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Common Learning Errors


In this article

  • The most common types of learning errors
  • The importance of rest
  • Improving C-game mistakes
I love being associated with PokerStrategy.com because the entire culture of this place is built around learning. The videos, articles, coaching seminars, and amazing community forums are all designed to help make you a better player.

With all these great resources available it is impossible not to learn, but generally poker players don’t always have a particularly organised approach when it comes to how they learn. In some instances, they’re too passive and hope that by following the lead established by other players they will get to where they want to be. In other instances, they become victims of their own enthusiasm and overwhelm themselves by trying to learn too much.

In my new book The Mental Game of Poker 2 I tackle the issue of learning head on and show you how to develop a more organised and dynamic approach to how you learn. This is so important because it helps you to:

•    Become more adaptive to a rapidly changing competitive environment.
•    Develop a structure for consistency through the ups and downs of poker.
•    Maintain interest and enthusiasm in the game, which prevents plateaus, boredom, and burnout.
•    Forge transferable skills that apply outside of poker.
•    Create new ways of evaluating improvement that go beyond poker results.
•    Strengthen your autonomy as a player.
•    Make it possible to reach the zone consistently.  

Making improvement every day should be one of your top priorities. If you have been playing poker for a while and have currently hit a slump in your learning, correcting the following hidden mistakes may be key to jumpstarting or accelerating your ability to learn.

Learning Too Much

One of the most common learning issues I see among poker players happens when they try to learn too many things at once. Using many different resources—books, articles, training videos, forums, etc—is a great thing. But if you try to use everything and learn everything all at once, you overwhelm the mind's ability to absorb that information. Instead of learning you’re really just cramming information into your head. The mistake is that you believe just cramming it in means you’ll be able to easily get it out. That’s not how the brain works.

Cramming a ton of information in your head is a bit like living in an incredibly messy room (I’m sure no one reading this article can relate). When you go to look for something it’s hard to find. That’s not much of a problem if you have all the time in the world, but what would happen when you’re under a time pressure and there is money on the line? Imagine yourself in an incredibly messy room, or just look around, and let’s say that every 20 seconds you would be told to go find something in that room. If you found it you’d win $10 and if you didn’t you’d lose $10. How successful would you be? How long would it take before you started getting tired, performing worse, and losing more? How much frustration would set in because you were losing and cause you to be even worse?

You can see where I’m going with this. When you’re learning you have to be aware that you’re going to want to get this information out of your head quickly and easily when you’re playing poker. Otherwise you risk getting easily lost in a hand unable to use information you have but can find, getting tired from all the extra effort your mind has put in, and getting frustrated from not performing to the level that you know you’re capable of.

All of these problems can go away by being more organised. Rather than learning eight things at once, focus on maybe two or three of the most important areas. Make them the main focus of the videos, articles, and hands you review. Talk with coaches and other players about these hands. Go into great detail so all the information you consume is organised by these three areas. You will find that learning happens much easier, and you can move onto the next area to improve much sooner. Learn less, but learn it better. In the long-term you’ll actually learn more, because you’re actually learning.

Not Enough Rest

This goes hand in hand with the first tip. The human mind has limited resources for learning, thinking, as well as energy. Learning too much can also burn you out. Just like your muscles need rest in order to grow after a heavy work out, so does your mind. Rest allows your mind to absorb the new information so you can use it. If you don’t get proper rest and continue to cram more information into your head, the problems mentioned in the previous section will happen.
Resting is a problem for poker players, especially big grinders. They’ve convinced themselves that they can play and learn at a very high level without taking days off. That playing poker is like printing money and they just need to keep showing up to keep the money printing going. The problem with not getting adequate rest is that that information stays in their conscious mind and doesn’t really sink into long-term memory.

I advise taking at least one day off per week, 5 days off per month, and 3-5 days off in a row per quarter where you don’t think or play poker at all. Plus, it’s also important to take short breaks throughout the day when you are playing. Sure, there are times when you can go without getting adequate rest. But your level of learning and quality of play will steadily decline the longer you go without getting it.

Many players worry they’ll lose momentum by taking days off, but eventually that momentum will slow down as they’ve driven their mind and game into the ground. Your goal is to be consistently playing at higher and higher levels. Getting quality rest allows your mind to recover, grow stronger, and come back refreshed and ready to play at a high level. That can only happen by getting quality rest so you can absorb what you’re learning on and off the table.

Ignoring C-game Mistakes

When deciding what to learn, it is understandable why you would work on your A-game. If you want to emulate world class players, it is natural that you would watch their videos, read their books, and try and mirror what they do to be so successful.

One of the reasons why the top players are so successful is not because their A-games are so good, it’s also that their C-games are good enough to crush. When the gap between your C-game and A-game is small, this means it does not take much effort to play your A-game. When the gap between your C-game and A-game is wide, your game will go through wild ups and downs. One day you will crush, the next you’ll make incredibly stupid mistakes. It’ll feel as though your game is like two totally different players.

The solution to this problem is simple. Instead of focusing only on adding new skills to your A-game, concentrate on eliminating big leaks in your C-game. You will always have a C-game, but if you make improving your C-game the top priority, eventually your C-game will become so strong it will overtake your old A-game. You’ll then have a new A-game that is even better.

