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Learning Methods


In this Article
  • Gaining knowledge
  • Implementing knowledge
  • Reflecting on one's game

Learning – an Overview

Understanding learning and the learning process is crucial in life, and has many advantages.
Despite the efforts of modern science, the topic of learning is still shrouded in controversy. To find an absolute answer is pretty much impossible -individuals have different strengths, weaknesses, needs, wants, and capabilities. Learning is always an individual process. Conditioning human beings does not work, yet.

Of course, you can make life easier with good didactical preparation. This does not change the need for a positive individual attitude towards learning. There are quite a few weak poker players who use terms like odds and outs without understanding the concept behind the words. They picked up on the terms from good players, or maybe read them in a book. It is possible to read a book without understanding a single word. They fly over it with the hope “something will stick in my mind.” Things just don’t work that way. Most players simply don’t want to deal with that topic. The following two ideas should be kept in mind:

  • You're the one who has to learn and you have to love it!
  • You're the one who has to have things under control!

The learning methods have to be adjusted for each subject of study. This requires an analysis of the subject matter and its structure. I'll be more precise throughout this article.

Subject Matter: Poker

The question is: “How can I learn poker effectively?” If you compare the process of learning and the process of practice to that found in other games and sports, one thing stands out: many sports have big differences between practicing and playing. This is especially true for poker, because you're not able to learn poker by just playing this game. The only way to really learn poker is to work with long-term statistically-based data.

This leads to a problem: you're not able to use theoretical knowledge instantly - you have to develop and integrate it over time. The strategies are based upon statistical considerations. In practice, this might lead to extreme differences in the average values. You have to learn to play good poker with an intense use of theoretical knowledge, and without being influenced by your short-term results.

Learning Strategic Poker

For better understanding, I'll divide the learning strategy into three different modules: acquiring knowledge, implementation, and reflection. The graphic below shows the interdependence of those modules.

The relationship of these modules will change over time. It is important that you accept the relevance of every single module. The triangle is equilateral. Therefore, you have satisfy all modules equally. If you invest a lot of time in gaining knowledge, you have to equally spend time on the other two modules in order to satisfy the needs (and thus advantages) of this equilateral system.

The learning process (and with it, successful learning) follows the arrow.

In accordance with this graphic I'll introduce different learning methods for every module. Some methods may also be acceptable for more than one module, as the methods and modules are intertwined.

Module 1: Gaining Knowledge
This module deals with theoretical knowledge. Poker has lots of literature available for study. A lot of poker knowledge can be picked up through reading books. This is the roadmap that will guide you through this section:

- Reading and re-reading books and articles in the boards. (Daily if possible)
- Discussion of strategies
- Discussion of posted hands in our boards.
- Participation in the coaching program.
- Equity analysis with PokerStove
- Strategy analysis


Reading books
We all know how to read a poker book, but there are ways for getting the most out of this medium. You should mark important passages and maybe even take down notes. Use PokerStove for a better understanding of the examples. In most books, you will find “hand quizzes”– carefully work on them. It's not only important to choose the right action, but to have a clear understanding of the different options and their respective advantages / weaknesses.

Verbalize your knowledge!
Re-read books, articles and paragraphs constantly. You should plan to study frequently (daily). Conditioning will help you to internalize the essence of the material. Abstract concepts and long term references will be brought home to you. One of the biggest rookie mistakes of not anticipating correctly can be eliminated in this way.

Discussion of strategies
Active discussion in the strategy section of your boards is a very good way to consolidate theoretical knowledge. Follow strategic discussions, post your own opinion, and ask questions. Get used to the usual manner of taking part in a discussion. Don't post your reply while playing poker at the same time. Be critical of the author’s opinion and post your discoveries and questions in the boards. Most importantly: Verbalize your knowledge!

Discussion of posted hands in our boards
Hand posting can be very useful if used. Read the hand posting guide.
Please note that postings like: “that’s good,” “ok,” or “raise flop” don’t have any theoretical value. It will help neither you nor anyone else. Explain your comments: Verbalize your knowledge!

Participation in the coaching program
Follow the coaching actively. Think about questions which might be interesting for you before the coaching begins and wait for these situations to come up. Consider that the coach has only a limited amount of time, so ask your questions clearly and understandably. More complex facts should be discussed in the boards, though. Set up priorities and keep your focus on situations which might be of interest. For instance, how do the coaches play with top pair weak kicker in position against two loose opponents?
Keep in mind one thing: Do not play simultaneously while listening to the coaches. It won’t be beneficial for your bankroll or your mind.

Equity analysis and strategy analysis
Use PokerStove and analyze the equity of different hole cards. PokerStove is also very useful in determining the hand ranges of different playing profiles. Keep track of the results.
Another way to acquire knowledge is through the analysis of poker strategies. I will make this clear in the following example – the starting hands chart:
The SHC is an excellent synthesis of several strategies and tactics concerning pre-flop play. For a better understanding, you should analyze this chart instead of simply following it.

The SHC combines different concepts in one chart: position, equity, post-flop information advantages, post-flop strategic advantage, blind stealing, blind defense, hand strength and hand characteristics (high-card value, suitedness, connectivity, pairs) etc. If you familiarize yourself with these concepts you'll gain a very deep understanding of pre-flop fundamentals.

