The 7 Do’s and Don’ts of Studying Poker | Podcast #276

I know you want to get more from your time studying poker.  That’s what SPS is all about; helping you become a poker study commando. I want you to put in the work to turn yourself into the player you want to be. I’m sharing the 7 strategies that I find most helpful and these are the ones I make sure my students are doing as well.

The study techniques below are going to dramatically improve your study efficiency and effectiveness. Take action on the one that “hits your soul” first, then continue on until you’ve done all 7 do’s (and avoided all the don’ts).  Also, post launches my newest course, The Poker Study Boot Camp. You can get this course absolutely FREE ($50 value) by becoming a Poker Forge Member before February 1st. The course goes far beyond the 7 do’s and don’ts below and I guarantee it will turn you into a poker study commando.

Listen to this podcast episode: The 7 Do’s and Don’ts of Studying Poker

#1: Do Study ONE Topic Per Week

Focus on ONE until done.

You can easily devote an entire week of study to one topic. What if you had done this in 2019 and played 3,000 focused hands per week? You would have improved your skills over 52 different topics while playing over 150,000 hands as you purposefully worked on the skills you were learning.

From this point forward, you must dedicate each week’s time studying poker to just one topic. Maybe you want to improve your cbet skills. Every video, article or podcast you consume should be centered on making profitable cbets. in every session you play, you must work to find every profitable value and bluff cbet available to you.

Do NOT bounce around from topic to topic by day.

Too many players bounce around in their studies, failing to grasp any ONE concept entirely. They watch a cbet video on Monday. Then they read a 3bet article on Tuesday and follow that up with a podcast about tilt management. Then on Wednesday they read a chapter in a poker book about ICM.

By studying ONE topic per week, you can ingest content from various coaches and in different forms, and this is what’s going to help you get more time out of your poker studies.

#2: Do Schedule Your Daily Poker Study Time

Things don’t get done unless it’s on your schedule. So, plan your daily poker studies. I recommend 30-minute sessions (even just 10-minutes studying poker is better than nothing), and these are easy to fit in during lunch breaks at work. Or, maybe you’re a morning person like me. Instead of waking up at 6 o’clock, wake up at 5:30. Set-up your coffee maker to have a pot ready by 5:25. Grab it on the way to your computer and BAM! you’re good to go.

Really, it doesn’t matter when you do your studies, it just matters that you get it done. Pick a time that’s convenient for you, put it in your daily schedule, and get on it.

Do NOT hope that at some point in the day, you’ll find the time to study.

Other things are going to take precedence because they feel more important or urgent. People who don’t plan their study time accomplish much less studying than those who do.

#3: Do Take Action with New Strategies

Too many poker players don’t get all they can from studying poker. They often just read a video and fail to take notes and fail to take action on what they learned. I’ve done this a million times.

What about poker book readers? Most poker books have at least 15 chapters in them. This is easily 15 different weeks of study with each week spent learning all you can from the chapter and practicing the skills taught.

Maybe you’re reading my book Preflop Online Poker. On Sunday you read the first chapter and take notes on important strategies you want to remember. At the end of each chapter I give you on- and off-the-felt action steps to help you practice the strategies. So, over the next 6 days you purposefully practice by implementing each of the action steps. You also revisit your notes as your pre-session warm-up to help you stay focused on the strategies as you play poker.

By doing your studies this way, you’re extracting all the value from this book. You’re much better off than “Bob123” or “Susan789” who just read the book in one week, put it down, then moved on to the next one.

Do NOT learn a new strategy without taking action with it.

Action is the greatest teacher.

If you just rely on watching or reading or listening to ingrain new strategies, you’re not getting all you can out of your study time.

I might tell you in an article about iso-raising bigger to get the fishiest player at the table with you. But, if you just continue iso-raising at your standard sizing, you won’t have learned anything. You have to put all new strategies to the test in order to grow as a poker player.

#4: Do Daily Hand Reading Exercises

Hand reading is the is the most important skill that every poker player MUST develop. Hand reading is assigning your opponent a preflop range of hands based on how they entered the pot, then narrowing that range through the streets. This skill helps you make more +EV decisions and exploit your opponents like nothing else can.