In your game, for example, the skill of playing down the streets might look like this:

•    A-game: Aggressive on the turn and river
•    B-game: Aggressive on the turn, timid on the river
•    C-game: Timid on the turn and river

If you focused only on playing your A-game, you could try and stretch yourself and play aggressively on both streets all the time, but when tilting or under intense pressure you will fall back to your timid C-game. If, however, you concentrated on eliminating that timid C-game, eventually your C-game would be to play aggressively on the turn and not so much the river, and your overall game might look like this:

•    A-game: Ultra aggressive on the turn and river
•    B-game: Aggressive on the turn and river
•    C-game: Aggressive on the turn, timid on the river

As you can see, your old C-game was eliminated, your A-game becomes your B-game, and you have a newly minted A-game. Plus, you now have a clear idea of what to work on next.

Failing To See Progress

Sometimes learning can stop not by doing it wrong, but by not realising you are doing it right. The volatile nature of poker does not help in this regard. In the short term you can do everything right and still lose, so genuine progress often gets masked by the result of the session.

You may have been working on thin value betting away from the table, but in your session if you ultimately lost, it can be easy to assume you are doing it wrong. However, the simple fact that you were considering thin value bets more is actually a sign of progress. Sure it’s not a huge one, nor is it your end goal. But it’s progress.

If you had a horrible session and went on tilt, it could be easy to assume that you have not made progress with your tilt issue. Although you’ve made genuine progress if it took you longer to go on tilt, you didn’t tilt as severely, and you lost less than you normally would have. That may not feel like progress since tilt still happened. On the road to solving a mental game problem like tilt, there will often be many steps forwards and backwards. Make sure that each step backwards leaves you in a slightly better place than the last one.

The reason that recognising progress tactically or mentally is so important is that players often get discouraged and stop using strategies that were working. How crazy is that? Their efforts are working but progress is not showing up in the way they expected and so they abandon it. If there’s truly no progress you need to know that so you can do something different—it’s clearly not working. That’s why you also need to know if what you’re doing is working, so you can keep doing it.

The easy way to make sure you recognise progress is to determine from the start the variables that will help you to know if you’re making progress and how you’ll know when you’ve reached an end point. When you set a learning goal, think about what it means to have achieved it and really define that clearly. For example, if you are working on 4-betting then a measurement of success could be knowing what to do instantly when the situation arises, a positive graph over a large sample when you filter 4-bet hands, or the assessment of a coach.

Whatever it is, define variables that indicate progress before you start, so you won’t stop using a winning strategy or continue using a losing one.

Out-leveling Learning

If you were teaching a beginner to play you would not teach them about implied odds or G-bucks, you would teach them the fundamentals of hand selections and maybe position. This may seem obvious, but over enthusiastic poker players make this error with their own learning all the time.
If you are a $0.50/$1 player, watching a training video for a $25/$50 game might be helpful, but nowhere near as useful as watching a $0.50/$1 or $1/$2 video from an equally capable coach. There is a huge knowledge gap between $0.50/$1 and $25/$50 which you likely are unaware of, so assumptions you make will be off. Right now you are not good enough to know why advice at $25/$50 might be a mistake for your own game.

If you concentrate too much on higher level learning material outside your skill set, you will beat yourself up unfairly for making mistakes which might not have been mistakes at all for your current games. You will also find yourself a slave to ‘fancy play syndrome’ where you give your opponents way too much credit for their level of sophistication and try to match it with high level plays, when a much more concrete ABC approach would suffice.

I’m not saying don’t reach out for higher level material, because that is obviously a valuable way to learn from people who got where you want to be. However, hopefully you’re now realising that building your game consistently is more realistic that leapfrogging your way towards success.

JaredTendler is a mental game coach to over 250 professional poker players and the author of The Mental Game of Poker (Which he wrote with PokerStrategy.com news editor
BarryCarter). Their new book the Mental Game of Poker 2 is all about learning and playing in the zone consistently. It is out now at Amazon or you can order it for a 10% discount here using promo code PokerStrategy.

Comments (11)

#1 datsmahname, 30 Apr 13 13:37

Great article. Really enjoyed this.

#2 aXSesPS, 01 May 13 08:21

thanks, have ordered your book, shipping cost more than the book with international express, ime super excited to read it.

#3 SRwtf, 01 Jul 14 20:56

awesome, just what I've been looking for

#4 WpIoNker, 07 Jul 14 19:36

Nice... Thx

#5 sirilidion, 20 Aug 14 08:06

working on c-game mistakes seems weird to me. aren't you Always trying to lay your A-game so when you play your C-game you aren't doing it concesly .

#6 totalfish, 31 May 15 06:53

i will re-think to improve my C game so the gap between my A game will not be so big. by eliminate your mistakes you eliminate your loses. Very helpfull article. Good job!

#7 Plattfot, 31 Jul 15 11:25

Wakeup call for me!Thanks

#8 PSICKO, 14 Aug 16 03:06

Maybe it's a good idea for me to take a day off tomorrow and give the Brain a rest.

Ooh darn, i'm already reg. @ 2 sites !!! ( Champion Chips.)

Well maniana maniana...

I do believe it is a good tip to take a day off.

#9 RedFoxyBam, 01 Sep 16 22:00

Really good article, it makes me realise that I have to slow down in my learning materials and focus more in some subjects step by step! ;)

Thanks :)

#10 jmaric7, 11 Aug 17 16:28

I do not heave so many games. Mus split up my gameplan

#11 Bernardias77, 12 Oct 17 09:23

Nice article, help me how to be more patience in my learning