; I remember keeping my results in a good old-fashioned Excel document for a good year or so. The predominant strategy resources were books and forums and players who put in even a minimal amount of study could come out ahead. I know I did for a while.
I don’t envy the crop of players who are getting their start in the game right now. Even $5 and $10 buy-in no-limit games are populated with a good percentage of thinking players these days. The resources available to players are overwhelming — professional coaching, strategy articles on every perceivable situation, videos from top players breaking down their sessions, hundreds of thousands of hands analyzed in forum posts. The best players take full advantage of the information available. The ones who don’t, or worse yet won’t invest the time and energy necessary are unsurprisingly being left behind. Poker hasn’t been an easy game for a while now, and if you’re not winning, well, you need to try harder.
If you’re the kind of player who doesn’t obsess about their ROI, preferring to relax and play a tournament on a Sunday afternoon or a couple of nights a week after work, well congratulations. You’re healthy, well adjusted, and probably have some other ambitions that balance out your poker life. But if you are serious about making money at poker — not necessarily making a living, but making a significant amount of money — don’t kid yourself. It is going to take the degree of training and effort it would take to play any other semi-professional sport.
Albert Einstein said that the definition of insanity was “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” If you haven’t adjusted to today’s game and are still playing the same ABC poker that got you results five years ago, yet still wonder why you can’t seem to win, well, even Einstein thinks you’re insane. Breaking this cycle is a two-fold process. The first step is the easy part. Read. Surf. Watch videos. Join a training site. Put in the time and absorb information, testing these new strategies along the way. A lot of people get to this stage and benefit greatly from it. But it’s only half of the equation.
The truly great players constantly scrutinize their games on a deep level, primarily by talking through hands with their peers. They open themselves up to criticism. They aren’t afraid to defend their line but are open to other interpretations. It goes on every day — in hotel bars on the tournament circuit, on strategy forums, and over instant messenger in the middle of the night. If you’re wondering why you’re a losing player, ask yourself when the last time was that you posted a hand history online or asked a fellow player about a play you made? There’s a reason so many of the best online tournament players in the world came out of the Two Plus Two forums. These players are constantly discussing strategy with one another and posting their mistakes for the world to see. This is where a lot of people drop off when it comes to improving their game. But it’s the most crucial part of the puzzle. It’s like trying to lose weight without exercise. Dieting can only get you so far.
Making consistent money at online poker isn’t the easy-breezy proposition it once was. You get out pretty much exactly what you put in to it. Sure, we all occasionally hear about this luckdonk or that fish who just won $4,000 in a tournament out of the blue and silently curse our own luck or “run-bad.” But that’s just lazy, whiny behavior. What you get out of poker directly reflects the effort you put in to it. Start thinking about earning that $4,000 rather than winning it.
And then, maybe you will.
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