Keys to success in today’s poker world
Today’s poker environment is much tougher than it used to be. A few years ago, anyone with half a brain and a little dedication could make money playing poker. All you had to do was play smart and you could make good money. But that has all changed. To be a successful poker player in today’s world requires that you not only play smart, but be smart in every single aspect of the game.
Many of the players who came into the game a few years ago have lost their money and gone on to other pursuits or hobbies. There has been a tremendous influx of educational material that has pushed the level of play higher and higher. Those who were dedicated to learning basic and intermediate strategies, but otherwise had other flaws in their approach to the game, now find themselves struggling to get by. The sharks are having a harder and harder time of finding easy prey, so they now must survive by eating up the slightly larger fish. These larger fish either improve their games or find themselves out of the water.
In today’s poker world, you must be smart, not just play smart.
What does this mean? You can’t simply rely on basic and intermediate strategies to succeed. You can excel only by preparing yourself in every possible way — including your diet, your fitness, your mental approach, your lifestyle, how you learn the game, and so on. All of these factors have a tremendous impact on whether or not you are successful. Let’s discuss these factors in more detail:
Fitness and Diet: There was a recent interview in Card Player with Bertrand “ElkY” Grospellier. He has hired a coach to keep him focused on maintaining a healthy diet and exercise plan. He says, “When you’re fit, it helps you to be mentally focused for longer periods of time.” Daniel Negreanu has been boasting lately that his new workout plan has given him more strength and energy.
If you’re in a juicy cash game, the longer you can remain sharp, the more you can take advantage of the weak players in long sessions. In tournaments, which last until 2 a.m. and sometimes 4 a.m., those with the most energy can remain sharp until the end of the day. If you play online, where the best games start late at night, energy can keep you focused. If you are a professional online player who plays several hours every day, staying fit will help keep you focused.
The unfit are simply at a disadvantage to the fit.
Mental Approach: You can have the best skills in the world, but if you are not able to play your best game all the time, you will not reach your potential. The best players tend to maintain a consistent even keel when at the table; players like Allen Cunningham, Phil Ivey, Daniel Negreanu, and Eric “Rizen” Lynch come to mind. If you tend to go on tilt, you will never reach your full potential. In fact, many players, no matter how good they are at the game, will go broke if they don’t master the mental side of the game. There aren’t many Phil Hellmuths in the world who can consistently get angry and be successful.
Lifestyle: The obvious topics under lifestyle include drinking, partying, drugs, and so on. But I would like to focus on another topic under lifestyle — discipline. Today’s best online players are very disciplined. Many have set schedules and stick to them religiously. Many take days off to refresh themselves and recharge their batteries. The computer is so tempting, as it is always there, right in the other room. But to be successful, you have to live a balanced life. All of those players who just sit in front of their computers all day long, seven days a week, will simply burn out and not really enjoy what life is all about. To succeed in today’s poker world, you must be disciplined enough to separate your social life from your poker life.
Education: To maximize your success, you must continually improve your game. There are just no excuses anymore, with the availability of books, videos, forums, articles, and so on. Yet, you hear about players who just play, play, and play. They say that they don’t like posting on forums or reading books. Even if you are capable of playing expert poker without educational material, it sure helps the learning curve and at least keeps you up-to-date with how other players are learning the game.
Adaptability (Game Selection): Adaptability may be one of the most important traits for poker players in today’s new poker environment to acquire. Game selection has always been important, but in today’s world, it is essential. It is about finding the most profitable games.
Limit hold’em used to be an extremely lucrative game, but the fish moved on to start playing no-limit hold’em. And the intermediate to advanced players increased their levels of play through new and better books on the game. Limit games now are much less profitable than they were a few years ago. The better players recognized this and moved on to no-limit hold’em. Limit games are still profitable, but they have definitely become more difficult over the last year or two.
Sit-and-gos at the higher stakes have become so tough that even expert players can barely beat the rake; most of them now make their living simply from rakeback.
Tournaments are still juicy, but they are getting tougher every year.
The best players adapt and move on to the most profitable games. I believe that one of the more profitable games to start playing right now is pot-limit Omaha. This is the next game that many players will try to learn after no-limit hold’em. New literature is coming out (Advanced Pot-Limit Omaha by Jeff Hwang was released in June, and others are on the way) that will likely encourage new players to try the game. The growth of this game should be substantial in the coming years. Of course, new players will have a learning curve, which will make the games quite profitable for the advanced player.
To succeed in today’s poker world, you must adapt and play the most profitable games. You must educate yourself and continually improve. You must approach the game with the right poker mindset and maintain your energy level, focus, and concentration through diet and exercise. Finally, you should have a balanced lifestyle that will sustain a long poker career. You can’t just play smart anymore, you must be smart, as well.
This article first appeared in Card Player magazine.
Matthew is the owner of Dimat Enterprises, “Publishing Today’s Best Poker Books”. The Math of Hold’em by Collin Moshman and Douglas Zare is available now at pokerbooks.InternetTexasHoldem.com.