Making Improvements


Recommend this!

While I’ve played the game of poker for many years, even for me it’s sometimes tough to put the game into perspective. Because of poker’s ever-evolving characteristics, the game has progressed to new heights over the past five years that quite honestly very few could’ve predicted. Because of these changes, poker’s longevity has become a lingering concern for professional players, and we’re required to adjust both our approach and mindset to this pastime in order to stay affluent.

I’ve played a few interesting sessions recently at live 200NL, and because of the dynamic of the table it brought up a few thought-provoking questions that hopefully our visitors can help answer. It’s not even that I’m particularly looking for a detailed solution, but instead maybe valuable input on how we as players can move forward to collectively improve the game as a whole. It’s not that our game is failing miserably (although I’m sure there’s some of you who feel this way), but it goes without saying that there is definitely room for growth. In terms of the way players interact with one another, the way games are organized, and the decisions we make in-game there seems to be several topics that should be addressed in detail to help make the games move faster. While I never intend for my posts to be extremely long-winded, I know that because of the broad capacity of this concept, we’ll likely need to cover a lot of ground to really get down to the core of where our biggest issues lie.

So why do we make the decisions we make at the poker table?

As all professionals are aware, in order for us to make the biggest profits we need to play against the weakest players. We’re all able to spot players of this types from there feeble or odd plays, and the best of us are able to exploit these behaviors to our benefit. It’s our primary source of income; players that are the cream of the crop are capable of beating players who are also skilled, nonetheless we can maximize our gains during a session by playing as many pots with the fish as we can because we understand they’ll be most likely to make costly mistakes.

But an approach such as this, although nearly optimal, comes with concerns. Because of our relentless pursuit of profit and edges over our opponent it can come at the sacrifice of the table’s longevity. What I mean exactly, is that if we continue to pick on the weakest player, even he or she should eventually realize that they’re a target and will leave the game. Best case scenario typically is the weak player rebuys once more, only to lose again and be relegated to the rail. Worst case scenario is the fish leaves after a single buy-in or less, and because of frustration with everyone’s aggression they either never return or worst become better players and minimize our edge versus them. I understand that making a statement such as that can be seen as greedy or selfish. I want to emphasize that although I do want to make the most money, I’m a sympathetic person and I want to extend the life of the game I love, and the fun of all those involved. So what should we be doing to ensure that our game moves along quickly and that everyone feels welcome?

It’s hard to give honest answers without coming off as pompous or arrogant. But one thing that’s been engrained in me since childhood was to treat others the way you wish to be treated. My moral compass and my bank statement have been fighting each other for several years, and I’d like your help to end this war before either battlefront ends up depleted.

Giving Help to Others at the Poker Table

While this may seem beneficial, (and I have to admit I’m guilty of this myself), I think that it’s in our best interest to leave many of our thoughts and opinions to ourselves. Most occurrences of this issue happen when someone makes an obviously bad play, and then we either try to help them correct their mistake or they’re berated with insults in regards to their decision. Regardless of whether the conversation is constructive or detrimental, even the most ignorant of players may start to recognize over time that they can’t keep making the same mistakes. Most recreational players, however, won’t pay attention to the abuse and drama because they’re only there for a little while and care only about short-term wins. But there’s many players whom we participate against regularly who are pretty terrible, and giving them sound advice may kill our win-rate in the long-term.

It’s hard for me to advise ignoring someone. That’s not what I was implying. But more or less, I believe that unless you’re being asked specifically from the individual on how he could’ve improved his play during that hand, you should keep to yourself. Even if you are questioned, I still don’t believe that this conversation should take place directly at the poker table. This shouldn’t happen for several reasons.

For 1 it slows down the game dramatically. For me at least there’s nothing more mind-numbing then going into a tedious conversation about what’s the best way to play A-K. Players who have been around the game a long time know what to do, and while it’s probably an enlightening conversation for the other party, it’s not nearly as interesting for me. I can finally relate to how many sports icons feel when fans constantly ask for autographs or pictures. There’s no doubt in my mind that I would be one of the most loved athletes in the world because I have a hard time saying no to people. The fans and newcomers are your support, and you should support them too. However, I’m sure that if athletes didn’t have to portray themselves as humble and sincere that they would avoid as much public contact as possible, and in fact many of them do. When we’re playing poker we DO have that luxury, we can tell others we’re just not in the mood to talk or we’re not able to help as much as you would like. People won’t judge us as quickly because, well, we’re poker players.

But as we converse and the length of the debate is extended you can start to annoy other players around you, or you may be so caught up in conversation that you begin to ignore important aspects of the game. I don’t see a ton of benefit coming from these conversations, and instead perceive more problems. Unless you’re being paid to be a tutor, I suggest saving your breath. It’s nice to help people and you many inspire good karma, but it will rarely benefit you or the game speed.

