Both recreational and professional players understand the importance of investing time to work on their game. We might even go so far as to actually set aside blocks of time solely dedicated for the purpose of studying which is commendable.
But what should we actually do during that time? Many players are unsure exactly how the game of poker should be studied. Are there any proven methods that make the most efficient use of our time?
To make things easier, we have listed 11 time-tested methods for improving our poker skillset. Afterwards, we’ll explain how to make sure our application of these techniques is appropriately focused.
How to Study Poker
- Get into Reading Quality Poker Books
- Watch Poker Training Videos
- Learn How to Track and Analyse Hands
- Reviewing and Analysing Your Database Statistics
- Use Software Analysis to Break Down Specific Hands
- Population Analysis Builds Strong Exploitive Strategies
- Get Involved with Poker Groups
- Take Advantage of Poker Coaching
- Try Joining a Poker Forum
- Don’t Forget to Put in the Volume
- Make Your Studying Focused and Efficient
1. Get into Reading Quality Poker Books
This method is undoubtedly one of the oldest approaches to working on our poker skillset. In fact, there are so many poker books out there that reading them all would not be practical. Not to mention, many of the poker books offer questionable advice at best.
To help in this endeavour 888poker asked a considerable selection of poker professionals what they felt were the most influential poker books of all time. If unsure where to start, any of the books on 888poker’s list would certainly be reasonable.
In the modern era, much strategy advice can also be read online. For example, regular strategy advice is released through the 888poker online magazine.
2. Watch Poker Training Videos
Over the past 10 years or so an increasing number of poker websites referred to as “training sites” have cropped up across the internet. For the most part, these sites offer collections of poker strategy videos created by respected (and winning) professional poker players.
Subscription fees to such sites usually begin at relatively modest amounts and allow a window into the minds of elite professionals who are at the top of their respective games. This information is especially useful in a world as dynamic as poker where trends are evolving at a rapid pace.
When playing a variant for the first time, it also makes sense to gain a thorough grasp of the rules. 888poker’s interactive guide can be a useful starting point for this.
3. Learn How to Track and Analyse Hands
Hand analysis simply refers to revisiting previously played hands with a higher level of scrutiny. We might not always see every angle in-game. Analysing the hand afterwards might allow us to reach a more accurate conclusion regarding whether we played the hand correctly.
Online players can typically mark hands using “tracking software” (software which tracks our online poker hands) with the click of a button - allowing them to revisit the hand later.
Live players might make use of an app for their phone or just use a regular old notepad depending on the rules of the casino.
4. Reviewing and Analysing Your Database Statistics
Database analysis is performed using the aforementioned poker “tracking software”. Not only does tracking software store our results, but it also collects various statistics on our play. For example, it might show how often we continuation bet the flop, or how often we three-bet preflop.
By combing through our statistics carefully, we can often spot leaks or inconsistencies with our strategy. By using our tracking software to construct filters, we’ll also be able to see how much money we are winning/losing in various scenarios.
5. Use Software Analysis to Break Down Specific Hands
Software analysis refers to using poker software to analyse our strategy, review specific hands we played, or to draw theoretical conclusions regarding some areas of the game.
In some senses, database analysis is a form of software analysis, but there is a range of different types of poker software outside of tracking software. We might break this poker software down into two main categories.
Category 1 might be any tool that falls under the umbrella term equity calculator. The functionality of equity calculators includes (but is not limited to), running various types of equity calculation, storing preflop ranges, and understanding the implications of various board runouts. A basic equity calculator is available at the 888poker website.
Category 2 might be any tool that falls under the umbrella term GTO calculator. GTO calculators are tools which look to generate optimal solutions to the game of poker given specific decision trees. For the most part, GTO calculators are recommended for advanced players rather than novices. On the other hand, all players (regardless of skill level) will probably benefit from owning at least one equity calculator.
Of course, different types of software might exist, but most will fall loosely into one of the two categories above.
