It’s been clearly established by now that poker is a game of skill as well as a game of chance. Since there’s a skill element, the player who’s more skilled will win more money in the long run.
So if you want to win more money at poker, the trick is to improve your skills.
That’s easy to say, but how do you actually pull that off?
This post includes 10 different ways to improve your poker skills.
1- Get More Rest
In today’s fast-paced society, most people undervalue sleep. In fact, you can eat well and exercise and still get sick and be unsteady just from lack of sleep.
And most people need more sleep than they think. They often practice poor sleep hygiene, too, staring at cell phones and/or watching television just before going to bed.
The minimum amount of sleep an adult needs is 7 hours per night, but 1 out of 3 people don’t get enough sleep. And that’s the public in general.
How likely do you think it is that people who gamble a lot get even less sleep than usual?
My guess is that it’s pretty likely, especially if you’re the type of poker player who likes to chase losses—stop chasing losses and get some rest.
If you have fewer than 4 hours of sleep, you’re just as impaired as someone who’s legally drunk.
I don’t think drunk people stand a chance at a game where judgment and decision-making determine who’s going to win.
2- Eat Better and Get Some Exercise
A healthy mind resides in a healthy body. And if you want to make quality decisions, you need to be able to think clearly.
Calculating pot odds in your head is hard enough if you’re sleep-deprived, but if your body is functioning sub-optimally, you might not be able to pull it off at all.
The trick to winning at poker consistently is to make quality decisions consistently. This mean you need to be able to pay attention and make correct decisions repeatedly.
If you’re playing with someone else, everything else being equal, who eats right and exercises, who’s going to win?
The healthier player, that’s who.
These might seem like lame tips to improve your poker game, but if you’re serious about your game, you need to take a holistic approach.
In Steven Covey’s book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, he explains that Habit #7 is “Sharpen the Saw.”
He tells the story about the guy who has a day to cut down a tree. He suggests that if it were him, he’d spend 7 hours sharpening the saw so he could cut the tree down in an hour.
Exercising and eating right is the way to sharpen the saw and become more effective.
3- Read a Book
You’re probably thinking that this is another one of those indirect, holistic techniques that you’re rolling your eyes over.
I’m not suggesting that you read just any book so as to improve your mind.
I’m suggesting that you read a poker book you haven’t read before.
But don’t just read it passively. Read it actively.
What’s active reading?
That’s when you take notes while you’re reading, or underlining important stuff, or using a highlighter. You might even make flash cards with some things you want to remember.
Studies have proven that reading actively increases retention dramatically. It does no good to read a poker book if you’re not going to remember anything from the book.
Also, it’s okay to read a bad poker book, too. You should read critically and skeptically and ask yourself, is this true? Does this make sense?
Forming a poker book club where you can discuss what you’re reading can be a good idea, too. I’ll have more to say about setting up a network of people to learn about poker with in a later bullet point, too.
4- Learn a New Game
There are multiple benefits to learning a new poker game you haven’t played before. One of these is simple enough:
Your brain is like a muscle. If you don’t exercise it, it won’t get stronger.
And one way to exercise is your brain is to learn new poker games to play.
That’s not the only benefit, though. There’s a practical benefit to learning as many poker games as possible.
If you go to a poker game where you have multiple tables to choose from, the more games you know how to play, the more choices you have.
A lot of times, you can be the best Omaha player at the table. Amateurs at the casino love to get into card games just to try them out, and if you want to fish, you should fish where the big fish are.
If you only know how to play Texas holdem, you might be leaving a lot of money on the table.
When you’re playing in home poker games, which are often the juiciest games around, you’ll often have to play dealer’s choice. If you fold every time you get into a game you don’t understand, you’ll be leaving a lot of expected value on the table.
So learn a new poker game or 2.
5- Fold More Often
I should assume that you’ve read some poker strategy advice before. If you have, then you probably have already heard that the winningest style of play is tight aggressive.
Playing tight and playing aggressively are 2 separate things, by the way.
What does it mean to play tight poker?
It means you fold a lot. You only play high quality hands. And if you’re only playing the best possible hands, you are, by necessity, folding more often than you’re used to.
Playing too many hands is one of the biggest leaks most poker players have.
And it’s not just about folding early in the hand, either. You can have a great hand early on and need to fold later in the hand. The other biggest leak that players have is taking hands too far just because they started with a monster that didn’t develop well.
You’re not at the poker table to play sheriff and keep the other players honest. You’re there to win money.
And losing money is the opposite of winning money, and it’s just as damaging to your bankroll.
Sure, if you call more often, you’ll catch more people bluffing, but it’s not worth it in the long run.
