I've been playing semi-professionally online since I was 18. I've played millions of hands with a primary focus on cashgames and managed to make a decent income out of it.
If you're serious about learning poker, start with these 2 Masterclasses, then move onto studying the 7 books I mention below.
Table of Contents
Most poker players online don't know what they're doing. You can get to a positive winrate almost immediately if you read books first and start at the lowest levels.
Get these 7 books and study them religiously. At first, prioritize studying the game over playing it.
|Harrington on Hold 'em Expert Strategy for No Limit Tournaments, Vol. 1: Strategic Play||415 reviews||Check Price and Reviews|
|Harrington on Hold 'em Expert Strategy for No Limit Tournaments, Vol. 2: Endgame||179 reviews||Check Price and Reviews|
|Harrington on Hold 'em: Expert Strategies for No Limit Tournaments, Vol. III--The Workbook||108 reviews||Check Price and Reviews|
|The Mathematics of Poker||78 reviews||Check Price and Reviews|
|Professional No-Limit Hold 'em: Volume I||87 reviews||Check Price and Reviews|
|Small Stakes No-Limit Hold'em||45 reviews||Check Price and Reviews|
|Harrington on Online Cash Games: 6-Max No-Limit Hold 'em||45 reviews||Check Price and Reviews|
The Mathematics of Poker teaches you all about probability: when to take risks and when to cut things short.
Just get a solid poker set and enjoy the game!
I know for myself, so much of my passion towards poker comes from the desire to be successful. It’s not really about the money for me. I’ve never really been great at any sports, never played an instrument, never did great in school. But with poker, I can develop my skills and actually experience what it’s like to win a tournament or outplay someone in a hand.
Theres no better feeling for me than the one I have after I’ve won a tournament, even if it’s just a $20 pub tournament for $300. At this point, I am only focused on improving for myself and seeing just how good I can be. Money isn't a factor at all. I’m not sure how many others feel this way, but I’m sure some do.
At one time point or another, almost every poker played believed they could go pro. The sad truth, however, is that poker is the VAST majority of poker players cannot and should not depend on it as a source of income. Instead, learn a craft such as online marketing and making niche sites. The money's safer, more consistent, and you make it while you sleep.
Avoid the mistake most players (myself included) make, and don't get too high on going pro. Now, I only treat it as a hobby, not as a money maker. This way, I can still have fun without going broke
The internet is undoubtedly the better option if you want to learn how to play. Open up a few tables and learn the basics. After you become a winner at 10nl at like 5-10bbs/100 with at least 50k hands, and you can move to live play. You'll be crushing 1/2 anywhere. You'll have to adjust a little, but you'll have a winning strategy for sure.
Practice. Have thousands and thousands of hands under your belt and review them. Think what you could have done differently, and use software to realize equities. This can do more for you than just reading books. Not saying you shouldn't read - you should definitely read a lot. But once you understand the fundamentals, practice is what can take your game to the next level.
As you play, your game will naturally evolve as well. Don't get too caught up in how much you win, but tracking your wins and win-rate can help you better understand how good you really are.
Unfortunately, you're not going to learn anything until you play in real games. If anything, playing with no risk can create bad habits that can be difficult to shake later on.
Around here, casinos run cheap midweek tournaments in the afternoon (<100 bucks), with small fields (usually <50). If I didn't have a job and just wanted some casual pocket money, that's what I'd play.
Fake money poker is generally only good for showing you how often you get dealt playable hands, and how often good hands get cracked by absolute shit. The problem with fake money poker lies in there being nothing at stake. If people don't care about their stacks, they play completely differently. You'll be lucky to even see a flop without half the table going all in.
It's simple. Do you like cash game poker or Tournament poker? I'm a cash player. I watch a lot of cash game. And play cash poker money $$$. Identify what you are, right now.
Play, take $50, and play the micros. You'll probably lose that $50.
Decide if you want to play this game as a fun side hobby or as a future serious player.
By far the best way to learn poker if you're a total noob:
Check this website too, it will help your game a lot in the beginning.
Play for free online for a few days/weeks just to learn the basics.
Play live games (very low limit) with some friends who already know how to play, preferably for a few weeks. You don't want a casino to be the first place you play with real people.
