A frequent complaint from players is that poker seems to be getting harder and that it is more challenging than ever to keep up. This article investigates whether poker has gotten harder and offers a few tips for dealing with it. 

Imagine that you have been transported back to the heyday of poker. It’s 2003, and you have all of your 2022 poker knowledge and skills. How do you think you would fare at the tables? 

On the other hand, imagine that it is 2003, and you have just discovered No-Limit Texas Hold’em. You spend the next year studying religiously - and then magically transported to 2022. 

  • What do you suppose would be your fate in the 2022 games? 
  • How would your skills stack up even versus a relative newbie to the game? 

It’s not hard to imagine that the first scenario would be incredible and the second - not so much! 

In 2003, there was very little quality poker education available. But with the poker book came an explosion in poker training resources. Some of it was good, but most of it was objectively terrible. 

Now, we are fortunate to have very high-quality books, videos, membership sites, discord groups, solvers, trainers, and more. The result of all this information explosion can be thought of as skill inflation. 

How Skill Inflation Transformed the Game

Skill inflation measures of the rate at which the average level of knowledge in a domain has increased over time. It’s the rise in the general level of knowledge and skills that the poker population, on the whole, possesses. 

The more people play, the more they connect and share information and resources. The ease of access to forums, groups, and training sites raises the bar of the average player. 

Skill Inflation

Our opponents, on average, have improved to such an extent that they think about the game more nuancedly.

Even in lower buy-in tournaments, most players know about (or have at least heard of) concepts like ranges, big blind defense and ICM. They know to 3bet with more than just value hands. 

To be sure, there are still many knowledge and execution gaps at the lower levels But most of our opponents are aware of even fairly sophisticated concepts – at the very least.

In 2003, very few opponents were 3betting with a very wide range. Undoubtedly, almost no one had a 4bet bluffing range! In those days, people thought Daniel Negreanu was a wild and crazy guy for opening 67s on the button! 

Looking at the evolution of poker through the lens of skill inflation, we can all agree that the games have gotten harder. 

Skill inflation, like economic inflation, keeps you poor if you don’t upgrade your situation

How Do We Combat Skill Inflation? 

There are a several things you can do. 

  1. The easiest short-term solution is to play good games! 
  2. Play against players who are weaker and who are just at the tables looking for fun. 
  3. You can also play shorthanded. 
  4. Look for spots where you can play deep-stacked, in position against action junkies who like to call. 

The longer-term solution is to actively work at improving your own game. There are two aspects of study/practice that you need to include:


The first is quantity. It’s will be tough to make meaningful improvements without dedicating a solid chunk of time to working on your game. Five hours per week is the minimum if you want to see favourable results in a reasonable amount of time. 

The second aspect of improving your skillset is the quality of your study/practice. It’s critical to use purposeful practice strategies and techniques (which I wrote about extensively in my book Purposeful Practice for Poker). 

These methods are the most efficient to get the most bang for your buck in terms of limited study time. 

Creating the Most Positive Impact for Your Game

The best way to efficiently improve your game is to break down every sub-skill you can think of that poker requires. Make this list as detailed as you can. Then go back through the list and determine which ones will have the most impact for you and the games you play.

It’s almost always the fundamentals! 

If you play MTTs, consider studying concepts like big blind defense, late position strategy, and 40bb strategies. You should focus most of your efforts on the situations that happen most frequently. They may not be the sexiest topics, but they are the bread and butter of your game.  

Once you have a list of general topics to work on, you must create a strategic study plan. To do this, I start by answering the following questions in as much detail as you can:

  • What do I want to learn or get better at?
  • Why do I want to learn this skill/concept/strategy?
  • How am I going to learn it? What resources do I need?
  • When and where will I study/work on my game? 

It’s crucial to be as specific as possible in your answers. Your responses will act as your roadmap to improvement. You want to know precisely what you are going to be working on every time you sit down to study. When you’re unsure what to study, it can cost you a tremendous amount of wasted time, energy, and effort.

When in doubt, look at the pros for guidance. 

Poker Player

  • The best players actively learn from their mistakes.  
  • They go through their databases looking for areas to improve
  • They analyse and learn from the information that’s at their disposal. 

If you are a live player, create your own database by taking notes on marginal spots where you’re unsure if you made the correct play. Then you’ll have material to analyse and work on, too. 

Is poker getting harder? I think the answer is an unequivocal yes! Should you be worried? If you follow the advice above, the answer is most assuredly no! 

Remember, there will always be players who do not put the time into working on their games. You can take advantage of this by ensuring you put in the time to work and improve your game. 

As the late great Benjamin Franklin said, “an investment in knowledge always pays the best interest”. 

Dr. Tricia Cardner is the author of Positive Poker, Peak Poker Performance and co-author of Purposeful Practice for Poker. She podcasts at Poker on The Mind with her co-host Gareth James. You can find her at peakpokermindset.com where she teaches poker players the most effective psychological strategies for optimal poker performance.