Here are two great hand reading resources:

  1. My YouTube playlist of hand reading videos called “66 Days Hand Reading”
  2. A detailed article called “How To Do Poker Hand Reading”

You MUST develop the skill of hand reading ASAP. Once you learn the process and find success with it off-the-felt, you’ll begin developing an intuition for hand reading in-game. This means you will be making better decisions on-the-felt because you’re considering your opponent’s entire range and how they would continue with it street-by-street.

Do NOT learn hand reading then never use it again.

I’ve had lots of students tell me they learned how to hand read from my podcasts or videos. When I ask them how many exercises they do every day, it’s often 0.

This is the kind of skill that takes constant use in order to develop an intuition for it so you can use it on the felt to make more effective and profitable decisions.

Sure, you know how a stick shift functions in a manual drive car, but if you’ve never practiced driving stick, you’ll have a devil of a time trying to get through San Francisco in your uncle’s old truck.

#5: Do Record Game Tape

Game tape is my #1 on-the-felt purposeful practice recommendation. It’s also great for studying poker after your session.

Game tape is recording your session with a screen capture software as you speak through each of your decisions. Doing this forces you to use more logic and as much information as possible to justify your decisions. This is why Twitch streamers do so well.

Do NOT play any more mindless, robotic poker.

Too often we resort to robotic play and we open-raise, 3bet, cbet and fold versus raises robotically. We look at our hand and the board and make a simple, mindless decision. Great poker players stay focused and consider all the information available to them before they act.

If you’re ever stuck in a rut and feel that you need to think about each decision more, start recording game tape and force yourself to speak through your actions.

Do NOT skip reviewing your game tape.

I know I’m guilty of this. I often record 30 minutes and then fail to watch it the next day. Watching your game tape helps you catch your mistakes. You’ll see that you forgot to look at a player’s Fold to 3bet before you made a failed 3bet bluff. You’ll catch yourself NOT noticing the player’s tiny stack before you called with a draw on the flop.

When you catch mistakes like this, you can now work to NOT repeat the next time you’re on-the-felt.

#6: Do Always Play with a Strategy Focus

The best way to ingrain new strategies into your skillset is to practice using them on-the-felt in focus sessions.

Maybe your goal this week is to become a better isolation raiser over limpers. Great! You’ve been watching videos and reading articles about extracting value from limpers or getting them to fold. As you play your sessions this week, it’s your job to purposefully practice these new strategies.

Maybe your goal is to defend better against cbets. Great! You just watched a video that taught perfect board textures to bluff raise versus the cbet. It’s your job to look for each of these opportunities and pull the trigger in order to practice and develop this skill against cbets.

Do NOT just “play poker”.

Treat every session like a practice game. Every hand dealt is your chance to improve your skills. Don’t view your play session as simply, “I’m gonna play some poker.” Instead, have a purposeful practice attitude:

  • It’s time to work on my 3bet bluffs!
  • I’m going to exploit every TAG and make ‘em fold!
  • I’m going to select the perfect tables to play at tonight!

#7: Do Learn PokerTracker 4

PokerTracker 4 is the most important piece of poker software for online players.

There are so many great uses for PT4:

  • Exploiting opponents with a heads-up display (like my Smart HUD for PT4)
  • Reviewing hands played to find mistakes
  • Filtering through your hands to dive into specific situations
  • Using LeakTracker to help find your leaks
  • Learning about your statistics to see your tendencies
  • Analyzing your opponents to figure out how to exploit them

“Knowledge is a tool, and like all tools, its impact is in the hands of the user.” – Dan Brown

Do NOT neglect all the powerful aspects of PokerTracker 4 because you feel daunted by learning a new software.

PokerTracker 4 is just like riding a bike. Once you learn it, you’ll forever have it as a tool in your poker study arsenal. I know some people hate learning new software and you feel you don’t have the time. But I guarantee, with something as powerful and useful as PT4, you must make the time.

Visit my YouTube playlist of PokerTracker 4 videos.

Watch one video per day with PT4 open on your desktop. Follow along and repeat everything I do; running filters, looking at specific hands, sorting by dollars won or lost, using the Holdem Hand Range Visualizer, whatever. Watching and repeating is a great way to learn any software.

I just gave you 7 different do’s and don’ts for studying poker.

I recommend that you implement these one at a time until all 7 are part of your “studying poker toolbox”.

Start with the one that most speaks to you. If it already speaks to you and you see the value in doing it, you’re going to be more likely to stick with it and it’ll become a part of your poker study routine. You’ll get more out of your study time because of it.

Sky Matsuhashi