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Deliberate Practice In Poker

7,003 Views on 15/10/19

In this article, we're going to try to convince you that there's a lot of value in looking beyond the culture of quick fixes

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We're constantly on the lookout for newest tips, tricks, and shortcuts. We're all excited about quick fixes for big problems. This is the new normal. We're conditioned to think that everything can be solved in a matter of hours. The main protagonist in your run of the mill Hollywood movie usually goes from zero to hero in a matter of two hours. If he can, so can you! The Internet is practically screaming at you, offering new revolutionary ways of achieving great things with minimal effort. "6-minute abs", "4-week Bootcamp", "one weird trick that will transform your life". If they say it can be done, it must be so!

The truth is, of course, a lot more nuanced than that. It's true that small things can make big things happen, but there's no substitute for a good old fashioned hard work or Free Bets. Thomas Edison once said that:

Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration".

The problem with that statement is that - while true - it doesn't sell well. In this article, we're going to try to convince you that there's a lot of value in looking beyond the culture of quick fixes and embracing the idea of deliberate practice. 

Everflowing Stream Of Distractions

We already alluded to the fact, that we all live in the age of distraction. Money is no longer the default currency of the world. Businesses discovered that grabbing our attention is a much more lucrative strategy in the long run than going straight for our wallet because where our attention is directed, our wallets quickly follow.

As a result, we're now pulled in a thousand different directions on a daily basis, by corporations with marketing budgets so enormous that we stand no chance resisting the mental trickery they're able to devise. Fortunately for the more competitive and discipline poker players out there, the playing field is even.

Our opponents are also distracted by the same messages that we're bombarded with every day and we can use it - by embracing the idea of deliberate practice.

What is Deliberate Practice?

Practice is the act of repeating a behavior in order to improve performance. By extension, deliberate practice is the idea that your training should be focused and purposeful. Everyone can watch an odd 30-minute coaching video "when the inspiration strikes" and call that "practice". It's much harder to watch the same 30-minute video for one or two hours, pausing it during every interesting spot and making notes intended for further analysis. If we made that second activity a part of our regular routine it would constitute a great example of the deliberate practice. 

High-level skills, developed as a result of deliberate practice, are increasingly more valuable. This is obviously due to the fact that fewer and fewer people are willing to engage in it. It's so much easier to say that "there's no money in poker, everyone's solid" and watch another episode of "Game of Thrones", than spend two or three hours every day working in a distraction-free environment on improving your game. Just like the old poker adage says "when they play tight, you should play loose", that's why you should make an effort to make your practice sessions deliberate.

There's also a physiological reason for why deliberate practice is better than the alternative. Long periods of uninterrupted work promote the creation of myelin, a white tissue that develops around neurons allowing them to fire more efficiently. This is why you retain almost no information from watching countless 10-minute YouTube videos but you can probably still recall the details of your favorite book even if you haven't read it in a decade or so.

The truth is that however alluring the idea of quick fixes is, in order to achieve a high level of skill in any discipline - poker included - you have to put in the work.

Guide To Deliberate Practice In Poker

Here's the list of the most important elements of deliberate practice that you should pay attention to when designing your own routine:

  • Work on your weaknesses. It's easy to default to the familiar and enjoyable modes of training. That's why every poker player who ever tried them, loves taking part in sweat sessions. While sweat sessions can be an invaluable tool in poker player's arsenal, the way they are usually done, quickly renders them ineffective. The first time your commenting on someone's game or having others watching your session will often improve your game by leaps and bounds, simply because of how valuable external feedback is when you haven't experienced any before. Unfortunately, the point of diminishing returns is just around the corner and if the sweat session participants aren't putting a lot of effort to prepare beforehand, there's very little value in engaging in them. You should instead focus on methods that are more consistent like hand or database analysis, working with poker calculators like PokerStove or Flopzilla etc.  This is especially true if you don't feel comfortable with this form of poker education.
  • Focus on small, concrete, measurable steps. "I'll become a mid-stakes crusher!" is an ambitious goal. It's also a very poor one. It doesn't offer any solutions, it more of a wish than a plan. You should focus on steps that are much smaller and easier to measure. For example, if during the aforementioned database analysis you discover that your 23/18 playstyle is causing you to leak money, you should make a conscious effort to decrease that gap by cold calling less often in unprofitable spots. This will serve you much better than grandiose visions of becoming the next Phil Ivey.
  • Repetition. Bruce Lee once said: "I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times". While he probably wasn't great at playing cards he had the right idea about the importance that repetition plays in effective practice. If your training is fragmented, you find yourself jumping from coaching videos to articles and hand analysis with no rhyme or reason, you should make a conscious effort to inject some predictability into your training sessions. Instead of watching a coaching video whenever you feel like it, watch it every Monday or every other day. Before you start your training session, analyze the hands from the previous day for 30 minutes. Perform a database analysis every last day of the month etc. 
  • Focus. Nowadays, we're all walking around with powerful computers in our pockets that are connected to this amazing network giving us constant access to much more information and entertainment than we can handle. While reading this article, you probably checked the notifications on your phone without thinking twice about what you just did. If you want to become good at deliberate practice you should become conscious of this constant stream of distractions. Your education shouldn't be disrupted by the sound of a buzzing phone or compulsive scrolling through your social media feeds. I know it's a lot easier said than done and trying to go against our conditioning is a complicated subject but there's simply no way around it. If you're able to unplug for an hour or two while doing your study session you'll quickly outpace your opponents when it comes to the rate of skill acquisition. 
  • Feedback. Lastly, let's talk about the most powerful element of deliberate practice. While you can improve a great deal on your own, external feedback from a trustworthy source is probably as good as it gets, when it comes to improving your skill. Private coaching is of course very expensive, but it's often worth the price of admission. Even if you can't afford frequent sessions, a quick check-up once every month or so has the potential to uncover many leaks that would otherwise escape your attention. If you don't have money for the coach, you might be tempted to substitute that with the opinion of a friend that you play regular sweat sessions with, and while this obviously has some value you have to be conscious of a phenomenon called groupthink. With time, every study group becomes more and more concerned with maintaining high morale of the group members which affects the quality of feedbacks said members receive. Putting it simply, your friends will often sugarcoat what a professional coach would tell you without any embellishments. That's why you should always pay close attention to the kind of feedback that you're getting from your friends.

All in all, the recipe for deliberate practice is very simple. You need to develop enough grit and discipline to engage in regular, long study sessions focused around small, concrete improvements and supplemented with quality feedback from a trustworthy source. Like it often happens, this is of course much easier said than done, and developing an effective deliberate practice routine will require a lot of time and dedication but this might be the only way to thrive in the increasingly difficult environment of competitive online poker.


Matt VIP

Matt is predominantly a mental game and planning expert, with a terrific knowledge of science, meditation, practical methods of improvement and of course, a good level of poker skill! Look out for his strategy articles and follow him for hi ... Read More


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