Number 2 you’re giving other insight into the way YOU think. So I’m guessing that your local card game doesn’t always have a table structure where you’re the only good player. Although ideal, that’s very unreasonable. If this was the case, you could probably discuss hands and strategy all day and the other players at the table would never care or understand because they’re novices or very bad. But let’s bounce back to reality. What really happens when you decide to discuss a hand out loud is that the other players at the table pick up on your tendencies. Not that they’re a big secret, but if they’re smart they should’ve been paying attention anyway. But at all costs we don’t want to give free information to our opponents. Most of them are there to beat us, and whether they’ll proclaim that or not, it should be obvious to us. Some deceitful or intelligent players (depending how you look at it) may even chime in on the conversation and intentionally give bad advice! It’s a rare occurrence but I have seen it happen – even players who are capable of making intelligent decisions can have their opinions strayed because of another’s persistent involvement. Don’t let this be you. Try to stay focused on the task at hand so you can play more attention, play more hands, and make more money.

The last reason, and most important, is that you’ll be making the games tougher. The newbies will know how to play fundamentally sound poker, and they’ll make less mistakes because of their improvement. You’ll enter tables with less fish, and rather than making easy adjustments to make a ton of money you’ll now need to derive better formulas for extracting maximum value. Fish will become tougher to spot, giving you more difficulty with game selection. Overall the edges will be thinner and the gap smaller between the veteran and the beginner. To ensure our careers, we want to avoid an increase in the rate at which players develop.

This is much easier said than done, especially with the increase of available poker technology and forums such as But if you’ve ever visited a site such as, you’ll notice that the high-stakes portion of the site is rarely filled with any detailed strategy content, both because players have already become so skilled at analyzing their own problems, but they also recognize that the player pool is so small that they need to maintain any advantage feasible to remain a winner. They understand that even though most posts are anonymous, with everyone knowing almost everyone in their own respective poker circles it would be somewhat easy to find out who was involved in that particular hand or post and use it as a weapon. Many of the posts in the high stakes forums have become highly generalized because of this; instead trying to inspire creative thoughts rather than seeking a proven formula or solution.

Choosing to be helpful is your own decision, but I believe that it will come with a price. That price could be your whole stack.

Smaller Adjustments

There are more glaring issues that others, but even the smallest details could prevent our favorite game from stagnating. To continue along the guidelines of the above sub-topic of weak players, let’s dive a bit into the topic of poker etiquette.

To put it mildly, this is the one of the biggest concerns I have with the way the game of poker has progressed within the past few years. We’ve all noticed that the game have become tougher, and because of this players have needed to use other skill sets such as game and seat selection to help improve their bottom line. Trust me, since I employ a similar strategy, I understand the necessity. But I think it’s gone beyond all points of reason.

Particularly in an online environment, in the few hands I’ve been able to experience or watch I’ve literally seen games break by the minute after a fish has exited the game. To make things worse, it’s not as though a few players clicked sit out, but instead one after one each player refused to play one another unless the weak player re-bought or sat back in. I don’t know about you, but it would be very depressing and embarrassing to find out that the only reason the other five players sitting at my table are playing is because of me. Better yet, they won’t play unless I have money available for the taking. Going further, there’s a huge waitlist for this table, likely which formed because I’m playing here. No matter how you look at it, it’s so enlightening to the outsiders of the poker landscape that we’re ruthless in our pursuit of the green.

But how can we solve this problem? Online is a very different environment than live play, and quite honestly live casino games have an edge in this department because of their propensity to issue “must move” tables. (Must move tables require that if a certain number of players are on a wait list for a “main” game, they can start a new game with the sole intention of moving these players to the “main” game when a new seat opens later.) It’s a neat way to ensure that everyone at a particular stake gets fair action, because you won’t have the ability to sit and stay in a juicy game with a ton of weak players even if you wanted to with the must move rule.

Online, however, rules like this just aren’t enforced. Must move tables are non-existent, and the sites seem to have little interest in policing the games because of their extraordinary monetary gain. It’s become widely accepted that poker is a game of advantages, but I don’t see players restricting themselves any time in the near future. It would be nice, and probably to the benefit of myself if many of the “bumhunters” decided to sit and play with me for even an hour. But this just doesn’t happen.

One of the ideas I would propose would be to set a minimum play time once you sit down in a game. Regardless of whether it’s online or live, once you made it a point to get into the action you have to stay for at least 30 mins to an hour. Obviously if you happen to relinquish your stack to another player during that span, you have the freedom to leave. But if not, it prevents players from running away from tough competition.

Overall, I think that it benefits both players and the games because it enhances competition. After all I thought most of us decided to dive head first into the realm of poker because we get excited at the potential to outthink and outclass our opponents. It’s hard to fathom that we’ll give up a ton of value by playing with other “strong” players for a small amount of time. Even if we are, the amount of value we’re giving up is drastically diminished considering the time we’ll have to play them.

