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The poker learning process, continued …

March 27, 2008

I decided to cut the previous entry into two pieces and then continue on. Unfortunately for reading purposes, blog entries show up in descending age so this continuation will show up ahead of the related first entry.

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One of the best instructional videos I’ve watched was one where 9 players played a private single table tournament with the agreement that all participants would email their hand histories to one of the participants. He then merged all the hand histories and forwarded it to another person who had not played the tourney. This outside person then reviewed the entire tourney using Poker Tracker’s hand replayer with all the participants’ cards displayed so that he could comment on how they played their hand.

His comments and questions were excellent. Things like, “Why are calling that bet? What do you think he has that you are beating?” Or, “No, no, you have to bet there. You’ve got a hand and there are too many draws out there to let him see a card for free” His comments outlined how to apply concepts and how to gear your actions towards what you are hoping to accomplish, rather than how to execute specific plays in given situations.

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So, learning to play poker is a difficult thing to do. There are simply so many variables that two essentially similar situations come up infrequently. You can’t memorize 101 different plays based on 101 different situations and then expect to pull them out of your memory when that specific situation seems to appear. The more tens and hundreds of thousands of hands that you play the more you start to pull together repeatable actions based on generally similar situations. But because your opponents change all the time, and, if you’re like me and play different levels and games all the time so the range of opponents can be focussed in different styles/levels of knowledge all the time (you have to play differently when you know your opponents are good as opposed to when you play a freeroll), it becomes more challenging to build a basic game plan.

Reading books, reading websites, reviewing your past games, discussing your hand histories, these are all things that will help. Based on my experience I suspect there are very few players who do all of these things regularly. Instead, they just play, and perhaps once in a long while will buy a new book and read it to help them. I don’t know how else to explain all the consistent losers that I research on Sharkscope as well as some of the play that I run across over and over again at different sites. Someone has to subsidize the web sites’ rake and the non-losers.

But, as I say, reading by itself is a difficult way to learn to play poker better. About a year ago I experienced a chest pain which I’d had twinges of in the previous two days. I called 911 just to see if I should get an ambulance or not, but they sent one, I guess out of policy. The ambulance then proceeded to take me to the hospital, again mostly out of policy I think.

On the way I chatted with the paramedic in the back with me about poker. He said that he plays regularly, and figured it costs him about $5 a night for his entertainment, and he figured that was okay. Compared to renting a movie that’s a reasonable cost for an evening of entertainment, but it’s more fun to be coming out ahead. (oh, btw the chest pain was just ribcage muscle, or so we think)

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What’s the best way to learn to play poker better? Ideally I think there would be two things; 1) have a coach watch you play on a regular basis, just like taking music lessons where you do some practicing on your own but get evaluated once a week, and 2) stick to one game (ie cash or tourney) and one level until you are ready to move up so that you can focus on consistent levels of opponents. Most people, myself included, do neither of these things, or at least not for very long.

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