2020 is fast approaching and it’s about time you activated your poker study habit, eh?
Too many of us go willy-nilly from one video to the next, or binge listen to dozens of podcasts without even putting one piece of poker strategy to use. Well, no more!
This is your ultimate poker study guide for turning yourself into the player you want to be in 2020.
The Ultimate Poker Study Guide for 2020
Poker Study Technique #1: Just Get Started
The more you do, the more you can do.
This is one of my favorite quotes and it’s applicable to anything in life you want to get better at, poker study included.
Maybe you’ve never studied or don’t feel your poker study time is productive. You don’t know how to review a database now how to find and plug your leaks. You don’t know how to get the most out of every poker book you read and you don’t know how to practice the strategies you read about.
Well, the only way to make your poker study time effective is by actually “hitting the books” and doing it. Every new thing you study and new technique you use adds to your poker study repertoire and you begin building intuition for the best ways to approach poker learning.
Example: Poker Study Progression
Your goal is to improve 3bet bluffing skills, so you watch a video. You take notes on what you learn to help you remember it all. You also know that practice makes perfect so you take action on making better 3bet bluffs in your next session. So far, you’ve used 3 study techniques: watching a video, taking notes and purposeful play.
But, you encountered 3 tough spots where your bluffs failed. You open your PokerTracker 4 database and find those 3 hands. You replay the hands and discover that there’s no way they were folding to your bluff 3bets because you made them too small. So, you record in your journal these 3bet sizing mistakes and you decide to practice more 3bet bluffs. Bam! You just used 3 more techniques of reviewing hands, recording mistakes and going back to the felt for more action.
The next session, you make more bluff and value 3bets. Some are successful and some are not. So, you have the idea to go to your database and filter for 3bets with different hand strengths. You don’t know how to filter for this, so you read an article for help. You do what they do in order to learn from your different 3betting hands. Bam! You used 2 more study techniques of learning via repetition and filtering through your hands.
You just utilized 8 different study techniques for one strategy!
Begin building poker study skills by choosing one strategy to improve.
Find one video or article or podcast to study and take notes.
Put what you learn into practice then let your intuition take over and continue your studies however feels most natural (or, scroll down for more useful poker study techniques).
Now, I challenge you to take action!
Listen to episode #260: A Simple Poker Study Plan
Poker Study Technique #2: Use the ‘No Time for Study’ Plan
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This plan is designed to be printed out and written on. Treat it like your poker journal and store them for future reference.
1. Choose a Topic to Study
Write your study topic for the week at the top. It could be as broad as “3bets”, or as narrow as “3bet bluffing from the BB versus the BTN”.
The intent of choosing a topic of study is to help you avoid overwhelm by keeping you focused on one strategy at a time for an entire week.
2. Record the Top 12 Stats
You can only improve what you measure.
I’m a firm believer in this, so I’ve listed the top 12 most beneficial stats to keep track of. These give you insight into how your poker study is affecting your game. As you study and improve your skills and knowledge, your statistics will naturally change to reflect this.
For example, if you’re a crazy aggressive 3bettor, a week of 3bet studies might see your 3bet stat go from 12% to 7% because now you’re picking better opportunities to 3bet.
The top 12 statistics are:
- # of hands played
- Total Win Rate
- Raise First In
- Call 2bet
- 3bet Preflop
- Call 3bet
- Cbet Flop
- Cbet Turn
- Fold to Flop Cbet
- Fold to Turn Cbet
Write down the numbers from last week in the first column, then write your end-of-week stats in the second column. Record the variance in column 3 (the difference between the 2 numbers, positive or negative).
3. Choose 2 Items to Study
Take a few minutes to run a Google or YouTube search for 2 items to study. Choose one for the first 3 days of the week (Monday through Wednesday), and the other for Thursday through Saturday. It could be a video, article, podcast or a chapter in a book. Whatever you choose, it’s something that you think will help you become better at the strategy you’re studying.
Write the name of the item down so that you can easily find it again in the future.
The Plan has a small note-taking section, but that’s intentional. The idea is that you record the most important things that you want to take with you into the future.
Within the notes area, there’s a spot to write down the #1 takeaway from the item you studied and just below that, there’s a “Take Action” section to write down the action you’re going to take to practice what you learned.
Action is your greatest teacher, so you must create one of your own action steps. If you don’t step into action and put to use what you learned, you just wasted your time studying it. The action step you create is what you’ll focus on over your next 3 play sessions. This is how you’ll make your off-the-felt studies a part of your on-the-felt game.
4. Daily Checklist for Study and Play
On Monday and Thursday, check the box after you’ve studied your chosen item. Your study time can be done right before your play session as a warm-up if you’d like.
On Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday you’ll spend 10 minutes reviewing hands from the day before (scroll below for instruction on hand history reviews). This is also your session warm-up. Check the box after you do your 10-minute review.
When it comes to playing poker, Monday through Saturday are all considered focused play. You’re going to play with purpose and practice the action you chose from the content you studied. Check the box afterwards.
And Sunday is your grind day. This is the day you can play or study however you want.
Utilize the ‘No Time for Study’ Plan for your studies this week (download and print).
Choose your study topic for the week and record your Top 12 Statistics as they stand right now.
Find 2 items to study, take notes then practice what you learn on the felt!
Now, I challenge you to take action!
Poker Study Technique #3: Game Tape
Game Tape is recording yourself perform so you can analyze it later to improve your performance.
As poker players, this means we record our play session and speak through each decision we make, saying the logic that led us to the play we chose. After the session, probably the next day, we watch the game tape to find mistakes made and also look for mistakes other players made.
You’ve probably heard game tape used mostly by sports players, namely football players. But presentation speakers, stand-up comedians and actors use it as well. Joe Rogan says he records every set he does and listens back to them occasionally to help him fine-tune his performances.
These performers take their skills and growth seriously and game tape helps them spot areas of opportunity. This helps them improve performance, and who wouldn’t want to be better at that thing they love or get paid to do, right?
There’s no hiding
Game tape shines a spotlight on your mistakes. If you do a database review and find a mistake of calling the river when it’s obvious you’re beat, you might rationalize this mistake. You could think to yourself, “I was 5-tabling, so I didn’t have enough time to make a good decision”.
But, with game tape, the truth of what happened is right there and you can’t hide from it. You’re going to catch yourself clicking CALL and not even mentioning the opponent’s range, their bet size, their stats or the board at the time. You won’t even discuss the situation at all. You’ll just see yourself clicking call, then getting upset that they had you crushed.
I also love game because as far as I know, I’m the only one who talks about it. That means that out of your opponents who study poker, you’ve got a leg up on them. If you use game tape, you’re doing this incredibly beneficial form of play and study, and they’ve never even thought to do it.
All they do is watch videos and review hands, baby! You’re crushing them in the study efficiency wars.
Listen to Podcast #261: Game Tape: My Favorite Poker Play and Study Strategy Combination
The 3 Benefits of Game Tape
1. It Forces You to Speak Aloud Your Logic
Too often we button-click because a play seems right or we think it’s the right one to make. “I’ve got AK, I’m gonna 3bet!” Yeah, you just voiced what you’re going to do, but you gave no reason behind it.
You didn’t say, “I’m 3betting with AK here because the open-raiser is folding a ton and I block some of their stronger hands.” Nor did you say, “I’m 3betting here because this Fish calls 3bets way too often and with every Ace, so I’m crushing their calling range.”
Forcing yourself to speak the logic you use gets you thinking more about the plays you make. By doing game tape, I’ve become a more consistent and logical player, making plays more often because I have a purpose and I know how to get what I want from my opponent.
2. You Don’t Want to Disappoint Your Audience
There’s a reason Twitch streamers often play so well; the audience expects them to voice the reason for every play they make, and this forces them to make better plays. They don’t want to seem like a dumb-ass for making illogical 3bet bluffs or river calls or 20bb final table shoves.
Even if you never publish your game tape, you can imagine you have an audience watching you and hoping you make the best plays possible.
Pretend that these are being recorded and your grandchildren will be playing them for your great grandchildren.
“Look how incredible your great-grandfather was. He had this crazy ability to fold when he knew he was beat, and call when he knew he was ahead. His poker prowess built this incredible mansion we’re in right now. Let’s watch this video and marvel in his brilliance.”
So, when you record your game tape, pretend your coach, friends, husband or wife or God is looking over your shoulder. Because they’re watching, you’re going to strive to make the best decisions possible by taking into account all the information available in every hand dealt.
3. You Can Find Your Mistakes
It’s weird how we learn so much from reviewing our play away from the pressure that we feel when on-the-felt.
There’s no money on the line, no pride at stake, no audience watching and we have all the time in the world to dissect the hand.
Because all this pressure is gone, we can look objectively at how we played. We’ll catch ourselves NOT looking at HUD statistics or NOT noticing bet and stack sizes or NOT remembering this is a 3bet pot when we call the flop, turn and river with top pair weak kicker.
Because we catch these mistakes, we can take note of them and now work to NOT repeat them in the future.
I always have my poker journal open in front of me to record my mistakes during my game tape reviews, and you must do the same.
