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Comparing basic and advanced poker training methods

Poker Training Methods - Abilities

The best way to learn poker

In today’s poker world of hyper-focused specialists devoting hundreds and thousands of hours into developing their poker abilities, as well as the plethora of training material available on the market, it’s imperative that players make self-improvement a distinct priority and spend as much time working on their game off the table, as on it. Because while it may still be possible to make small profits here or there based on natural ability alone, as with every other competitive endeavor today – particularly in the financial field – those who put in the hardest work are the ones who reap the largest benefits.

So what’s the best way to approach poker education, and how many edges can different methods offer? Let’s investigate.


Just like becoming a proficient free-throw shooter, there is no better replacement for poker practice than standing at the proverbial line and putting in the reps. While it may be important to spend time-consuming poker education content, watching videos, or working with an experienced poker coach, the base layer of any good development program will involve putting in a lot of hours at the table. With that said, the keys to one’s early days of online poker playing are to manage risk – both by playing a limit or two lower than one’s bankroll allows, as well as by controlling the urge to throw good money after bad when a specific strategy appears to be coming up short. Instead, the focus – at first – should not be on making money, but on simply acquiring a large enough sample size of games to accurately assess one’s skill-set in comparison to the competition, as well as on collecting a good cross-section of hands to analyze off the table.

Once a decent sample size has been collected, the next step is to use a poker hand replayer tool such as the one built into the PokerTracker software to analyze key hands and major decisions. When doing so, it’s important not to get overly focused on the results, but to ask oneself what the optimal way to act in each specific situation if forced to play it over again 1000 times. During hand analysis, it would also be wise to ask oneself which recurring situations (for example, facing an in-position reraise against the button, or a limp-raise during a blind-vs-blind battle) present you with the most trouble, and diving deep into that aspect to shore up any weaknesses that are likely to come into playtime and time again.

One type of tool that can be a great aid in uncovering solutions to common scenarios is an equity calculator such as the one found at ProPokerTools, or a more robust program such as ICMizer, both of which can offer great insight into the optimal approach simply by inputting the details of the hand as well as the opponent’s range of hand. In fact, poker training apps such as ICMizer and PokerSnowie that include game-like training simulators are a great (and fun!) way to increase one’s knowledge about the most common spots faced at the poker table.

Free Poker Training

Poker Training Methods - Free Education

Of course, as with most things these days, there is some incredible free poker education to be found on YouTube, with many of the world’s best live and online poker players continuously releasing high-level content that includes live-play tutorials, post-game hand-analysis, and poker concept videos. Additionally, poker live-streams on both YouTube and Twitch are a great opportunity to get a glimpse into the minds of professional players in real time. Some of poker’s most prolific educational YouTube accounts include Upswing Poker, Jaime Staples, Daniel Negreanu, and Jonathan Little.

Beyond YouTube, many of the industry’s biggest poker platforms offer ‘poker schools’ free of charge on their websites, including Americas Cardroom, PokerStars, 888poker, Partypoker, and Unibet. Each of these platforms has its own unique poker tutorials and educational materials that could be a great resource for still-developing players looking to take their poker basics and fundamentals to the next level.

Poker Books

One of the most popular ways for beginners to learn how to play poker is through the plethora of incredible literature that spans nearly every topic across the poker stratosphere. Here are some of the industry’s most popular literary titles for learning how to play poker properly.

1. Doyle Brunson's Super System and Super System 2

Often referred to as ‘The Poker Bibles”, these essential guides feature winning strategies and professional secrets from the world’s best players including Doyle Brunson, Phil Helmuth (holder of the most WSOP bracelets ever) Daniel Negreanu (four-time WSOP bracelet winner), Johnny Chan (two-time WSOP Champion and ten-time bracelet winner), living legend Mike Caro and the world’s best female poker player Jennifer Harman.

2. Gus Hansen's Every Hand Revealed

One of professional poker’s most intriguing and fascinating players, Gus Hansen has often been called “The Madman” for his crazy, fearless, aggressive style. But you can’t dispute the fact that this poker superstar knows how to win—and win big. The holder of the inaugural Poker Superstars Invitational title as well as the only player to win three WPT tournaments, Gus won his fifth major international title when he became the 2007 Aussie Millions Champion, outlasting 747 players and nabbing $1.2 million. Now, for the first time ever, Gus analyzes the hands that he played during the tournament and reveals his secrets for winning in Every Hand Revealed.

3. Bill Chen's The Mathematics Of Poker

The intent of this book is to introduce quantitative techniques as applied to poker and to a branch of mathematics that is particularly applicable to poker, game theory. There are mathematical techniques that can be applied for poker that are difficult and complex. But most of the mathematics of poker is not terribly complicated, and the authors have sought to make seemingly difficult topics accessible to players without a very strong mathematical background.

