Is It Better for a Poker Player to Be a Jack of All Trades or a Specialist?

Poker Cards and Chips With a Mix of Tools in Background

Of all card games, poker might be the one that it’s the hardest to get bored with.

If you feel like taking some time off from Texas hold’em, for example, you can play some form of stud or draw poker.

And if you’re tired of playing any single game for too long, you can play H.O.R.S.E., S.H.O.E. or any other combination of games. If fact, that’s what the top pros do when they play against each other at the highest stakes in Las Vegas.

The question is: Should you try to emulate them, or should you focus on a single poker variant?

1 – Back in the Days

This question would’ve been easier to answer until the early 2000s.

Before the poker boom, most players knew that they’d better know how to play every type of game.

The reason behind it was simple: they had to go with the options that were available at any given moment. Which weren’t so many.

Let’s remember that real money online poker was still in its infancy 20 years ago.

And there were much fewer poker tournaments, with the number of participants also being much smaller than today.

So, whether you were a regular or a rounder in the (not so) old days, you rarely had the luxury of picking your favorite game. At least not at your preferred stakes.

Actually, the same stills holds true for most brick-and-mortar poker rooms around the world.

The big difference is, of course, that the internet is here to offer you a wider availability of games.

It’s true that it’s much easier to find people to play with in the most popular games, such as Texas hold’em and Omaha.

Online, you can find games that you won’t even find in most casinos, such as 5-card draw and Badugi.

And it’s here that you’re presented with the choice of narrowing or expanding your focus.

Although, the way I see it, if you aren’t yet a consistent winner, that choice should be fairly simple.

2 – Swimming in the Ocean Doesn’t Make You a Shark

One thing that differentiates a good player from a great one is that the latter can play any poker variant well.

That’s why the most prestigious tournament in the world is the $50k Poker Players Championship at the WSOP.

In it, you have a rotation of nothing less than 10 different games. And none of them were randomly chosen.

They’re all played at the Big Game at the Bellagio, whose limits are often $4.000/$8.000. So, you’d better know what you’re doing if you want to join the party. (Or you’d better have a lot of money to spare, as some multi-millionaires do.)

Bellagio Big Game Poker Room

That being said, even among top pros you’ll find those that are much better at some games than others. Sam Farha, for example, excels as an amazing Omaha player.

So, why does he play those other games as well? Wouldn’t it be wiser for him to stick to the one in which he has a clear edge over most anyone else?

The answer is no. Because, if he were to play nothing but Omaha, he’d find few people who’d be willing to play against him.

So, as you can see, playing a variety of games isn’t always a matter of preference at the highest stakes.

It’s also a matter of surviving and thriving at such a competitive ecosystem.

3 – On the Road to Mastery

Now, if you’re not there yet, you can choose a different path.

It’s great that, thanks to the internet, you can play so many games. But, in the beginning, you want to play for two primary reasons.

One is to build your bankroll.

The other is to have a good grasp of the fundamentals of poker.

For both of these reasons, being scattered in regards to the games you choose to play will do you more harm than good. So, at least for a while, try to stick to only one type of game. Then, decide which betting structure it’s going to be. (The main ones being fixed limit, pot limit and no limit.)

Finally, make up your mind between tournaments or cash games.

Being specific like that will allow you to better measure your results over a certain period of time.

Which will allow you to know without a shadow of a doubt if you’re indeed becoming a better player. Because your bankroll will speak for itself.

If, on the other hand, you decide to play a bit of everything, what will happen?

Most likely, you’ll be average on all those games. Which won’t even be the worst part of it.

Even worse than that is that it’ll be very easy to fool yourself in regards to your skills.

After all, you’ll always be able to blame the deck for your short-term failures.

4 – When It’s a Good Idea to Play Different Games

I’m not saying that you should never play different games on your road to becoming a winning player.

On the contrary, as we’ll see. The thing is that you should always do so with a clear purpose.

In the beginning, it’s great to play as many different games as you can. You do this to get to know the possibilities that are available to you.

As a consequence, you’ll be much more confident about choosing the one you’ll focus on.

Another good moment to changes games is when you’ve played hundreds (or thousands) of hands in a single poker variant.

When you go to a different one, you’ll get a fresh perspective on the game you play more often.

Let’s suppose you’re a Texas hold’em player and you decide to play Omaha.

After 1 week of playing only Omaha, you’ll see more quads than you did in 1 year of playing Texas hold’em.

Is it going to change the way you approach real money Texas hold’em once you come back to it? You bet it will.

Here’s another reason for you to change games: you want to have fun playing poker.

This can be dangerous advice. But, if you’re a serious about poker, it might prove to be the most crucial one. You play to make money, for sure. But also because you love it. And it’s important to do everything you can to remind yourself of that.

The best way to do this is to give yourself some time off from it all from time to time.

But you can also dedicate a small part of your bankroll – say, 5% – to experiment with different games. This way, you take the pressure off yourself when playing.

And, who knows, you might even player better because of it.

5 – A Word About the Young Guns

You might be thinking, “Ok, but what about those kids winning H.O.R.S.E. tournaments?”

Well, as you know, they have all come from online poker.

And many of them manage to play dozens of tables simultaneously. (Don’t ask me how.) As a result, in their early 20s they’ve already played more hands than most guys twice their age.

It’s not that they started playing all those different poker variants from the beginning.

It’s just that they’ve gained the experience to handle a variety of situations at a poker table in a much shorter time span.

6 – On Being the Pilot of Your Mind

By the way, all the great results that online players display remind me of something I’ve once read.

It comes from personal development author and speaker Brian Tracy, in his book The Psychology of Selling.

As he says, a pilot must give the airplane full throttle on takeoff. There’s no other way around it. But, once that airplane reaches cruising altitude, the pilot can pull back on the throttle. The same happens in poker.

Man Making a Bet at a Poker Game

Once you become a consistent winner at the game you choose, it’ll be easier to maintain that level of success with less effort. Which, on its turn, will save you some mental energy to devote more attention to other games.

It’s not that you’ll be a winner at any other poker variant overnight. But now you have the skills and the bankroll (and the confidence) to make the learning curve less steep.

Still, let’s be careful here, and take the whole airplane metaphor with a grain of salt.

Because, as I’m sure you know, in poker you never cruise.

Conclusion

Finally, here’s another cool thing about that metaphor from Brian Tracy: it forces you to be honest about your desires.

Because, if you want to become great at poker, you’ll likely sacrifice many other areas of your life. At least for a while.

So, if you choose to do this, it’s better to immerse yourself fully in it. Once again, it’s better to go full throttle. Otherwise, you’ll be mediocre in everything: career, relationships, finances, etc.

As the saying goes, “The man who chases two rabbits, catches none”.

But if you chase only one, once you do catch it, you’ll not only be well fed.

You’ll also have learned a thing or two about catching any other rabbit you wish.