Tom has been writing about poker since 1994 and has played across the USA for over 40 years, playing every game in almost every card room in Atlantic City, California and Las Vegas.
Homework for the Poker Student
Way back when I was student, I used to detest homework as it got in the way of all the other fun things I wanted to be doing. Many youngsters feel that way as they haven’t quite put life’s priorities in order yet. What does homework have to do with poker? Well, if you really aspire to improving your poker game, some homework away from the table (both live and online) will be in order. Some poker players ascribe a successful session to their superior skill and their not so successful sessions to bad luck. I’m not making this up and I know most of you realize that. Here’s hoping that you are not one of those unfortunate souls. We should certainly learn from our mistakes, as that is part of continuous improvement but we should also be able to improve through review of our strong performances by confirmation of their value and imbedding them in our psyche.
Allow me to share a homework assignment I try and attend to as soon as possible after a poker session. I try and do it as quickly as possible so that the details are fresh in my mind. During my poker sessions, I am always on the lookout for hands that stand out as ones I believe showcase well thought out plays on my part. Whether or not I dragged the pot is immaterial to this task. I’m also on the lookout for hands that I do not believe I’ve played very well. I try and collect at least two of each. There is no magic to the number, but two of each works well for me.
It is always easier to give yourself a pat on the back than a kick in the arse, so my advice is to start with the well played hands. Review the details of the hand and why you think you played it well. Upon reflection, could you have extracted additional chips? Did you place your hand into unnecessary peril by slow playing when you should have played it more straight forward? Maybe as you are applauding how well you played the hand, you might come to realize that you did not play it so wonderfully as initially thought. That’s fine, as this kind of brutal honestly will uncover that from time to time that result and it is part of what makes this poker homework assignment valuable. It is designed to make you a stronger, more confident poker player – not to make your head swell with just how marvelous a poker player you must be.
A major key to gaining value from this process is to not focus on the result, as you may well do everything superbly but wind up losing due to the vagaries of poker. Focus to the analysis you brought to bear on the situation and if it was correct. If it was, then go ahead and give yourself a pat on the back if it feels good and imbed it in your psyche for future use. The hands that you feel weren’t played well take a little more work as you need to determine how they could have been played better – make that much better.
The key to whether you are reviewing stellar or abysmal poker performances is that you are thinking about the game away from the game itself. This kind of retrospection is critical to a good understanding the game of poker. You can be totally objective because you are not under the time constraints and pressure to make a decision that you are while at the table and you now, after the fact, have full information or at least more information regarding the hand. These two factors help make your evaluation and analysis much more meaningful.
Many poker players reach a plateau of knowledge and work commitment and arrive at a place I like to call… “I can really play this game”. While they are not full blown “I know it alls”, it’s almost as dangerous because they stop growing and actually begin to move backwards relative to the competition. A famous coach of yesteryear was fond of telling his poker players about the value of practice by recounting that if they didn’t put in the time and effort others who were willing to dedicate themselves would be passing them by. Who wants to go backwards in their status as a poker player? Do you? I think I know the answer to that query, so let me end this article with the sage advice of – make sure to do your homework!
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