It’s very common for players to feel that off-the-table analysis is necessary to become a strong winning player in today’s online environment. Some players may even set aside the necessary time for such work, which is certainly a step in the right direction.
The problem is that often the quality of this time is very poor. It often may include passively watching poker training videos or reviewing hands from their database without any clear purpose. In themselves these are great tools for improvement, but they need to be used with a clear objective in mind.
Have a Clear Focus
The number one issue many have is that the work they do is simply too vague and lacking focus. Think about how many different spots come up in the average session-review training video. We jump from one topic to the other, generally following no kind of logical progression unless the coach has made significant effort for this to be the case.
Similar with hand history reviews, we jump from topic to topic, unlikely spending more than a few minutes on a given topic. Now imagine every hand marked involves a situation where we cold-call from the blinds, or face a 2nd barrel in 3bet a pot. To really maximise the efficiency of our time spent we have to break the game down into segments and focus on a specific area for a measure of time, maybe even a week or more.
Finding a Focus
We all have to start somewhere, and likely some of us won’t have a specific area to focus on unless we have already given the topic of this article some thought previously. So we should make it our initial goal to come up with a list of areas to focus on. Perhaps a list of 10 areas would be a good place to start, with the intention to spend at least a few days (potentially much longer) working on each of them. We will generally find that as we work on a particular topic, other areas will come to light which we can add to our list.
We will focus the majority of our work around the chosen topic without deviating. Even if we are engaging in a general activity such as watching a training video, we will pay special attention to anything which involves the topic we are considering. For example, if we are focusing on 3bet pots with initiative, we’ll pay special attention any time the coach gets into that situation. Perhaps we will pause and take notes, run through some of our own ranges in that spot.
We want to keep focusing on the topic until a measure of clarity comes to us. Notice that no topic is likely to become completely clear, since poker is not a game that is possible to master at this stage. But we should feel the topic in focus has become significantly clearer before moving on to the next topic on our list. Once any topic is covered, it is by no means complete. We can simply archive that topic for the next time we revisit it, in greater detail.
Once we know exactly where we are going to be focusing our efforts, there are various tools we can make use of which will greatly increase our efficiency. In no particular order…
The Forums – Search for your particular topic on the forums and join in the discussion. Posting troll comments such as “cool story bro” does not constitute learning. Try and make an intelligent contribution to the thread. If you can’t find your topic, start a new thread, and document all the questions you would like answers to.
Buddies/Skype-Group – It’s always good to have people we can bounce ideas off. If we don’t know someone personally in real life it’s possible to create a group conversation on skype where we can discuss strategy with players playing similar games and limits. The power of a group is often larger than the power of one alone. We might find a member of our group has an angle on a certain topic that has never occurred to us.
HH-Reviews – It’s good to mark hands during a session for review. But rather than randomly marking hands that cause you trouble, why not mark every single hand where a specific line is taken? Perhaps we are working on 4bet pots for example. We could mark every 4bet pot and review it after the session. We will find analysing in this method considerably more effective than reviewing trouble-hands at random. Reviewing trouble-hands at random may be a good method for finding an initial area to focus on however. We may spot a trend: perhaps we are making similar mistakes in a certain situation.
Stat-Analysis – Unfortunately the vast majority of players, even winning players, have no clue how to effectively use tracking software to spot leaks. The relevance of stat analysis should become more apparent now that we’ve started breaking our game down into different categories. Perhaps we are focusing on flop check-raises. In which case we can construct filters to show with which frequency we are check-raising and which type of hands we are using. We can perhaps see also with which frequency we fire turn and river after we check-raise the flop. Don’t know how to do this? Open your tracking software and start figuring it out.
HUD-creation – This is actually a method of improvement in itself. Creating an awesomeHUD. Thinking about which stats are the most useful/relevant in a game situation and why. It also gets us to think a little about what the average values of these stats should be for a winning player. If we are not aware whether certain stats are higher/lower than normal it can become difficult trying to use these stats for exploitation. Working on our HUD is an excellent thing to do if our chosen focus is learning to play exploitatively. Working on our HUD is a focus in itself however. It’s always good to be up to date with the latest technologies that increase our edge at the table.
Training Videos – These come in various formats. Arguably the most valuable of these if we already have a topic in mind are the theory videos. They focus on a specific topic and use hand-history examples to illustrate concepts. Live session videos can still be useful if we are focusing on something such as gameflow, or if we are searching for a new topic to focus on.
Articles/Books – Somewhat self-explanatory. Remember to question everything and take most things that you read with a pinch of salt. Always consider who the author is and whether that author is considered a credible source. For every piece of good advice online there are likely 5 pieces of bad advice. Analytical skills are required to sort the bad advice from the good. As with the other training methods it’s preferable to have an area of focus rather than reading books/articles at random.
Poker-Software – There are some excellent poker tools available that can help us with equity calculations or help us to construct ranges. Without going into detail, we will simply list some of the main useful pieces of software. If you’ve never heard of or used any of these, your next task should be to google them and find out what they do.
Check out PokerVIP store for a selection of great poker software and much more!
Private-Coaching – The fastest way to get accurate information (provided we have found a credible coach) is to book some private poker coaching sessions. We will find we often receive the very latest strategy advice with this method. By the time new concepts reach a training video, book, or strategy article, 6months or even years may have sometimes passed.
Coaching – One way of working on our game is by coaching others. It causes us to really think about the reasons for certain things we do. As a general guide, if we can’t explain a particular concept accurately and simply to another player, we can generally assume we don’t understand the concept well ourselves.
If you are a newer player you can perhaps teach your friends to play. If you are an advanced player you can offer paid coaching to players playing lower limits than yours.
Range-Construction/Simulations – Once we have a reasonable background in game theory we can think about the various different board runouts and how we will play our entire range on these runouts. There are over 20 different types of flop categories. On each of these flop categories we’d play our range slightly differently. We’d also adjust our strategy depending on the preflop/flop action and the positions of the players involved. The variables are practically endless.
We won’t automatically know how we should be playing our ranges on every board runout. The way we can get a feel for how our ranges should look is by calculating precise ranges for each of the various situations. Next time we face a similar situation at the table we will then have a feel for what our continuing ranges will look like.
Given the huge permutations of the different variables, bet-sizing, positions, flop texture, effective stacks etc , we will find that we need to break the work down into categories as much as possible. We can make various assumptions to aid us with this. For example, if we calculate our defending ranges on a K72r board, we probably don’t need to do the exact same calculations for a K82r or K62r board. Our strategy will be extremely similar.