Strategy Snacks #8: Play Like the Best

Do you really want to become a great poker player? Or do you just want to play and hope to win? If you’re serious about becoming a great player, then this little strategy snack might be a big help. 

Strategy Snacks How To Play Like The Best Poker Players

There are three primary methods to increase your proficiency at any activity. 

  1. You can emulate those who are good at it, doing what they do and becoming more like them. This is the best way for beginning and intermediate players to become competent quickly. 
  2. You can test various strategies and get empirical data on what works and what doesn’t through trial and error. This can take a long time, but with the help of tracking software for online poker, it can definitely help. 
  3. You can look for actual proven solutions or solve things yourself. It can take a long time and a lot of study to get the knowledge necessary to do this, but it’s the only way to be truly great and adjust to any game conditions. Doing the math yourself is hard work, but necessary if you want to be the best.

For now, let’s focus on the first method, learning how the best players do things and doing them the same way. Don’t confuse this with simply copying the greats; you won’t be able to memorize everything they do anyway. This is about learning to be more like them and understanding why they do what they do. 

Even the most groundbreaking and innovative practitioners of any discipline, from physics to music, spent years learning from the best before they went their own way and changed the game. This is also true in poker. If you think you will just do it “your way” and develop your own strategy before you’ve learned from others, then I should thank you on behalf of all the poker pros for the money you will donate over the course of your failed poker career. 

Improve your game by watching other good players

If the game is online and you can use tracking software, find the statistics of players who are beating the game and compare them to your own. If they are open raising between 18% and 22% of hands, and you’re only opening 13% of hands, you need to open up your game. Now, look at what hands they’re opening — and from what positions — and start to make a change. 

If the game isn’t online, then identify the most consistent winners and watch them carefully. Are they playing more or fewer hands than you are? Are they more or less aggressive? Do they raise more or less often on the river? Do they play more hands in position? Who do they play their hands with, and how do they approach the game? 

The best way to implement this approach, once you’ve identified the best players, is to spend some time asking yourself what they would do in any tough situation. I often think about this myself, either wondering what a solver would recommend, or thinking about how the best players I know would handle a situation. 

When I play mixed games, I ask myself what Michael Mizrachi, Paul Volpe, or Benny Glazer would do. In No-Limit cash games, I often think about how Jason Koon would play a hand or what a solver would do in the same situation. 

This exercise not only helps you play better, it also helps you to understand your strongest opponents. And I find that it gives me a much-needed, new perspective in tough spots. Sometimes it’s much easier to find the right decision if you can mentally get out of your seat and advise yourself from a distance; wondering how your favorite crushers would handle a difficult spot can do exactly that. 

It’s a great feeling when you stop to wonder how Fedor Holz would play a hand and realize that the answer was right there in front of you, if you could just get out of your own way.

The exercise that helps you play like the best players. 

Start your session with a plan to play as much like the best player in your game as possible. Play every hand the way you think they would play it. Settle into being them for the night. Don’t think about how you would play the hand at all. If you’re hunting, then don’t think about how you’re different from a tiger — simply become the tiger. 

After the session is over, you can think about what you can learn from how you had to adjust your play. Look back on any spots where you played differently because you were playing someone else’s game instead of yours. And then, as Bruce Lee famously recommended:

“Research your own experience; absorb what is useful, reject what is useless and add what is essentially your own.”

Playing like the best players may not yield success right away. As with any changes in your poker game, making changes will put you in spots you aren’t comfortable with. In the short term, you may find yourself making mistakes because you’re in unfamiliar territory. In the long run, though, this is a good thing.

If you’ve always been a tight player, then playing 4-6 suited from middle position puts you in a tough spot. You don’t have enough practice to play that hand perfectly in that spot because you haven’t done it before. But, you have to start working on it if that is the key to beating your game. And it won’t take long before you’re able to play those hands well, especially if you’re paying close attention to how the best players do it, and are emulating them. 

But before you go out and start that session, you better have yourself a good dinner, this was just a quick snack. 

Written by
Chris Wallace
Professional poker player, HORSE world champion, author.

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