The Psychology Of Poker: How To Study Properly 

The Psychology Of Poker: How To Study Properly 

We have a lot of articles about the strategies and moves, but becoming good at Poker is more than you just reading strategy guides. You need to understand how to improve yourself beyond that if you want to be successful. 

Most players are fully aware of the fact that Poker is a player vs. player game. There is no house with an edge that you have to beat (generally speaking of course), and the only advantage a player has is his skill and his knowledge of the game (we’re going to assume that luck is not a factor in the long run). This does mean that you have a very high chance to out-perform your opponent if you can manage to “out-study” them.  

“But I am already reading articles, reading book, watching videos, listening Poker Podcasts... What else do you want me to do? Are you trying to sell a course?” No. 

We are in the age of information and there is literally way more information out there than you will ever need. Most of it for free as well.  

“So why am I not a pro yet? Have I been researching the wrong stuff?” No. But your studies are most likely incomplete. Studying incorporates much more than just reading articles or watching stuff on YouTube. Don’t get me wrong, please keep doing that! But let’s see how you can study properly

Find the Right Ratio Between Theory and Practice

You may have heard the famous saying before: Theory is when you know how stuff works, but nothing happens, practice is when something happens, and you don’t know why.

While this is a rather sarcastic point of view, it does capture a certain reality.

A lot of Poker players, especially new ones, tend to alternate heavily between playing and their research. They would just “study” for days or weeks on end and, then then “feel ready” and only play for weeks or months.

Needless to say, this is not the way to go.

Essentially all apprenticeships have alternating days of school and practical work. This is no mistake or an old system, this is specifically designed this way for a reason.  

Have you ever wondered in school what you would need certain things for? “Why do I need to know math? I will always have a calculator with me. Why do I need to know History? I always have Google.” Well, this design ensures, that you understand WHY you learn these things and how they relate to their practical application.  

It’s therefore very important to put the things you learn into practice rather sooner than later.

In fact, the right ratio would be somewhere around playing 50% as a beginner. You can put this into practice by getting a free app and just playing every other day for an hour or two, just to try out the things you learned and see if they work for you or if you need to review them again. As a bloody beginner, this is all you need to do. Get a feel for the game and start understanding how the game works, how odds work, which hand you should play and so on. 

The more you know, the less time you need to focus on studying and the more time you can spend playing. For good or great players, actual gameplay would generally make up about 80% of the time they spend with the game. But don’t neglect your poker strategy studies. They are still important for improving. 

Real Money VS Fake Money 

Generally playing with “fake money” or just free apps where you can’t cash out your worthless chips is somewhat frowned upon. And there is a good and simple reason for that: 

The pressure you feel, playing with real money on the line is completely different from the pressure you feel, playing with worthless chips. 

This doesn’t mean that playing with fake money is useless. It can help you get a grasp on how the game is played and lets you practice strategies and patience. But if you want to get serious, start playing poker for real money. It’s fine to pick the lowest stakes possible, but it’s important to get used to the feeling of risking and losing money - and learn how to avoid losing money in the long run. 

It is worth mentioning, that most Online Poker Sites will offer a pretty good Welcome Bonus, so that is definitely something to take advantage of, as your main focus at this point is still practice, and making every cent count is vital. 

Study Piece by Piece and Practice

Once you have a good understanding of Poker Hands and Poker Odds, which cards to play in which position, and how to play poker tight, it’s time to get your real account and practice.  

The process here is actually quite simple: Find an area that you are lacking in, study that area and then go back to practice. If you managed to improve that area to your satisfaction, move on to the next area.  

A common mistake a lot of players make is focusing on too many things at once. Always fix the most pressing matter and focus on that. There’s no point in knowing how to play AQ properly if you can’t keep yourself from getting bored and starting to play random hands or playing too many hands in general. It’s therefore essential to fix your biggest problems first and then move on to the next priority. After all, you wouldn’t find a surgeon out there who is a god at removing an appendix, but can’t cut open a body without hurting the patient, would you? 

How Do I Find Out Which Areas I Need to Improve?

Have you ever watched Poker on TV? Maybe some celebrities playing against some professional players? Usually at one point or another you would have a moment like “why the hell is he calling this?” or “Why doesn’t he raise? He has the nuts, why isn’t he going all in?” It’s easy to judge those things from the sidelines, but it’s a lot harder when you are the one making those decisions, isn’t it? 

Let me ask you this: How many hands do you play per day? How many do you play per week? How many do you play per year? Do you see where I’m going with this? 

You might remember about 20% of the hands you played – if you are lucky! 

