How many times have you been asked ‘but isn’t it all about luck?’ when you mention you enjoy playing poker? We’d bet good money it’s happened on more than one occasion, and explaining why it isn’t all about luck is tedious at the best of times.
In the long run, poker is a skill game. We all know that. But as legendary high stakes poker pro Phil Galfond once said: “The biggest misconception in poker is that poker is its own innate skill, like saying I’m good at dancing.”
There isn’t one thing in particular that great poker players all do well. The truth is that the best poker players possess a vast array of skills and traits which have led them to success.
What defines a skill anyway?
A skill is the ability to do something well, with expertise. In the olden days, the greatest skills live poker players could attain was an understanding of the odds and an ability to read opponents.
Here are our top three tips to improve your poker skills.
Study study study
You knew it was coming, didn’t you? There’s simply no other way to improve as a poker player other than by studying the game in some capacity, whether that’s buying a course, running your own simulations, or watching your favourite poker streamer.
That’s not to say you can’t play just for fun. What makes poker so great and rewarding is that it can be played by people of all skill levels; with friends around the dining table or curled up on the sofa for a casual online grind. Anyone can win on the day.
But if you really want to advance your knowledge and win-rate long-term, you’ve got to hit the books. PokerStars School offers training material for free, while there are many poker training sites out there for players looking to invest in themselves.
Becoming a skilled poker player requires the following:
- Vast knowledge of hand ranges
- Awareness of optimal bet sizes
- An understanding of board textures
- A familiarity with table dynamics
- Expertise in the Independent Chip Model (ICM)
But there’s so much more to it outside of the actual strategy. You have to be patient and disciplined; you must maintain good money management skills; you have to be able to overcome adversity when things don’t go your way.
The best way to prepare yourself for poker is by studying and trying to improve. That way, whatever happens during your next session, you know you’re a better player than you were beforehand.
Review your play
One of the most effective ways to study poker and improve your skills, alongside advanced poker training resources like coaching sites and PokerStars School, is to review your own play after every session.
This is harder than it sounds. It’s far easier to skim through your hands agreeing with every action you took than it is to criticise yourself and pinpoint mistakes you need to rectify. That’s why it’s highly beneficial to conduct hand history reviews with fellow poker players, particularly those who you believe are better than your current skill level.
Sharing your thought processes with others not only helps you focus on the things you’re doing well and those which need work, but it’s also good for your overall memory, so you’ll be more likely to remember and apply your knowledge during your next session.
We improve our poker skills through practice and precision, trial and error, constant scrutiny and focus. Whenever you’re playing a hand and you feel unsure of what you should do, tag the hand and review it afterwards. If you do this enough, soon those feelings of uncertainty will become few and far between.
Cut out distractions
It’s a lot of fun to one-table a big event while watching a film, but it’s not the best thing to do if you’re trying to improve your poker skills. Many of us play several tables at once and to play our best and avoid auto-piloting requires our full attention.
Cutting out all distractions when playing poker has certainly worked for high stakes tournament crusher Charlie “Epiphany77” Carrel. “I seem to have the most success by far when all of my energy is focused and attentive,” he told us.
When playing a session of online poker, our advice would be to:
- Close all internet tabs
- Avoid looking at your phone
- Switch the TV off
- Play music you can ignore
- Be alone when possible
This will give you the best chance to focus and play better poker.