Eventually I decided that if I was going to keep playing poker I needed to improve my skills. I became a student of the game, read everything I could find about the game, and worked at improving my results. I started getting better, and from 20 years ago to around 10 years ago I learned enough to become somewhere around a break even player.
It’s only been in the last 10 year that I’ve learned how to be a winning player. Poker has been fun to play the entire time I’ve played, but winning makes it even better.
Over the years I’ve never played poker on a regular basis. When a good private game was available I’d play, and I’d take trips to a poker room from time to time. I eventually started playing online, which made it easier to find games on a regular basis.
I decided to set a challenge for myself of playing poker every day for six months. I played mostly online during this time, but I still played live when I had a good opportunity. I hoped to learn a few things while doing this, and I did.
Below I’m going to share with you many of the things I learned. Hopefully some of these things can help you improve your poker results, and give you an idea of the difference between playing poker for fun and being in a situation where you have to play every day.
I didn’t play on a full time basis. Most days I only played for an hour or so. This is important to remember, because even playing every day for six months isn’t the same as playing as a professional, or full time, player.
My Game Improved
This shouldn’t come as a surprise, but my game improved over the six months. Anything you practice on a regular basis is likely to improve. I didn’t start this exercise as a new or beginning player. Remember, I had close to 40 years experience before I started.
But you don’t need to have a bunch of experience before you try something like this challenge for yourself. Even if you’re just learning, playing every day will help you get better.
Here’s an example:
Like most poker players, I used to overvalue suited connectors. While suited connectors can be profitable, they lead to too many hands where you’re playing for second and third best hands.
I played a lot of pot limit Omaha during the six months, and it’s a game where you don’t want to be chasing second and third best hands. I recognized those suited connectors were costing me money, so I quit playing as many of them. This instantly started improving my results.
During each playing session I made notes about mistakes I made. I also made notes about situations that I wasn’t sure were mistakes, so I could dig into the math later.
As I studied hands from these notes I was able to improve my knowledge about how I played and how I made decisions at the table. By slowly correcting areas where I was making mistakes, my game improved.
Many Playing Decisions Became Mechanical
Every hand of poker you play is built on a series of decisions. To be the best poker player you can be, you need to use as much information as possible to make each playing decision.
Here’s a list of some of the things to consider on every hand:
- Your position relative to the blind
- How big your stack is
- The stack size of each of your opponents
- Your starting hand
- Your opponent’s playing tendencies
- The game and betting structure
- The size of the blinds
- The likelihood of being raised if you limp or raise
- Everything that can possibly happen on the flop if you enter the pot
- As many things as you can predict happening on the turn and river
This isn’t even a complete list, but it shows how many things you need to consider on every hand at the poker table. The good news is that you learn to subconsciously track many of these things the more you play.
Once you get a feel for the table and your opponents, many decisions become automatic or mechanical.
Here’s an example:
You’re playing no limit Texas holdem at a table with a couple good players and you receive the five of hearts and six of hearts in early position. Almost every hand is raised before the flop. Though a no gap suited connector is a decent trap hand, it’s not a hand you want to play out of position for a raise. This is an automatic fold from early position in this game.
Here’s a different situation:
You’re in the same game, have a deep stack, are on the button, face one raise, and both of the blinds are passive. The player who raised has a deep stack and has a tendency to marry his hands. When you have a no gap suited connector and have position in this example, it might be profitable to call a reasonable raise. If you have a chance to take your opponent’s entire stack it might be a profitable call.
The first hand is mechanical or automatic, while the second hand requires more attention. As I played deeper into the six month period, I learned which hands required more attention and which ones were mechanical. Most hands are easy, resulting in a fold before the flop.
I learned How to Determine Rough Pot Odds Automatically
Pot odds are important for any poker player who wants to show a consistent profit. But I learned a secret from facing so many decisions over six months. You rarely need to determine exact pot odds to make the right decision. Most of the time, you can do a rough calculation and come up with the most profitable play.
But if you take the time to learn how pot odds work, you’re going to quickly learn that in most cases they aren’t hard to use, and that the same situations come up over and over again. Once you learn how pot odds work when you’re drawing to a flush or open end straight, you use the same information every time you’re in the same situation.
I Saw Every Kind of Bad Beat Imaginable
I don’t spend as much time at online poker forums as I used to, but they still seem to be littered with players complaining about bad beats. I don’t know how many times I’ve read how online poker is rigged and is designed to keep poor players alive longer.
I’ve never worried about online poker being rigged. While there have been a couple scandals over the years, I’ve never seen anything at my time at the tables to make me think anything bad was going on. I’m a mathematician at heart so I have a good understanding of odd and probabilities.
