7 Sad Realities of Poker
Poker is my favorite gambling activity. I love the challenge of matching my abilities against other players instead of against the casino. When I put myself in the right situation and play to the best of my abilities, I can make a profit by playing a game.
I started playing poker in the ‘80s, so I’ve played before, during, and after the poker boom. The poker boom was the best time to be a poker player because it brought many new players into the game, and tables were filled with people who were willing to push their chips into the pot with poor draws.
The game of poker hasn’t changed much since I started playing. Omaha is fairly new in comparison to seven card stud and Texas hold’em. Unfortunately, it’s not very popular, and there aren’t many games available as a result.
A few other variations have gotten introduced over the years, but they’re almost impossible to find because they never gained much traction.
But many things around poker have changed, and most of them aren’t for the better. Here are seven sad realities of poker.
1 – The Poker Boom Is Gone
As I mentioned in the opening section, the poker boom of the middle 2000s was a great time to be a poker player. Loose money seemed to be everywhere, and it was easy to find soft games. You could play at many different online poker sites with thousands of players, money was easy to move around, and local poker rooms were filled with new players.
Television was showing big tournaments all of the time, and this introduced the game to more players. An amateur player named Chris Moneymaker won the World Series of Poker, and millions of other players decided that if he could do it, they could, too.
Many players made the mistake of thinking that the poker boom would last forever. Not only were they wrong, but the fact is that it’s probably never coming back. Poker is still more popular than it was before the poker boom, but it’s nowhere near as popular as it was just ten years ago.
The popularity loss has created many of the other sad realities listed on this page. You can still find decent games and learn to be a winning poker player, but it’s not as easy as it used to be.
2 – Good Tables Are Harder to Find
A good poker table is one where you’re a better player than most of the other players. A great table is one where you’re the best player at the table. When millions of new players were joining games, it was easy to find good tables.
Players who started playing in the poker boom either learned how to improve their games or ran out of money and stopped playing. During the height of popularity, players who ran out of cash got quickly replaced by new players. This isn’t happening as quickly now.
You cannot simply just go to the poker room and take the first available seat or log into an online poker room and join the first table you see.
If you want to be a winning poker player now, you have to spend more time looking for a profitable table.
You might even need to start looking for ways to create your own profitable games. Some of the best games I play in today are private games. I can still find profitable games online, but most of the ones I play in are Omaha games instead of Texas hold’em.
3 – The Online Game Is Tighter
The lower-limit online poker games are still fairly soft, but it’s hard to make much money at these limits. As you move up in limits, the games are tighter than they used to be. The best players are still able to make a profit, but average players don’t have much chance.
When you reach the highest limits, both in land-based poker rooms and online, the games are much harder to beat. The highest-level games are filled with the best players, and many of them simply pass money around while the rake eats into the potential profits.
For years, the common thought was the best way to be a winning poker player was to play a tight and aggressive style. This is still true when you find soft games, but some of the best poker players have adjusted their play at the highest levels to take advantage of players who play too tight.
This is a fine line because once you start playing looser, the tendency is to loosen up too much, which costs you money.
Overall, players at every level are playing tighter, which makes every game tougher to beat. Most poker players improve their game automatically by just playing fewer hands. By playing fewer hands, the average value of their starting hands goes up, which means they win more often.
4 – Texas Hold’em Is Almost Solved
In the last section, I mentioned that at the top levels, it often seems like players are just passing around money. This comes from more players learning how to play poker the best way. If every player at the table has the same abilities, then in the long run, the poker room is the only one that wins because of the rake.
Texas hold’em is by far the most popular form of poker in the world, and the top players are close to solving the game. I don’t know if the game will ever be completely solved, but some players are close.
When a game is solved, it means that there’s a 100% correct way to play. Because poker is a game that uses a set of specific rules and cards, it can be solved. In other words, there’s a single best way to play any possible situation you have at the poker table.
This is much like chess. Computers have been used to try to solve chess for decades, and a few of them have advanced to the level where they can beat human chess masters.
The only thing that is keeping humans from solving games like chess and Texas hold’em is the huge number of possibilities in every situation. This is why computers are used when people try to solve games. Computers can crunch these huge amounts of data, and humans can’t.
I don’t believe that average and poor poker players are ever going to get close to solving Texas hold’em, but as more of the top players come close, the profits available at the big games go down.
What does this mean for most poker players?
Instead of dreaming about playing in the biggest games with the world’s best players, maybe you should shoot for being the best player at the levels right below the top. If you can be the best player at the middle-limit tables, you can probably make more money than being the fourth or fifth best at a high-limit table.
The other problem with a game like Texas hold’em being solved is that knowledge flows down through the ranks. It’s never going to transfer at a high percentage from the top to the bottom, but it tends to improve the game play at all levels.
More players play tight because it’s all that’s been preached for the last 20 years. Most players still lose, but overall, the play is tighter than it was several years ago.
5 – It Takes Hard Work to Win
You can still learn how to be a winning poker player. It isn’t even really that hard if you’re willing to do the necessary work. But most players aren’t willing to do what it takes to win. They say they want to win, but when it comes right down to it, they won’t put in the work.
Because so much has been written about poker, and in particular Texas hold’em, you have access to all of the information you need. Once you learn how to play, the rest is simply following a set of strategies that give you the best chance to win.
The most important skill you can learn if you want to be a winning poker player is how to use pot odds and expected value. Pot odds and expected value are closely related, and any player that learns how to use them instantly improves their results. This isn’t one of those things that might help you; it’s guaranteed to help you.
They’re either too lazy or simply don’t understand how powerful these things are.
The bottom line is if you want to be a profitable poker player, you have to put in the work. The good news is that if you do put in the work, you have an excellent chance to be a winning player.
