I openly take notes while I play poker; anyone can see me as I write down different types of information. This information helps casino me win more money more often, while losing less.

Taking notes helps me in many ways: it makes me more focused on the game, helps me know what bluffs are the most successful at the table, and it informs me on what kind of player each opponent is, along with their traits. Then I can know, for example, that a player is tight, and that when he raises early he has a good hand. If I have a bad one, this lets me know to fold, and therefore save chips. My notes also help remind me which players are easy to bluff out and which are “calling-stations”, or more difficult to intimidate. Knowing this helps me raise my bluffing statistics, and therefore raise my profits.

I had an “ah-ha” moment while reading Irene Edith’s recent column on rating your personal poker skills. She pointed out that “There are many degrees of luck and skill… If you are a consistent winner and the amounts won are growing with time, then you must be rated as highly skilled.

Before having my revelation, I marked an opponent’s skills by measuring how well they used the Hold’em Algorithm (Ref. Hold’em or Fold’em?-An Algorithm for Making the Kay decision; see ad in this issue). I considered someone who did not use the algorithm or an equivalent a “pigeon”, and I wrote a “P” alongside their seating position. Someone who did use the algorithm or an equivalent was designated “T” for “tight”.

But it’s just as important to recognize the highly skilled players at your table, perhaps even more so. Use extra caution when playing against them. If there’s two or more at the table, consider changing tables. If there’s only one, you might consider changing your seat so he declares before you’re forced to act. This kind of information is vital to your poker health.

How can you tell which players are highly skilled? To start, highly skilled players are likely to have significantly more chips in from of them than average. This isn’t always accurate, however. Another way to spot a skilled player is watching how many hands they muck. Skilled players do this much more than average ones; a truly skilled player doesn’t stay to see the flop more than a quarter of the time when in a late position, and pays to see even fewer when in an early one. Skilled players also prefer to mix up strategies and tactics, making it even harder to predict them.

On this reasoning, I’ve added an “S” to my notes for “highly skilled” or “shark”. With nine or ten players at a table, and with players constantly changing, this new notation makes it much easier to play, and with much less stress.

Always try and find ways to improve your game. This small change in my note taking certainly helps me.

Poker is such a complex game that improving your play can be intimidating. It’s not something you can learn one day and effectively put into play the next day while engaged in a game. It just takes time.

Take things slowly

When you study poker in a book or video, you see many new concepts and it seems it would be easy to apply them immediately to wiping out your opponents. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. Focus on one topic at a time, making this one topic the only goal of the game. Check your results only after at least a month and continue to zero in on the strategies of play. Don’t approach every game with a big win in mind.

Learn from your mistakes

Mistakes are essential for improving as a player. Mistakes cost you money and frustrate you, but you must step out of your comfort zone knowing that each error is a lesson in itself. The next time you mess up big time, mark the hand and later analyze it instead of beating yourself up for your stupidity.

Choose good resources for learning

There is a vast array of information available on playing poker. Choose from among books, videos, forums and blogs. Use your own stats for self-analysis or hire a coach to see what works best for you. Explore the available options and choose those most effective for your learning style.

To me, books are the best option for the new player. Of the endless selection of books available, I can recommend these from personal experience:

crushing-the-microstakesCrushing the Microstakes by Nathan “BlackRain79” Williams
This is the guide to lean on if you’re having a tough time with micros. To improve your odds of beating the lowest stakes, count on this book.


playing-the-playerPlaying the Player by Ed Miller
While not aimed at beginning players, this will make the most of your win rate and reduce your tendency toward a robotic style. You do need to be comfortable with some basic strategies before diving into this volume.


the-courseThe Course by Ed Miller
A new book dealing exclusively with live play, the goal of Miller is to educate players on beating live NL. This is a good guide for players up through the intermediate level, even if their only action is small stakes online.


modern-small-stakesModern Small Stakes by Nathan “BlackRain 79” Williams
Using countless hand examples, this does a great job of teaching about a variety of different situations you will encounter after leaving the micros behind.


mental-game-of-pokerThe Mental Game of Poker by Jared Tendler
This consideration of the advantage of having mental control and managing your emotions during a game recognizes the crucial role played by tilt, anxiety, etc. Tendler provides information on techniques to eliminate these issues.


treat-your-poker-like-a-businessTreat Your Poker Like a Business by Dusty Schmidt
If you want to move your game from the hobby level to a serious endeavor, this book is a must-read. It gives great advice on how to live your life to be a better player.


In addition to books, another great place to address improving your game is the world of videos. By observing the top professional players as they address different situations, you can pick up a lot about their strategies. You will also find that although you may see these pros as all-knowing, they are sometimes just as clueless as everyone else. This can be a great confidence booster.

Besides videos of live play, you can access training videos where explanations of strategies help you make sense of what you see in professional games.

Some of the recommended sites for accessing these videos are:

  • Deuces Cracked” gives you a free 7 day trial so you can experience the fantastic collection of big- name poker pros. This is a site that has a long and admirable history. You’ll find high quality productions that present lots of good information.
  • Tournamentpokeredge” A subscription here will allow you to view over 1,000 recordings and 200 articles, all designed to teach you about tournament poker. The videos are of high quality and will give you an edge in the race to master tournament poker.

Also available as a conduit of information are poker forums. The value of these sites is questionable as they consist of a collection of unknowns who voice their opinions about poker questions. There is no way to sort the good advice and knowledgeable people from the bad, so the forum doesn’t seem to be a reliable source for information. The forums do, however, offer the change to share ideas with other poker fans. A good discussion helps you to refine your own thoughts.

One big mistake that many players make is to be so focused on learning new strategies and concepts that they fail to ensure that they are learning and using them correctly. If you don’t stop periodically to check your basics, you can be constantly reinforcing bad habits. One approach to monitoring your progress and your play is to work with a good poker coach. An expert outside observer can be a great way to take note of your weaknesses and provide corrective advice. While it is a more costly way to work on your game, a coach can be a great help.

In the end, remember that poker is a game. You should be enjoying the time you spend at the table, not stressing yourself. Take things one step at a time. Figure out what combination of the plentiful resources for improvement works best for you. Even if you aim to become a professional competitor, it’s important to remember that people who enjoy their work do it better!

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