Balancing Your Playing And Learning At The Table

Guide To Winning Poker (26)

  • The less experienced and less skilled you are, the more you need off table work
  • Don’t just play and look to master one form of poker
  • Heads up poker is the best way to really become good at the game of poker

You Need To Balance Your Learning At And Away From The Poker Table

Now that you’ve had a chance to familiarize yourself with at least some of my teaching, I’m going to move a little away from the theoretical part of the game for a moment and let you in on a little secret which has benefited a lot of my students significantly, as well as myself. Now the whole point of looking to improve your game is to not just improve your poker thinking, you want to actually use it at the tables of course.

In doing so, you should approach things from both a practical and an educational perspective. Now the ideal approach would be to play with a view of improving, and confine all of your play to this, at least in the beginning and intermediate stages. However, I do realize that as a poker player a lot of your motivation comes from the enjoyment of the game, so you do want to spend at least part of your time at the table, if not most of it, playing the types of games that you enjoy the most.

If You Aren’t Winning Yet, You Are Losing

There’s also an even bigger issue here which is the matter of profitability. Especially prior to becoming a winning player, where you’re no longer losing more than you win, you really need to pay close attention to your bankroll. This is especially true for those of you who have very limited bankrolls or even are looking to make it by getting free poker cash and bonuses.

So depending on the extent of your resources, it becomes more or less important to spend your time in what is the most profitable situation for you at the present time, which is in fact those games and stakes which represent the least risk, the smallest losses, and the lowest variance. So while I’m speaking of mixing in situations which look to challenge you and elevate your game, you’ll do the best of course in the situations which are the least challenging, so these two requirements are somewhat at odds with each other.

Don’t Be Afraid To Explore New Forms Of Poker

When you do get a little more comfortable with what you are playing though, it can be a significant advantage to you to branch out to other forms of poker. For instance, if you play full ring no limit, you at some point will want to try 6 max, where there’s more action, the players tend to be a little better, they tend to play more aggressively, you have to play more hands, the blinds come around faster, you’re in more one on one pots, and so on.

This can teach you how to play 6 max better of course, but it can also teach you how to play full ring better as well. By being forced to play in more situations, you’ll get better at the game in general. As well, if you’re at a full ring table and people leave, you will no longer feel as uncomfortable and out of your element, and given that a lot of the players that are left may not be as skilled at a shorter table, this can present some nice additional opportunities for profit for you.

As a general rule, the more players at the table, the easier it is to play, and the fewer players there are sitting down, the more difficult it tends to be. With fewer players, you’re forced to play more hands, and you can’t just sit back and wait for premium hands anymore like you can do in full ring games. At the extreme, with heads up poker, you’re in every hand, all of the time, and the only time you’re sitting back and waiting for a hand is the time it takes the software to deal another one to you.

Heads Up Poker Can Really Teach You A Lot About Poker In General

In fact, as you might imagine, there’s no better way to learn and master poker in general than by playing heads up poker. Even in full ring games, with the general tightness you see in today’s games, very often you are against a single opponent post flop. So if you are an experienced heads up player, and your opponents are not, and the overwhelming majority of them are not, then this can be a tremendous advantage for you.

I can tell you that from experience and it’s amazing how bad people in 6 max or full ring are in heads up situations compared to actual heads up specialists. I’m one myself, and I do play larger tables from time to time as well, and it’s like going from playing against professionals to amateurs when it comes to this. It’s not that I find the heads up players tough but the non heads up specialists in heads up situations are in comparison pretty terrible.

Heads Up Poker Provides Accelerated Learning

One of the reasons for this is that heads up players tend to have a much better grasp of game theory than non heads up players, just from playing so many heads up hands against a single player, where you either get into their head or die. In non heads up matches, you can get away with not paying so close attention to your opponents and get away with it. In heads up, you either exploit or be exploited.

So becoming familiar with heads up poker can be a tremendously beneficial exercise, especially if you feel that your game has gotten a little stale and you don’t seem to be learning as much as you would like or progressing as fast enough as you would prefer. I can tell you that most of the things I’ve learned, the good stuff that is, come from my experience playing heads up, where I was forced to think about the game more, a lot more in fact.

It’s All About Learning To Think More And To Think Better

As well, if you play tournaments, and especially single table tournaments which play down to one person winning first place, as almost all of them do, then once you get down to the top 3, whoever plays the better shorthanded game does the best of course. Now a lot of this is determined by how many chips you have once you get down to the three money spots, but I can’t tell you how many of these I’ve won with the shortest stack, and sometimes very short stacked, simply by outplaying my opponents. Once again, coming from a heads up background, the players in these tournaments have very little skill compared to the players I normally play against.

I wouldn’t recommend heads up cash games though until you get really good at it and you’ve chosen heads up as your main game. You can lose a lot of money at these if you don’t know what you are doing, only the better players tend to sit in, and the rake can be nasty at the lower stakes, so much that many people, including myself, recommend against them even if you are a good player.

So that leaves the heads up sit and go’s, which are in fact the perfect place to get started in heads up poker. You can play them for as little as a dollar, which buys you a whole tournament against an opponent where you will be playing every street of every hand against. I will tell you though that heads up is the most skill intensive form of poker, by far actually, and if you think that as a newbie you can just step into it and figure it all out immediately, then you’re in for an even bigger lesson than normal.

It’s All About Learning To Think More And To Think Better

The main benefit to this though is getting you to think more than you normally do at whatever else you play, and a lot more. You will really be exercising your mind with this, as opposed to what you might be doing at, say, a full ring game where you fold pre-flop 85% of the time and the rest of the time you play fit or fold poker. The fit or fold is certainly a bad habit, although at heads up, if you fold if you don’t hit anything you will get slaughtered.

So you’ll come to learn that you don’t always need something to play on, and this is actually the case anytime you’re down to two players in a hand. You’ll learn to become more aggressive, and learn to take down more pots. You’ll also learn that a high card hand such as Ax or Kx is often the best hand and can be even bet for value. You’ll learn to pay attention to and read players a lot better, as in heads up, you have to if you expect to do well.

Don’t Be Too Anxious Though

If you try this out, and I highly recommend that you do at some point, and you find the game too overwhelming or frustrating, you need to realize that you don’t want to overdo things here, and especially cause yourself to become stressed. So in this case it may be best to set things aside for awhile, or at least approach the learning experience here more gradually and slowly. As you get more comfortable with the game, you’ll find it easier and also enjoy it more.

Another big benefit of heads up poker is that you really can use poker stats to your advantage and hone in on things to an extreme degree, since you’re only dealing with a single opponent. You can also try out some of the things that I’ve been teaching and see for yourself how well they work. This is learning the game at its best.

In the end, you may even find this form of poker more enjoyable, as I do. That doesn’t matter though, as it’s all about looking to get better, and heads up sit and go’s are definitely a great opportunity to lift some heavier weights than you are used to, and become a much stronger player as a result.

Ken’s Guide To Winning Poker – Index

Starting With A Solid Foundation

Aggression Series

Position Series

Various Poker Strategies

Mistakes Series