While I’ve played poker off and on for the better part of two decades now, 2017 was definitely the most consistent that I’ve ever been playing the game. On average, I ended up playing poker about once a week over the course of the year. Before that, I was lucky if I was able to play anywhere close to once a month.
The first major thing that helped me gain more poker exposure in 2017 was a killer neighborhood poker game hosted by a friend just 8 doors down from mine. Luckily, he hosts an excellent tournament an upwards of twice a month.
This game has been a great way to meet neighbors while also playing much more. It also doesn’t hurt that I can walk to the game without having to waste any time in the car.
Another way that I got some added exposure to poker this past year was by playing online. During a recent trip to visit a friend who is a professional poker player, he introduced me to playing poker online. Once I got a small taste of it, I was hooked. With online poker rooms, I can now play whenever I want from the comfort of my own home.
Finally, the last way that I got in some more time on the felt was by checking out the poker room at my local casino. I’m lucky enough to have a great poker room about 45 minutes from home.
While it took me years to check it out, I’m glad that I did as it exposes me to some different aspects from what I get online or in my local home game.
What’s been remarkable about playing so much is that I’ve learned much more about the game and the people playing it. Here are some of the key takeaways that I learned over the course of this last year.
I hope that some of these critical takeaways might help you improve your game if you’re still working to advance your poker game. Now, let’s get to it!
Below, you’re going to see my top 9 critical takeaways from playing more poker in this past year. Some of these are things that you might already be aware of. However, I expect that everyone reading this blog can find a takeaway or two that they can use to help elevate their skills.
Practice Improved My Game
From my experience, playing poker is a lot like playing a sport. Even if you learned how to play the sport a long time ago, the odds are that you’ll remember the basics for most of your life.
For example, you probably won’t forget how to swing a golf club. Poker is much the same. Once you’ve learned how to play a game like Texas hold’em, you’ll probably be okay to remember the primary ideas behind the game for many years.
However, in both golf and poker, practice can help improve your game. Tiger Woods didn’t earn his spot in golf history by just learning how to play golf. Instead, he busted his butt for years until he became one of the best players that the sport has ever seen.
While I’ve not put in anywhere near the number of hours practicing poker this year as Tiger Woods ever did playing golf, I did put in many more hours at a table than I ever have before. Thanks to the added time playing the game, I saw a notable improvement in my game.
As I played more hands of poker, I was exposed to more scenarios and potential outcomes than I had ever come across before. Each of these new things allowed me the chance learn something new. Also, I was also able to test out other methods and theories thanks to the added playing time.
The classic saying is that practice makes perfect. While I’m nowhere near perfect, my poker game is much improved compared to any other previous year. I’m hoping that I can keep up the pace of playing poker in 2018 that I did in 2017 so that I can continue to learn more and make myself a better poker player.
Alcohol Impacts Things
One of the first things that I caught onto early in 2017 was that alcohol had a significant impact on my game as well as the others around me. After realizing this, I actually decided that I would no longer drink while playing poker in an effort to help make sure that my mind was as focussed as possible when playing. This was one of the best choices that I made all year.
Since alcohol impairs a person’s decision-making ability, I was making poorer choices the later the night got. I noticed others around me that were more inebriated making even worse decisions than I was.
I was watching players that I know are really good become poor players as the night went on. The lightbulb eventually went off (when I was sober) that perhaps I should skip the drinks and see how well I played without alcohol in my system.
The first game after I decided to stop drinking while playing, I immediately found myself making much more sound decisions. On top of that, my mind felt much clearer. I felt incredibly dialed in as I played the game and made decisions.
I ended up taking 2nd place that night, which was the highest I had ever placed in my home game before that evening! I was stoked.
After the success of my first time doing it, I decided to carry on with that plan. To this day, I still won’t drink while I play. Along the way, I’ve seen my poker game and decisions made during the game improve.
I’m now placing in the money more consistently than I was before the changeup.
If you typically drink while playing, you might consider trying one game without it to see if it has a similar impact on you as it did on me.
In response, I’ve noticed some of my fellow players from the local home game have changed things up and stopped drinking too while playing. With each of them, I see them making more sound decisions on a regular basis.
Luck Always Plays a Part
Poker is, without a doubt, a game of skill. That being said, I’ve been reminded time and time again that there always is some luck in the mix, too. I’m sure you’ve been there before. You wake up to pocket aces for your hole cards.
Then, you end up getting all of your chips in the middle against a player that has a statistically inferior hand. You’ve got your opponent crushed since you have the best starting hand in poker. And then, it happens. Your aces get cracked, and the underdog ends up winning the hand.
No matter how good I play, I’ve had to remind myself that luck is still part of this game. Sometimes the luck pans out in your favor, while other times it kicks you in the gonads. I used to beat myself up a bit before I let this thought settle into my head.
It’s much easier to walk away from a cooler hand when you remember this fact. As you continue playing your poker career, don’t forget this fundamental aspect of luck always being a part of the game.
Not Everyone Knows the Rules and Etiquette
While it took me awhile to settle into this idea, it is a fact that is worth being aware of and coming to terms with. Over the course of the last year, I’ve run across a ton of new players and a ton of experienced players that just didn’t know what they were doing. The sooner I was able to accept that fact and not let it bother me, the better off I was.
Let’s start first with new players. I ran across a handful of them each time our neighborhood game met up. At first, I was quickly annoyed with these players as they were slowing down play by asking questions or not making the right move.
However, after some reflection, I remembered that I, too, used to be that guy. Ever since then, I’ve decided to be more graceful when playing with newer players. Instead of becoming annoyed, I instead opt to help coach them as much as possible.