3 Steps to Using Game Tape
1. Download OBS and Set It Up
This takes less than 5 minutes, and to help you out, here’s a quick set-up video:
I recommend OBS (Open Broadcaster Software) because it’s quick and easy to use, and it’s FREE!
Run it and follow the steps in the video above to get it game tape ready.
Of course, have a microphone to record your speaking as you play.
2. Record Your First Game Tape Session
Fire up one or two tables then hit “Record”
Play for just 30 minutes.
Make sure you speak through your decisions out loud as you play.
In the beginning, you’ll find yourself not speaking as you work out a hand in your head. But, just keep practicing. Playing and speaking your thoughts is just another muscle to develop and with time you’ll be speaking for a full 30 minutes or longer.
Stop the recording then continue playing your normal session.
3. Review Your Game Tape
I recommend reviewing your game tape the next day when the session isn’t so fresh.
This way there’s a better chance that you can watch the video objectively with the goal of learning from your mistakes.
Take notes on any mistakes you catch. I could give you a whole list of things to look for, but what’s the fun in that?
The only way you’ll learn how to review game tape to find mistakes is to record then review game tape to find your mistakes.
Action is the greatest teacher after all, so take action on game tape and learn on your own the power of using it.
Record your first game tape tonight, then review it tomorrow to find your mistakes.
This is the best play and study strategy you can do, so get to it.
Now, I challenge you to take action!
Bonus: Setting Poker Goals
Since you’re going to study and play more in 2020, you must set some goals to work towards.
“The major reason for setting a goal is for what it makes you do to accomplish it. This will always be a far greater value than what you get.” -Jim Rohn
I used to believe that the reason for setting a goal was simply to achieve that thing.
But, now I believe the real benefit of setting a goal is to become the person who can achieve that goal.
Listen to episode #262: The Really Real Reason to Make Poker Goals
In order to run a marathon, maybe starting from scratch, you have to become…
- A person who runs multiple days every week
- A person who can smartly plan your training to gradually increase your endurance and strength
- Someone who can persevere through sore muscles and not wanting to train that day
- Someone who has the mental fortitude to make a long-term goal and work over weeks and months to achieve it without giving up
Those are the real benefits of setting and working toward a goal of running a marathon.
Striving to achieve this goal turns you into the person you want to be. Every goal that you strive for is an opportunity to improve yourself and develop a growth mindset, great habits and increased confidence.
Setting a Monetary Poker Goal
Most players want to earn money from poker, at least a nice side income from the game.
Let’s say you are a 25nl player, and your current win rate is 4bb/100 hands.
You decide to set a goal of earning $20 per day over the next 30 days, for $600 total profit. So, what do you need to do to earn $20/day?
1. On-the-Felt: Become a Grinder
With a win rate of 4bb/100 hands, you earn $1 for every 100 hands you play. This means that you need to play 2,000 hands per day to achieve $20 profit per day.
But, maybe over the past 30 days you only played 30,000 hands (1,000 hands/day). How are you going to fit in 2,000 hands/day in the next 30 days?
Now your task is to figure out how to play 2,000 hands per day. This is where the real benefit of setting a monetary goal comes in.
- Force yourself to play longer sessions. This is going to mentally toughen you up to deal with the beats, the boredom and the extra time on the felt. You will become a mentally stronger poker player for putting yourself through this.
- Increase the number of tables you play. This leads to more hands per hour so it will take you less hours/day to play 2,000 hands. This is also going to make you a stronger player.
- Improve your poker scheduling. If you create and stick to a schedule of play, you’re more likely to hit your 2,000-hand target. So, you can decide to play every night from 7pm to 10pm.
By trying to implement these 3 things, even if you don’t hit your goal of 2,000 hands per day, you’re turning yourself into the type of person who can. That’s the real benefit here.
And, even if you don’t hit your goal of 60,000 hands but only play 50,000. That’s 50,000 more hands of experience, more hands to study and more to help you find and plug leaks.
2. Off-the-Felt: Study Dedication
Let’s say over these 30 days, you decide to work on incorporate more study to improve your skills and win rate. So, you schedule 30 minutes of study time every day. Maybe it’s during your lunch breaks or you wake up 30 minutes earlier every day to hit the books.
You select one strategy to study via article, video or podcast and you take notes. You also do one full hand reading exercise in relation to your strategy focus. And then you focus on executing this strategy in your play session that night.
So not only are you playing more poker, you’re doing it with better focus and with an eye towards building specific skills.
Maybe during these 30 days of extra play and study, you’ve improved your win rate from 4bb/100 hands up to 5bb/100 hands. At this higher win rate, it’ll take you less hands to achieve your $20/day. Or, if you still play 2,000 hands, you’re going to earn $25/day on average.
