Michael Dillon in POKER
March 8, 2021

I write about poker and a range of strategy-related topics for the Strategy Time blog. If you would like some free strategy content related to poker, investing, cryptocurrencies, job hunting, how scams work and much more, visit strategytime.co.uk. You can find me on Twitter: @Strategytime21

Learn to play poker the right way

Michael Dillon: “By understanding why strategies work, you will learn how to adapt to different poker situations.”

Learn to play poker the right way

In the past year, the number of people playing online poker for the first time has surged. After all, we’re spending a lot more time at home these days. 

With all of these new players, it got me thinking back to when I first started.

All I wanted to know was, how do you win at poker? 

When I first fell in love with this game, I was searching everywhere for poker content. From strategy videos, books, podcasts to forums, I was consuming as much information as possible. I watched elite players play high stakes poker, found some fancy new tricks and applied them in the low stake games.

Now I know, this was the wrong approach. 

How I learned how to play poker the wrong way

I remember the first time I saw a player 4-betting in a poker strategy video. The next time I played, I tried 4-betting people left, right and centre. Do not come near me with your 11 big blind 3-bet raises because I've just learned how to 4-bet to 23 big blinds as a bluff! 

Long story short - it didn't work out well. No matter how many times I tried, my opponents would force me to fold by going all-in every time.

A similar thing happened when I learned how to turn pairs into bluffs. I tried hero-calling the river for a while too, but my opponents never seemed to be bluffing. They would never fold marginal hands as I saw on high stakes videos, no matter how much pressure I applied. Don't even get me started on my disastrous river check-raise phase.  

The more I tried to copy the best players in the world - the more my game fell apart. But eventually I stopped blaming the poor results on variance.

Learn how to beat the games you play

You can learn a lot from better players, but only if you know why their strategy works.

Poker theory translates across stakes - but the games play very differently depending on your opponents. Every play that I described before only works under the right conditions. I wasn't learning why plays worked, so I had no idea how to adapt them.

The difference between high stakes and low stakes poker

In the high stakes game, players were 3-betting 14% of the time from certain positions. That's a combination of strong and weak hands. Here, a 4-bet bluff makes sense because opponents can fold their weak hands. Secondly, if you didn't ever bluff in this game, these elite opponents would never pay off your bets when you had strong hands. 

However, in my low stakes game, opponents were only 3-betting 2.6% of the time, so they always had strong hands (QQ, KK, AA and AK). When I 4-bet them as a bluff, they didn't have any weak hands to fold. 

A simple strategy how to learn poker

Here’s a better strategy – whenever you watch any poker content, ask yourself these two questions: 

  • Why does this strategy work?
  • What is the most effective strategy for the games I play?

I only realised I needed to play in a different way once I understood the logic and math behind the strategies.There were still opportunities to get creative - I just needed to think more about what I was doing and why. I needed to spend more time thinking about the mistakes my opponents were making and come up with my own strategy adjustments. 

By understanding why strategies work, you will learn how to adapt to different situations.

Learn from my mistakes and start asking why. 



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