The saying goes that poker is a hard way to make an easy living, and as much as it was true when someone first came up with it, it’s even more so today.
Online poker games are getting harder to beat by the day, and even the lowest stakes are often more competitive than you might expect them to be. On the other hand, live poker is much more beatable, but you still need to overcome many challenges to show a consistent profit.
We thought long and hard about all the key things you need to consider when playing and combined our experience with tips from the top pros to give you this guide.
Let’s get right into it and discuss the most important concepts you will need to know if you want to beat poker in 2021.
Tip #1. Start with the Basics
Poker is a complex game with many layers, but if you want to learn how to play it profitably and advance through its various aspects, you will want to start off small.
Before you think about some of the more complicated concepts of the game, you should be very strong with the fundamentals.
This means you should start by learning how basic concepts such as pot odds, implied odds, outs, and positions work. Of course, you may already know this, but I see many players play the game for years without really understanding these basic concepts.
Regardless of how good you may think you are at “reading people” or ‘knowing your player,” if you are not strong in the fundamentals of poker, you will not be a winning player in pretty much any game.
If you throw the basics out the window, you will not be able to apply advanced concepts as well, and you will be left playing a game in which having an edge will be a true challenge.
Tip #2. Learn about GTO Poker
Game theory optimal strategy may seem like a complex concept to many poker players who have been playing poker a different way for years, but everyone can understand this concept if they put some effort into it.
Of course, this is not to say that GTO is easy to learn or that it won’t take you quite a long time to get it just right, but starting on this path will have many advantages.
For starters, GTO is the one poker strategy we definitely know works in pretty much any game out there. Thus, learning with this approach will give you the advantage of being profitable at any table you sit down to play.
Learning the GTO strategy and getting really good at it will also allow you to be a better exploitative poker player down the line, as you will have a great starting point from which to deviate every time you are trying to exploit other players.
If you are thinking of playing heads-up poker after seeing the likes of Doug Polk and Daniel Negreanu battle it out online, learning how to play GTO poker will be ab absolute must.
There are many training programs that can help you with this, and despite which path you choose to take, learning GTO is a must in 2021.
Tip #3. Dedicate Time to Poker Education
Probably the biggest mistake I see many poker players make is just sitting at the table and playing for hours and hours, without dedicating any time at all to actually studying the game.
Like any other mental challenge, poker requires education and training. Even if you are playing in very soft poker games, getting better yourself will help you improve your win rate.
On the other hand, if you are playing in tough lineups, there is absolutely no way you will start winning by just joining the games and crushing everyone.
Your opponents will be spending countless hours studying their own hands, watching poker training programs, or running GTO simulations, all designed to beat you.
If you don’t join the trend and keep improving yourself, expect the opposition to pass you by and leave you in the dust as one of the weakest players at any table.
Tip #4. Pick Your Games Carefully
To win at poker, you don’t have to be the best player in the world; you only need to be better than those you are playing against.
Fortunately, this means that if you can find weak opponents, you can win even with a modest set of skills.
While I never recommend staying complacent and not improving your game, finding soft games in which you are a clear favorite is one of the best ways to make sure you are printing money while playing poker.
For the most part, the softest games can be found in the live setting, especially outside of the casinos where private games are held. In such games, many of the players may not be aware of even the most basic poker concepts.
On the other hand, if you want to play online, you may have a hard time finding truly soft games. Again, playing in the somewhat more private games on online poker apps like PPPoker and PokerBros may give you the edge you are looking for.
Major online poker sites are loaded with sharks who are out for blood, and staying away from them until you are one of the sharks in question is probably a good idea.
Tip #5. Watch Your Bankroll
I already said that playing in live poker games is your best shot at beating the games for a significant and steady profit. However, this will often mean you have to play higher stakes than you may be used to playing online.
The thing about highly profitable live games is that they also tend to be very volatile, which means you will need to be ready for some serious variance.
There is really only one good way to handle variance, and this is by maintaining a bankroll that can handle the biggest of swings on a given stake.
Of course, your edge in live poker games should be significantly higher than it could be online, which is why keeping a bankroll of some 30 to 40 buy-ins for live cash games should be enough to keep you going.
On the other hand, if you plan to grind it out at the virtual felt, you will need much more than that, depending on the game you plan to play.
Before you dedicate yourself to a certain game type, do some research and figure our bankroll requirements for that specific format, and you should be good.
Tip #6. Learn Alternative Games
Texas Hold’em has been the most popular poker game out there for many years, but in more recent times, games like PLO and Six+ Hold’em have been gaining a lot of traction.
The truth is that these games are more volatile and even more attractive to gamblers who are looking to get into poker. In turn, this means there is a bigger edge to be had in these games than in Hold’em.
However, you should also keep in mind that just because you may be a good No-Limit Hold’em player, this does not automatically make you good at PLO or Six+ Hold’em.
You will need to learn these games from the ground up and spend many hours studying to become a good player capable of beating the games on a consistent level.
The one thing I can promise you is that you can win more money per hour playing PLO than you can Hold’em, especially online, but only once you are ready for it.
If you want to build a long-term career out of poker in 2021 and beat the game consistently for years to come, learning at least PLO will be a good idea.
Tip #7. Don’t Focus on Your Results
When I talk to people about poker, I can tell that most of them only want to talk about their or my results, bad beats, and coolers they have recently suffered or seen.
The truth is that poker results only matter in the long run, and bad beats and coolers don’t matter at all.
Putting too much focus on your short-term results and losing sessions will only make you doubt yourself and experience problems playing your best game.
You should always keep track of your results and only review them over the long run. If you have won 100 buy-ins over the last few months, put your 12 buy-in downswing into perspective, and don’t worry about it!
Of course, if your results are bad over a significant sample of hands or tournaments, you may want to think about dropping down in stakes or simply working hard on improving your game and plugging your leaks.
Tip #8. Use All the Available Tools
We did not have many resources and tools for improving our strategy a decade ago, so the overall quality of play was much lower.
Today, we have coaching sites, poker solvers, tracking software, and so many other tools at our disposal. If you want to call yourself a pro, I highly recommend using them all, at least in some capacity.
This doesn’t mean you have to spend the bulk of your time running sims if you are going to play in live ring games, but you should learn about all the tools out there and find out which ones make the most sense for your game.
I am sure that using the proper tools for improving your game will show results over the long run, even if sometimes it may seem silly and useless looking from a day-to-day perspective.
Tip #9. Work on Your Mental Game
Once you have gotten your poker game to a high level and you start winning, there will still be challenges to face regardless of how good you are fundamentally.
In fact, many poker players with solid skillsets never make it in poker because they lack mental composure.
Poker is a very demanding game on a mental side, and many things can go wrong. You are playing for real money, which can be lost in any single hand, which can cause negative mental and emotional reactions which are difficult to control.
Furthermore, poker can require a lot of patience as there may be long periods in which you fold every hand you are dealt and a lot of composure in certain situations.
If you have problems maintaining that composure, easily tilt, or worry about the money too much, you will not become a great poker player until you have dealt with these issues.
There are many ways you can handle these problems, and doing mental game coaching with an experienced coach, meditating, or simply mentally preparing yourself for the sessions and worst-case scenarios can all be good ideas for any poker player.
Tadas is an investor and professional poker player who founded mypokercoaching.com. He writes for a range of online publications and helps other poker players to excel. You can follow him on Twitter @MyPokerCoaching.