Category Archives: Series: Poker Pitfalls

A series outlining some of the most costly mistakes made by new and improving players and how to avoid them.

Poker Pitfalls 3: Learntertainment

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In my experiecne as a coach, 80% of the average player’s poker study time before I get my hands on them is spent chilling out on the laptop infront of an instructional video. Hell I’ve been there myself, guitar on my lap, typing in Facebook while some instrcutor drones on about a spot I can’t even see in the background because it’s behind my group conversation about Friday night’s plans. This pitfall is all about how aspiring players need to recognise and avoid this tendency and put in real active engaged study time to get better at this game. Let’s start with a definition.

What is Learntertainment?

Learntertainment in poker is a disease where the majority of a player’s study time is spent only partially and passively engaged, using only receptive learning skills and where that study is also used as a means of relaxation or lesuire.

A receptive learning skill is one such as reading or listening. The material goes in one eye or ear then out the other and is learned to some minimal extent depending on the level of alertness of the learner and their ability to learn in this way. The problem with receptive skills is that they are only good as the first step in the learning model, they are not a complete recipe to learning.

In order to fully understand a poker concept, the learner must be able to recgonise the relevant in-game situation then reproduce and apply that concept with good accuracy in a high pressure, low time environment.

This just doesn’t happen where learning stops at the receptive stage. Productive learning is needed to complete the process and we’ll come to this later.


Causes

Learntertainment in poker is caused by the ease of access to receptive training materials, many of which also come with catchy tunes, nice graphics and lighter content from the instrcutorr to keep things fresh. In the 188 traning videos I’ve made in my career I’ve always tried to throw in anecdotes and humor to spice things up. People want to learn poker in this way because it’s by far the easeist and funnest way to study. Moreover, the learntertainment route is signposted from episode to episode and no research is required into how to study properly as is the case for more productive forms of study like hand history review and database analysis.

Unfortunately, these more productive forms of learning are completely essential. I’m not saying cut out watching videos entirely, but look to watch them in a more engaged way. It’s a bit like with diet: protein is an essential part of the human diet, but to eat only eggs, meat and beans would not be a sensible choice and how those proteins are cooked is hugely important to the effects they’ll have on the body. Learntertainment is not inherently bad, but when it’s deep fried with a slice of facebook or falling asleep, it’s not very nutritional.

Symptoms

You may already be reading this thinking: “Yes this is definitely me. I’m a learntertainment feind!” but you’ll know your poker study habits suffer from this ailment if you:

1. Barely use any forms of study to work on your game off the table other than videos and podcasts.
2. Find yourself drifitng during videos or doing other things at the same time.
3. Never take notes on videos or try to produce what you’ve just absorbed in your own words and thoughts.
4. Have a big confused mess of poker concepts in your head all learned to a weak and unusable extent.
5. Have no idea how to work on your game other than through watching the videos that appeal to what you want to learn that day.
6. Have trouble articulating the things you apparently know from watching videos.
7. Find more active poker study intimidating, boring or both.

Treatment

Let’s address the seven symptoms above one by one and in the process take look at some alternative methods for getting more out of your poker study time. After all, we’re all in this game because we want to succeed at it and make a bit of money in the process so it’s time to break the mold.

1. There are many other receptive and productive poker study methods out there. I recomend that all of my students learn at a bare minimum the following methods of study.

A: Receptive digestion of new materials with productvive rearticulation. When you watch a video, take notes, summarise what you’ve learned, and then, if you’re one of my students, write an essay about it with some of your own example hands for the rest of the student community. In the process you’ve created more receptive materials for others to use and reproduce on their own. It’s a cycle, receive information and produce it to solidify understanding. The cycle is strengthened when you involve fellow learners in your pursuit.

B: Proper hand history review. This requires that the student’s own thoughts are first explained to the community street by street, point by point. Only then will the student be given direct feedback, or better yet, be given some direction to help him work out the answer independantly. Student focussed learning is key to success in poker.

C: Live lessons and subsequent homework. This one costs but in more cases than not it’s a very proftable short-term investment. Getting coached teaches you the concepts in a way that your coach knows works for you, at the right pace for you and in a stduent centred way where we avoid spoonfeeding like the plague that it is. My packages offer direction, constant goals and ensure that you’re never lost with what to study next and how.

D: Use of focus areas. I urge my students to create database tags for the 4-7 focus areas that they’re currently working on with me and in the study group. Students tag example hands from their session under these headings and build a library of real poker examples to compound the theory they’re learning. Focus areas are replaced by new ones once mastered.

The list goes on. Search the web and find other ways to improve your game that break the learntertainment mold. Many of them can be fun, especially when you work within a poker community.

2. Like I say, I want my students to watch videos, but they need to do so in a comitted active way. When you sit down for receptive study such as watching videos or podcasts, make sure that all other windows are closed and that your mind is clear, engergised and inspired about poker.

3. Click play on the video with pen and paper with the videos heading on it in hand. Ensure that you’re motivated to learn and then reproduce what you’ve just learnt.

