Do you feel your game has stagnated? Are you putting in study sessions, but not able to put into play the techniques you’re working on?
For most players, when they start a session of poker, they just load up the usual number of tables and get to work. When doing this, they can tend to go on auto pilot and the new ideas and techniques they’re currently working on don’t get put into play. 12-tabling doesn’t allow your mind the time to actively think deeply about each situation you’re involved in. Putting new plays or skills into action that are outside of your unconscious competence is near impossible.
This is the second in a series of posts organized around Smart Poker Skill Development. The first post was 5 Steps to Simple and Effective Warm-ups.
Poker FOCUS Sessions – The Solution
One solution to the problem of putting skills into your unconscious competence is to incorporate FOCUS Sessions in your play schedule, which gives you more time to think through your actions. I first incorporated them into my normal session schedule after reading about them on Carroter’s poker blog.
As Jared Tendler discussed in his book, The Mental Game of Poker, unconscious competence happens when you’ve learned a skill so well that you can perform it automatically, and even while you’re concentrating on other things. Building skills to the levels of unconscious competence is key to a poker player’s improvement.
Some poker examples of this are:
- Auto-folding 72o on one table while you’re contemplating a flop check-raise on another
- Out of position in the BB and 3-betting to 3x w/AA vs an aggro button opener while making a note on another player at different table
- Stealing as the big stack on the money bubble vs two mid-stack blinds while simultaneously considering a double-barrel on another table
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What is a FOCUS Session?
FOCUS Sessions are your opportunity to have more time to make decisions by cutting down the number of tables you play. (FOCUS is short for Follow One Course Until Success – thanks to John Lee Dumas for this acronym)
Your main goal in each FOCUS Session should be to keep in mind and put into action your newly developing skills, one at a time. You’re trying to train something into your unconscious competence which takes dedicated effort to do.
By playing a minimum number of tables, you give your mind more time to think critically about your game and you can intentionally put into action the skills and techniques you’re currently working on. If your standard is twelve tables, then I’d recommend 3 to 4-tabling FOCUS Sessions. This will give you plenty of time to look for spots to incorporate the new skills and techniques into your repertoire and time to weigh more factors in your decisions such as player stats and reads, table dynamics and situational factors (first round of tourney, on the bubble, etc.).
If, for example, you’re currently working on your cbet game, then you probably need to pay utmost attention to the following:
- Who will be your likely opponents on the flop
- Their flop and turn stats (fold to cbet, cbet, raise cbet, etc.)
- Have a plan in place for the turn and river before you bet, raise or call on the flop
- Table/tourney conditions and how they may affect your opponent’s play
5 Steps to Effective Poker FOCUS Sessions
Keeping in mind that FOCUS Sessions are all about having more time for decision making and training skills into your unconscious competence, here are the five steps to effective FOCUS Sessions:
- Proper warm-up. Keep your study notes out in front of you and incorporate reviewing your notes in your warm-up. This will keep your FOCUS top of mind and you can refer to your notes as you play your session.
- Limit the number of tables. Fire up three to four tables maximum (2 tables is preferable). If you’re currently only multi-tabling 4-6 tables, then just fire up two.
- Record your session. Create your own game tape and speak your thought process aloud clearly for each decision made. When I began using my own game tape, I would speak for the first five or so minutes then clam up as I was working out my thoughts silently. Now I can speak for a good thirty minutes, detailing reasons for each action/decision I make. This really aids in post-session review and in dissecting your play. If you don’t already have a screen capture program, I recommend Bandicam.
- Notepad available. Keep a notepad to record necessary observations and hands that you want to review. You’ll also want to record situations that baffle you for later analysis, or ideas for future areas of study.
- Post-session review. You’ll want to conduct your post-session review within the next three days. Don’t do it immediately after your session, though. You need some time away from it so you can look at your plays more objectively. Review your notes, any marked hands in your poker tracking software, and watch your game tape. Create a list of things to target in your next FOCUS Session.
I incorporate one FOCUS Session for every three Volume Sessions I put in. This cuts down on my volume a bit, but I know that this extra time spent “sharpening the saw” is improving my game. Additionally, I sometimes do combo sessions where my first hour is a FOCUS Session then the second hour is a Volume Session.
You’re on Your Way!
I guarantee that you’ll see results when you start implementing FOCUS Sessions. By putting new skills in your unconscious competence you’ll experience more success on the felt with an increased sense of understanding and poker knowledge, ability to put into play lots of different skills, and your ROI and hourly rates will skyrocket.
Please let me know how your own FOCUS Sessions do for you in the comments below.
The next post in the Smart Poker Skill Development Series will be Making Money with Volume Sessions.
Make your next session the best one yet!
Photo courtesy of Dani Ihtatho