How to Review a Poker Session
In order to succeed in poker, it's imperative that you work hard to improve your game off the table. Don't think of this as boring work, but instead think of it as a road to self improvement which if done right will lead to greater financial rewards.
Identify your mistakes
There is a disconnect between how good somebody is at poker, and how good they actually play. Nobody consistently plays as good as they know how to, and one is only as good as they actually play. How largely these two are disconnected implies how many mistakes are made. A mistake occurs when a players knows they could have played the hand better, but failed to execute in the heat of the moment. Recognizing a leak does not mean that a mistake was made, it just means that person improved their poker knowledge. When reviewing sessions, I often find that players are far too concerned with spotting leaks instead of trying to recognize mistakes, and understand why they were made. The most effective way to review a session is to look for common mistakes and/or big mistakes. This requires being extremely honest with yourself and not allowing emotions to cloud your judgement.
Once recognizing the most frequent and severe mistakes, the next step is trying to understand what caused them. There had to be reasons for the decision that was made, what were they and why were they insufficient/flawed? Was there emotions involved? or was there an available piece of information that was overlooked? This can be very difficult and requires an element of guesswork, but it will become easier and more precise over time. Learning how to properly diagnose what caused a mistake will prove much more valuable then expanding your poker knowledge. Making less mistakes means more money made, whereas knowledge does not necessarily imply execution.
Start by taking 15-30 minutes every day to review your sessions. Only look for hands where you know how to play better, but failed to do so. Consider anything that was going on in that moment that could have affected your decision making. The most important step is to keep a daily poker log, with short entries describing what mistakes where made and the most likely reason why. Then devote 30-60 minutes each week reviewing the entries. If you're being honest with yourself, then some very noticeable patterns should emerge in a short time.
There will usually be a few glaring triggers that are causing the large majority of mistakes. Different triggers affect people in different ways, however nobody is completely immune. Knowing which scenarios trigger the most mistakes is invaluable, and this is up to everyone to figure out for themselves. Once doing so, it will take persistent effort to be be able to make dependable improvements. The object is to drastically decrease the quantity and severity of mistakes, as it is impossible to completely eliminate them.
Software such as NoteCaddy & Hold 'Em Manager can help you to review your sessions, keep detailed notes and ultimately keep right on top of your game.
What NOT to do
To explain how to review a session, it's very important that I go over what not to do.
It is generally a waste of time to focus of very marginal, and/or rare spots. It is a common misconception that reviewing a session boils down to what you see posted on the forums. Nobody can argue that the forums help all who participates, however there has been a trend that is decreasing it's value. Nobody wants to post a hand where the result is universally agreed upon, so players are usually proud to post hands where 1/2 say call, 1/3 say fold and the rest say they want to see results.
This usually means that the math is very close and therefore the decision is completely insignificant! Whatever decision you make will only nominally affects the amount won/lost. When estimating how often a similar situation would occur every 100 hands, it becomes clear that such a scenario is completely insignificant to your poker win rate. If a scenario only comes up less then 1% of the time, then it needs to be a very significant mistake to have a noticeable repercussion on your win rate. Do not spend any more time going over marginal and rare situations, it's a huge headache and doesn't do anything for your bottom line! Focus your energy on finding common occurrences, that have a significant effect one way or the other.