4. Jared Tendler's Mental Game Of Poker

Hundreds of poker players have turned to mental game coach Jared Tendler’s revolutionary approach to help them play their best, no matter how badly they’re running. In this book, you’ll find simple, step-by-step instructions and proven techniques to permanently fix problems such as tilt, handling variance, emotional control, confidence, fear, and motivation.

Paid Poker Training

Poker Training Methods - Articles and Charts

Once free poker resources have been exhausted, many players elect to sign up for paid training sites that offer videos, articles, and charts that can help turbo-charge one’s understanding of the most complex aspects of the game. Most of the world’s best poker training sites have been created by professional poker player sharing the knowledge that’s helped them move up in stakes and dominate the highest levels of the game. Here are a number of paid poker training sites (though many also offer free or trial-based content as well) that offer video poker training and more.

1. Upswing Poker

Founded by legendary online player Doug Polk, as well as Ryan Fee, and Matt Colletta in 2015, Upswing Poker has grown from a blog offering free preflop charts to the world’s biggest poker training company with courses and tools for every popular game type including cash-games, tournaments, and pot-limit Omaha.

2. Run It Once

The brainchild of legendary poker pro Phil Galfond. One of the most prolific collections of PLO videos in the world also includes tournament and cash-game strategy.

3. Tournament Poker Edge

A site created by and for multi-table-tournament poker players, TPE has been active for over a decade and built up a library of more than a thousand videos as well as a free podcast, which thousands of aspiring and professional poker players listen to regularly.

4. Masterclass

Featuring two of the greatest poker players of our generation – Daniel Negreanu and Phil Ivey – Masterclass offers video-based poker courses for all levels of players, with the poker icons themselves leading viewers through a host of lessons and more than 12 hours of content.

1-on-1 Poker Coaching

Perhaps the fastest way to transition from a recreational poker player to an aspiring professional poker player is through the use of private poker coaching. The holy grail of poker education allows players to work with individual coaches they hand-select and work with them to uncover their biggest strengths and weaknesses at the table. By working with an experienced coach in a 1-on-1 setting, players can get an outsider perspective from an experienced poker professional both on their game from a technical standpoint as well as their overarching approach to the game.

When looking for the best poker coaching available, the keys will be to review each one’s experience, results, and coaching format in order to locate one that is not only a great player but has the type of knowledge and teaching style that will work best for each individual player.

Common poker coaching types can include:

Poker Training Methods - Coaching
  • Student session review: the poker coach and student will go through a hand history (or recorded video) of the student playing their regular stakes, with the coach offering advice and guidance throughout.
  • Coach session review: the coach and student will work through a hand history (or recorded video) of the coach playing their regular stakes, with the coach offering insight on why each decision was made.
  • Live Sweat: either the student or coach will play their regular stakes live during the lesson and both will discuss the thought processes behind each play.
  • Analysis: the coach will do a deep dive into the student’s playing statistics using poker software such as PokerTracker or Hold’em Manager while detailing how they interpret them, what optimal stats should look like, and the best way for the student to achieve a playing style that will bring them closer to those benchmarks.

Poker training methods: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What are the pros and cons of learning game-play techniques and/or improving poker with a coach?

By working with an experienced coach who has a strong documented history of success, players can turbo-charge their poker playing development and zero-in on the exact areas that require the most development in their game.

What kind of education should I get: video poker training tutorials or a poker mentor?

Both options can and should be explored, with free video poker training tutorials being a great option for players just starting their poker education process and poker mentors offering invaluable insight to more experienced players looking to take their game to the next level.

Do all poker players get coaches?

Although it’s not entirely universal, these days most of the top players in the game have either worked with poker coaches or with a collection of peers who act as de facto coaches to one another.

What online poker training site has had the best results?

Currently Upswing Poker is the world’s largest and most popular poker training site featuring some of the online game’s best players including Doug Polk – who recently took down poker legend Daniel Negreanu in an online heads-up poker match, as well as Ryan Fee and David Yan among others.

Can anyone learn to play poker professionally?

As with most professions, while getting to the top is no easy feat, those with true determination and dedication – not just to playing either, but to improving one’s game off the table as well – can put themselves in a great position to succeed over the long run.

How do the best poker players train?

Using a combination of self-analysis, peer discussions, and poker software such as ICMizer and PokerSnowie, the best poker players in the world train much in the same way that the rest of us do.

What is the easiest and fastest way to learn to play poker?

The fastest way to learn to play poker is through repeated play and self-analysis, while the fastest way to learn poker profitably is through the various methods discussed in this article.

Is poker hard to learn?

As the famous saying goes: Poker takes a minute to learn and a lifetime to master. Although learning the rules and basic strategies of the game should take very little time at all, the deeper one dives into poker strategy, the more obvious it becomes just how many things there are to learn. So while it may feel like you’re ready to hit the high limits after spending a few weeks working on your poker game, always remember that your opponents may be years – if not decades – into the same process and that what may seem like a ‘bad play’ to you, might actually be much better than it seems when considered as part of a holistic poker strategy.