4 Things You Need to Know at the Beginning of Your Poker Career

When you first start anything in life, there is always a bit of a learning curve. At first you may make many mistakes, but you learn from them. Some quicker than others, but learn; none the less. The “unknown unknowns” are usually what catch people out when they start something new.

This holds true when it comes to poker more than just about anything I have ever done in my life. I’ve had plenty of jobs in my life and all took a bit to get the hang of it. But after a short time, I was on pace with the rest of my employees. More importantly I didn’t have regrets after a week or 2 on the job.

When it comes to poker, I have more than a few regrets. I wish I could go back and take a mulligan. Sadly, there are no do-overs in poker; you just have to move on.

But, luckily for you, I’ve made the mistakes and now I can tell you what not to do when you first start out playing poker. Most of this pertains to playing online, but can also be applied to live poker as well.

Without further ado, let’s find out what you should be doing, or better yet, what not to do at the beginning of your poker career.


Yes, I used all caps on this one because it’s that important. And if I got paid for every exclamation mark I used, I would have added more.

When I first started playing online poker, I would whimsically sign up for accounts at every site I could find. Pretty soon, I had an account at almost every poker room online. Granted I’m an old man and there were far fewer sites than there are today, but I still made a goof by joining a site without getting rakeback.

To my defense, rakeback was a new concept and not many people knew about it. But, if I had known about it, I would be better off financially than I am now. all things being equal, my win rate would have increased with no more effort on my part other than the initial rakeback deal signup.

The worst part was trying to get rakeback once I realized it was available. If you have ever played at Full Tilt in the past, you know what I’m talking about. You were better off trying to lick your elbow. Go ahead… Try licking your elbow once. That’s what it’s like trying to get rakeback at any site you already have an account at.

#2 – Use Strict Bankroll Management

Now that you’re done foolishly trying to lick your elbow, let’s move on to lesson #2 – Bankroll management.

This phrase meant nothing to me. I had never heard of it, and boy did I not use it. Had I used it, I would have been way ahead of the game.

Instead of just taking all my money to highest limit I could, I should have been managing my money. Instead I would lose what I had, re-deposit and do it all over again. Sometimes I made out, but many times I just lost.

If I would have used management, I would have been playing higher stakes at a faster rate and better yet, had a lot more money.

#3 – Selectively Take Advice from People

When you’re new to anything, often times you listen to others for advice. This is acceptable in most parts of life, but not always in poker.

Every poker player loves to tell you how good they are, or worse yet, how unlucky they are. For one, listening to a bad beat story is just plain annoying. But, listening to someone who is bad at poker is just dumb.

You wouldn’t take advice from the mailroom workers about how to run the company would you?

Unfortunately, I was so eager to learn how to play and get better; I listened to anyone who was willing to talk about the game. Which, like I said…is almost everyone who has played at least 1 hand of poker.

I would even try to watch poker shows to learn the game. I thought what they were doing was the right play and bluffing your entire stack at the end of a tournament was a regular occurrence.

Gus Hansen was my teacher for a while. I would watch him on the Travel Channel during his lucky run of WPT titles. I would see him bluff his way to millions and figured it must be right to bluff every hand. But as we know, they only show the entertaining hands on TV and not the whole story. Plus Gus Hansen is currently online pokers all time losing player. Obviously not someone you want to be learning from by watching the TV.

My point is, you should be taking everything you hear and read with your own judgment. Don’t simply take someone’s advice because they say it’s right. Use common sense, learn from those who actually win and have proven they are good.

Check out the big poker forums and search for threads that have a large amount of discussion. Intently read the positive and negative arguments given by everyone in the conversation. Soon you’ll learn which users are respected and should be listened to. Don’t take everything you read as gospel, though, from anyone. You must put everything you learn in to practice and analyse what works and what doesn’t – otherwise you will never truly know or progress yourself as a poker player.

#4 – Track, Study, Analyse, Repeat

It’s important not only to know when you have a leak in your game, but to know which leaks are the biggest. Everyone has leaks. Some are gushing, while others are small consistent -EV plays.

Choose a period of time or number of hands where you will analyse your hands. For example:

  • After every big day playing poker
  • After every 1,000/5000/10,000 hands
  • After you’ve lost 5 buy ins (and take a break?)
  • Whenever you feel like you’re not on your A-game

Only by analysing your own play and asking for hand history reviews will you be able to progress at the rate required in today’s poker environment.

That should conclude our class for now. There are probably many more things you should be doing, but just focus on these for now. You never want to try too much at once.

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