6. Population Analysis Builds Strong Exploitive Strategies
Population analysis is a cutting-edge discipline that has skyrocketed its way onto the modern poker scene. Many players are heavily absorbed in this method of study and in many cases consider it more beneficial than making heavy use of GTO calculators.
Population analysis refers to analysing trends of the player pool to derive robust exploitative default strategies. Specialist software is required for this, usually in the form of add-ons to pre-existing tracking software. Population analysis is similar to database analysis in many ways but involves interpreting the average statistics of the player pool rather than our own personal data.
7. Get Involved with Poker Groups
Some learn better on their own, while others benefit from increased motivation and additional brainpower that comes from being part of something more substantial.
Many players use chat applications to band together into “study groups” and bounce ideas off each other. They’ll share insights and training resources with each other while also discussing poker on a regular basis and giving feedback on hands played by group members.
8. Take Advantage of Poker Coaching
Private poker coaches help players to analyse their poker game and spot leaks. Private coaching is typically expensive but allows players to develop strong poker skills much faster.
Not only will the advice from a poker coach be personalised, but they may often dispense strategic information which is not yet common public knowledge.
9. Try Joining a Poker Forum
Poker players often like to frequent forums to discuss poker strategy. Posting our played hands for review along with analysing the hands of other players can help to sharpen our strategic understanding.
Typically, if we can explain a concept accurately to others in a forum post, it means we have a good understanding of that particular concept ourselves.
Even if we don’t post ourselves, reading the post of others can help to grow our strategic awareness. Of course, caution needs to be advised, also. Similar to many of the poker books out there, there is an abundance of bad advice floating around the poker forums. We should be careful not to blindly trust any strategy advice that we read.
10. Don’t Forget to Put in the Volume
Sometimes players get so carried away with the above forms of study that they don’t actually put in much volume at the table. Not everything in poker can be taught through books and analysis. Application of various strategic concepts can only be trained by actually putting those concepts into action at the table.
Poker is like learning a foreign language. We might read a million books on learning to speak Chinese, but we only become a master once we spend some time chatting with the locals. So, why not hit the 888poker tables and get some practice.
11. Make Your Studying Focused and Efficient
While the above list provides solid suggestions for methods of improving our poker game, these methods don’t guarantee efficiency in themselves. Many players are fully aware of the above techniques but still fail to spend their study time effectively. Why so? They are too sporadic regarding the way they go about studying. They are constantly jumping from topic to topic, and the human brain doesn’t learn well this way.
For example, imagine a player sets aside time to run some analysis of hands marked over the previous few weeks:
- The first hand is a three-bet pot.
- The second hand is a limped pot.
- The third hand is played heads-up as the cold-caller.
The problem? We are jumping from topic to topic rapidly. The human brain needs enough time to absorb the relevant strategic insights before moving on to the next issue.
A much more practical hand history review session might involve 10 hands, all played in 3bet pots as the preflop aggressor. This way, our brain will be able to remember the strategic upgrades we make and allow us to perform well in this particular scenario for a considerable amount of time.
In line with this, why not try the following approach?
- Make a list of 10 problem areas and order them by priority.
- Target the first area on the list and spend considerable time (perhaps a couple of weeks) improving that specific area of our game using the 10 study techniques outlined above.
- Move on to the next area on the list and repeat.
While focusing on one area, we should avoid veering off on a tangent. If we discover another area of our game is lacking, rather than working on it immediately, we can add that area to the appropriate section of our topic list. Then we can work on it when it becomes most relevant (as dictated by the prioritised order of our list).
When working on a specific area, every method we use should be targeted towards that area. For example, if we are working on three-bet pots, our database analysis (or whichever other methods we use) will be entirely geared towards analysing three-bet pots.
As a final note, consistency is typically more important than volume. It’s better to study poker for 20 minutes every day rather than 2 hours and 20 minutes at the end of the week.