Leveling Up in Texas Hold ‘Em
This is the lesson plan I used to level up from a novice Hold ‘Em player.
The best way to use this list is:
- Play as many hands as possible. (I say hands instead of games because live games are slow and online games are fast. Play more hands –> try out more strategies –> improve faster.)
- Supplement your game play with strategies from the following books, courses, and podcast.
- Try different strategies to see which you’re most comfortable and most successful with.
The Course: Serious Hold ‘Em Strategy for Smart Players
This is the most valuable book on this list. It’s well-written and thematically interesting, explaining several Hold ‘Em ideas I hadn’t seen anywhere else.
The book opens with the question: when you win in poker, where does the money come from? Miller then dives into various strategies on how to get that money.
I particularly loved the opening thesis of the book. Here’s a taste, taken from the Amazon description:
“There’s a saying in the golf world that you don’t worry about the other players. You just play the course. It doesn’t matter if you’re playing in a big tournament against a hundred other players or against just one. It doesn’t matter if you’re playing against Tiger Woods or against Woody the Woodpecker. You can’t control what they do, so they can only be a distraction.
All that matters is the course. And the only thing you can control is how you play it.”
This is a powerful idea, and it applies just as well in poker. Poker is full of distractions, and most players get hung up worrying about all the wrong things. The things they can’t control. The things that ultimately don’t matter.
The ideas in this book are often at odds with the teachings from subsequent material on this list. One of the biggest takeaways from my dive into the poker world is that while there are many wrong ways to play Hold ‘Em, there’s no “correct” way. Even great players will play the same hands differently. Analyzing the way the books on this list differed from each other was fascinating and provides many different playing strategies for you to try out.
Crushing Low Stakes Sit’n’Gos, Volume 1: Strategy
This lays out practical strategies for winning Sit’n’Gos. Although Sit’n’Go strategies often differ from those of cash games, I found the core concepts to have a notable impact on my success playing cash games, as long as I’m mindful of where the games differ. The author demonstrates every point in the book with several example hands, which are key towards absorbing the concepts.
Crushing Low Stakes Sit’n’Gos, Volume 2: Heads Up
Heads Up is a totally different beast than more crowded poker games. The strategies in this book are useful not only for dedicated Heads Up games, but also for hands in multi-seated games where all players have folded except for you and one opponent.
Essential Poker Math
For a strong yet simple introduction to the mental math involved in poker, Essential Poker Math is a good choice. The concepts are explained simply and succinctly. But be warned: it’s a poorly written book. Fortunately, it’s a quick read, easy to skim, and filled with good example hands that explain the concepts.
MIT Poker Theory and Analytics (can also be found here on MIT’s website)
This is a great course and covers virtually every aspect of the game. Desmond is a fantastic lecturer.
Postflop Poker Podcast
Every episode of Postflop Poker is a discussion around how to play a particular hand, with emphasis on post-flop betting strategies. The hosts analyze actual hands they have played and discuss where they were right, where they were wrong, what their options were at each step in the game, and more.
Caveat: I don’t get the impression that the hosts are the “best of the best” (although they are decades ahead of me, and if you’re a novice then you as well). And at first, I found the hosts’ disagreements on strategy to be a bit off-putting, but eventually appreciated it. It provides nuance and drives home to the point that there’s no one way to play Hold ‘Em.
WSOP is the best of the poker apps I tried on iOS. One of the benefits of playing poker online is you get to play many more hands per hour than you would in a live game.
Although WSOP is played with fake “money”, I found that most players still take the games seriously. I’ve only encountered a small number of trolls who ruin the game – but every time I did, I could easily switch tables. The app also gives you free “money” every few hours, so you can try different strategies and blow through your bankroll without having to worry about losing free money or having to spend real money to buy back in.
Live games are much more fun than online games and pose unique challenges compared to online games:
- No HUD with stats for your opponents, so need to get to know their style during the game itself.
- Practice your poker face and body language
- Reading opponents’ poker faces and body language
The downside of live games is they’re much slower, so you play fewer hands per hour. They’re not the best setting to try different strategies and learn quickly. Use live games to relax, play with your strongest strategies, and reap the benefits of what you’ve learned playing online.