A New Theory that Will Help Define Poker Improvement

graphWhen I was contemplating writing articles for the improvement of poker players, a logical question came to mind: “What is Poker Improvement?” Unfortunately, contrary to some of the theories available, there is no blueprint or formula for playing poker well.

Improving at poker is just like improving at anything else, it takes hard work, investments of time and money, and multiple bumps in the road along the way.

The definition of poker improvement

First, we need a definition for poker improvement. In the past, I played chess and hired a chess coach, Dan Heisman, who wrote an article on the theory of chess improvement. In that article, he wrote a good definition for chess that I think applies well to poker. He wrote: “Improvement at chess and similar activities consists of adding positives or subtracting negatives.1”

Improving at poker is the same. We must subtract negatives and add positives to our game, and as a result we will improve.

Subtracting Negatives

In poker subtracting negatives is analogous to plugging leaks. Simply defined, leaks are parts of your game where you are costing yourself chips in spots by making errors. Leaks are those spots where we make errors that cost us a few chips here and a few chips there. Like a leak in your plumbing, each individual drop may not seem like a big deal, but if the leak is allowed to remain, it will have wasted gallons of water over time. A leak in poker is the same. Each individual play may only cost us only a few chips here and a few chips there, but over time, if the leak is not fixed, it will cost us countless dollars of equity in the long term.

Adding positives

In poker adding positives is a little harder to define.

The definition I have concluded to be best is obtaining the knowledge, experience, and skills to maximize your equity in a game. Adding positives is the process of obtaining more knowledge, experience, and more skills to make you a better player.

Now that we know what the elements that constitute improvement are, we must next examine how we make these things a reality.

The things that come to mind are reading poker books and articles, watching training videos, participating and study group and hiring a poker coach. Of course, practice is a vital part of poker improvement.

The right way to read a poker primer

When you are reading, the best way to improve is by active reading. The mistake that many players will make is to zoom through the latest poker book and read it in a week or two, then expect to recall the information when they sit down to play. Instead, you should actively read the book. Read a chapter the first time for a general overview of the information the author is attempting to convey, then re-read the chapter a second and possibly even a third time.

Mark up your book.

Make notes in the margins.

Highlight the important parts of the text.

Make the book your own.

Training Sites

Another method to poker improvement is to join a training site and watch training videos.

Just as is recommended with the reading, actively watching the videos will provide the best results. Use the pause button and take notes. Go back in the video and re-watch sections where the trainer discussed a new concept or discussed a spot where you made an error. Watch this section of the video until you are certain that you completely understand the concept.

Study groups and forums

Participating in a study group is another great way to add positives to or subtract negatives from your game.

As a group you can study a book, discuss certain topics or even review hand histories. Discussing situations with other players can help us see spots and hands in a totally different light that we may have totally missed before. Having other players analyze hands for you is one of the best ways to identify leaks.

A good poker forum is a good example of a pseudo study group.

Hiring a poker coach

One of the best ways to improve is to hire a poker coach.

A good poker coach can review a hand history with you and can identify some leaks and give you positives to add to your games on spots you may be missing. Take short hand notes while you are in your session. After the session, re-write your notes in full. You don’t want to wait too long to re-write your notes, as you may forget some of the ideas in your shorthand notes.

It would be a great goal to either subtract one negative from your games or add one positive to your on a daily basis. If you can add one positive or subtract one negative every day, you are a better player today than you were yesterday. Improvement does not come fast, it comes one little piece at a time.

Joseph Pregler plays regularly in live tournaments on the East Coast and enjoys sharing his wisdom and experience to novice and intermediate players.  You can follow him at www.facebook.com/jjpregler 


1. Heisman, Dan. A Guide to Chess Improvement: The Best of Novice Nook. 2010 Dan Heisman and ChessCafe.com. Pages 12 – 20.




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