Now that your win rate is increased and you can play 2,000 hands per day, imagine what you can do over another 30 days.
Set another goal, this time for $25 per day, or even $30. Continue to push yourself on an off-the-felt, and you’ll be turning yourself into the player you want to be.
Take the time right now and figure out what kind of player you want to be. Do you want to slowly grind out some profits at the micro stakes? Maybe take down your local tournament at least once a week? Or, are you looking to make a living from poker?
Once you figure this out, you can set some goals that will bring your closer to your ideal poker self.
Now, I challenge you to take action!
I make my goals around the ‘SMARTER Goals’ formula that I learned from Michael Hyatt.
SMARTER is an acronym: Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Risky, Time-keyed, Exciting and Relevant.
A specific goal is made very clearly and says exactly what you’re shooting for.
SMARTER Goal: Play consistently at 50 NL by January 1st.
Measurable means that we can assign a quantifiable and trackable number. These goals are better because you either hit them or you don’t. The numbers don’t lie.
SMARTER Goal: Increase my bankroll by 20% to $6,000 by December 31st.
Actionable means that your goal begins with an action word, not what you want to be.
SMARTER Goal: Listen to one podcast per day, take notes, and put into action one thing from each podcast.
Risky goals are hard to hit because they push you beyond what you’ve done in the past. These goals command more of your attention and force you to get creative, to focus more and to put forth so much more effort. These goals take you out of your comfort zone and put you into your discomfort zone, which is where all the magic happens (but don’t get into the dellusional zone).
SMARTER Goal: Play 600 hands each day, Monday through Friday, with weekends available to get me to 4,000 hands or more per week.
This means that you give yourself either a deadline or a specific time frame to achieve the goal.
SMARTER Goal: Record, edit and post 13 episodes of my new vlog called “Vlogging the Dolphin” once per week starting January 1.
You want to set goals that you are pumped to achieve and that you have an internal drive towards. These are goals set around things that you just love to do, and maybe you can’t see yourself doing anything else. If you love it you’ll do it.
SMARTER Goal: Play the $10,000 Main Event at the 2019 WSOP.
Being relevant means that they fit in with the season of life you’re in. So, I have a wife and 2 kids to support. Deciding to go off and become a traveling tournament grinder just is not in the cards for me right now. What I can do instead that fits with where my life is right now, is to grind all the PM online tournaments every Monday and Tuesday.
SMARTER Goal: Study 30 minutes Monday through Friday by waking up 45 minutes earlier than the kids do.
Create a SMARTER poker goal, and strive to hit it in 2020. Remember that the purpose behind the goal you create is to turn yourself into the type of person that can achieve the goal.
If you actually achieve it, great! Make a harder goal next time.
If you don’t achieve it, be happy with that fact that you’ve pushed yourself to do something difficult and you’ve grown as a poker player because of it.
Now, I challenge you to take action!
The poker study train is still rolling!
Coming soon: Focus Sessions, Hand History Reviews, Learning from Poker Books, Tracking and Plugging Leaks
Support the Podcast
Rishi Srivastava, Chuck Stowe, Lucky Bozzer and John Williams picked up PokerTracker 4, the best poker tracking software. I love it and use it everyday! In appreciation, I sent them each a copy of my Smart HUD for PT4. With a ever-growing database of hands to study and all the helpful features, PT4 is the go-to software for serious poker players.
Trevor Mascos, Josh Balsom, Vilma Rozsa, Alex, Robert Flanders, Carpenter, Michael Hink, Oliver Jordan, Jeff, Lucky Bozzer and Jamie Hill bought the Smart HUD with a 1.5 hour webinar for PokerTracker 4. It’s the best online poker HUD in the business, and you can get the Smart HUD by clicking here.
Josh Balsom (supporter extraordinaire) is looking to get into the most profitable poker situation possible, so he picked up the Poker’s Bread & Butter Webinar (10% off).
Richard Canelle picked up the Getting the Most From PokerTracker 4 Webinar (10% off) because he knows that I’m going to teach him how to do exactly that in this webinar. He’s learning how to filter for leaks, run reports and dissect opponents (among many other things).
Jon Homan is looking to break out of the micro stakes, so he got Playing to Learn: A Micro Stakes Webinar (10% off). This webinar teaches all you need to know to profit and build a bankroll in the micro stakes.
Josh Balsom got the Poker Mathematics Webinar (10%off). This teaches all the math you need to know to make +EV decisions on the felt.
Kiett picked up Finding and Plugging Leaks with PokerTracker 4 Webinar (10% off). There’s a lot to study and take action on here, so you’ve got your work cut out for you.