My other pain point in this area is experienced players that should know the rules and etiquette, yet they refuse to use it. Examples include players that act out of turn or splash the pot. As with the new players bit above, this used to drive me crazy.
Unfortunately, my local home game has a handful of these players, and I’ve run into quite a few at the casino as well. For these players, I just choose to ignore them. I liken these players to an old dog that you can’t teach new tricks to. It’s not worth trying, so instead, I opt to just ignore it and not let it get under my skin.
For both of these types of annoying players, I’ve chosen to accept them for who they are and not let it bother me. By doing this, I keep myself focused on the game and my strategy as opposed to worrying about who’s doing what. If you run across these types of players in your games, consider accepting them for what they are and then focusing on more important things.
Playing Online is a Different Animal
I wasn’t sure what I was walking into when I entered my first online poker tournament. However, I quickly became submerged in a world that was very different from what I’ve known in my home games—and I really enjoyed it. While the game itself is the same, the overall feel is entirely different.
The most significant difference is that you’re playing virtual poker using the computer. Therefore, you’re not sitting across from your opponents. Instead, you could be playing players from all around the globe at once. Without the ability to read your opponents’ physical cues, you instead have to focus more on some of the poker basics such as betting action and position.
Another cool thing about playing online is that you can play multiple games at once. I don’t know about you, but I often find myself bored in a typical casino or home game setting. If I’m folding as much as I should be, I tend to sit out for chunks of time, not sure what to do with myself.
What’s fantastic about the online setup is that you can fill these voids by playing more than one game at once. While it took a bit of getting used to, I came to enjoy it as it kept me on my toes much more than just playing a single game of poker at once.
The last big difference that I noticed about playing online is that all of the tournaments take forever if you run deep. Even some of the $3 buy-in tournaments that I dabbled with can still take over 6 hours if you end up making it to the final table. Long-short of it; be prepared for the long haul if you do well in an online tournament.
As different as playing online is, I absolutely love it. I think that the change of pace it provides compared to a typical live game is why I’m so attracted to it. If you’ve not yet tried playing online, consider checking it out to see if you enjoy the differences from playing a regular poker game.
Cash Games are a Roller Coaster
I also got my first experience with poker cash games in 2017. Originally, I always avoided them because I was worried about the different structure. Part of the reason why I enjoy playing regular poker tournaments is that they are so structured. I always worried about playing cash and going on tilt while pissing away my hard-earned money.
Early in 2017, I decided to ease into playing cash at my local home game. For those of us unlucky enough to be knocked out early, a cash game is usually spun up so that we don’t have to call it a night just yet. I went ahead and bought in with $40 just to see how things went.
After sitting back and watching for a bit, I got in on the action. I actually ended up having an excellent experience that night, and I walked away with about $100 of profit.
Since then, I’ve played cash games many other times. Some of them have been at my local casino, while others have been at my home game. As a whole, there is one frequent theme that presides over playing cash: there are massive swings.
Playing cash takes a different stomach than playing non-cash tournaments does. For one, you’re playing with actual dollars, not theoretical chips as in a regular tournament. When I make a bet of $40, that’s 40 real dollars of my hard-earned cash. That alone is enough to make me pause for a second before placing such a large bet.
Along with the actual dollars you’re betting, your chip stack will vary wildly. Even at a $1/$2 table, some of the pre-flop raises reach an upwards of $20. In some cases, you’re paying a good amount of money just to see the flop.
Since not all flops work out in your favor, you’ll end up folding some hands after having paid a decent amount to see the flop. However, you can quickly make things back by winning a hand or two.
If you’ve not played cash before, I’d suggest that you ease into it. Start with a smaller budget and stick to it. It’s easy to get emotional with a cash game and want to pull out more money. Heck, even just last week I had to talk myself out of pulling more money from the ATM after getting a cooler hand in the local casino.
Go into the game understanding that you’re going to have lots of ups and downs. Also, don’t forget that you can get up and cash out at any point. Unlike your traditional poker tournament, you are not stuck until the end. If you become uncomfortable, or you’re just happy with the cash you’ve made, just cash out and call it a day.
Setting Proper Expectations
For whatever reason, sometimes I like to think that my local home game is the world series of poker. I end up taking too long to make a decision, or I believe that the world is over when I end up getting knocked out of the game. However, I’m not playing the $10,000 WSOP Main Event. Instead, I’m playing a $20 rebuy game down the road from my house.
I know that I’m not the only one that deals with this, as I’ve seen some fellow players struggle with this as well. What’s important is that we all have proper expectations of what we’re walking into and who we’re playing against. If you’re playing in a friendly home game, make sure to treat it as such. You’ll end up having a much better time when you set the proper expectations for yourself.
Dealing with Different Personalities
My final big takeaway from playing lots of poker this year was that you’ll come across many different personalities when playing the game. Every time that I sat down at a new table, it seems as if I was confronted with a different character I had not yet dealt with at a poker table.
I’ve run across many of the same personalities that I’m sure you all have at different points in your poker career. There’s “the know it all”, “the tight player”, “the loose player”, “the outstanding player” and ”the donator” that’s always giving away chips since he’s so bad. There’s many more, but these are the common ones that I tend to see at most games.
By learning the different personality types of poker, you can better play against them. For example, you might avoid playing heads up with the excellent player types, but decide to always go against “the donator”.
By paying attention to my opponents and their personalities, I’ve been able to adapt my game for the better over this last year. Try it out for yourself, and see if it helps you improve your game.
I love poker. 2017 was a fantastic year since I was able to play it so often. On top of that, I was also profitable this year from playing poker as I ended up making more money than I spent. I credit much of my success to these critical takeaways that I’ve made over the last year.
Hopefully, some of my suggestions above will help you improve your poker game. Thanks for reading, and best of luck in your continued poker adventures!