Go to a small casino that runs cheap games. Stick to 2/4 low limit type games and only play strong hands until you get the hang of things.
The most important thing is to understand that playing poker well requires a pretty wide variety of skills, or being excellent in one key area (e.g. memory, calculating probabilities in your head, etc.). Most people have to play many, many hours before they become even a halfway decent poker player.
I've seen rookies blow a couple thousand bucks in a night trying to bluff skilled players (just like they'd seen the pro's do it on ESPN). That's a typical newbie mistake that you don't want to make!
Poker is a wonderful game, but it's up to you to learn and play the game. I recommend that you give it a go and try it out, but with some reluctancy. If there is one piece of advice to give you, don't go into it thinking that you're going to be winning money. It takes years of learning for strategy and game sense to develop.
Points against you:
Points going for you:
In my opinion, as a rec, your primary focus should playing within your means and avoiding table full of nits/pros. Nothing else matters. You're losing money? Who gives a shit. It's your money, you can do whatever you want with it. Just don't lose your house and/or ruin your life because of this game.
Variance is a very real thing.
That's why bad players don’t quit the game. If you want a very general hourly by stake for live poker, winning 8-10bb per hr is considered “crushing”. So at 1/2 thats 16-20 hr 2/5 40-50 hr etc...
This is why you shouldn’t believe people who tell you they are “Pro” playing 1/2 for a living.
You want to have at least 1-2000hrs logged before you even check your stats and like I said, variance is real. Some people can run good or bad their whole poker life.
I think only about 10% of players are net long-term winners if they are being honest and tracking hours. This is likely what's true.
About three or four times my first time at a casino (Montreal) I made the mistake of string betting. The dealers tried their best to explain it, but I clearly wasn't getting the idea. I knew you couldn't put in a call then raise, but I repeatedly put half the chips in my hand down first, which they would then take as my bet and stop me from putting down the rest of the chips.
Probably easier to learn cash than tourney that way. There are a ton of shifting factors that may not be apparent in tournaments, so you may deduce some incorrect info from watching the hands. In cash games, the plays and sizings will be more standardized. Try to find a streamer that talks through their logic while they play.
I don't think any serious or even semi-serious poker player thinks you learn or "study" by only watching poker on twitch or tv. Books and practice is where it's really at.
I think my first 2-3 years (mostly fucking around with friends in college at 0.1/0.2, later 0.2/0.4) I was definitely a god-awful player. I may have been winning overall, but nobody really gave a fuck we just liked flipping and having new favourite hands every week for the hell of it.
After I started learning the game and taking it more seriously I was always just super nitty, playing to break even more than playing to win. I guess it wasa good idea because, at the same time, I was trying to develop my own ideas about how to approach the game.
My 4th and 5th year I realized it was impossible to beat rake playing scared. The funny thing is I found this out with an extended period of not playing, but instead with studying. Going through hand histories with friends and answering questions online helped me understand strategy better. A lot of concepts that I didn't originally grasp fully clicked for me. I've been happier and more confident with my results ever since.
An entry-level trick I've learned from playing poker, is to pretend to always be upset with whatever you've got, even if it's amazing. This will position you a step above all the noobs out there.
Everyone tends to get overconfident when they're playing against someone who seems to be less than satisfied with their hand, at least outwardly. Since most people assume emotions to be natural and not forced, it puts people in a position to assume that they're winning or just plain are smarter than you.
In poker, if you can manage a genuine "shit, not pocket aces again" expression the same way you can get "shit, not total garbage again" on your face, it goes a long way to making people who are trying to play the player not the game not have as much effectiveness.
There are a lot more things you can learn just by watching how people interact poorly on streams, but paying more attention to your opponent than staring down at the cards and doing the idiot shuffle with the cards in your hand is a really good first step towards being a better player in all games where you have another human in front of you.
It's funny how many people will take your actions honestly rather than bluffs and will play accordingly. Of course, you gotta show you're not bluffing every once in a while and maybe it only really works in the long run, but a little bit of misdirection goes a long way.
