Properly sizing up your poker game

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I coach poker. Today’s typical student or poker player is vastly superior in general knowledge about poker than in years past. So finding leaks to get them to play better has become more challenging over time. For example, take golf. Taking a handicap from 18 to 10 is much easier than getting a golfer’s game from a six to a three. 

Furthermore, if a poker player is improving his game and his competition is at a higher level, it’s not hard to imagine him becoming frustrated when results don’t hit the monetary goals. 

In golf, it’s straightforward who won the match. In poker, sometimes we play better but end up on the losing side of the ledger. If you’re a diligent player who reads up on strategy and takes the hobby seriously, I have a few ideas for you.

Keep it real. We have to take honest stock of our session. Over four hours of play, write down four hands and review them with a coach or a poker buddy. Imagine hundreds of hands for review. Just like a hitting coach looks at film in baseball, subtle areas of improvement will appear. After all, who among us plays every hand perfectly? And keep in mind that every hand has a story.

I receive hands from students who question whether they played it “right” and this often occurs when we flop a strong hand and opt to make a strong bet and our opponent folds. The common question is, “Should I have checked?” Checking on the flop can lead to a set getting run down. Slow-playing is not a good idea. Yes, there are exceptions to the rule, but in general take the pot down and move on to the next hand. (See this month’s column from pro Michael Laake on Page 35 of our current issue for more on this idea.)

Sometimes we forget the fundamentals we knew so well when we were learning the game. In baseball, they say, “Keep your eye on the ball.” In poker, I never stop cautioning students about position. “Position is to poker as water is to life.” 

I promise you, there’s a high likelihood that over time we start to loosen up our standards. Having a starting-hand chart is essential in building our poker plan. I recommend you keep it simple. Divide the chart into early position and late position. Play super tight up front and looser in the back. Coming in on the small blind on the cheap is most likely a leak.

In short, keep it real and hold yourself to high standards and it is a great idea to incorporate coaching into your path to poker success.

— Mark Brement has spent 15 years teaching and coaching all facets of poker, including at Pima CC. Email him at brementmark@gmail.com.

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