6- Raise More Often
The 2nd half of that equation is being aggressive. This just means betting and raising instead of checking and calling.
There’s not much benefit to checking or calling.
If you check, you’re just giving your opponents an opportunity to draw cards that might help them win without having to risk any money to do so. You should almost always bet instead of check unless you’re planning to fold later in the hand.
Calling doesn’t do much good, either. It just makes it cheaper for your opponents to play against you.
And you shouldn’t ignore the fact that some of your profits come from having your opponents fold in the face of your aggression.
If you’re playing tight, you should have a better hand than your opponent a lot of the time.
But you won’t have a better hand than your opponent every time.
That’s just not realistic.
On the occasions where they have a better hand but fold because you were betting and raising, you come out ahead.
The chance of that happening when you check and call is 0%.
Don’t play a lot of hands, but when you do play a hand, play it strong.
7- Play Online
There’s no substitute for experience. And getting lots of experience quickly is one way to accelerate your growth as a player. You can get in a LOT more hands per hour playing online.
The average number of hands per hour you’ll see at a live poker table is 30.
But online, the action happens faster and the shuffle and deal take no time at all. It’s easy to get in 80 to 100 hands per hour at an online poker table, which mean you’re getting 2 to 3 times as much experience at the table as if you were playing live.
But that’s not the only way to accelerate your learning.
You can do something online that’s impossible to do in a live poker game:
You can play at multiple tables at the same time.
Now you can get in between 160 and 200 hands per hour, and that’s by playing 2 tables at once.
Some online poker pros play 4+ tables at a time.
This forces you to play tighter and more aggressive, because you won’t have time to act if you get involved in too many pots at too many tables.
It also gives you a better picture of what happens in the long run, because you reach the long run so much faster.
8- Hire a Coach
I’ve never used a coach for poker, but I’ve had mentors, coaches, and teachers help me in other aspects of my life. Strictly speaking, you can learn most skills on your own these days, including poker skills.
But a coach can help you learn faster.
I started taking guitar lessons almost 3 years ago. I’m not religious about showing up for my lessons, but I practice a lot. I also watch a lot of YouTube videos and tutorials. And I have some books that explain how to improve at guitar.
Nothing causes me to improve faster than getting a guitar lesson, though.
Having someone who can point out your mistakes as they happen can cause your skills to grow at 10 times the rate they would otherwise.
Poker coaches aren’t cheap. You’re probably looking at $200 per hour minimum for a respectable poker tutor.
Over the life of your play, though, if you’re serious about the game, it’s almost certainly worth it.
Finding poker coaches, mentors, and tutors online is easier than ever.
9- Start a Blog
I recommended active reading earlier as an activity that will help you improve your poker skills. One way you can become a more active reader is to write detailed reviews of the poker books you read. You can do this on a blog and possibly even make some money from the blog by selling advertising.
You should leave the comments open on your poker blog and invite discussion. Discussing your ideas as they relate to the ideas in the poker books you’re reading can help you improve your game dramatically and quickly.
You don’t have to write reviews of poker books to benefit from having a poker blog, though. You can also write about specific hands. This will clarify your thinking about those hands and how you played them. If you leave the comments open, you’ll get some feedback to think about, too—which will also improve your game.
You probably remember that I mentioned Steven Covey and his 7 Habits earlier. In some of his books, he’s mentioned that one of the best ways to learn something is to teach it to someone else. He suggests taking that approach to reading his books.
Use your new poker blog as an opportunity to teach people, and everyone wins.
10- Make Some Friends
I’ve seen people suggest forming a poker study group, and that’s one way to improve.
But that’s not the only way to use friends to improve your poker game.
Years ago, when I was playing in the underground cardrooms in Dallas, I had 2 friends I played with on a regular basis—Larry and Todd. I always had someone with whom I could discuss certain hands with after we cashed out and went to Dennys.
Those late night talks did a lot to improve my skillset in multiple ways.
One example relates to mindset as much as it relates to specific skills, too. One night Todd and I were playing with a really young player, and I expressed some dismay that we were taking money from someone who was practically a kid.
Todd pointed out to me that I didn’t force that kid to sit down at the table or give him money to play. Someone was going to win his money, so it might as well be me.
That might have been the most important lesson I ever learned in poker—don’t pity your opponents.
Improving your poker skills can help you win more money, and you can improve your skills faster than you might think.
Some techniques for improving your game can be as simple as getting a better night’s sleep this afternoon. Eating right and getting more exercise can help, too.
More specific strategies include reading books, discussing them, and writing about your game.