In poker if you never bluff, you won't get calls. If you bluff too much, you'll get called more often and you'll end up losing more money through bluffing than money you make when you have it. What this means is there is a sweet spot of bluff to value ratio, where you will make the most money.
Obviously this depends on your opponent as well. Playing a GTO optimal strategy is when your bluff to value hand ratio is the most profitable.
Study peoples faces and actions. People are creatures of habit. When you see a few donkeys, wait for a good hand and get it in.
You can only go so far reading people's faces, and you can deceive with your body language easily (Even a slight foot-tap or quick look at the ceiling can give things away).
The cards, your outs, the odds, knowing the players tendencies and exploiting those are what makes the pros the pros, not looking for an increased pulse in the carotid or a single bead of sweat going down their forehead.
When you start out even playing micros, do not be discouraged if you’re not a long term winner out of the gate. The rake tends to be very high relative to the amount of money on the table and stakes, and can quickly eat your profits. The rake tends to be less impactful as you rise into the low/medium stakes, generally speaking.
Track as many hands as you can that you have questions about when playing then review them thats critical. It requires you to be deiligent in your note taking.
Honestly when I was starting out, I didn't have a routine. I played every chance I got and then studied every chance I got. Books were the main source back then.
Have some friends who play who want to get better as well. Talk thru situations with them. You will all have different approaches to certain situations.
Really put time in learning bankroll management too. If you do that, you'll have no trouble finding maximum enjoyment from poker.
Make a perfect exit at your current job. Forget the 2 week notice, give them a month and be willing to train your replacement. You see... if you ever go broke, you will need to re-enter the job market. Those folks that you will apply to for employment will want to know about your last employment.
Patience. After each session, takes notes about what happened. You need to learn how to find your own mistakes. You need to learn how to recognize that you are going to make them and realize them while you are making them. Finally, recognize when you are about to make them so that you can do something different. It is a learning experience in self-discipline.
Figure out how big your "nut" is. That means, what do you need to cover all expenses for a month. Like a squirrel, you will need that nut when it gets cold. That stays seperate from all other money. Money management... there are books on this!
Start at the small $2-$4 limit games...or the $3-$6, which ever is smallest. Why? Forget the "win-rate" and all that other BS. These games are where 6 people see a flop and 3 of them chase to the river. This is where you will learn how to associate a player's body behavior with the cards they show down on the river. This is how you learn that art. There is alot to learn at all the stakes.
You will need to use them as a guide while you find out what works the best for YOU and YOUR personality. Most of today's poker books and videos show what works the best for the author-creator. There are 1000's of things to learn in order to be successful. Most of the college types are there for the quick money and partys. You can find them panhandling every night on the strip in LV right outside of the MGM where they just busted.
Playing for your "primary source of income" is not easy. When you felt that loud-mouthed, arrogant college and then see him panhandling the next week on a street corner, you will know that your actions have played a part in his demise and you must be okay knowing that if he did not give you his money, then he would have given it to another player.
Alot of things you cannot prepare for prior to doing this. That is why poker players live with and around other players. The best advice I ever got was from a room mate that is one of those old men playing for his 40th year. after raising his family and putting 2 duaghters through college and all with his poker $. It's all very simple. You need to know when to leave the table.
Volume. A heads up players winrate is absurdly high - when he can find a mark whom he has definable edge on. The glam jammers at the nosebleeds make it look all action, but the time between games waiting for someone you think you can beat to come along is tedious and boring .The best heads up players crush 6max too (usually at higher stakes than their regular heads up) and keep a bumhunting heads up table up to wait for action, and quit all 6 max tables to heads up when a whale comes along.
Playing strong post flop is just as important as pre, and heads up have to crush at reading postflop. Usually if you play heads up first you'll play LAG 6max+ to everyones perceptions because you seemingly won't give a shit about pre-ranges when everyone is playing postflop so transparently.
