Do you remember when you started playing poker and read your first poker book? You probably were very motivated and worked extremely hard on improving your game. At this point in your poker career, learning was essential, as the alternative was mostly likely going broke.
So, you spent countless hours reading poker books, evaluating hands, and talking about poker with your friends. After a while, you probably became a winning player. A little later, you probably started achieving some very good results. It’s at this point where many players fail to take their game to the next level. Once you’re a winning player, it becomes much easier to sit back and enjoy the fruits of all your labor. The problem with this is that your game can digress and the game can evolve, so you find yourself struggling to maintain the same results that you are accustomed to realizing.
Many longtime players reach a point where they become less keen on learning and improving their game. Ian Taylor described in The Poker Mindset, which I co-authored, some of the reasons why our desire to learn might start to wane. These include:
Illusions of Mastery
Loss of Enthusiasm
It is important to constantly improve your game. Many people understand that they need to improve, but haven’t quite figured out how. It is also important to note that how you go about learning can often be more important than the method or tool you have chosen to help. The good news is that there is a tremendous amount of resources out there to help you improve your game.
Books: The number of books in the market has skyrocketed in the last few years. I am sure that most players interested in learning have picked up at least a few poker books. However, there is a big difference between reading a book and studying a book. Do you read a poker book or do you absorb the information? Most of the good poker books require several readings, and some of them might be used as a resource for many years.
My suggestion for tackling a poker book is to first read it all the way through. Then, play for a couple of weeks, thinking about how some of the concepts might apply. Then, go through the book a second time, highlighting the important concepts. Thoroughly evaluate the hand examples and clearly think through the explanations. If you don’t understand something, go to a poker forum and post a question to get feedback from others. Now, go and play a few months, applying the concepts you have learned. Eventually, come back to the book a third time and concentrate on those areas of the book that you think you still haven’t totally grasped. You should find that with each subsequent reading, you will start to understand more and more of the book.
Magazines: Magazine articles are great, in that they cover very specific topics. At CardPlayer.com, you can find an entire archive of Card Player columns. This enables you to go back and read all of the columns ever written for Card Player by your favorite authors. Again, be an active reader and absorb the concepts.
DVDs: Some people learn by reading while others learn better from visual stimuli. There have been some very good instructional DVDs that have come out in the last couple of years. Be sure to go to a poker forum and ask for recommended videos.
Poker forums: Poker forums are a great way to improve your game. If you play a hand and are not sure of the best play, post it in a poker forum and ask for feedback. There is no doubt that my involvement in reading and posting in a forum has been essential in my development as a player. Like books, an active approach is better than a passive one. Sure, reading a forum can help improve your game, but actually posting ensures that you will start to articulate various concepts that you are learning.
Poker trackers: Poker trackers enable online players to build a database of every single hand they have played. Which starting hands are profitable? What percentage of the time do you win on the river in a showdown? How aggressive are you preflop? How much do you win or lose when calling a check-raise? The questions are endless and can provide powerful insights into your game.
Online videos: Online videos enable you to watch top online players in action. Choose ring games or tournaments, limit or no-limit, or any variation. One of the best ways to learn is to emulate experts, and these videos are great instructional tools. The best way to gain value from these videos is to pause them and think through what you would do, and then listen to what the instructor did.
Poker coach/mentor: Find someone you respect to help you with your game. It is critical to be able to discuss strategies with someone you trust and who understands how you play.
Simulations: Poker odds calculators are a great way for you to develop a better mathematical sense of the game. They can run millions of simulations of the same scenario.
Experience/self-analysis: Of course, there is no substitute for experience. The day after your session, be sure to evaluate all of your problematic hands and determine if you made the best choices. If you still have questions, post them in a forum or contact your coach or mentor.
My wife, Diana, is from Colombia, and many people ask me if I am fluent in Spanish. I’ve gone through many different levels of Spanish that I believed were big achievements at the time. First, I was able to ask for simple items like food and water. Later, I was able to carry on a conversion in a social setting. Then, I was able to analyze work flows in a business setting. I believed I had achieved my goal of fluency when I was able to conduct a business meeting with 25 people sitting around a table.
In retrospect, even though I had reached my goal of conducting business in Spanish, I was far from fluent. True fluency is being able to speak with someone so that a native cannot tell a difference.
Poker is similar to learning a foreign language. You will reach certain levels where the light bulb comes on. This might be learning about implied pot odds or asking for directions in Spanish. Each level you learn unravels new layers of complexity. A book you read six months ago now could have a completely new meaning based on your better understanding of the game. So, you need to decide, are you happy with just being able to carry on a conversation, or do you want to reach a level of fluency that few players ever achieve? If it is the latter, be sure that you never get complacent, and continually work on improving your game.