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Poker Strategy With Alex Fitzgerald: It’s What You Put Into The Hours

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You never want to have this thought: “What would have happened if I had worked harder?”

Early in my career, I played poker for long stretches of time without getting better. I failed to improve then because I didn’t take my development seriously. I was focused on money. I was focused on volume. I was focused on everything but improving.

There’s a big difference between increasing your skill level, and increasing the amount of time you spend at your current skill level. There’s a big difference between ten years of experience and one year of experience repeated ten times.

Poker evolves quickly. If you’re not working to stay ahead of the game, it will quickly pass you by. You need to constantly be working on improving. This requires more than just logging hours. It requires deliberate practice.

It’s not the hours you put in. It’s what you put into the hours.

How can you put more into the hours? How can you improve your game rapidly?

The first way you get more out of the hours is by having a mission every time you play. You should always have something you’re working on for a session. You don’t want to do what I did. For years, I would show up to play poker without having an idea as to what I wanted to work on. What ends up happening when you do that is you play without direction.

The second way you get more out of the hours is by picking your missions carefully. You always want to have a performance goal when you’re playing, but it’s important you pick one that will meaningfully change your game.

If you want to raise bluff the river, for example, versus someone who triple barrels too thinly for value, that is a fine goal, sure. But it also won’t come up that often. If you instead fix a preflop ranging problem you have, that is a great goal because that will come up in every session you play for the rest of your life. The profits will add up quickly.

The third way you get more out of the hours is to actually commit to making the changes. “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth,” as Mike Tyson so eloquently put it.

Poker players often have ideas for how they want to approach a session, but then everything goes out the window once they lose their first pot. Sometimes they go card dead for an hour or two and they start rushing their work. For whatever reason, they’re not sticking to the fixes they picked for themselves earlier.

You need to reward yourself for putting in the work. You’re human. You’re not a machine. You will feel better if you cut yourself some slack.

Let’s say you’ve been committing a number of bad hero calls on the river over the last month. You want to fix that leak. You tell yourself, “I’m not calling on the river today unless I can work through the hand and reasonably put my opponent on a bluff, a missed draw, or a weaker hand they’re value betting.”

Then throughout the day, you have three river situations and you fold all three times after working through the hand. You accomplished the mission.

Reward yourself. Get yourself a steak dinner. Get yourself some concert tickets. I don’t know what will motivate you. That’s on you to find out. But there has to be some kind of positive confirmation when you stick to your guns.

Conversely, you also have to punish yourself. Let’s say you failed on all three rivers. You hero called three times even though you couldn’t reasonably put your opponents on bluffs, missed draws, or weaker hands that they were value betting.

You need to address the way you shrugged off this assignment. You can’t let this slide. Perhaps the next time you’re in the gym you can make yourself do some cardio drills you hate. Perhaps when you get home you should make yourself clean the gutters. Find something that’s a pain in the ass to do and subject yourself to it.

You don’t have to be too hardcore about this, but you need to remind yourself what your development means to you. It will help you stay focused in the next session.

The fourth way you put more in the hours is by realizing that not every session has to go perfectly. Obviously, if you’re playing a huge tournament, you don’t want to try new plays. You should stick to your solid tested game in that arena. You wouldn’t debut new material at Carnegie Hall. You would workshop it first in the smaller clubs. Similarly, in poker, if you’re trying something new, you want to debut those plays versus weaker players at smaller stakes.

Many poker players weaken their poker development by never wanting to try anything new. I get it. It’s weird how grown men snicker about a botched bluff like its still high school, and it feels goofy to be in a situation where the whole table seems to want to give you shit.

But we have to get past this! The vast majority of poker players do not beat the rake. If we play just like everybody else, we can expect to not beat the rake either. We have to try something different. Our very survival is at stake.

How many more poker sessions do you think you’re going to play in your life? Hundreds? Thousands? We need to remember when we play a poker session that it is only one session out of the possible hundreds or thousands we have left in our lives.

If we try something new and learn something huge about the game, that could help us make more money for the next several hundred or thousand sessions. It’s worth losing in one session to make that kind of advance in our game.

Get more out of the hours by trying experiments. Experiments are allowed to fail.

Are you cold calling too much? Have you looked at your database and seen consistent losses when you’re cold calling from positions other than the cutoff and button? Then you should try three-betting or folding with all of your hands for a session. Every time you face a raise you should force yourself to fold more. See how it makes you feel. It will get easier after a certain period of time.

Are you calling on too many rivers? Are you consistently losing there? Then fold all of your bluff catchers for a few sessions. See what happens.

Have you been caught bluffing repeatedly over the last few sessions? Then try to value bet thinly with all of your top pairs and remove the bluff from your game for a few sessions. See what happens.

Again, none of these experiments are permanent fixes. They’re meant to expand your game. After a session or two, you can return to the cold calls, river calls, or river bluffs that were causing you trouble before.

The hope is that you will be more calibrated in the future because you exposed yourself to a poker strategy you weren’t familiar with. Maybe you had more success being nittier than you expected. Maybe now you can nit it up when the situation calls for it. That’s a huge advance in your game. And all it cost was a few goofy sessions. ♠

Learn how to play A-K when it misses the flop!

Alexander Fitzgerald is a professional poker player and bestselling author who currently lives in Denver, Colorado. He is a WPT and EPT final tablist, and has WCOOP and SCOOP wins online. His most recent win was the $250,000 Guaranteed on ACR Poker. He currently enjoys blasting bums away in Ignition tournaments while he listens to death metal. Free training packages of his are provided to new newsletter subscribers who sign up at