4. Be thorough with your study time. Do not leave an area until you can reproduce it effectviely in your own words. Come back and revise areas regularly and make sure that you have focus tags for them. Above all else, do not embark on 15 concepts at once. You will not learn any of them to a beneficial degree.

5. Create a study plan with the next 5 areas you want to address. Outline how you’re going to tackle them by noting your intended resources, method, and means of reproducing the material.

6. Practice. This one is tough, but being part of a helpful friendly community like the one I run is a great way of getting feedback on what you’ve learned and seeking advice on how correct your understanding of the material is.

7. Humans are social learners; work with others who are walking the same path as you. Quiz yourself, take pride in learning things fully and keep a poker journal as a record of your new invigorated appraoch to studying the game. Being able to look back in 6 months time and see a concrete mass of all the stuff you now know very well is much more satisfying than staggering blindly through a mess of half learned echos of past learntertainment.

Conclusion

Avoiding this pitfall is to make a big change in your poker lifestyle. It’ll be one you never regret. It’s crucial to separate chilling out time from study time as much as possible as this hobby deserves more than a tired disinterested version of yourself. It takes a lot more than that to succeed at this game today.

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Poker Pitfalls 2 – Mathaphobia

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One of the first questions an outsider to the poker world tends to ask me when I tell them what I do is: “So is it all maths and odds and stuff?”

The answer to this question is of course an overwhelming no, and thank god it’s a no. I’m not a massive fan of mathematics. I’ve always preferred language and words to sums and equations. That said, one of the biggest mistakes my students make when they come to me for coaching is that they’ve made absolutely no effort to study any poker maths at all, ever.

This is a problem for the following reason: while there is a massive breadth of mathematics in poker ranging from the mind-numbingly simple to the mind-bogglingly complex; it’s the simple stuff that takes a few minutes to learn and a few hours to practice and develop true competency with. it’s also this same simple stuff that’s utterly essential and will make you a good several big blinds per hour just for nailing it down in the early stages of your poker learning.

This isn’t the fault of my students. Poker maths is the kind of thing you either embrace with thirst or shy away from completely and noone has helped to bridge this divide. The culprit, I think, is that most math orientated poker players and instructors have an all or nothing kind of approach to the maths of the game. In their GTO based “let’s actually delve so deep into poker math that we leave the consequentially bound world behind and drift into some other plane of  abstract existence” math seres, they fail to broadcast one very crucial point that simply must be understood before you have any hope of getting anywhere in online poker.

There are many mathematical things you really don’t need to know at all at this stage of your poker career, but there are two mathematical tricks you absolutely do need to know.

Please now take a few minutes to read what these are below and then spend a few hours over the next week or so practising them over and over when you review hand histories until they’re automatic.

Trick 1 – Action Closing Decisions – How to Calculate Required Equity out of Game 

We never have the luxury of being able to perform our off the table calculations in game, there’s just no time. However, the more you do this off the tables the better the feel you’ll have on them, and as we’ll see with the second trick, there’s always a shortcut for when that time bank is flashing in your face.

An action closing decision is one where there can be no more decisions to be made that hand after hero has made his choice regardless of what that choice is. Common examples include: facing river bets where we’re either going to call or fold; facing all in raises or bets post-flop, and someone shoving for their whole stack vs us pre-flop. The following calculation makes the assumption that all equity we have will be realised and that the pot will remain what it is after we call. Therefore, it can never be used in instances where there can be future action of any kind.

So time for an example. We’re on the river and the pot is 45bb. Villain has shoved his remaining 36bb into the pot having bet the flop and turn. There are two buttons lit up on our screen: [call 36bb] and [fold]. These two numbers alone are all we need to calculate how much equity we need vs villain’s range to call here. The second part will be working out if we have this amount of equity and that’s a whole different story, but for now let’s see how the maths works.

There are only three values here that matter and they are:

(A) Amount to call – this amount is simply the number that villain has bet or our full stack depending which is largest and is the amount that pops up on our call button like above. We’ll call this amount AC.

(B) Total pot after bet – this is the sum of what was in the pot before villain bet and his bet. It’s the new pot including money from previous streets and the river bet. We’ll call this TP

© Required Equity is the amount of the time we need to have the best hand in order for calling to be as good as folding. If we have any more equity than this then it becomes better (or +EV) We’ll call this RE. It’s what we need to know in order to determine what to do.

The sum: RE = AC / (AC + TP)

And there we have it. A simple sum using nothing but good old fashioned division and addition. As always in math, we perform sums in the brackets first followed by multiplication and division and only then may we add and subtract.

Let’s go back to our example.

AC = 36 (the bet we’re facing)
TP = 45 + 36 = 81 (be careful here we need the total pot AFTER villain bets not before)

So RE = 36 / (36 + 81) = 30.8%

We need to be good at least 30.8% of the time in order to call. This is the very first thing you do when you assess this spot out of game. Now you have this number, you can estimate if your equity is sufficient or whether your cards should hit the muck.

