All beginning players and most intermediate players as well approach their poker education much like a religion in the sense that they are looking to discover "the way." I'm here to tell you that there is no "way," although there are a lot of good "ways." If poker were that simple, there would be a book or a website by the "guru" and everyone would read it and become enlightened. It's not quite that simple though. There are a lot of good poker ideas but much like golf clubs there's no one size fits all and if you really want to be good you've got to get a custom set. In the case of poker though you're the one that does the customization.
The more you are dedicated to mastering the art of poker, the more poker information you will encounter. You're going to run into a lot of diverse ideas as there's a fair bit of disagreement among experts as to what's the ideal way to play in a given situation. There are primciples of sound play of course however this is only the basic stuff and much of the good stuff is quite open to debate.
So how are you to know what's best? Well the plan needs to be to learn to develop your own poker thinking faculties. This is the critical step to go from becoming a follower to a leader, a leader of your own poker life that is. No one, and I mean no one, no matter how accomplished, can take you to this place. Only you can,. Now some players are more disposed toward this than others, or more gifted than others, but this is something everyone needs to do to the extent they are capable. The moment that you tell yourself that you aren't looking to have anyone show you how to play anymore and that you're going to take charge of your poker education and become self-taught, this marks the first day in your real poker education.
This all came pretty naturally to me I must admit since I've always had a strong tendency to question everything. Everything I've ever read about poker I've questioned, is this the best way? What's wrong with this idea? Is there a better way to look at this? Etc. Along the way I've read pretty muchg everything out there in terms of poker ideas, everything from the best books out there to ramblings of bad players in poker forums. The great thing is that there is a lesson in all of it if you apply yourself. If nothing else you gain insight into how other players think. With even the worst material you get a chance to think about exactly what makes this a poor play and can learn from that. Along the way you're going to run into a lot of good and very good ideas as well, and along with your own insights you'll take a little bit of this here and there, put it together with your own playing philosophy and style, fine tune it at the poker table, and continue to think about it and perfect it, all the while staying on top of the ideas and styles of others and constantly being on the lookout for adjustments that can and need to be made.
If this sounds like a whole lot of work, it really isn't, it's part, and a big part, of the enjoyment of the game. All it takes really is a belief in your own abilities, and a refusal to take things at face value anymore in terms of accepting what other people think uncritically. I can tell you that at any given time there's a certain poker culture out there, more so with intermediate players but even with pros, where a certain style tends to dominate. A lot of the ideas that are present in these playing cultures are sound, but not everything is. and in particular not everything is sound for you. There's no one size fits all here which is why you see quite a bit of variation among expert players. If you simply follow the culture you won't stand out from it like you need to in order to be the truly successful player you need to be.
In the 4 years that have passed since I wrote this foundations series, there's been some significant changes in the game, and for the most part the average player has improved quite a bit. The culture of online play so to speak has turned more to less careless play as more and more people have jumped on the bandwagon of being tight aggressive, or at least a certain style of tight aggressive. Of course there's still quite a legion of loose players, loose aggressive, calling stations, maniacs, etc but the tight aggressive crowd has really grown. With this particular version of it anyway it's become more difficult to be prpfitable than it used to be. If you jump on that bandwagon and hang around certain popular forums and so on you'l l just be another one of those players, and you'll still do a lot better than the average player, but you won't understand enough the philosophy and foundation of sound poker play to either stand out enough or adjust to changing conditions and times.
On the other hand if you're thinking for yourself more you'll realize a lot better what is working and what isn't as you develop and not fancy yourself a certain type of player and try to fit yourself into a cettain mold together with your online poker friends. If you were to ask me what sort of player I am I'd tell you "variable variable." It's true that I do play tight and often very tight but that's dictated by what's called for, what's best, in a given situation and not a hard and fast rule. In the lessons that follow there's going to be a lot of advice on playing tight but this is more to get you to think about not throwing money around carelessly and it's more dictated by the style of play of opponents than anything else. In terms of being aggressive or not there's times when I'm very aggressive and times when I'm very passive and again this is all dictated by your opponents., not a philosophy or committment to being aggressive which so many people have, and in fact I am ready to punish them for this and so will you once you liberate yourself from this prepackaged style thinking.
While the lessons here do give specific advice unless you're a beginner I don't want anyone to just accept the advice uncritically. It's true that I've taken a lot of newer players who were losing and didn't have much of an idea what they were doing, and from the lessons here in addition to some personal advice they rose to become good players with a much sounder idea of some winning principles, but htis is really just the start if you truly want to be a very good player. What you really need to do at that point is to take the ball and run with it, and look at everything you do at the poker table with a completely open mind, and not just accept things anymore.
In this foundation series, while all are very important, there is none as important as this one, as you will come to see more and more as you develop as a player. In the mean time, enjoy the main lessons series, always keeping in mind that you always want to be thinking about the principles discussed and not just read them, and this applies not only to my material but everything you ever read or encounter in poker for the rest of your life.
Best of luck always,