How to become a successful poker player

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What makes a successful poker player? How do we define who is successful? Is that purely based on the amount of money won? Is that the player who puts in the most effort and is the most consistent? Or is it the player that is most feared, who no one wants to play against and who owns the lobbies?

Both on Twitch and Instagram I get a lot of questions that are related to that: “Mr. Wakko, how do I become a more successful poker player?’’

Especially for those questions, I’ve made a webinar series in called ‘How to become a more successful poker player’ and I will be sharing some of my ideas about that in this post. 

How does success in poker work?
When players are motivated to become better poker players, they often feel lost in where they should put their motivation and efforts in. Do I need to play more? Watch more training videos? Analyze more hands? Get into solvers and GTO? Or stay away from solver GTO and follow your intuition or study your population?

All are very important but usually very technical related. Sure, successful poker players are often better than you technically, but this is only a part of what brings them success. In my webinar series ‘How to become a more successful poker player’ I teach that there are 4 areas to improve in as a poker player.

The engine. This is where it all starts. Your mindset, your beliefs and conditionings, discipline, confidence and motivation, but also your environment. Is it set for success? Is its ready to drive you through this road of becoming a successful online poker player?
Technical. The place where most time is spent by poker players, trying to understand how poker works, trying to improve their game by studying solvers, watching better players play, or getting better reads on their population so they can exploit their opponents. Excelling in this area is essential for any form of poker success.
Mental game and performance. How much of that technical knowledge that you gained can you consistently execute at the tables? This partly depends on the engine and also on the mental game and performance variables.
Soft-skills and management. Are you playing in games where the execution of your skills has a high reward in terms of money? Do you know yourself well enough to estimate when to play and when not to play? When to push through or take a break? How good are you in improving as a player?

Being a good poker player is not a thing that you are, it’s not something you’re born with. Also, it’s not static, as new players get to the top and other top players go down all the time. The good poker players know HOW to get better, when and how they perform at their best, and what approach is currently best to reach their goals.

Believe that you can make it as an online poker player
The engine all starts with the belief that you can make it as an online poker player, and that skills aren’t based on talent but can be learned: “Whether you think you can or you can’t you are right”.

Becoming good in online poker is not going to be easy, if you are in it or want to get in it to win “easy” money, you can forget it. Go back to the drawing board and connect with your passion for poker. What excites you most about the game?
There will be a lot of obstacles during your poker career.

For example, big downswings and periods where you just feel lost and no longer know what to think about in hands. Without a light on the horizon, you wouldn’t know what to do in a lot of spots. You can only push through these obstacles if your motivation for poker is right and you believe in yourself. It’s the absolute belief that you are going to make it. Otherwise, you will see these obstacles as a confirmation of your belief that you were not good enough and you would just quit.

If you tell yourself that you have to study for 100 hours in a solver, analyze every session or even get a mental game coach, but deep down you don’t believe you can make it or that you don’t have the talent for it, then why would you do all these things?

You need the belief that you can improve in anything you put your effort in, that investing in your career will have a positive return and that you can find ways to surpass adversity simply because otherwise you won’t take action!

Manage your volume
Now that you believe you’re going to make it; you want to start playing. The question now is: where will you play and how much volume should you be playing? This is a question I get a lot. Simply ask yourself this: what is the purpose of volume? What is the reason you show up to play a poker session?

The answer to this question should vary where you are in your career, but the general answer is this. All volume you’re playing should be bringing you closer to your goals!

When you are playing lower stakes, the goal is NOT to make the most money NOW. It is to become a better player as soon as possible, so you can make a lot of money in the future. So, think about that for a second. Based on your reflections, determine how your playing schedule and play/evaluate/study ratio should look like.

Too often players just start a session without having a clear intention and they end up just going through the motions. Or, often after playing too much without an intention, and feeling that they need to do something, they set a goal of playing 200 hours or 150k hands of poker in one month. Why would you do that? What is the objective?
Chances are that you think you need to work harder to become more successful. I can guarantee you that half of those hours and hands are not bringing you any closer to your goals, and possibly even just further away from it.
An important thing to manage your volume is to understand the difference between quality volume and quantity volume and do take into consideration that you are not a robot.

Often players just calculate their win rate and multiply it with x hands and base their volume on the outcome of that formula (their EV). But not all of that volume is going to be quality, and your win rate is not static! It depends on various factors.
In any given session or in a month of playing you have phases where you’re playing your A-Game: you are flowing. In that case, yes, your win rate is high. However, more often you are going to be playing your B-Game, where your win rate is lower.

Depending on your energy level and how you deal with tilting situations, you might even drop down towards your C-Game. Do you still have a positive win rate there? The more fatigued you are, the more likely it is that your C game shows up, and the more you play the more fatigued you get (I hope you can start seeing the pattern).
Below is a chart that gives an example of how a win rate could look in one session. Now, this is just an example and it varies per player. The important thing here is that you become aware of how your chart looks like and take that into consideration when planning your volume.
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At the first minute this player sits down he starts at 3bb/100. Depending on how you prepare for a session your win rate can start higher or lower. I would say that most players don’t reach their highest win rate straight away, it usually happens after a certain amount of playing as they have to get in the rhythm.

