Poker is a strategically rich game with a colossal amount of strategic possibilities. And those possibilities only increase with more players at the table.
Consequently, in order to book consistent wins, you need to have a better understanding of the game than your opponents. To accomplish this, you need to make studying the game part of a normal, daily routine.
In this article I’m going to share with you my top 3 studying techniques. These are techniques that I use on a regular basis, and they’re easy to adopt.
Let’s dive in!
1. Video review
This is arguably the most common form of studying, but it’s also probably the most misused.
The biggest issue players have with this form of studying is that they view the videos passively, similar to how they would watch a television show. Few players take notes while watching, for example, or pause to linger on concepts that may be difficult to understand.
Passive watching therefore hurts a player’s chances of remembering and understanding all the information presented in the video.
Below is a popular method of hierarchically ranking information retention methods:
It’s a safe assumption that passive watchers engage with content somewhere between the levels of audio-visual and demonstration, depending on the type of video being watched. You can see that this technique might lead to a retention rate of around 20–30%. Not great, right?
Here are a few tips on how to improve your retention rate:
- Watch a video together with other players and discuss what is being presented.
- Actively take notes on key pieces of information that you find relevant.
- With your notes handy, go through similar hands you have played from your database, and think about how you would play them differently.
- Prepare a topic for each playing session based on what you are trying to integrate into your game. You can do this by reading the notes you’ve taken from the video right before you start playing.
- Teach a fellow player who is playing below your stakes about what you are currently in the process of learning.
Let’s look at a 6-minute snippet from one of Doug Polk’s hand review videos. I’ll take notes as I watch and include them below the video (I’m going to pause at 8:20 and move on, but feel free to watch the whole hand if you wish).
- On boards where I have nut advantage, it’s fine to use a big bet size to put a lot of pressure on my opponent’s capped range (especially when I have the strongest hands in my range).
- There is not only one correct bet size. My bet sizes mostly depend on the strategy that I want to use.
- Check-raising with low flush draws is okay at some frequency.
- Flush-completing turns are fine cards to create a polarized donk-betting range from the big blind. Such a range would be comprised of flushes, straights, and bluffs with a heart in them.
I would keep these notes beside me while I play my next sessions so that they are at the forefront of my mind. Over time, these strategy adaptations will be integrated in my normal game, and then it will be time to add the next adaptation.
2. Hand history review
For serious grinders, this way of learning should be the bread and butter of your study routine. There are a couple of ways to go about it, and complements the other:
- Solo review
- Party review
When you review hands on your own, you can go very deep into strategy, without time restrictions. You can’t always do this when you have a study party, as not everyone will have a flexible schedule or the same study goals. The biggest downside of solo review is the lack of multitude points of view you get with a group. Without feedback from other players you might miss an important point, or have trouble correcting tendencies in your game that need to be changed. You can see how both kinds of review are needed to get the most from your time reviewing.
TIP: Give each group session a theme (e.g., bluff-catching, turn c-betting, etc.) and focus on hands from that specific area. This will help the group stay focused and make breakthroughs more often.
Want a simple and effective method for reviewing hand histories? Check out my article How to Analyze Your Poker Hands in 5 Minutes.
3. Stat review
Although it shouldn’t take up much of your study time, stat review is a must if you want to continue to improve and stay ahead of your player pool. Stat review is comprised of 3 different aspects:
- Opponent review
- Player pool review
Reviewing specific opponents is the best way to improve your win-rate, since you will be studying the strategies of the regs you play against most often. Reviewing an opponent has two components: stat review and hand history review. By studying their stats you can get an idea of their overarching game plan, while reviewing specific hands will give you a clear picture of what mistakes they are likely to make.
Having said that, you need a big sample of hands to study an opponent’s tendencies effectively. And this is usually not possible for low stakes games, given how vast the player pool is at those levels. Of course, it’s possible for small networks, but for most of you I suspect it will not be the case. Reviewing a particular opponent’s stats will be more important once you reach mid- and high-stakes, where the player pools are small.
Player pool review
For the lower stakes with big player pools, this method of review is most valuable. Diligently reviewing your player pool can give you a substantial edge, and help shape your base strategy to include more exploitative adjustments.
I go about this by spending time in the My Reports section of Poker Tracker, where I have a custom report. I will share that report with you: click here to download it.
I then drill for specific situations, and create different scenarios where I want to see what my player pool’s frequencies are. For example, you can filter for when your opponents have a chance to probe bet from the big blind and check what their bet frequency is.
This last review technique is the least important of the three for most of you. It’s used mostly by coaches when trying to gauge where a student might have problems in their approach. It can also be useful when playing in very small and tough player pools, such as high stakes on PokerStars, because you can see where your opponents might try to find holes in your own strategy.
It’s obvious that studying has to be part of a normal routine for anyone who wants to improve. Consistency is key, as it is with many things. Make a plan to study at least one hour every day, and use that time effectively. The techniques I’ve outlined in this article will help you do so.
Finally, although it might not seem like you are learning much day-by-day, when you look back in a few months or a year later your progress will be plain to see.
That’s all for today. I hope you’ve enjoyed this article and found it useful. As usual, if you have any questions or feedback don’t hesitate to use the comment section below.
‘Till next time. Good luck, grinders!
Read more from Upswing Poker: