Before we begin our look at what it takes to be play "winning poker", let me first say that I don`t play poker for fun or enjoyment I play to win money.. but more on that later, lets now take a look at some of what it takes to be a consistent long term winner.
Playing winning poker is simple as I`ve said in a previous column. You just have to win more often than you lose or to be more precise...You have to win more often than you lose and also the amount you win in your winning sessions has to be greater than the amount you lose in the bad or losing sessions. It`s a simple principle as are most of the ones I will be discussing, but it is not just about learning and using these simple principles that's easy, it is sticking to them - that's the hard part! It is best that you realise from the outset that any player can look good when everything is going well. It is when it all starts to go wrong that is when the real test begins. When you can not make a hand for love nor money and on the rare occasions that you do it gets outdrawn on the turn or the river, and bare in mind this can go on for quite some time, and when it does.. now my friends this when you will find out if you have got what it takes to be a long term winner..... Welcome to the real game of poker!
How you handle these downswings will determine if you can survive. Notice I use the word survive, that's because some of the biggest names around from a couple of years back, are no longer playing regularly. They just didn't or couldn't survive the downswing. It possibly broke them mentally as well as financially.
IMPORTANT POINT: On your winning days you won't need to care, but on your losing days you will need to take great care.
First of all lets start with one of the most important items to any poker player - "The Bankroll". Now initially this will probably have to come from your own savings, unless of course you were lucky enough to win a free roll tournament or something similar, but for most of you it will be your own savings that will start the ball rolling. So how much? Well as a beginner or a novice I would suggest a good starting point would be ?1,000. Now I know some of you will be thinking that that amount is a bit low and that you are gods gift to poker and can afford ten times that, well fine, jump right in at the deep end. The same principles will apply whether you start with ?1,000 or ?100,000. Bear in mind that initially we are not trying to earn a living from our ?1,000 we are just trying out and developing good money management skills because that is how we will grow our bankroll, learning as we go. Now I suggest you set a stop loss limit on any one day or session of 10%, a point to remember here is to always re-calculate your bankroll at the end of every session (or the start) and adjust your 10% to reflect this. So as an example of your initial ?1,000 that would be a maximum of ?100. Under no circumstances should you exceed this limit, train yourself to be disciplined right from the outset. ?100 might not seem a massive amount for a session but online that would give you quite a of choice, small cash games, multi-tables, sit and go`s etc. In live play at your local club your choice may well be somewhat limited to a small cash game or maybe a multi re-buy in tournament. If you intend to play in a small cash game I suggest you divide your ?100 into two buy-ins of ?50 each. That way should things not go as planned on your initial ?50 buy-in you then have a second chance. This principle would still apply to a live re-buy tournament, lets assume the initial buy in was ?30 so from our original ?100 session money we now have our initial buy-in plus two re-buys, or one rebuy and one add on. And the extra ?10? Well you can use that for the cost of getting to the venue and a beer at the bar - after all you are supposed to be enjoying this!
Whatever your starting bankroll just remember to adhere strictly to your 10% stop loss limit, of course you can adapt the basic principles to suit your own bankroll. Oh and the stop win limit? That's the good news...there isn't one! A point to remember here especially while you are learning and building up your bank roll is to avoid turning a nice win into a frustrating loss. Many of you more experienced players reading this will be able to relate well to times when you had built up your initial buy-in into a nice win only to run into a couple of bad beats and end up in a losing session. Which brings me on to another important cash game tip,
try to keep control of the size of the pots you play, and don't go out on a limb when you don't need to. That is not to say keep the pot small, I'm not saying that at all. Just be aware that you may be building or adding value to a pot with a hand that.. A) doesn't warrant it and.. B) Isn't favourite to win it!
IMPORTANT POINT:When you are playing for cash, always try to keep the pot size within your control. Don't raise or re-open the betting when it may be detrimental to you chances of winning it.
On-line if I had a ?100 session bankroll I would personally choose to spread it across several games, perhaps playing three games simultaneously, a cash game, a ten handed sit and go and perhaps a short handed or heads-up game. My reasoning behind this would be I would be getting a reasonable spread for my money and just like trading on the stock exchange I wouldn't be putting all my eggs in one basket. Another advantage to me personally of playing three different types of games is that the disciplines required to win at each one are different, so I wouldn't be sitting out of action for very long, there would always be something to occupy my poker mind. Obviously this principle won't suit everybody, but at least it will give you some ideas to adapt into your own play.
IMPORTANT POINT: Constantly think about your game strategy always be looking for ways to get a better return on your money, look for and develop good situations.
Now a little bit about keeping records. The basic minimum of records to keep should include, type of game, buy-in, your result + or - and a few comments about the game and the players in it plus, one important point... an honest evaluation of your own play. Keeping records has a two fold effect on your game,
1) You can see how you are doing financially (you cannot kid yourself if it is written down in black and white)
2) Keeping records will allow you to pinpoint any problems that may be arising in your play and will allow you to make adjustments by simply cutting out these problems.
IMPORTANT POINT: Even if you never learn any more than you already know about poker (Assuming you have some basic knowledge) you could probably improve your game ten fold by just cutting out certain bad points that are present in your play.
Detecting your weak points and plugging those holes are vitally important to becoming a winning player. All top class sports men or women work with their coaches to improve their weak spots and poker is no different. My own personal records go back almost twenty years. I have a brief note on every live game I have ever played in both cash and tournament. From these records I know for a fact that of those twenty years I have lost in two of them and won in eighteen, now I'm not telling you this to try to impress you but to try to impress upon you the importance of keeping records. Oh and Just in case you are wondering how am I doing this year ? Well so far I'm down almost ?9,000....how's that for honesty ...But.. The years not over yet!
So now perhaps you can begin to see how important keeping records can be, it must be a corner-stone in your poker knowledge building progamme. Well I am rapidly running out of space for this column so we will continue our little discussion in my next column, but I hope it has given you some food for thought and perhaps a few pointers in the right direction. I don't expect you to totally agree with every thing I've written so please feel free to discuss or criticise (I welcome criticism ..good or bad as I personally feel that it is the way to improve) either on the forum or by emailing me on the link at the end of this column. Before I go, remember at the start of the column I said.. I don't play poker for fun or enjoyment, just for money? Well let me just complete that sentence "I don`t play poker for fun or enjoyment but, I do have fun and enjoy playing poker". If you can see the difference then you to are on your way to playing winning poker.
Until next time, stay safe, play well and enjoy your poker.