WARNING: People often make a mistake with this calculation. They sometimes take total pot to be what’s in there before villain bet and simply add villains bet to it to get the number on the right hand side of the /. This is wrong. You need to add villain’s bet to the pot as it was and then add on AC again to get this side of the sum. I like my students, but I will hit a point where I start killing them for this  error. It’s only a matter of time…

Trick 2 – Action Closing Decisions. How to Estimate Required Equity In Game

There is no time amidst the heat of battle for TPs, Acs or REs. There is barely enough time to remember your own name while also making a decision as to how to decrease your chances of losing lots of money. This is why we always need shortcuts; ways of simplifying poker maths into a format digestible by the frantic rushed mind. This method involves something I’m going to call the waypoint scale of RE.

Here are your 4 mantras. You shall repeat and memorise these mantras until they are so deeply ingrained in your unconscious competence that you say them in your sleep to the cat perched on the end of your bed.

1. If the pot before villain bet was empty then I need 50% equity to call
2. I need 33% equity to call a pot sized bet.
3. I need 25% equity to call a half pot sized bet.
4. I need 17% equity to call a quarter pot sized bet.

Memorise those, seriously!

So these mantras are the waypoints on our scale of required equity. Some villain’s make it nice and easy for us by mashing the pot button like bet-sizing zombies. Others bet more random amounts that we need to stick in roughly the right place of the scale. The waypoints allow us to do this.

EG. If villain bets 7 into a pot of 30, we know that’s just less than a quarter (4×7=28) so we need just less than 17% equity to call by mantra 4.

If we do the first calculation one more time for good measure, we see that..

RE = AC / (AC + TP)
RE = 7/ (37 + 7) Again it’s not (30 + 7) because TP means after he’s bet.
RE = 15.9%

Like I said, just less than our way point of 17%.

How painless was that mathaphobes?

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So there we have it. By reading this you’ve just learned 100% of the poker math that it’s essential to learn in the early stags of your poker career. Next time you analyse a hand where you’re faced with one of those pesky action closing decisions, you’ll know what to do. Both in game and out of game. Now go apply it!

Poker Pitfalls – 1. Introduction – The Dollar on the Hook

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There’s a reason so many of us are drawn to this fascinating game. It’s the lure of earning a meaningful amount of money doing something thrilling and fun, while getting to outsmart and conquer your opponents in the process. If you mix the ingredients of fighting, conquering and prospering you satisfy the human model of how to thrive. Cave man fights other cave man with club, bashes skull in and reaps the rewards of dead cave man’s bigger cave. Poker players do the mental equivalent. Who could resist a game that so well fits our evolutionary model of success, but in modern world terms? Maybe you’ll be able to buy that mansion in Vegas you always wanted or be able to one day quit your mind numbing job in the office in return for more lucrative and enjoyable poker pastures.

The above explains the dollar in poker; the shiny glowing bait that promises you a rise to stardom, a life of freedom and fulfilment or maybe just an immersive and profitable hobby depending on the scope of your poker dreams. But what’s the hook? The hook is all the things combined into one that cause the overwhelming majority of aspiring poker players to fail to make any money in the long term at this game. The hook is the reason the few players who are profitable winners long term can sustain themselves and more through this game, and the hook is the thing stopping you from succeeding at poker right now. It’s the jagged reality behind the candy floss dreaminess we fall in love with.

Poker pitfalls is a series of posts where I set out to break the hook apart into it’s constituent parts. Through my years in the poker teaching industry, and through my own journey as a poker player, I’ve compiled an extensive list of all the things that commonly can and do go wrong in the quest of the aspiring grinder. It’s like a bottomless pit of failure waiting to happen. Success takes a lot of dodge work.

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If you’re a new player, then this series of posts is for you. I’m going to try to prepare you for the sharp plummets back to reality that threaten to flatten your poker progress and crush your poker dreams whatever they may be. Fear not though, the pits are avoidable, we just need to have the right approach to the game. The reason so many fail on what you’re embarking on is that so few actually have the right approach to avoid them.

If you’re a more experienced player, the chances are you aren’t all that successful at poker. No offence, it’s just a statistic. You’ve been caught by the various pit traps over and over again, reaping little bits of dollars just to run into a new and improved set of obstacles around the next bend. This series is for you too. You’ll be able to build on all those good habits and ideas you’ve been able to learn so far while eradicating those that are so detrimental to your progress. There’s a very good reason you aren’t getting anywhere and that’s not that you suck or that you’re stupid; it’s that you’re human. Humans fall victim to the poker hook just as fish do to the metal jagged variety with worms on them. I’m going to try to show you how so you can stop biting the metal.

I’ll make this series as regular as I can and will introduce the first pitfall in the next instalment. I’ll finish off for today with a recent quote from someone who came to me for coaching. His frustrations about his progress thus far completely epitomise the nature of the struggle the majority of us go through in this fiendish game. Stay tuned for more soon and please subscribe if you’d like to get automatic updates as I reveal a new pitfall and how to avoid it.

“Poker is seriously one of the most difficult games I’ve ever come across. Usually if you put a fuckload of effort into something over the course of years, you get somewhere.”