Some players may sit here and say well I think I’ll get crushed by the regulars if I decide to play against them. Well, maybe you should focus on improving your game at the moment, so you can maximize your EV when you play against the fish, and decrease your losses against the regs. Players can improve much faster if they learn from better players, an exercise I feel that many players don’t use enough to their advantage. If you can’t afford to lose half a buy-in or even a full buy-in, you have bigger problem to worry about. Bankroll management is a concept you’ll need to comprehend, and if you can’t afford to lose at the stakes you play you should move down immediately.

Seat Selection

This is arguably one of the most annoying things I witness in a poker game – the constant movement from one seat to another to gain position on a player. Whether it be the fish, or a regular that’s capable of exploiting weakness, players will move around the table at their leisure to make sure they have the most lucrative spot in the house. I don’t hate this idea, but I do think that players should be limited in the number of times they can switch seats.

One seat change should be enough for online play, but live players should be allotted two opportunities solely because certain seats (such as seat 1 and seat 9/10) have awkward viewing arrangements. Seat change buttons should be given to the first player who request a seat change, and there’s only one button given at a time so there’s no “seat change waiting list.” Casino games already do this, which is a nice feature. But neither live or online restricts the amount of times you can change positions, which is the most evident omission.

Moving the Dealer Button

Being driven to the live small-stakes games because of Black Friday, this has easily been one of the most trivial problems in the live setting. Because the button is moved manually, between players moving it themselves and the dealers moving it, its actual position becomes particularly confusing. Aside from those instances in which you’re near the button and should easily notice its position, for players who aren’t quite as observant a debate can ensue and linger for minutes as to who owns the button.

An easy fix, just don’t move the button yourself! The dealers do have a job there for a reason, they can paid to shuffle and deal cards and move a little white button. To prevent any confusion, I think players should never touch the button at all unless they’re instructed to by the dealer in an effort of requested assistance. It saves time and headaches to just let the dealer handle such a simple duty.


Actually, I’ll leave this up to the players. I feel as though it can be a delay to the game, but I have to admit I enjoy listening to music a lot during play. Just don’t let it begin to slow down the game considerably. Noise-cancellation headphones are the worst it seems, and what makes it tougher is that they usually produce some of the highest quality sound. Be careful with what you listen with and how it affects your game, don’t start to make costly mistakes at the sake of leisurely enjoyment.

We’ve covered some of the problems plaguing both live and online games, but it’s become just as important to gain insight on the game of poker as a whole. Where are we heading in terms of poker becoming an accepted career? Will we ever have online poker legalized in the United States? What efforts can we make to place the game of poker in a better light?

Online poker being the largest contributor, poker has suffered immensely from the poor decisions of others. Because of a few well known cheating scandals, some legality issues and one of the biggest online sites shutting down completely in their neglect to manage player accounts, it’s been an ugly mash-up of everything an outside beginner would never want to be involved in. There are plenty of players who are huge sponsors of the game, but there needs to be more. Unfortunately the rule of thumb is that it typically takes 100 great deeds to make up for 1 bad one, and in estimation I find it hard to extrapolate those figures to our current climate of player integrity.

Poker is a sport that lends itself to laziness and taking benefit of what’s presented to you. When we’re given valuable information about our opponents (through HUDs, datamining, tracking sites, etc.) we take advantage of it because we know it’s useful to our pockets. But some may take this too far.

Sites and real-life venues have measures in place to prevent such fraudulent behavior from occurring. We’re all thankful for this. But let’s keep in mind that we should do our own part to lift poker to new heights as it’s seen currently in the eye of the world. Poker can come off as a shady and uncertain occupation for some, but it doesn’t have to if when take the time to let the public know that poker can be very honorable and universally satisfying.

Spend time posting useful content on forums, engaging strangers in conversation or chatting up sponsors on ways we can improve the poker climate. For the sake of comprehension, well-known players such as Daniel Negreanu and Phil Galfond are huge advocates for the progression of the game of poker, and they do it through similar medium. Despite Negreanu being sponsored and Galfond not, they both use their popular blogs as great tools to reach massive amounts of fans. Twitter accounts for both players are also exercised daily, with informative insight of how to play hands or what steps we can take to ensure that poker remains cool (for the lack of a better term.) Even dress (albeit a bigger concern that probably should demand for time) can be a judgement of character in the poker world because we have the luxury as players to wear whatever we wish. Players who regularly show up in sweatpants and a t-shirt, albeit comfortable, can’t possibly expect this to come off as professional. Not to say that we need to wear a shirt and tie when we play, but during enormous, live televised events such as the World Series of Poker it wouldn’t help to show up shaved and with a clean pair of jeans every now and then.

I still believe the game of poker is progressing, I just know that it can move faster towards the finish line. But it will require an open mind and complete effort from all parties involved. Let’s do our part as players, and hope several poker companies come along.

As always stay focused on the task ahead, and hopefully I’ll see you at the tables.

Leave a Reply