Module 2: Implementation
This module deals with the usage of the acquired knowledge. Firstly, to speak in very plain terms: You'll not gain any knowledge by just playing poker.
Set up a good atmosphere for your learning sessions. You have to ignore your winning rate. Learning sessions aren't for maximizing short term profit. It'll increase your profit in the long run. Possible losses are a perfect investment in your skill.
Like I said above, you have to point out things you want to reflect on. And once again, you have to Verbalize your knowledge!
Besides that, you should repeat your technical skills: pot odds calculation, odds counting and discounting, hidden outs etc.
The two essential learning methods in this module are:
1. Self management
2. Mutual coaching

Self management
Self management is a perfect learning method. Play at two, maybe three tables and coach yourself, without listeners. Describe your moves and why you chose this specific action. It would be very useful if you could record yourself. These records can be useful for the third module “Reflection.”
I know that some of you think that this is silly, especially if your fellow occupants/partners/parents think that you're totally wasted. But verbalization of actions is very effective to learn and optimize complex systems. This is used quite frequently in sports psychology.
I recommend the following approach: In the beginning you'll describe your actions in very unclear and choppy language. With more and more practice you'll be able to use abbreviations that explain the complex strategies that are in your mind.
This should be the final result: to use phrases like “check/raise flop, bet turn,” but to know all the strategical information behind these terms.
If you can achieve that, you're well on your way to becoming a very successful poker player.

Mutual coaching
The only difference between this and self management is that you do this with a partner. You don’t have to teach the listener, the important thing is that you'll have another individual to increase your self-awareness.
Human beings tend to not think enough about complex facts because they put them into patterns. But, if you are forced to give reasons for your actions, it'll help you to self-study these actions correctly and with greater efficiency.
These mutual coaching sessions are very useful, so remember to use this tool as a learning mechanism and not for fun.

Module 3: Reflection
This module deals with the reflection of your gaming and analyzing your strengths and weaknesses. While sitting at the tables, you often simply don’t have the time for intensive analysis. In most other sports and situations in life, mistakes will directly influence the result in a negative way. At poker, mistakes might even lead to a positive result. This makes it almost impossible for an effective instant analysis. Tools like PokerTracker and PokerOffice are essential.

Hand and session analysis
You should use the replay function (PokerTracker) for your analysis. You have enough time to recapitulate your actions, recheck equity calculations, and find mistakes. This procedure has the advantage of finding weaknesses which would otherwise remain undiscovered. You can post these hands in the boards to get other opinions.

Hand posting
This field includes posting and discussion of played hands. To make this method useful for you, you should follow these simple rules:
1. Formulate a question
2. Look for suitable hands
3. Formulate your own considerations
4. Collect all the available information
5. Answer questions asked by other members

Furthermore, I recommend working on these points as intensively as possible. The more you post, the better the quality of answers and the bigger the learning effect.

Analyze your own statistics
With a certain amount of hands played, the comparison with the stats of a winning player or posting your statistics in our boards might be useful. If you only have a couple of hands saved, the variance might be too big to make a solid analysis.
Nevertheless, you have to remember that the analysis of the stats is just a quantitative analysis that does not give you any information about the mistakes you have made. Therefore, this tool can only be used for a general analysis. If you found any weaknesses you have to take a look at the individual hands to get any information on the mistakes you have made.

And now the circle starts over again: Knowledge -> Usage -> Reflection.

When I started this article I was just about to create a schedule for you, which you might use. But by now I think you have to be able to motivate yourself and create a learning schedule on your own.

Confucius says:
“Tell me and I will forget;
Show me and I will remember;
Let me do it on my own and I will internalize.”

Good Luck!

Comments (13)

#1 mouse89, 06 Oct 08 14:30


#2 AzUdet, 29 Jan 09 19:41

cant access the book list on bronze status.

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#3 dafalenangel, 10 Feb 09 04:46

confucius also says... he who goes to bed with itchy bum wakes up with stinky finger.

#4 STR82ACE, 06 Mar 09 15:30

How does one 'record' a session? Is there a certain software package I need to do this with?

#5 syphonp, 16 Jun 09 17:58

Good read some very valid points about weak players reading a poker book and not really understanding the content just hoping the information has somehow stuck in there mind, i think this was true with the first book i read haha. Well this has motivated me to analyze my play a lot more thanks

#6 theboydave, 23 Jul 09 16:11

good article i think its important to know why you win or lose hands and also to LEARN from mistakes.

#7 jekyll001, 16 Aug 10 20:18

nice one!

Don´t play and listen to coach simultaneously! +1

#8 RazvanDan, 26 Sep 10 11:20

I just discovered that without software help you can't win in online poker.I ignored the use of holdem manager and just discovered that everyone is using software and without it you are a loser.I know now that my poor financial situation is rushing me to fast winnings and thus I end up losing.I must leran to control my patience in order to win.

#9 svendeucer, 06 Apr 11 21:34

another well written article,...thank you. i realized that i started verbalizing my hands and decisions of them awhile ago. the reason was that i had recently lost my father and i used to chat him up while i played. now i still do it as though he is here and truly both mentally and physically it has made my play more effective.

#10 Pouserly2, 12 Aug 11 09:12

Still a good and interesting read.

#11 UTGDog, 22 Nov 11 16:14

Razvan...just to clarify, you don't NEED poker software to be successful online. That isn't the point of this article, or even this site.The software is useful, but not necessary to succeed. Live tournament players don't have software to bring to their events, yet they still are consistant winners. This is because they do everything this article says; gain knowledge of proper playing strategy, implement that proper strategy at the table, then analyze their session to gain more knowledge. If you become reliant on online poker aids, you miss actually learning the concepts behind the calculations the program is making for you, and thus limiting the amount of information you will retain. Remember, reading the material is only half the battle. You will only truly learn by applying that knowledge on your own. Keep that in mind before you spend your hard earned poker earnings on multiple programs to try and make you a better player, because they won't. They are simply a tool to help you in your decision making process. They don't guarentee success.

#12 eldarismo, 03 Jun 12 20:58

great article! thank you

#13 ShawnlovesShawn, 26 Jul 14 11:44

This is so cool! I never thought I would learn more than I thought I knew already! The more I read on this site, the more I realize that I don't know much at all!