If you are just beginning poker and want to become a great poker player, then you need to model your game after your own personality. A lot of poker players don’t do this. The majority of the field will do what everyone else is doing at the time.
Years ago, they would follow the poker strategy ideas presented in Super System or Harrington on Hold’em. Then it was Small Ball, followed by GTO. Very few people understand that by following these poker strategies, you are always with the herd and behind the curve. If everyone is playing the same way, then how do you expect to gain an edge? Don’t follow the herd!
Beginning Poker: Adaptability
I know many of you are at the beginning poker stage, but it’s better to learn the following now than in the future. You don’t want to go from beginning poker straight to herd mentality. The only way to truly become a great poker player is to play your game while also being adaptable. This fits into our poker rules for winning.
When I write being adaptable, I’m referring to being able to adapt to each and every player. You can give me the same exact hand with the same betting action and the same pot size and I will play the hand differently vs. two different opponents. I need to anticipate how each player will act/react so I can figure out how the remainder of the hand is likely to play out.
In regards to traditional poker games, this might lead to applying more pressure against a risk-averse individual. In regards to Texas Hold’em poker tournaments, this might mean gathering more information on the turn vs. a strong player prior to committing more to the pot. Traditional poker games are more open while poker tournaments are all about staying out of the way and picking your spots.
As far as being you, hopefully some of my experiences will help you avoid some of the same mistakes. Some of the poker tips below are about what not to do, which should help anyone at the beginning poker stage.
Rewind to Las Vegas
I played many Texas Hold’em poker tournaments when in Las Vegas. And to be honest, I played too many bigger buy-in poker tournaments, which hit my bankroll hard. This is despite having won a tournament at Bally’s.
After that win, which was early in the trip, I was feeling good, but I didn’t expect to win in the bigger events just because I won at Bally’s. The tournament at Bally’s was more along the lines of beginning poker and I was about to play in a much more competitive environment at the Rio.
When I played in the beginner poker environment at Bally’s, I played my game. I was extremely TAG, which means Tight Aggressive. I would stay out of the way until I sniffed out an opportunity, which usually meant I knew where a pre-flop raiser stood or I was in position and wanted to take advantage of the softer players behind me.
In either of those situations, I would be able to read where my opponent(s) were at based on their post-flop actions. When it’s beginner poker, your opponents are easier to read. There were also several Medium players here, which are incredibly easy to read. There were only 2-3 strong players in the entire tournament, but I knew to play them differently.
When I played at the Rio, which were much bigger buy-in events, I began playing by the book. Did you notice how I referred to playing the players at Bally’s? When at the Rio, I was playing my cards. Because the buy-ins were bigger, I stopped being me, which related to thinking about the money. I become robotic and predictable, which is not a good combination for success at the poker table. As you might have guessed, I lost. And I lost several times. I wasn’t being me.
Beginning Poker: Identity Crisis
This is something every beginning poker player will go through, but I went through it way later in my poker career. My downswing didn’t begin in Vegas, it began three months earlier.
Ironically, it began after a great stretch of poker, including three poker tournament wins in one week, followed by a weekend with two final tables in two poker tournaments.
My downswing likely related to an event that occurred at home, but I’m going to keep that private. I think the crazy winning streak also played a role because it boosted my Ego to unhealthy levels. I felt like I was unstoppable on the felt. Even if you’re still at the beginning poker levels, you know that once you start thinking that way in anything, you’re in trouble.
Adapting to My Opponents
Here’s what happened. When I was on during that hot streak, which actually began much earlier in August, I would always adapt to my opponents. I couldn’t be pegged as TAG or LAG because it depended on the situation. I was constantly adapting, table by table, hand by hand.
All the success led to me thinking that I could attack anyone at any time and it would be effective. This didn’t work. When this didn’t work, I decided that I would just play basic poker strategy and attempt to make all the correct +EV decisions. This made sense in theory, but it led to an incredible amount of variance, at least for me.
That’s not my style. I’m not going to call an all-in against the weakest player at the table when I know I’m 60/40 because I know I will get those chips later anyway with much less risk. The beginner poker player will usually want to go with the odds because that’s a good spot, but I’m much more into the long game. And, most importantly, that’s just not me.
When the +EV game failed, I started jamming pre-flop with poker hands like TT and AJ. Sometimes I would be ahead, sometimes I would be behind, but I would often get called and lose. This isn’t a bad beat story. I never tell bad beat stories. It doesn’t matter if I won or lost.
That’s not the point. The point is that I wasn’t playing poker; I was flipping coins. I want to actually play my poker hands. Don’t play Texas Hold’em poker tournaments to flip coins.
Beginning Poker: Playing By the Book Trap
After getting smashed in Las Vegas, I didn’t realize it at the time, but that is exactly what would put me back on course. I was sick of losing. I had fallen into the trap of “playing correctly” and caring what other people thought.
To prove to you the difference in my aura, I played some poker with a friend in Vegas. This friend also saw the picture of me jamming a hand at RunGood weeks later. He told me that the person he saw in Vegas and the picture he saw of me at RunGood were two completely different people.
