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House of Cards
by Ashley Adams

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Getting Better

by Ashley Adams

Do you ever think about being a better poker player? Many of you probably don’t. You win, you lose – no matter. You’re happy without improving. Sure, you’d like to win more and lose less. Who wouldn’t? But actually improve your skill? You couldn’t care less about that. Others say they want to get better. But do they really? Most, I suspect are just hoping, as if by magic, they will get better just by playing more. But they’re not willing to do any work toward their self-improvement.

 For all of you above—who, when it comes right down to it, don’t really want to do what it takes to get better—that’s fine. I respect you, I’m glad you like to play, and I hope we meet at the tables. But this article really isn’t for you. Rather, this is for those of you who are eager to improve and are willing to do the necessary work. There are five key ingredients to improvement: intent, intelligence, study, self-reflection, and application. Let’s get to them.

 Intent. You must really want to get better. This may seem obvious. But it means more than just thinking that you want to get better. You have to be determined to do more than just play. Play alone doesn’t do it. If it did, all of the people who played regularly would be getting better all the time. Believe me, they aren’t. They become habitual and either regress or plateau. To truly improve, you need to make a commitment to do the work.

 Intelligence. You don’t have to be brilliant to get better – but you have to be at least intelligent enough to do some basic arithmetic in your head without flinching, to look at hands thoughtfully as opposed to habitually, to take in the opinions and ideas of other thoughtful players, to integrate them into your own thinking, and to extend conclusions on how to play one poker hand to others. In short, you have to be smart enough to thoughtfully analyze the optimum way to play a particular hand.

 Study. You may be one of a handful of players who can become an expert all on your own – just by relying on your gut and your own observations. But in all likelihood, you are not one of those poker savants. Much more likely, you will need to learn from others. To do this you must study. As the host of my poker radio show, House of Cards, I’ve spoken to many top professionals and asked them what they did to become an expert, and most agreed on what was most helpful. Many mentioned a few excellent poker books that helped them think about the game, establishing a good foundation for excellent play on which to build their poker learning.

 Some said that having an excellent poker tutor or mentor was very useful. But nearly all agreed that the three most important elements in the process of going from good to expert were studying the video training sites, reading and responding to posts on the on line poker forums, and, most important of all, engaging in poker hand discussion on a regular basis with a group of other likeminded skilled poker players.

 Application. It’s not enough to know what to do to become better, you must actually do it. You must face difficult situations on your own, think through them using the tools your study has given you, and then you must look at and analyze the results. You must do this a lot in order to gain the experience base from which to further refine your thinking and to try out different approaches to hand situations you confront. You can then discuss these experiences with other thoughtful poker players, bouncing your ideas off of them, and considering their thoughts on how you might have played the hand differently.

 Self-Reflection. Part of your regular cycle of improvement must be reflection. To best take advantage of what you’ve learned from your study you must think about how you’re applying what you’ve learned. This requires a level of honesty that many ego-fueled poker players don’t possess. In order to truly get better, you must look at what you’ve done, see the weakness in how you played the hand, and then see how you can act differently in the future.

 Ashley Adams is the author of Winning No Limit Hold’em and Winning 7-Card Stud. He hosts the radio show House of Cards, broadcast in markets throughout the US and on the Internet at Contact Ashley at

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