Before going to the topics some of you aspiring players will probably find the most interesting (poker strategy, making the right plays), I am going to discuss two of the most underrated aspects in professional poker: patience and discipline. People who are familiar with my works know that I still consider my patience in waiting for the right hand / moment, and my discipline in, as well as outside of the game, to be the biggest factors, the most important reasons for the successes I've had.
For years, I have played against players who know as much or even more than I do about the exact odds and percentages, and who almost always exactly know the right play under any given circumstances. However, at the end of the year they never make as much money as I do. In fact, a lot of very talented and highly knowledgeable players have trouble beating the game, and some are even lifelong losers. At the same time, quite a few people who cannot be considered "players" by their standards, people who play a tight but unimaginative game and who compensate for their lack of knowledge and the ability to read their opponents by simply playing solid poker, quite a few of these players are capable of making money, whereas their more skilled opponents are not. The reasons: Patience and Discipline. Especially in the game most of you students will probably want to focus on (limit hold'em), patience and discipline alone might help you become a break-even player at the lower and maybe even middle limits, even if your basic strategy needs a lot more work.
It is only when you are able to play your best game all of the time, instead of most of the time, that making the right, strategic, play becomes important. Without patience and discipline you will simply stand no chance playing limit hold'em. In this lesson, and in the next couple of lessons as well, I will try to show you my views on having the right attitude at the table, having the right image for the game you're in, making the right preparations before playing, and how to handle adversity. I will then focus on some of the most important factors in increasing your hourly rate: game-, table- and seat-selection. Only when we have covered all these issues into depth is it time to focus on what may be the most interesting aspect in poker- making the right, strategic, play.
When I started playing limit hold'em for a living, I didn't know that much about the game, actually. I had not read any books or used any software to improve my game- in fact, I didn't even know about its existence. My only edge in the game was playing rock-solid poker, being ultra-aggressive when I thought my hand was good and laying it down when I thought it was not, and, most importantly, my discipline. I invented all kinds of different techniques to make folding the 'natural' thing to do, to make folding a pleasant thing to do. So, ever since I started playing for a living I tried to have fun at the table even though I would almost never play a hand. It was only later, when patience and discipline had become almost second nature to me, that I really started focusing on improving my game- and I still think this is the right order to do things. I'm not suggesting you do things exactly the way I did (I wouldn't recommend sitting down in the game as 'green' as I was, especially with all the quality material that is available nowadays), but I do suggest you make patience and discipline your number-one goal. Only when you can honestly say that you always bring your A-game, are always well-prepared before you enter the game, and don't let any adversity (either in the game, or in life) affect your play- only then are you ready to work your way up in poker. Take care, you guys, and good luck.
A Special TipBecause so many players find it hard to keep folding hand after hand, it would be wise to invent some kind of system that makes folding pleasant, rather than unpleasant. What I have done, is always folding my hands in a special way: by not just pushing my cards towards the dealer, but by handing them over with a flourish, as if I was contesting for a style prize on folding. Also, when I'm in the blinds and fold against a raise or don't complete my small blind (which I almost never do), I always take the money I have already put into the pot and push it towards the center of the table myself, as if I simply love to fold hands.* These are just two suggestions to make folding more pleasant for you than it actually is, and these kinds of routines will make it less likely for you to get emotionally affected by a long run of unplayable hands.
* I know that in the eyes of some players, you will look silly when you do things like this, and they will certainly make remarks when they see you folding with a flourish time after time, especially since they cannot figure out why on earth you would be happy to give up your hand. That said, even when the techniques described here might only help you slightly in staying more disciplined, focused and in the right frame of mind, I believe that in time your emotional stability, your overall play and (therefore) your results will benefit greatly.