Self-Taught Players

Jonathan Little, Live No Limit Cash Games (2014) (2 volumes; available in paperback and e-book form at Amazon). Volume 2 is a very helpful workbook, which gives you a chance to apply what you have learned in volume 1 to a series of actual hands, with explanations by the author of how and why he would have played each hand (so you can compare his decisions and reasoning with yours on each betting round).

Annie Duke & John Vorhaus, Decide to Play Great Poker (2011) (available in paperback and e-book form at Amazon). This book covers essentially the same ground as the Jonathan Little book, moving through pre-flop hand selection and betting, post-flop play, play on the turn, and play on the river. But there are enough differences in approach to help drive home the central point that what you need to learn is NOT a bunch of rules, but rather how to use a variety of TOOLS. Selecting the right tool for each situation, and using it skillfully, calls for judgment and experience. And every player will use the tools differently, based on his or her table image and what has worked best for him or her. Your job is to learn to use all the tools as skillfully as you can, and then to develop your own style of play that takes advantages of your strengths and mutes your weaknesses – not to imitate what works best for Jonathan Little or Annie Duke. So when you identify differences in approach between these two books, don’t try to figure out which is right and which is wrong. There are different styles of play, that can be equally effective when employed skillfully by different people.

Jonathan Little, Strategies for Beating Small Stakes Poker Cash Games. This gem of a book assumes you have developed a solid basic game, but are having trouble winning consistently playing against less skilled players in low limit games. Most poker pros who write instructional books have little or no experience playing in those games. This book fills that void. Before writing the book, Jonathan logged a bunch of hours playing $1/$2 No Limit Holdem and developing a winning strategy that takes into account the nature of those games and the players who typically populate them. This book does not teach you how to play the kind of poker that will enable you to move up to higher limits and compete against better players. It does tell you to adjust your game in order to beat the low limit games.

There is a proliferation of online teaching/coaching sites. I cannot offer a comparative evaluation as I have personal experience with only one – Jonathan Little’s site, I think it is first rate, and I recommend it highly. Once you subscribe (for $10/month; 60 day money- back guarantee) you have access to an enormous library of training videos on a wide range of topics (made by Jonathan and various other teaching pros affiliated with the site), as well as regularly scheduled online live coaching webinars on various topics, led by Jonathan or another of the coaches. (If you cannot attend a webinar live, you can download the audio afterwards at no charge, but of course you won’t have the ability to ask questions.)

I also recommend a new site, created by Jonathan Little. Each week he posts an interactive hand quiz – a series of hands in which you must decide what you would do before the flop, after the flop, on the turn and on the river. He scores your choices, and explains what he would have done and why. If you analyze your weekly quiz over time, it will help you see where your weak spots are – are you calling too often on the river? Raising too often in early position before the flop? Etc.

In addition Jonathan poses one question each week which you are supposed to answer prior to the scheduled monthly online webinar he holds for site participants. During the webinar he reviews and critiques the responses. (If you are unable to attend, you can download a recording later and benefit from the discussion.)

Equity Calculator. If you have not already done so, you should download to your computer or hand held device one or another of the most commonly used equity calculators that makes it easy to plug in your hand vs an opponent’s hand and see what your odds are before the flop, after a particular flop, and after the turn. As you progress, you will find many occasions where you will want to check the judgments you make at the table about whether you had sufficient pot odds to call in a specific situation. Doing the work away from the table is an essential part of making good future decisions at the table. I use PokerCruncher. Other commonly used apps are Flopzilla and PokerStove.

Insta Poker is a free app you can download on your smart phone or tablet. Once you download the app you can then purchase individual “hand packs” created by various poker pros, designed to improve your decision making in a specific area. For example, “Tackling the Limp” by Matt Berkey takes you through 25 hands in which you are playing in a $1/$2 No Limit game, you have an opening hand, and one or more players limp in ahead of you. In each hand, when the action comes to you your choices are to call, fold, or raise (with two choices of amounts to raise). When you make your choice, the app scores your choice and gives you an explanation of the coach’s reasoning for the score you were given. Hand packs are priced from $2.99 to 8.99; the number of hands varies from 10 to 35. You can replay each hand pack as many times as you want once you have purchased and downloaded it. I find this a very useful practice tool to use before I play a session, especially when it is been a week or more since I last played and I need to get my mind focused on the things I should be thinking about when making decisions in common (or tricky) situations. Some of the hand packs focus on cash games, some on tournament play.

ShareMyPair is a free app you can download on your smart phone or tablet. It enables you to recreate the play of a hand and upload it to the site, where it is turned into a video that is posted and made available to anyone who logs into the site. This creates the opportunity for you to participate in a virtual poker discussion group with players all over the world, as you and they post interesting hands and comment on one another’s play of the hands. Many pros (including Daniel Negreanu, Phil Hellmuth, Jonathan Little, Faraz Jaka, Chris Moneymaker, Melanie Weisner, Greg Raymer, Bernard Lee) and lots of amateurs post hands and comments. It is an interesting site to follow, to see the range of opinions about how to play a given hand or approach a given situation. And of course you can always post a hand you were dealt, which may have left you uncertain as to the optimal way to bet the flop or the river, and see what kinds of advice people have to offer.