October 24, 2012
Want to get better at poker? Start reading
By CHRIS TESSARO, Special to QMI Agency
While it’s true that Daniel Negreanu was probably born to play poker, it’s somewhat unlikely that he was fleecing rounders out of their bankrolls while attending nursery school. The fact of the matter is; perfecting your poker skills is a process that requires both time and dedication.
To be certain, it’s necessary to be naturally possessed of a certain skill set in order to succeed at the game. There are math skills, logic skills, game theory skills, people reading skills, and, last but certainly not least, the cojones necessary to put all your money into the middle with nothing in your hand but a bluff. But all of these skills need to be refined and honed in order to perfect your game. So how can you do that?
Well, first of all, read. Not people. Books. There are lots of great poker theory books out there for both the beginner and the more advanced player. Doyle Brunson’s Super System is still the bible of poker. Negreanu’s Power Hold’em Strategy is another great read. If you’re into tournament poker, Dan Harrington’s Harrington on Hold’em series will provide you with some basic building blocks. Hold’em Poker: For Advanced Players by David Sklansky will give you all the math you need to move your game forward. And let’s not forget Mike ‘The Mad Professor’ Caro’s Caro’s Book of Poker Tells. For an old book, the information that you will receive on reading players is still every bit as valuable. Read them all. Read everything you can get your hands on. The more you read, the more viewpoints and approaches you will see to the game, and therefore have a clearer understanding not just of how YOU can play, but how OTHER people might play as well.
Another great tool for learning is an online training site. These sites allow you to watch pros play, view tutorials on every aspect of the game, and hear breakdowns of how players (good players!) think through hands. This is invaluable for developing the skills of reading betting patterns and lines as a hand plays out. For far too many poker players, the thinking stops once they see what two cards they have. In reality, that’s where the thinking BEGINS. For great online teaching, try sites like CardRunners, Bluefire Poker, or Poker VT. They usually work via subscription but it’s an excellent investment.
A few years back, a group of brilliant young players arrived on the poker scene. Players like Tom Dwan, Brian Hastings, and Phil Galfond stunned veteran pros with their talent levels. The question quickly arose, ‘how on EARTH did they get so good?’ There were a couple of answers. First of all, they lived, ate, and breathed poker. They hung out together, and all they did was play poker and talk about poker. This gave them great insight into different ways to play hands. In a cool way, this was very much like in the old days of the Texas road gamblers like Doyle Brunson, Amarillo Slim Preston, and Sailor Roberts. They would travel from game to game driving long hours on the Texas highways. Every minute would be spent talking poker. It’s this kind of post-game analysis that helps you realize where you made mistakes and how to improve.
The other answer to rapid improvement is a simple one: play. Play as much as possible. The online phenoms played literally thousands of hands per day. The road gamblers in the old days spent their entire year going from game to game. You simply can’t beat experience. Daniel Negreanu went that route. “When I was learning the game, I would build up my bankroll playing here in Toronto, and then I would go to Vegas and take my shot against the pros. I would lose everything, and have to rebuild my bankroll. But every time that happened, I got a little better.”
He’s still learning. It’s an education that never stops. So, poker players, remember: Stay in school.