I wish I had kept a poker journal last year. Back then, if you would’ve asked me, “How’s Poker going?” I would have prolly said:
“I feel lost in my studies. I spent a week studying ranges, another studying 3bets and cbet stats, and another studying donk bets. But I can’t remember all I learned and I’m not putting concepts together and implementing them in my play. I think the problem is that I’m so overloaded with different strategies and techniques that I can’t put it all together in my head.”
It felt like I’d been struggling with the above for years, like I’ve been missing out on a lot of poker lessons and not getting the most out of my studies and time on the felt. I needed some way to organize my thoughts and be able to go back to them and try to make sense of things. I needed a way to put my ideas together to come up with new strategy insights.
And then a few months ago I discovered poker journaling and it’s changed my poker game for the better.
Why should I keep a poker journal?
We are constantly bombarded with strategies from training videos, podcasts, articles, poker friends and forums. We come up with ideas on our own and during play and study sessions. It’s tough to catalog everything that’s going through our minds.
Journaling can help you improve mental clarity. You need a way to put together disparate thoughts, going from a jumbled mass of ideas in your head to creating effective strategies and gaining insights into poker. By putting these things down on paper you’re able to look at them from a distance and gain a better understanding of your overall game and how you’re improving. You also need to keep track of your weekly studies, and journaling is very effective in tracking what you’ve studied and what you intend to study.
Journaling can help you combine ideas for new and effective strategies. Maybe last week was spent on studying Cbetting and Cbet Stats, and now this week you’re working on opening ranges and Raised First In stats. By combining these two topics, Raised First In and Cbet, you may come up with some ideas and strategies that you can use to exploit your opponents. For example you might color code these the same so you’re more likely to notice them on your HUD, or you’ll make a note in your warm-up each day to look for players with both stats being high, and these are good opponents to raise their cbet or to float them and take it away on the turn.
Journaling can help you find issues that you didn’t realize were there. By keeping a poker journal and reflecting on prior entries, you may find some repeating questions or ideas. When this occurs, it’s a good indication that you should follow-up on it. Maybe over the past three weeks you’ve found the following entry seven times, “How do I play against these crazy pot size donk bets by fish on the flop?” With seven mentions of this particular issue, it’s obviously something that you should dedicate some time to study.
Journaling can help you track your progress. By keeping track of your progress, you can see your ups and downs in poker, where you’re making strides or where you’re falling behind. Maybe tilt has been an issue, and even though you’ve been working on it, you play your C-game 2 out of every 5 sessions. By tracking this in the journal, you know it’s the case. If you just thought about how you’ve been playing, it can be really easy to deceive yourself and think you only play your C-game once every 10 days.
How do I keep a poker journal?
You’ll want to divide your poker journal into two sections; one part dedicated to your study sessions, and the other to you play sessions. Your objective will be to write in the journal before and after each session, with notes during your session as necessary. I’ll cover what to write about for each entry in a bit.
You need to have a system in place for reviewing and reflecting upon your past week’s entries. So for example, every Sunday morning over coffee you need to look back at your prior week’s entries. Look over all of your play session entries at once, and then your study session entries. Try to look at your entries with ‘fresh eyes’ and see what nuggets of wisdom and understanding you can gleam from them.
I remember when I was reviewing on the bubble play, I was having an issue with 3betting too much over SB steals and getting caught stealing too often. I found this mistake in my notes quite a few times, and decide to finally dive in and study it more. I came up with this entry eventually: “Before 3bet stealing vs SB open, check his RFI stats in the SB and fold to 3bet. If high, resteal, if low, just ditch or call and play IP.” After I implemented this, I found that I was bubbling a few % points less often as I paid attention to the opponent’s stats a bit more closely before 3bet restealing.
As you’re writing journal entries you’re going to need some kind of system in place for easy reference and review. For example, highlight all your lessons learned in the color blue. Highlight all of your questions and items for further study in the color yellow. Use red for all the mistakes you make, and the color green for things you’ll adopt into your game in your next session.
What types of things should I be writing?
With your study session entries you want to keep track of what specific topics or themes you’re working on. You need to record what items you’ll put into your game and what questions you may have regarding the topic studied.
If sudden ideas come to you, you’ll want to record those for future follow-up. For example, if you’re studying Raising First In and you realize that you need to also work on Fold to 3bet study (b/c they’re related), writing this down will more likely lead you to study it instead of dropping that line of thought.
When journaling about your play sessions, you want to write about what went right or wrong during the session, the mistakes made and the reasons why. You want to record your warm-up process so that you can repeat it again next time or to make changes to improve it.
You also want to record the general level of your play that session. If you find you’re playing your C-game a lot, your poker journal entries on those C-game days might give you clues into why this is happening so much. Make sure to record any issues that arise during your play or things/situations that confuse you. These will all lead to future areas of study and improvement.
How do you recommend that I begin?
I recommend you just start with a notebook. Everyone has one lying around somewhere in the house, maybe one that you used back in high school or college. Pick it up, grab a pen, and just get started.
You need to ingrain journaling into your study repertoire. It needs to be something you keep by your computer for constant use and reference. To make it more likely you’ll use the poker journal, get one that inspires you and fits your personality. Maybe the Chewbacca Journal at the top of this post absolutely screams your personality, so order one online.
Or, you could just use a computer program like Evernote or Microsoft Word. I started on paper, but progressed to Word because I like the editing capabilities that going digital has over a physical journal.
Plus, if I keep going in Word, I’ll eventually have enough lessons and words written to make an entire poker strategy book that I can one day offer my readers.
Please let me know in the comments below what issues you’ve encountered in your game that you didn’t know were there prior to journaling.
Make your next session the best one yet!
Photo courtesy of Ryan
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