I completed a new poker booklet this week. It’s called Poker Is A Skill: Stop Losing Now. As the name implies, it is a guide that teaches you poker skill, with the intention of helping you stop losing.
Now, this booklet will not prevent you from ever having a losing session. The only poker book that could achieve this would have to be titled Poker: Stop Playing Now. There’s no other way to avoid losing sessions. Instead, my booklet will help you transition from a long-term losing player into a long-term breakeven or winning player.
Stop Losing Now is currently available on Leanpub for the indecently modest price of $4.99. If reading the book even keeps you from saving $5 at the poker tables, then you’ve already made a profit!
While I’d love for you to buy the book and help me sustain my independent writing career, the purpose of this post is not actually self-promotion. Instead, I’m about to give you all of the essential information of the book in a highly condensed fashion. Where the booklet itself spends a thousand or more words on each concept, I’ll give you the gist of each here in fewer than a hundred.
From the subtitle of “10 simple steps from beginner to winner,” you can glean that the book gives you 10 nuggets of wisdom which, if followed, will help you stop losing. Most of these suggestions are generalizations and over-simplifications. Consider them a starting point and a fallback strategy rather than a comprehensive guide to playing expert poker.
1. Play with weaker players.
Poker is often a freakishly simple game. If you regularly play with players who are better than you, you will lose money in the long run. If you find players who are weaker than you, you will make money in the long run. Easy game, yeah? You should always know why you are playing in a particular game. As the old saying goes, “If you can’t spot the sucker in your first fifteen minutes at the tables, you are the sucker.”
2. Understand relative strength.
A flush is a strong hand. But it will lose the pot if it runs into a full house. It’s not enough to know whether you have a good hand or a bad hand. It only matters whether you have a better hand or a worse hand relative to the hands of your opponents. I’ve won a lot of pots with ace-high and lost a lot of pots with a flush.
3. Put your opponent on a range.
Instead of trying to divine exactly what hand your opponent holds, try to consider the entire range of likely holdings. If you have a flush, don’t ask yourself whether or not your opponent has a better hand than you. Instead, ask yourself how often your opponent will have a better hand than you, given his actions thus far in the hand.
4. Know the odds.
Poker math is not that hard. Most of the time it involves counting and then dividing by a number less than 10. If you can read this blog, you can do that math. Spend a small amount of time to learn that you’ll make a flush draw on the next card about 1 time in 5, and you’ll hit a gutshot straight draw more like 1 time in 11. You could even take a little cheat sheet with you to your poker game if you’d like.
5. Embrace variance.
Poker is a skill. But it’s a game that also involves an element of chance. Bad players wouldn’t keep playing if they lost every single hand or every single session. Sometimes you’ll play well and lose and sometimes you’ll play bad and win. Learn to live with it and laugh at it. Learning the math will give you some perspective on chance. Maybe practice some breathing exercises as well. I’ll have some of those here on zenmadman.com sooner or later.
6. Start from a position of power.
This is really two concepts in one. First of all, don’t get involved in a pot unless you start with a decent hand. Folding is always free. Secondly, what constitutes a decent hand depends upon what the players in front of you have done and how many players are left to act behind you. In a late position, you can play more hands than you can when you are first to act. In later position, you have more information on every round of betting.
7. Bet when you have it; fold when you don’t.
Deciding exactly what constitutes “it” is as much art as it is science. The value of your hand is relative to the strength of your opponent’s range. But the simple part is this:
- If you think you have a strong hand, you should often bet.
- If you think you have a very weak hand, you should usually fold.
- You should only check and call when you have a draw with good odds or have a good reason to believe that you’ll earn more money by playing your hand passively.
8. Semi-bluff with equity.
When you have a good drawing hand, you can bet with the hope of getting immediate folds and the chance of improving to the best hand if you get called. This is a semi-bluff. The stronger your draw, the less often you need your opponents to fold for your play to show a profit.
9. Bluff when they’re weak.
Bluffing isn’t usually about getting someone to fold a strong hand. It’s more often about determining when your opponent has a weak range and attacking that range. Rather than trying to strong-arm a player off a strong hand, make your bluffs invitations for your opponents to fold their weak hands.
10. Never stop learning.
This is good advice in every aspect of life, but it’s especially important if you want to be a winning poker player. Following these first 9 steps should take any player from losing a lot or a little to breaking even or winning a little. But if you want genuinely good poker results, then there is work to be done. How much work you do is up to you. But if you always keep learning, your game will develop, your results will improve, and poker will be a hell of a lot more fun.
Thanks for reading my Stop Losing micro-guide. If you’d like to read my more elaborate explanations of these 10 steps, or if you’d like to support my independent publishing venture, stop by Leanpub and purchase a copy of Stop Losing Now.
It is currently complete, but not finished. That means that I’ve put all the content into the booklet, but haven’t given it the final polish. One nice thing about Leanpub is that it gives you the opportunity to provide feedback on the book before it’s 100% finished. I can use that feedback to make the content even better and more well-suited to your needs.
If you have any questions about this post, or any other suggestions for players trying to make the jump from struggling player to breakeven or winning player, please share your thoughts in the comments below.