Remember that you will lose very quickly to better players at first. Their edge on you will be huge in the beginning of learning the game and your roll will rapidly diminish.
heads up postflop play is much different than postflop play in full ring or 6max, first and foremost because ranges are MUCH wider, but also because psychology, gameflow, and reads matter a lot when you are playing tons of hands with the same person
It has practically no application to live full ring cash play where you can make a lot of money. When you get into higher stakes you spend more time sitting out waiting for a fish and avoiding better players than you do actually playing. It is a specialization like any other specialization, if you don't like it then you aren't going to excel at it.
http://www.twitch.tv/directory/game/Poker - People playing poker live (with a delay).
https://www.youtube.com/user/gripsed - Does a lot of tournament win reviews where he goes through every single hand played by the winner of a tournament.
https://www.youtube.com/user/teampsxflixx - Does a lot of cash game videos / reviews
https://www.twitch.tv/sterlingkolde - Dude is a legit mid stakes crusher in every sense. He really talks through his thought process on just about every hand. Only thing is youve gotta be subbed to see his VODs... but bang for buck it's crazy value $5/mo for hours and hours of top tier play and analysis. He ran up $2k to $100k in about 140 sessions last year, and he really takes the time to explain every decision on just about every interesting hand he came across. I think hes at a steady 12bb/100 or more midstakes over a million+ hands so - hes one of the only 'real deal' regular cash game streamer at low/mid stakes Ive seen.
https://www.twitch.tv/odman89 - He plays similar stakes and is also very good and explains his decisions. Cant go wrong with either of those.
Don't 3-bet light in live games. You see this on TV at high stakes, but it doesn't work at your local casinos playing 1/2, 2/3, or 2/5. 3-betting and 4-betting light may have been a great tool you've been utilizing online, but it just won't do you any good in live settings.
Don't string bet/raise. If you put in your chips intending on betting or raising, make sure you put the full amount in, instead of in chunks. The best way to avoid this is announcing the exact amount.
A forward motion is binding.This applies to both you and your opponents. If you are not sure whether you should call, and in midst of your thought process you grab your chips and make the slightest forward motion, someone could call you out on that and it becomes a binding call. If you are not sure, finish your thought process then grab your chips.
If you are the one betting out, and the guy across from you is trying to angle you by pump faking a call with chips, notify the dealer that it was a forward motion and it becomes a call.
So what you should do for your first time at a casino?
Lowest you should consider playing live NL with is $200 at 1/2. You would get eaten alive and look kinda fishy if you bought in for whatever the absolute minimum is.
There’s usually a desk with some dude at it where you say “can I get in on some 1/2?“ Then he will put your name on a list and then ask “where can i buy some chips?”. He’ll either do it for you or show you the cage where you buy chips.
Then you wait for your name to be called or go in the seat he says.
Gambling is just like any other vice like drinking or smoking. Do it recreationally and be honest with yourself about your relationship with the game.
I LOVE poker. I also enjoy gambling. But I'm seasoned enough to play smart and not let the gambling side take over.
You could play 5cent/10cent or even 1cent/2cent with your buddies and still have a good time.
If you're not old enough to hit the casinos yet, wait until you are. Always play for fun, play to win, and remember that being a poker pro is a pipe dream like trying to be a famous Youtuber. It's hard, gruelling work with no guarantee that you'll succeed.
That being said, good luck and have fun.
LLSNL- acronym for live low stakes no-limit holdem. Generally refers to $1/$2 NL games, which is the lowest stake most casinos offer.
Opening wide - raising a large number of hands when folded to in late position
3-betting - blinds are the first bet, if your opponent raises that is the second bet, if you now re-raise that is considered the 3bet.
For example, blinds $1/$2, opponent raises to $12 in middle position, and you look down at two red aces on the button. It would be wise to 3b here to start building a pot.
Iso raising - when opponents "limp" (enter the pot by just calling the big blind), we should be looking to isolate these players by raising over their limps with a variety of hands. This gives us a chance to win what's in the pot without having to go to showdown by taking the pot preflop, or creates profitable opportunities to win the pot on later streets with the betting lead if a limper calls our raise and we go post flop.
C-bet - a "continuation bet", this is the name of the bet we make post-flop after having raised pre flop. This can be a value bet or a bluff.
Board texture - a description of how many draws and made hands are available on a particular board. A board like 8c9cTs is an example of a wet board, where many possible strong made hands, strong draws, and medium strength pair+draw or flush draw type hands are possible. Compare that to a dry flop of Ac7d2s, where fewer made hands are possible and few draws exist.