During the six months of playing every day I saw every kind of bad beat you can imagine. I was on the losing end of some, saw other players get sucked out on, and even was on the winning end on a few bad beats.
I don’t know for sure why so many online poker players seem to think the games are rigged, but I have a couple theories. Some players overestimate their ability and are convinced that they can’t possibly make mistakes. When they lose on a consistent basis they refuse to take responsibility for their poor play, so they blame everything and everyone else.
The other theory is that online poker lets you play many more hands per hour than live play, so you see more bad beats. The number of bad beats is the same per hand, but you play so many more hands per hour that it seems higher.
If you’re truly concerned that the online poker room where you play is rigged, you should play somewhere else. The other option is to start tracking all of your play and run the numbers yourself. But you have to track every single hand, including all of the times your had stood up.
But if you track this over 490 times I bet you’re going to find that you hit your flush close to 90 times. If you do, it gives you a good indication that the software is dealing honestly.
I Was Forced to Improve My Health
Though I didn’t play many long sessions, the process of playing every day took a toll on me both physically and mentally. I’m not a doctor or psychologist, but I’ve been around long enough to know that my physical health and mental abilities are linked. My mind works better when I’m in better health.
I didn’t make huge changes and suddenly become a model of physical health, but by making a couple small changes I improved my health. This had a direct influence on my ability to stay sharp mentally while playing.
I Got Bored
When I play poker when I want to it’s fun. But when I forced myself to play every day for six months it quickly started feeling more like a job than anything else. By the time I finished the challenge I was bored to tears.
I accept that this may have more to do with my personality than anything else, and that you might have different results. But I don’t want to play poker to be bored.
I Found Out the Truth about My Long Term Poker Possibilities
Many poker players enjoy some success at the tables and start thinking about playing for a living. They think that there can’t be a better way to make a living than playing a game. I admit that I’ve had these same thoughts in the past.
Playing poker games every day for six months was the perfect way for me to find out if I could play poker for a living, and if it’s something that I really want to try.
While I’ve read about how poker can be a grind, I didn’t fully appreciate it until I forced myself to play every day. Everyone is different, but most people don’t enjoy playing poker when it transitions from a game to a job. When you have to play instead of playing when you want, it changes many things.
I found out that if I really wanted to play poker for a living that I have a realistic chance to do it. But I also found out that it’s not what I want to do. Here’s some more information about both of these things.
As I mentioned in an earlier section, playing poker every day is boring. It’s a real grind to squeeze out a profit, and it’s not easy. It’s easy to get bored and make mechanical plays, but you still have to pay attention to everything at the table in order to maximize your profits. The combination of being bored and being forced to pay attention to everything wore me down.
You might not have this problem, but the only way to know for sure is to play on a schedule over a long period of time. It’s not enough for me to make a profit; I need to be engaged and like to be entertained while doing it. While being involved in big hands is still engaging, the truth is that 95% or more of the hands play themselves.
It’s nice to learn that I could play full time if I wanted, but it’s also good to know that at this time in my life I don’t have to. I plan to continue playing poker for as long as I can, but only when I want to play. Not being forced to play makes the game much more enjoyable for me. I still try my best to win every time I play, but the constant pressure is now gone.
Looking back at the six months of play, I’m glad I did it. It made me a better player and I learned a great deal about my abilities.
I learned that I don’t need to wonder if I have what it takes to play poker full time, because I do. But I also learned that it’s not something I’m going to do. I’m not willing to make the sacrifices and live with the boredom and grind of a full time poker player.
During the poker boom, it was easier to find soft games because many players watched televised poker and wanted to push their stack all in. They didn’t know how to play well and it made for many profitable opportunities.
While there aren’t as many good games now, there are still plenty of opportunities to play in profitable games. I’ve found that Texas holdem games are tougher now, but secondary games like Omaha and stud are still soft in many places.
You can still find many soft holdem games, but you have to do a better job looking for games than during the poker boom. I still play in some private holdem games that are filled with poor players, and even when I play at the poker room or online, most Texas holdem tables have at least two or three poor players.
As you play at higher and higher limits, Texas holdem games get tougher to beat. At the biggest games it often seems like the players are just passing chips around. But most of us aren’t ever going to be playing with the pros who throw hundreds of thousands around like pennies, so you still have many opportunities to be a winning poker player.
If you think you have a real chance to play poker full time, consider challenging yourself to play every day for six months like I did. Even if you only play a few hours a day, you can get a good idea if your game is good enough, and more importantly, if the grind of playing every day I something you want to do in the future.
One last bit of advice I can offer if you decide to play every day; start at a lower limit than you usually play. You can always step back up to a higher limit, but this protects your bankroll while you learn how to adjust to the everyday grind.