He said that when he saw the picture at RunGood, he didn’t even realize it was me and originally said to himself, “That’s one serious son of a bitch!” I’m definitely not one serious son of a bitch. That look represented focus, which was something I lacked in Las Vegas.
Back On Track
If you’re still in the beginning poker phase and you’re winning, enjoy it and don’t change a thing. It’s very difficult not to change when you’re winning consistently because human beings need to feel challenged. They will even self-sabotage in order to challenge themselves without realizing it. This is exactly what I did.
If a GTO player reads the following, they’re going to be all over me. They will be yelling from the rooftops that Tyler Nals is an ass. Here’s the thing, though: I don’t care. And that, my friends, plays a big role in winning vs. losing. Not caring what other people think is a huge factor in our poker rules for winning.
You’re always going to care what other people think because you’re human, but you need to look at the long game. If you’re playing poker hands by the book because you care what everyone else will think, that’s bad. If you play poker hands your way because you know that it’s more likely to lead to success and a good reputation where you’re respected, that’s good. You have to not care about the short term.
For example … in that tournament in RunGood, where I finished something like 14th of 425 (an estimate), I limped with AA from middle position, followed by limping with KK from the button. I usually don’t make these moves because they’re extremely dangerous. Only made these moves based on the players at my table and how I anticipated them acting.
Won both hands, and they were both monster pots. Those two pots are what drove me relatively deep in the money. If I had put in a big pre-flop raise in both of those spots, I wouldn’t have won either of those big pots because all of my opponents would have folded.
Exploitative Poker vs. GTO Poker
So, while the GTO player is going to tell you that I made an error, the truth is that they don’t understand playing the player and long-game strategy. If my limps failed, so bet it; I would get out early. AA is just another poker hand. Same for KK. I can win just as much with 64-suited on the next hand.
In a more general sense, in this tournament, which I view as the tournament that got me back on track, I folded more often, aimed for pot control on most hands so I could gather more information from my opponent(s) by playing more streets, and played position effectively. It was that simple.
My game isn’t to fire, fire, fire. I’m a defensive player. That’s my personality. If I attempted to fire relentlessly, I would feel uncomfortable and it wouldn’t lead to success. Those people have a bully mentality and bank on getting a lot of folds. I’m more of a rope-a-dope kind of player. And the more information I have, the better. I want that information prior to committing a lot of chips.
There are some people reading this who don’t fall into the beginner poker category. I know they’re my opponents and they’re reading these articles for information. For example, since I just wrote than I want a lot of information prior to committing a lot of chips, they might try to exploit me. I say go for it.
Traveling the Unbeaten Path
If you choose the route of not following the herd and playing your game that fits your personality, you’re going to catch some hell, especially if you’re still in the beginning poker player phase. One of the best poker tips I can give you regarding this is to completely ignore these people. You want to be polite, though.
These are robotic players. They are completely left-brained and technical. If you want to feel confident in my approach, I can tell you two things…
One, why do you think Bruce Lee was great? He believed in constantly adapting to his opponents. While the majority of his opponents were using standard techniques, he was adapting and anticipating their actions and reactions. It got to a point where he knew what they were going to do before they did.
Two, the best chess players in the world play their own style. It’s always a style that fits their personality because that’s the only way everything is going to flow naturally.
Adapt to Excel
If Bruce Lee and the best chess players in the world favor adaptability and using strategies that fit their personalities, what does that tell you about poker? I believe that poker strategy is still in its infant stages. I also believe a big reason for that is because everyone is focused on the technical aspect of the game.
But this is a human game! Understand the human and you will know exactly what they’re doing. Not all of the time, but most of the time. Understand yourself and you have taken it a step further.
These are my opinions. I’m not saying they are correct, but they work for me. I don’t have $1 million in earnings, but I tend to cash quite a bit and make a lot of final tables. I must be doing something right.
Learn the poker basics, but avoid the herd. Once you understand that this game is more about human beings than cards and robotic decisions, you’re going to have a tremendous advantage.
If you can get into the minds of your opponents (so you know what they’re doing) while understanding yourself at the same time, you’re on your way from beginning poker to advanced poker. See you at the RunGood Poker Series!
Beginning Poker – FAQ
What skills do you need to be a good poker player?
You need a positive mindset, patience, discipline and fearlessness. Discipline pertains to off-the-felt activities (avoiding sports betting and casino table games).
How do you know if you're a good poker player?
If you keep records and those records show that you're profitable. Another sign is when people look disappointed when you sit down at their table.
How do you succeed in poker?
A lot goes into it. If you're still at the beginning poker level, I recommend playing low-stakes cash games. Once you start crushing that game, move up to the next level. You can use our poker rules for winning for those low-stakes cash games.
How do I get better at Texas Hold'em poker?
You get better at Texas Hold'em by studying the game, but I would also recommend studying people and their betting patterns. The best studying you can do is on the felt.