Learning poker in 3 months
# 5 min.
As most people, I have an ever-expanding list of things I wanna try. Problem is, they keep piling up. To deal with that I’ve decided to enforce a soft schedule. The idea is simple enough:
- pick a project or activity from the list that I’m most enthusiastic about at the moment.
- make it a priority for 3 months.
- after 3 months are up, evaluate the results and decide how to proceed next.
Why three months? One month seems too short to achieve something meaningful without burning out. Half a year seems too long to maintain focus. Thus, the middle point. You can do a lot in 90 days, and if you stick with it you’ll have 4 new stories to tell in a year.
I’m a big believer in trusting the process, so I’m not setting any result-based goals. Since this is mostly about trying new things, I wouldn’t even know enough to set a meaningful goal in the first place. The only thing I can control is my focus and effort, so that’s the only commitment I’m making.
This year I decided to learn poker, more specifically No-Limit Texas Hold’em. I had no ambitions to become a professional player, just learn enough to have fun and enjoy the game. I was sort of familiar with basic rules and principles, but nothing more. Three months should be enough to improve on that.
I started off watching John Hopkins Poker Course - it’s available on youtube and took me 2 or 3 weeks to complete. I was taking copious notes during the lectures. You need to know basic rules of the game to follow the course, so if you don’t - start with that.
There’s nothing special about this course - feel free to take something else if you have a good reason. I don’t feel like any course is worth paying for. Better put that money towards your bankroll.
Next I downloaded the trial of PokerSnowie and just practiced for a week or so. The main goal is to get familiar with the gameplay and start developing intuition. You’re not perfecting your game here, so trial period will be more than enough.
Finally, a month in I felt confident enough to try playing online with real money. I did not expect to win - that would be highly unlikely with my level of training. You could spend money on additional courses or software, but I personally decided it will be more fun to lose that money playing actual poker. I do not regret my choice one bit.
It’s important to choose the right online poker room. You want to find one with more recreational players than professionals. You also want a room that doesn’t allow any HUDs (unless you plan to use one yourself) that gives opponents unfair advantage. You want to find a soft crowd that will not eat you alive and allow you to make mistakes without punishing you each time. Don’t just go to PokerStars - do your research and find a room that fits you and operates legally in your region.
I spend the remaining 2 months playing online 3-4 times per week, usually for 1-2 hours per sitting. Not nearly enough for meaningful statistics, but enough to see some patterns. As I was playing, I was also researching specific plays and strategies as they were coming up, then refining my notes.
At first I tried tournaments, because it was fun, dynamic, and cheap. Unfortunately, I quickly found out that variance (“luck factor”) is much higher in tournaments, and that doesn’t make for the best learning environment.
Then I spent most of the time playing micro-stakes at €10 tables (€0.1BB). I wouldn’t go lower than that - both you and the opponents are more likely to gamble, making it harder for you to learn proper poker strategy.
Cash tables turned out to be much better for practice - you get a kind of controlled environment where each hand is a blank page, and you don’t have to keep up with the blind structure or adjust your strategy every minute.
I was often making a classic mistake of playing my strongest hands too passively and my weaker hands too aggressively. That alone will make you lose money in the long run. When you get a really decent hand, play it for value like you mean it. Then again, if you’re seriously considering going all in with a single pair - maybe reconsider :). I still struggle with letting mediocre hands go.
Even though the poker course addressed it directly, I had to find out for myself that limping in with a 1BB rarely pays - even if you get lucky on the flop, it’s gonna be hard to get paid more than a few BBs. A starting hand should be good enough to raise at least 2-3 BB. Make an occasional exception if you find yourself sitting at a passive table in late position with suited connectors (implied odds might be worth it), but that’s that.
Every bet has to have a purpose. Don’t bet the full pot if half the pot would do the job. Don’t bluff if you’ve got nothing going for you.
Always remember that you’re not playing against cards, you’re playing against people. People (that includes you and me) make irrational choices all the time.
I had a lot of fun over 3 months and found a new appreciation for the game. My biggest win was doubling the buy-in in an hour. My biggest loss was two buy-ins in the same time. In total I’d estimate I lost money at the rate of less than €1 per hour. Not a bad price for evening’s entertainment.
I think I’ll still be playing online poker every once in a while, but I’m not gonna make a habbit of it. Grinding just isn’t for me, I find it boring. I also noticed that I hated losing much more than I enjoyed winning, which makes sense, though not a great quality for an aspiring gambler :)
Overall I’m happy I did it, but I’m ready to move on to something else.