What is the difference between recreational and professional poker players? These groups prioritize different things, and I want to touch on what is important if you want to take this game more seriously.
I will not dive too deep into the strategies because that is beyond this scope of this one article. Instead, I will highlight what I think you should prioritize if you want to see consistent results.
Master the Fundamentals
First and foremost, devote your time to mastering fundamentals and build a solid foundation from which to work. I know that studying crazy spots can be sexy. However, these rarely come up in the games and it is not where the money is.
If you can learn the Game Theory Optimal (GTO) approach to the most common spots and then understand how to adjust versus different players, you will have a very big edge over your opponents.
So instead of analyzing how to play random spots that look exciting, break down the most common situations you face. Without a doubt, start by learning preflop hand ranges. Then, move on to mastering cbetting on different boards or how to play your entire range from the BB when you face a continuation bet yourself.
So, start with situations that happen most frequently. Then move to the next most common scenario and keep doing it until you have a very solid understanding of all the fundamentals.
Most importantly, structure your learning. Instead of consuming random content, concentrate on working on one specific area of the game that you are trying to improve.
Learn to Adjust
Poker has progressed, and these days players are much tougher than they used to be a couple of years back. So even though GTO approach is not ideal in all situations, you should learn what balanced ranges look like and how to approach the most common spots.
However, when you know the basics, the next step is adjusting based on specific opponents. That is where most of your money will come from.
Of course, it is quite hard to build a separate strategy against each individual. But, you can make your life easier by capitalizing on population tendencies and grouping players.
These adjustments are very straightforward. If you find that passive players are calling too much, you just value bet wider and stop bluffing against them. It is going to be an extremely profitable adjustment, and you will make much more money than sticking to balancing your ranges.
Contrary to this, if you are against aggressive opponents who are willing to fire almost all the time when you check, it makes sense to adjust again and check many strong hands and choose your complete air hands to bluff.
So this is always a moving target, but if you categorize recreational players into different groups, you will be able to exploit their mistakes and put more cash in your pocket.
Have a Routine
The days when strong players were starting their sessions after getting back from a party or just randomly deciding to play are long gone, and if you want to have good results, you should take poker seriously.
The best way to do it, as far as I know, is having a routine. If you plan when you are going to play, when you will devote time to studying and even when you will rest, it will reduce the mental effort needed to make such decisions and free up some brainpower for you.
I put a few things into my poker routine:
- I always take a few minutes to prepare for my session. Review some hands, or read an article to get in a state of thinking about poker.
- Removing all distractions like muting my phone, turning off the TV, or even closing unnecessary apps on my PC is a must before starting playing.
- Detach from poker after my session. This one is not so obvious but very important, and I struggled with it for years. Especially when running bad, emotions can carry on to my everyday life, which can hurt all other areas. So learn what works for you, either watch some funny videos after your session, read something, go to the gym or whatever non-poker activity works for you. You will thank me later.
Also, getting proper sleep and regularly exercising will help you keep your energy and concentration on the table. This, without a doubt, has a direct influence on the quality of your decisions.
Detach From Emotions
Humans are very emotional species, so this is easier said than done. However, to have better results, you should concentrate on the math part of the game and keep your composure.
Of course, it is one thing to understand that you should not play when you feel a negative (or even overly positive) influence from your emotions and another thing to do it. While it is easy to avoid starting the games when you feel bad, sometimes it is not as easy to quit your session when you start tilting. But, this is something you have to learn.
What helps me the most is that I always concentrate on the actual decision and not the result it brings. If I think I played it right, that's all that matters to me. I've trained myself to move to the next hand even if my opponent hit that two-outer on the river (P.S. – that should happen sometimes).
However, if you still find yourself tilting, just quit your session and take a break. It will surely help you save a lot of money, and while doing it, try to identify what caused these emotions and how you can avoid them in the future.
If you can think about every hand as a separate event, you will quickly overcome emotional decisions and start making better ones!