I have been playing online Texas Holdem for years. At first I was getting better all the time. Not good enough to make a living or anything but steadily accumulating money on the low stakes "penny" tables. My style was pretty much supertight until I started winning and then loose until I started losing and then repeat. Or sometimes I'd flip between the two if I got bored.

Then I started reading a few books and articles (Hellmuth, Harrington & Ivey to name a few) and now my game has gone to pot.

My pattern of play appears to be this:

I'll start trying to apply hard and fast rules to each set of hole cards. This works well to a point and then I get increasingly loose. This too sometimes works well but then I get a bad beat and keep analyzing the previous hand while playing the next and before you know it I'm on full tilt.

The advice from these legends is of course sound in itself, but how do I apply them to my natural game?

  • 6
    Toby Booth addressed the core of the problem. Try to understand the concepts, not apply them as they are stated. Even more the books you have cited (Hellmuth & Harrington) are teaching an old style of poker that is not still valid, because the game that is played today is a lot more aggressive. You must understand the core concepts of poker in order to be "liquid", namely you can adapt your game to your opponents. Forget Hellmuth, Harrington and Ivey and start to study the basic theory. I would suggest you -Small Stakes Hold 'em (Miller, Sklansky & Mallmuth)
    – emanuele
    Jul 2, 2013 at 13:11
  • Great, I shall check that out...
    – Robbie Dee
    Jul 2, 2013 at 15:49
  • 1
    check this link bookos.org/md5/B08FAC3BD2B0DEA2636680E7FCA479BC
    – emanuele
    Jul 2, 2013 at 17:56
  • You diamond... :)
    – Robbie Dee
    Jul 2, 2013 at 20:10

2 Answers 2


I have a friend who often relates a similar story to me. (The friend is not me, but has been in the past!) As always, as detailed as this is, it's never the whole story.

My friend will be playing and winning at a reasonable rate, then the reverse... at a reasonable rate. When they're winning they often attribute it to the quality of their ability, and when they lose they often attribute it to bad luck. A common bias. Their particular story often involves relating what they've seen in High Stakes TV shows, and stating how the decisions presented are practically identical to their own. Repeating actions & possessing skill are very different.

You may be reading, and indeed doing what these books suggest, but it's likely that you're not digging into the concepts & heuristics that are the foundations of the decisions. For example, a plain hand history often won't retell the past play, opponent dynamics or skillset, whether Hero has balanced his lines, etc.

Of course, the truth is that what might appear to be true, only scratches the surface of the decision. Emulation is not mastery. Hard rules are good for processes you deeply understand, but ask yourself: Are you really there yet? and whether liberating yourself to explore is better at this stage of your development? It often is at all stages. Tiger Woods (Golf) changed his technique when he was world no.1, as did Phil Taylor (Darts). Just two of many examples. Poker can likely be classed a discrete skill like these sports.

I'd suggest a couple of things, each has helped me a great deal.

  • The first is focusing on one concept at a time, and I do mean concept. Your working memory is finite, don't overload it. Sure, read the books all the way through, but remind yourself that they're for education, not entertainment. Go back to the beginning and study the examples, paying attention to the concept. Work with it, test it, manipulate it in ways you think are wrong and right just to experiment.

  • The second is, do more to learn how to learn. Meta-Learning. This might've been the first point but it makes sense as an example of how to tackle point one. People commonly read, watch, listen to so much that there's a fear of missing out if you don't take it all in. They take an example, read it once or twice, and then move to the next with the full intention of applying the ideas presented. What actually happens is, because of the amount of new tools to play with, it ends up being emulation and not an attempt at mastery. Look at why you get a result from doing "this & that", and less on the how to get a result from doing "this & that". If you do, you'll also find out why not!

As a personal example, starting with the bigger fundamental concepts like position, value bet vs bluff bet, I went through the first "Easy Game Vol 1 by Andrew Seidman" book, chapter by chapter doing this, applying what I thought each concept was at increasingly detailed levels. I soon found out that, when I moved a chapter further on, what I thought I knew wasn't actually clear. And so I went back a chapter. Rinse, repeat.

I hope this helps a bit. As a side note, I thought this was interesting when you mentioned "My style was pretty much supertight until I started winning and then loose until I started losing". Perhaps you were winning because you were supertight, and changing to a looser game actually hurt your game. I'd be digging into why one worked better than the other.

  • Many thanks for this. Very helpful. Re your last paragraph: I think this approach helped at the time as it made my style more difficult to read. If they always thought I had nuts, they'd fold but if they saw I played more marginal hands, that threw them off the scent a little. And of course, I'd sometimes hit an inside straight etc.
    – Robbie Dee
    Jul 2, 2013 at 13:21
  • I did wonder if those early successes were my imagination but I tracked it on one of those ratings sites and I did seem to be improving steadily to a point. Something else that might be relevant is that I'm playing more Zoom games these days (if you fold, you get stuck immediately on another table with a fresh hand) so perhaps my original style only suits a static table (where image is important) rather then Zoom or tourneys. I know for a fact that my original approach sucked big time on the final table in tourneys and when playing head-to-head.
    – Robbie Dee
    Jul 2, 2013 at 13:27
  • I thought this might be useful also. It's a very good site overall for building useful mental models farnamstreetblog.com/2013/06/…
    – Toby Booth
    Jul 4, 2013 at 18:37

You seem to be losing now because you let the results of your earlier hands affect the later ones. You seemed to be winning earlier when you didn't do this.

It's time to go back to first principles. Each hand is totally independent of anything that has gone on before, and whether you won or lost the last hand (or two or three that you played) has nothing to do with the current one.

  • 1
    I really want to agree with you, but I strongly believe you're wrong: consecutive hands are not totally independent from each other. A series of consecutive hands that a player wins or loses determines his mental state (example: tilt), it determines his VPiP, his table image and many more. Just like in other games (boxing, tennis etc.), a new round seems to be independent; but your decision process in that new round is HEAVILY INFLUENCED by the previous rounds... or at least it should be. After all, it's one of the core concepts of poker. Jul 4, 2013 at 7:33
  • Re your first point - there is definitely something in this. Before I took it as the luck of the draw but now I'm questioning which strategy gem I've forgotten. This is of course a major fault itself - trying to make hard and fast rules for given hole cards when I should be looking at myriad other factors.
    – Robbie Dee
    Jul 4, 2013 at 8:34
  • As for your second point, even if I could just magically forget an original bad beat and the loose hands I play subsequently, the dynamic of the table seems to change. I'm getting called on more large pre-flop raises and previously tight-passive players are coming over the top.
    – Robbie Dee
    Jul 4, 2013 at 8:37
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    The suggestion of making "First Principles" a priority is a useful one. As for your point on the independence of hands, I'd say that the process of decision making should be unchanged, hand-to-hand, but the inputs (i.e. available information) are dynamic. I actually think this is what you may have meant in the first place.
    – Toby Booth
    Jul 4, 2013 at 18:41

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