Bank roll - How much money you have allocated to poker.
When I was 18 I moved across the country to a city I had only been to once before. I had one friend there that I moved in with and attended college.
Before moving I had been playing poker online for around a year, and found minor success playing in home games and casinos in town. I had played a really small home game for many months leading up to my move, a $0.25/$0.50 NLH home game that ran weekly and was very friendly, as well as some other $20 rebuy MTT homegames that ran multiple times a week.
Now, once I had moved away from my home town I was eager to play more live poker in home games in my new city, hoping to meet new friends and learn new things about the game. Through facebook groups and pages for the city, I managed to become friends with someone that ran a private game. Lets call him Ricky.
I never knew it was a private game until one day he made a post on facebook; "Tourney 7pm free food and dealers". I was flat broke and living off of some small money my parents would send me for food, so I decided to message him and ask him if he needed an extra dealer.
I had never dealt cards in my life, aside from the home games in my home town. Ricky messaged me back fairly quickly, said why the hell not and gave me an address and a time. I watched a couple videos on dealing poker and off I went.
I remember dealing this small tourney for 2 months, making about $20 an hour for 4-6 hours a night and getting friendly with the regular players. At first my dealing was absolutely horrendous, shuffling the cards in a manner that exposed cards to players, swapping hands with the stub constantly, horrible math when making change and doing all-in side pots was a nightmare.
After the first month and a bit, one of the other dealers, a nice lady about the same age as my mom offered to give me some training. She taught me to hold the stub in my left hand and never drop it during a hand. When to muck players cards. How to keep the table under control. How to do the math efficiently.
All of a sudden my dealing got alot better and the players stopped being annoyed with my dealing all the time! In the first few months I had heard of a cash game being ran in a back room after the tourney, but I was never allowed to see it or know about it, mostly because Ricky didn't really know me or trust me.
After the other dealer trained me a bit, Ricky said hey how would you like to deal the cash game for a minute? The main dealer needed a potty break apparently. I said sure why not, and he gave me the run down on how the cash game runs differently from the tourney. The cash game was Omaha, occasionally with 5 cards for every player, the rake was this much and this is where to put it, and this is where to put your tips.
I had never calculated pot in my life so he said, just ask the players what pot is. I deal the game for about 45 minutes and I make close to $60 in tips in that time frame and was instantly hooked. After that night I decided to get alot friendlier with the cash game dealers and see if they could help my dealing get even better so that I could deal the cash game more often.
Ricky noticed this and seemed to respect my interest in learning the game and dealing it, and talked to the main cash game dealer, asking him to teach me to run the cash table alot better. I dealt the cash game one night every 2 weeks, and made fantastic money for a kid my age.
A month or 2 later, Ricky sat me down before our tourney to talk. He said listen kid, I appreciate your help around here, you are always here early, you help bring in the food and drinks, you help set everything up, and you've invested alot of effort in learning the cash game.
He says he is moving locations and wants me to be one of the main dealers in his new room. I was ecstatic! He told me about new tables, new chips, new cards, new chairs and a new business partner. About 2 weeks later he sends me a new address, and this time it's right in the heart of downtown of this city!
I was mind blown by the size of the room, the quality of the tables, cards and chips, and was very proud of myself for working hard enough for Ricky that he felt I was deserving of a more permanent position in his stable of dealers. Fast forward about another month, I have gotten a lot better at calculating pot and I started dealing the cash game 2 nights a week, every week. I was making around $300 on average every night, which was more then I was making in my previous part time job cooking.
By this point, I had to tell my mom why I didn't need her to send me food money every month, and that I was making plenty of money working as a poker dealer in a private club. She understood it was illegal and didn't want her 18 year old son mixed in it, but also didn't mind saving the $500 every month.
After graduating and getting my full time job I stopped dealing for Ricky, but we remained friends and I would seek out his advice or help when I needed it. I eventually decided to go legit and start actually playing poker too.
I'm very thankful that I could be working a job I enjoyed so much, making more money then most of my peers while loving every day of my job! I can happily say I have never had a day/night of dealing cards where I wish I could just go home, and I think that I can accredit that to Ricky.