One of the best things about poker is that there is always room for improvement, meaning the game always brings about new challenges, regardless of how experienced a player might be. Poker hall of famer Mike Sexton gave one of my favorite quotes about poker that sums it up best:
Poker takes five minutes to learn but a lifetime to master.
However, getting started with poker that’s probably the hardest part in one’s path to greatness, be it if they see poker as a potential career or a hobby they’re very interested in.
For that reason, I figured to make things somewhat easier on those just getting their feet wet and steer them in the right direction. If you’re thinking about taking on poker but are uncertain as to where to start, here’s my personal list of the top five places where you can start honing your poker skills as early as today.
1. Social Poker Networks
After online poker became a pop culture darling following Chris Moneymaker’s big World Series of Poker win in 2003, social poker platforms started popping up left and right. Probably the best known such platforms are Zynga Poker and WSOP, available on Facebook to players of all ages and completely free to play.
Of course, free-money social poker probably isn’t the place where you’ll actually elevate your poker knowledge as most players there aren’t particularly good. However, the fact it is readily available to everyone and completely free also means you’ll be able to play against thousands of different players and get used to the rules and functions of online poker.
Taking your first steps on a social poker network is also a good choice because you can get started in a matter of seconds through your Facebook account. Players don’t need to go through the registration process or download any software. In just a few clicks, the world of online poker tournaments and cash tables will appear before your eyes.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the platform for learning much in terms of poker strategy. However, you can still observe mistakes of others and learn from them, especially if you’ve done your homework beforehand and acquired some basic foundations.
2. Online Poker Rooms with a lot of Freerolls
It’s probably a good idea not to spend too much time playing poker on social networks if you can avoid it. These platforms are good for helping you understand the dynamics of online games, but you’ll want to move on to real money poker as soon as possible.
Of course, as a new player, you might not feel comfortable depositing your own money just yet, and that’s perfectly understandable. Many online poker rooms offer freeroll tournaments with real money prizes or tickets to tournaments with real money buy-ins. These are your stepping stones to the next level.
Advantages of freeroll tournaments are twofold. The first part is kind of obvious: you get to play poker and potentially win some real money without putting anything on the line (except for some of your time). The second part is the fact that the play in freerolls is much better than on social apps. Although no one risks any money, prizes are real, so players are taking it a bit more seriously.
With some luck and hard work, you could even use winnings from these tournaments to build your poker bankroll without ever having to use any other money. Apart from the monetary aspect, doing things this way will also teach you to treat your bankroll seriously, as you spent a lot of time building it and (hopefully) incrementally moving up in limits.
3. Real-Money Online Poker Sites Like PokerStars
PokerStars is the biggest online poker room in existence and this is where most players you’ve had a chance to see on TV go to play, at least from time to time. This room is the natural next step for most players for multiple reasons.
First and foremost, due to its popularity, PokerStars offers a wide range of game levels, from the super micro stakes to the highest ones. This goes for cash games and tournaments alike. So, you could actually take $10 or $20 there and have it last you a while playing on micro levels and learning the ropes.
You’ll notice a big jump in skill once you transition from social poker and freerolls to the real thing, even at the smallest of levels. Once everyone involved has something at stake, even if it just a few bucks, they’re much more reluctant to just squander it away. Of course, this isn’t to say that everyone will be playing like Phil Ivey at the penny stakes, but you won’t see nearly as many senseless all-in shoves, either.
If you’re interested in tournaments, PokerStars also offers the biggest schedule there is across all stakes, so even if you’re someone just starting up, you’ll have something to play at all times.
Although PokerStars isn’t available to players from the United States, there are still reputable real-money poker options for Americans if they look in the right places.
4. Your Local Cardroom
Whether you’re exclusively interested in online poker or would also like to branch out to live poker, your local cardroom is a good place to hone those poker skills. Playing in a live tournament or cash game for the first few times will put you out of your comfort zone, which is actually a good thing. Poker is all about being able to adjust to new situations and shift gears when necessary.
If you’ve been playing poker online for some time before visiting some live games, you’ll probably notice a skill discrepancy once again. The fact is, most games in casinos are much softer than those online these days, so this will give you a new perspective.
Additionally, if you have lofty poker aspirations, you want to be as diverse as possible. Live poker is a very different animal, involving live tells and getting to know your opponents, so this is a perfect place for you to expand your understanding of the game and the psychology behind it.
Stay alert, observant, and soak in everything happening around you (poker related, of course), and you’ll soon become much better at recognizing behavioral and betting patterns you had no idea were there to begin with.
5. Online Forums and Study Groups
Information intended to teach you a new skill, whether it be about poker or quantum mechanics, is only valuable if it’s correct. It isn’t uncommon for less experienced players to pick up poor habits or stick to poor strategic advice that is straight up negative value. That’s why you need somewhere you can ask questions and exchange experiences.
Thanks to the internet, we’re no longer limited to interaction with poker players living nearby. There are people from all over the world just as eager to learn the game as you are. Some of them are more experienced and will happily share their ideas and help you along.
You’ll find these players on big poker forums and other sites devoted to the game. Sometimes you’ll be able to ask your questions on these forums, blogs, vlogs, etc. Other times, you’ll find a few people willing to take things to the next level and you can form a study group with them or join an existing one.
Sharing your thoughts and hearing others’ ideas will go a long way in shaping you up as a player. It will also significantly speed up the learning process as you’ll be able to eliminate any mistakes quickly and pick up on new things faster than if you had to learn everything on your own.
The Golden Age of Poker Education
Unlike the prehistoric days where offline poker was poker and the tuition of Poker U was your bankroll, the platforms for learning the game are only limited by your creativity. You can play competitive poker while risking nothing to very little, find real-money games where the stakes have never been lower, then find a global poker community willing to help you play better.
When it comes to improving your poker game, we’re truly in the Golden Age.
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Ivan Potocki is a featured columnist and the assistant editor at Beat The Fish, which has been serving players by tapping on the glass of the online poker industry since 2005. Ivan also discovered that, in the armed underground poker games of Bosnia, it may be the only time it’s +EV to fold Pocket Aces.