If you are the type of player that often starts bad and find yourself trying to grind that back in the rest of the session, you should probably look into preparing your sessions better. In that case, the first hour of your volume is quantity volume and it does not bring you any closer to your goal.

I recall Jared Tendler saying, “If you don’t have a pre-session preparation, the first hour of your session becomes your preparation”.

More common is the player who wants to play 8 hours, or maybe 3 sessions of 2+ hours a day. Often what you see is that the last 2 hours or the last session is going to have the lowest win rate and therefore is quantity volume.

This simply is because the brain is fatigued and can’t perform at a high level anymore, leading to your win rate being lower or even to the point of it being negative. This does not automatically mean you should not play. Instead, it can be information that could influence your game selection. Or maybe you want to gather information about how your C-game looks like to find improvement points.

Another reason for playing that last session could be that you are trying to push 5 minutes further every day, to train your brain to focus longer.

Of all cases, most people often just go through the motions, meaning that these last 2 hours of their session are not bringing them any closer to their goals. Instead, you will get way closer to your goals if you spend that time analyzing the hands you’ve played. With that, you will better understand spots in the future and increase your win rate for the next session.

Not understanding this does not only have a direct consequence for how much EV you make in that session. Closing a session or calling it a day can often be frustrating, especially when you started so well. It will leave you with a bad feeling, which makes it harder for you to let go of poker and properly relax. That then impacts your recovery (sleep) leaving you a bit more fatigued for the next day’s session.

Because of that your next session you might not start at 3bb but at 2bb, making the chance of booking a win even less likely and it makes you lose momentum. Repeat this cycle for a couple of weeks and you are in a “downswing” without energy and in need of a break.

Now I’m not saying you will never have a downswing anymore if you listen to what I’m saying. All I am saying is that if you would have planned your volume correctly a lot of your downswings can be prevented.

Your volume should have the purpose of implementing improvements and gathering new information about your game in order to further improve.

“Well Mr Wakko, then how much volume would you recommend?”

As I said, it’s not that black and white as everyone is different.Let me illustrate the impact that you can have on your long-term winnings by focusing on volume to improve versus volume to win money now.
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As you can see the first year the short-term grinder, who focuses on the formula current win rate x volume = profit is making more money than the investor. However, the year after is when we see his investment in everything we discussed is paying off.

Again, the exact numbers are personal, but I think you get the idea. Volume made on your next stake is always more valuable than grinding volume on your current stake.

Manage your expenses and delay gratification
Now some of you might be like “But Mr. Wakko, I am not sure yet if I beat my stake or I need a bigger bankroll to play a higher stake or I have bills to pay, I can’t play less volume”.

First, if you are not sure if you beat your stake you probably aren’t. Players often play too long at a lower stake out of insecurity, and they look for a big enough sample to get confirmation that they beat it (or sabotage their progress by finding a reason why they don’t, so they can stay safe in their comfort zone). You are wasting your time!

Look around you, do you see people making mistakes that you are not making? Do you feel like you know what is going on at the tables, what certain lines mean? When your opponents are likely to over or under bluff?

If you’re still not sure, ask someone who plays a stake higher than you to review your game/session and get that last piece of confirmation. Do know that chances are you’re just afraid and that is completely normal and OK. Just don’t let it paralyze you.

What you should truly fear is staying where you are.

When it comes down to financials and not having the bankroll, the problem usually breaks down to the expenses. Players focus too much on instant gratification. Or in other words, they want to live a good life now instead of a great life later.

Below we see 2 players. The first one thinks about the long term and is a saver. He puts all his money back into his bankroll as he has the skillset or belief that he can acquire it in the near future. So, with a bigger bankroll, he can play a higher stake.

Player 2, the spender, takes that money and spends it on nicer clothes and ordering bottles of champagne in fancy clubs, simply because he wants pleasure NOW.

Which player are you? And what can you do to cut down your expenses?
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Especially at the beginning of your career, and when you are still playing lower stakes, it’s generally not a great idea to rely on poker as your income to pay your bills.

This will put way too much pressure on your performance, and it will make it way harder to focus on the process and the long run. Know this can be very stressful, and you will quickly lose the enjoyment you once felt playing poker.

I would advise that in the beginning you have a part-time job and cut your expenses in a way that your part-time job covers most of that. If you are in this stressful situation I just described, getting a part-time job, or cutting down on your lifestyle might feel like a step back, but it’s made to make a big jump forward. After that, you can truly excel instead of just staying alive.

In the Academy I continue my series on ‘How to become a more successful poker player’ whereas Adam Carmicheal gives advice on Mental Game and Performance.

Also, we have various 500NL zoom+ crushers who teach you everything you need to know technically. 

All the best,

Rene 'TheWakko' Kuhlman

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