So how can you learn from your mistakes? Easy: Review your games! 

The vast majority of Poker players has never – or almost never – reviewed their own games. The ones that have are usually among the top players. Correlation or causation? 

Most Online Poker Sites will give you the option to review the games you have played, and you should absolutely take them up on their offer on a regular basis.  

There are two main advantages for that: 

1) Find Flaws in Your Strategy

You should take notes about the hand you are playing and how you are playing them. While playing, you usually only have a few seconds to make decisions and the whole picture about what the right move is might not be obvious in the moment. Early on, it does not really matter, whether you won or lost the hand – it's about how you played it. 

Let’s say you usually have around a 75% win-rate playing JJ. But reviewing your replays, you realize that most of your wins only leave you with a small profit, while a lot of your losses cost you quite a bit of money. Yes, you have a high win-rate, but it does overall hurt your bottom line. How would you recognize that without reviewing your games? After all, you are winning a lot of pots with the hand. 

Even with a hand like KK: Do you risk too much on the hand? Or maybe too little? What is your bottom line on that hand?  

These statistics matter a lot more than knowing whether or not you should play deuces and in what position you should play them or not. This is an essential part of your study time and if you are not doing that, you are not studying correctly. 

2) Find the Flaws in Your Mentality

We have touched on this topic many times in our Psychology of Poker series and once again, this is because it’s vital for you to understand that part of your mind. 

Only when reviewing your hands can you find out whether you just had a run of bad luck, or you completely abandoned your strategy and went with some gut feeling that got you into trouble. 

When reviewing your hands and inevitably finding some hands where you ask yourself “What the hell was I thinking?”, you found exactly the right question to ask, just maybe not the way you think. 

Everyone will be triggered by something sooner or later, may it be a streak of luck for your opponent, boredom and anger for not getting good cards or maybe even factors that are completely unrelated to the game in general. Everyone will tilt eventually. 

The important thing to remember is, to find those moments and review them in retrospect. Once you find them, you need to ask yourself the important questions: 

  • What was I thinking at the time? 
  • What triggered me? 
  • How did I feel? 
  • How often does this happen? 
  • How can I avoid this happening as much as possible? 
  • How can I stop this when I can feel it happening in the future? 

We have covered the topic of Tilt in great detail before, so I will not go through the whole thing again. 

How Often Do I Need to Review My Games? 

As you start out, you need to focus on getting the basics down, so you don’t have to spend all your time reviewing your games, but as you keep playing, you need to start reviewing your games more and more. Essentially, once you switched to playing with real money, it’s a good idea to spend about 30% - 50% of your study time reviewing games. You need to focus on finding the flaws in your gameplay and the best – some would even say the only – way is to review your plays in a calm and objective environment. As you get better, you can cut down on your time reviewing games and focus on the parts that are not going well.  

Should you ever stop reviewing your games? No.

As good as you are – even if you are the world champion – you are still “only human” and you will always make mistakes and therefore find ways to improve. 

How Much Money Do I Need to Spend?

There is no easy answer to this question. 

As mentioned, most of the information out there is free and there is absolutely enough of it to make you a great poker player.  

However, there are a few things that you need to consider. 

How Much Money Should I Spend on Playing? 

Again, this somewhat depends on you. The goal here is of course to get you to a point where you can finance you playing Poker by playing Poker – and actually making a profit. But that takes time, practice and a lot of patience and energy. 

It is therefore generally advised to give yourself a budget. Once again, this budget depends on you. Generally, about 10€ - 20€ per week should be enough, considering you should take our advice and take advantage of the bonuses on the Online Poker Sites, but I guess the upper limit is up to you. The important thing to keep in mind is to only play with money that you can afford to lose. Do not bet any money you need for living expenses on your poker game. Not only will the pressure kill you, but you will also be in deep trouble if you don’t manage your budget properly. 

Do I Need a Coach?

Once again, this question very much depends on your personality. 

If you can understand the principles of poker by studying the free sources out there, you don’t need a coach for that. If you can review your games objectively and find your mistakes on your own, you don’t need a coach for that.  

You have to keep in mind that a coach is there to fill the gaps in your knowledge and point out what you need to improve. If you have the money and want to save time, a coach may be the right choice for you. If you enjoy researching and finding your weaknesses yourself, all the power to you. 

The Big Takeaway 

Studying Poker to improve is more than just reading "how to play poker" -articles and watching videos. Only by putting these things into practice as well can you truly improve.  

The road to truly mastering Poker is long and hard, but these tips should give you some tools to improve your game to an impressive level.

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