6 – Bankroll Requirements
Proper poker bankroll requirements haven’t changed over the years, and most players play well above their bankroll. What this means is that most players play at a limit that’s too high for their bankroll.
This works fine until they hit a rough patch of short-term variance and get wiped out. Even if you’re a winning poker player, you can have a losing stretch that eliminates your entire bankroll if you aren’t playing at the proper levels.
I always recommend having the higher end, but common advice is to have 200 to 300 times the big bet if you play limit poker and 20 to 30 times the buy-in if you play no limit. The bottom line is the bigger the bankroll, the better.
If you have a bigger bankroll than you need, it lets you take a shot at a higher game if you see one with a group of poor players. It also makes it easier to stay focused when you have a rough stretch because a loss is a smaller percentage of your total bankroll.
The other major mistake poker players make when it comes to bankroll is that they don’t have a segregated amount for poker play. It’s easy to just take money out of your pocket when you want to play, but it makes it difficult to track your results, and if you’re not careful, you might play with money you need for bills.
It’s acceptable to just use your everyday money to play poker if you play casually from time to time, but if you want to take playing poker serious, you need to set aside a bankroll that you only use for poker.
7 – Rake and Tips
Are you a winning poker player? If you think you are, do you count the money you give dealers in tips and the rake when you track your results? Do you include the cost of getting to the poker room and back?
Every person that plays poker has their own goals, but if you want to be a profitable player, you need to start tracking everything. If you set aside a bankroll for poker, like I suggested in the last section, it makes it easier.
The only way to get around paying rake is by playing in private games. Private games can be good, but one thing it opens up is the greater possibility of being cheated. You can get cheated in a normal poker room, but private games are more dangerous.
When it comes to tipping dealers, how much and how often is a personal choice. I tend to tip good dealers more often than others, but I usually tip every poker dealer when I win as long as they don’t completely suck.
If you don’t want to tip dealers, you can play poker online.
Why You Should Play Poker Anyway
Now that you know seven sad realities of poker, I want to share a few things on the positive side about the game.
Poker is still the best gambling activity that you can study that gives you a realistic chance to win. You can find a few other options, but poker provides the fastest and surest way to be a profitable gambler. As you learned above, it’s not going to be easy, but it is realistic.
Most poker players spend their entire life simply playing by their gut feelings and hoping to win every time they play.
They look for profitable opportunities and learn how to take advantage of them when they find them.
Winning poker players learn how to use expected value and pot odds with every decision they have to make at the table. They learn the correct way to play that gives them the best chance to win every time they play.
You won’t win every time you play, but once you start making more profitable plays than unprofitable ones, you lock in long-term profits. Anyone can learn how to do this if they know where to look and put in the hard work.
Most poker players are attracted to Texas hold’em because this is the game they see on television and the game that they see most other people playing. In addition, you can find more books, articles, and videos about Texas hold’em than every other variation of poker combined.
Texas hold’em is a good place to start, but don’t overlook Omaha and seven card stud. If you can find games, they often offer better opportunities than Texas hold’em. The best way to start is to learn about all three games while you’re learning the best strategies.
Most of the important things you need to know about poker, like expected value and pot odds, work equally well no matter which poker variation you’re playing. Once you get the main things down, you can quickly master new poker games because you already have the base tools you need to win.
If I had to start over, I’d concentrate on Omaha because I’ve found that it’s more profitable for my style of play than Texas hold’em. I’d also learn about Texas hold’em because sometimes I can’t find a good Omaha game.
How to Be a Winning Poker Player
If you want to learn how to be a winning poker player, here’s a quick list to get you started. After you follow these steps, you should be able to figure out everything else you need to know.
- Read as many articles about poker as you can. Look for good articles online and in magazines.
- Buy some of the best books about poker. You can find suggested reading lists by searching in Google and looking for books on sites like Amazon and Barnes and Noble. I recommend making a list of 10 to 12 good books and ordering at least two or three to get started. Then get more and study them as you finish other books you own.
- Focus on your starting hand selections in whatever variation of poker you decide to master first. Learn about position and why it’s important to starting hand selection, and keep your starting hand selection tight.
- Learn everything you can about pot odds and expected value. At first, these two things may seem intimidating or hard, but once you learn what they are and how to use them, you’re going to find that they aren’t too hard, and you’re going to profit from them for the rest of your life.
- Learn about the importance of table and game selection and learn how to identify profitable opportunities. If you simply stop playing against better poker players, it’s instantly going to improve your results.
- Find good videos of poker hands so you can see how other players make playing decisions while at the table. Learn from the proper plays and the mistakes you see others make.
- Make a note of every time you make a mistake and learn from your mistakes so you don’t make them again. By constantly working to improve on your mistakes, your poker game will steadily improve over time.
If you’re willing to dedicate a couple hours every day to studying poker, you have a good chance to start winning on a regular basis in a month or two. It might take longer to master your chosen game, but if you master things like starting hand selection, pot odds, table selection, and expected value, you can start making a profit fast.
I recently read an article that said if you want to beat your competitors, you need to be willing to do what they aren’t willing to do. The article was about business, but it fits about poker, too.
Most poker players aren’t willing to learn what they need to learn to improve, and they aren’t willing to work hard to become a winning player. All you need to do to win is do the opposite of what most players do.
Becoming a consistent winning poker player really is that easy.
Is this the end for poker? Just because you have to face some sad realities about poker like the ones listed on this page, it doesn’t mean that poker is doomed. It just means that it’s a little harder to be a winning player than it used to be.
This isn’t even terrible news. It just means that fewer players are going to be willing to do what they need to do to win. This opens up a great opportunity for you to quickly become one of the best players in most games.
If you can simply learn enough to be the best player at the table where you’re playing, you lock in long-term profits.