Studying? Yuck. Unless you're one of those special people who absolutely loved school, you probably cringe at the idea of studying. The cringe is probably because in school you were studying about a lot of topics that you weren't interested in. Studying about things you like and enjoy is a completely different story, though.
The funny part is that you probably "study" things all the time and don't even realize it. Read about your favorite cars and the specs on the new releases? That's studying. Checking in on your fantasy football stats for the draft? That's studying. Studying just means taking the time to learn and improve your abilities and knowledge base on a certain topic.
Today I want to take a look at studying poker and what you can do to make yourself better. The better you are at poker, the more money you are going to make and the higher up in the industry you are going to go. The problem I see a lot, though, is that people are willing to put in the time to learn but they are terribly ineffective and inefficient with how they spend their time. They end up only getting a fraction better or in some cases end up actually getting worse because of their study habits.
I've put together four tips that I think will help you make the most of your time spent studying the game of poker. These are things that have worked for me in my career and have helped me to grow and excel in the game. The quicker you get through your off-felt work, the quicker you can get back to playing and making more money.
Since I know some of you may have shorter attention spans, these are going to be ranked in order starting with the most important.
If you are wanting to become a chess master and you spend hours learning tips and strategies from a checkers professional, you're in store for a nasty wakeup call when you go to your first chess match. The same could not be more true when it comes to the game of poker. You need to make sure that the information, strategy, and tips you are reading and learning are from a reputable source and good tips.
There is a ton of great information and training resources available on the internet.
The problem with poker is that everyone and their mother thinks they are a pro and therefore are able to give you advice and tips on how to play.
The amount of bad information floating around is astronomical.
There is no certification to call yourself a poker pro which makes it tough sometimes to discern what is good and what is not. Take the time to look up the author and make sure it's worth your time to even read their tips.
I commend anyone who is willing to put in serious time and effort to work on their game. There's a popular problem that happens a lot, though, that you need to be aware of. Here's an analogy that explains it perfectly. Sometimes when people want to get in better shape, they'll head to the gym on day one and run 10 miles and lift weights for 2 hours.
While this may sound awesome and you may commend them for their drive, we all know what happens next. They wake up the next day and can't move and are too sore to make it back to the gym for at least a week. The problem is they try and do way too much at once.
This happens in poker ALL the time. People will try and work on every aspect of their game at the same time and the result is a complete and utter mess. How do scientists solve problems? They change one thing at a time so they know what affects what and they don't get confused with too many changing parts.
If you try and change every aspect of your poker game at once, you're going to be so lost that you're going to forget even the fundamentals and you'll end up confusing yourself. This is not only going to cost you money and be annoying, but it's probably going to set you back and require a lot of extra work just to get back to the point you started from.
Remember this: Poker is not going anywhere anytime soon. You don't have to be the best tomorrow. Take your time and tackle your game one aspect at a time. Too often I see people change too many things and then they have new "rules" that are contradicting all over the place because they don't fully understand the things they are changing.
When you work on an area of your game, own that area of your game. Become an expert on that area and fully understand every change that you are making. If you're working on your pre-flop play, become the best at pre-flop decision making. Don't spend an hour working on pre-flop and just scratch the surface and then start looking at turn play. You're going to get confused and you're not going to get great results.
Get specific and use laser focus and you will see insanely better results that most importantly will last in your game. Don't let your excitement and great motivation be the end of you. Harness it and use it to your advantage.
When you make a change to your game, you have to pay attention to whether or not it is helping or not. If the things you are studying are not helping your game, then you're studying bad information or wasting your time. Time is precious and you need to be studying things and making changes that have positive effects on your bottom line.
The key to this is tracking your results in the right way. Yes, you should be tracking your overall results but you also need to be tracking how things go in the specific situations you are working on. If you've been working exclusively on pre-flop work, pay attention to how things go for you before the flop. Are you getting the results you want? Are you staying out of the tough situations you wanted to avoid? Do you feel like you're taking control of more pots?
These are the types of questions you need to be asking. It can be tricky sometimes to track results of specific changes but you need to do your best. Remember, don't be completely results oriented over the short term. If you're working on three-betting more pre-flop and the first two times you do it, you get four-bet and have to fold, don't immediately throw that change out. Look at WHY it didn't work and don't be scared to chalk it up to variance as it might still be the right move.
Again, this will be easier for some things you're studying and more difficult for others. Regardless, you need to do your best to get an idea of how the changes are working out for you so you can tailor your study habits moving forward. Not only should your game play be getting more effective and efficient, but your studying and training should be as well.
Something that bugs me a lot is when I am coaching a student is they tell me something they've learned before that has absolutely nothing to do with the limits they are playing. For example, I had a player that was working on beating $1/$2 no limit telling me that they were extremely focused on how their opponent was reacting to their stack to pot ratio.
While this is something I wanted the student to learn eventually for themselves, focusing on how it was effecting their opponent's decisions was most likely pointless. Their opponent probably had zero idea what their SPR was or even what that term means. The player I was coaching had learned an advanced concept that applied more to tournaments and higher stakes but was trying to apply it to the lower limits. I commend their efforts to learn advanced concepts, but it wasn't going to do them any good now.
Here's the point. Make sure that you are learning information, strategies, and tips that are pertinent to the type of poker and stake levels that you are playing. Learning what works at $100/$200 is not going to do you much good at the $1/$2 table. It's only going to frustrate you and most likely cost you money. While it may be cool to learn and make you feel like a high level pro, you need to focus in on studying what is going to help you beat the game and levels you are currently playing.
As you climb the ladder, you can start to focus on some of the more advanced concepts. Until then, don't overcomplicate things and waste your study time on things that are not immediately useful.
Your time is precious and if you want to stay out in front of your opponents, you need to make the best use of the time you have to study. If you are at the same level as someone else and you both put in five hours of studying, the person who best uses their time will be the better player. If you're inefficiently using your time, you're going to have to work longer and harder just to keep up. Why not focus on making the best use of your time and excel and leave your competition in the dust?
Getting better at poker is not easy but it's not hard. The resources, information, and tools are readily available as long as you are willing to put the time and effort in to getting better. It's not something that is going to happen overnight, but consistent and steady work will get you there. There are a lot of players who never work on their games and a lot who reach a certain level and plateau because they are content with winning at the level they are at.
All of these people should be targets for you to catch up with and excel past. Poker and a lot of things in life are not reserved for the people with the most natural talent. Natural talent helps, but hard work and dedication can push you ahead of those that are naturally good at things. Work hard and work smart.