Tag Archives: poker coaching

Understanding Mistakes in Poker

“I don’t mind bad variance. I don’t mind getting sucked out on or coolered. What really gets me is when I play badly. I can’t stand making mistakes.”


The aspiring player’s mental game starts off as very fragile. It takes little to rattle confidence, instill doubt and spread fear or anger. One of the most common forms of tilt I see in my students is unquestionably Mistake Tilt.

Mistake Tilt occurs when a poker player makes a play that they interpret with hindsight to be a certain error, likely error, or even just a possible error. Anger and self-resentment arise from the conception of failure fuelled by the burn of very recent monetary loss. Needless to say, Mistake Tilt very rarely occurs after a winning hand and is therefore extremely subject to results orientation and biased analysis. The kind of analysis that follows a mistake after winning a huge pot is usually nothing more than a relaxed pondering and indeed mistakes made in winning hands often lead to more fixing being done with the distraction of negative emotion firmly suppressed by the ecstasy of monetary success.

Like almost every kind of tilt the roots of mistake tilt dwell in the severe disconnect between the world of poker and the world we evolved in. In the former, terrible monetary short-term outcomes occur from good decisions on a regular basis. In the latter, good choices produce positive outcomes with a much higher degree of reliability. When you get your exam results back and score an F, it’s reasonable to assume that you performed badly. When you get your poker session results back and find that you’ve lost 4 buy-ins, such an assumption is completely unjustified.

Mistake tilt leads to a very unhealthy conception of mistakes. It causes anger and confusion and trains us that mistakes are something to be avoided at all costs and treated with distain. An unconfident poker player is an unsuccessful poker player. We need to transform the way we view mistakes.

This article is not actually about Mistake Tilt. It’s about the different kinds of mistakes that exist in poker – which of these are desirable to make and which are harmful and avoidable. Hopefully by understanding the five different types of poker mistake we can rewire our unhelpful human instinct to react in a negative way when we suspect an error has been made. As a result Mistake Tilt can be massively reduced, but as of now I’ll say no more about it.

The following chart shows five different types of poker mistake. Have a glance at it and see if you can form a guess at to what each might entail.

Mistakes Chart.png

  1. Unknown Mistakes

    An unknown mistake is one that the player is not yet aware of. It may be that he justifies a certain bad play that he makes habitually as fine, or that these mistakes simply slip under the radar of his introspective poker analysis. We should not worry about unknown unknowns in poker any more than we should in life, but just as in life, we should slowly try to reduce the quantity of them. These are not the kind of mistakes that hurt poker development as long as we make regular efforts to discover some of them and set to work on fixing them. These mistakes are by far the most common type of error we make every day.


  1. Confused Mistakes

    A confused mistake is a much more worrying plague than an unknown mistake. The confused mistake is one that would not ordinarily have happened had the student not bitten off more theory than he could chew. There exists a very definite and profound gap between the in-game and out-of-game abilities of aspiring poker players. If the student overloads his vat of freshly discovered concepts, the result is a spillage of confusion that not only affects the freshly discovered material, but spills over onto parts of his game he once considered solid or fully learned. Every newly assimilated concept makes perfect sense during the first digestion, but take too many of these new ideas to the tables before reinforcing them and the result is a mess. Confused mistakes are cloudy, frustrating errors that might not even be errors. You simply don’t know any more. Reduce the amount of these errors by learning at a pace your in-game thought process can keep up with.


  1. Tilting Mistakes

    Tilting, not tilted. Mistakes that are actually a result of and not just a cause of tilt will be ignored for our purposes. The reason for this is that mistakes caused by emotional interference cannot be rectified simply by understanding the different kinds of errors we are likely to make. Instead, fixing tilted mistakes requires work on the mental game and this is a subject that we do not have the space to touch on here.Tilting mistakes cause tilt; they are not a result of tilt. They are in fact usually completely fine and naturally occurring. Why is a tilting mistake so infuriating to make? Because the student thinks he ought to know better than to make it. This is the culprit belief that leads to unnecessary anger and self-loathing.Professional sports people make mistakes all the time. How often do you witness world class tennis players hit double faults or golfers land in the water? It’s not that they haven’t learned how to avoid hitting a ball into the lake. It’s just that every skill comes with a certain degree of failure. As poker is such a complex game, mastering the right thoughts that lead to the right actions in the small amount of time available is a lot more cognitively similar to golfing than to learning a simple mental skill like multiplying small numbers together.You might know how to play a balanced floating game vs. a c-bet but still end up making the odd suspect float. You might know that you should first work out your required equity to call a river bet before pressing any button but still finding yourself hitting the call button immediately. These mistakes are just natural building blocks in the learning model. As long as they gradually decrease as you learn something then you’re doing just fine.

    Anger arises from the fact that the concept in question is obviously not learned as well as the student would like to believe. It takes time to apply things perfectly in-game. Let the anger go. You are supposed to mess up, even when you know something.


  1. Investigated Mistakes

    Now we come to the type of error that is very beneficial. An investigated mistake is one that is well known, unconfused and not reacted to angrily. This cocktail of goodness leads to an inquisitive reflective reaction. The student files the mistake away until he has the adequate time to address it properly, tossing it away from the forefront of his decision-making. He is still engaged in a poker session and that demands full focus to maximise EV. When the student comes to review this mistake he may reason:“I know this is bad, but I need to find out why it occurred”I call this ‘culprit thought analysis’ and I practice it every day with my students. X is bad and X is known to be bad and you try to make good choices, therefore X was caused by some other thought that you are not aware of in hindsight.Instead of angrily ranting about how stupid X is and that you have no idea why you keep doing it, try to determine X’s causal thought. Perhaps your ill-timed river bluff against the fish was caused by a thought like “I need to take a stand” Look for thoughts that seem detached from EV and you can investigate why this kind of mistake occurs and eliminate it massively in future.

    The more of these mistakes we make the better. They are the ones that make us great players in the long run.


  1. Quick Fix Mistakes

    These are the end result of making lots of investigated mistakes. Even after we’ve fully and calmly examined why we make mistakes and understand the various culprit thoughts in play, we still mess up! Only now we can spot the culprit thought immediately and defuse it. We might even catch ourselves while the mistake is still internal to our thoughts and hasn’t yet resulted in a click of the wrong button. If you’re making lots of these mistakes you’re doing a very good job of learning, but note if you hadn’t understood the nature of the different poker mistakes, you could easily have turned a quick fix mistake into a tilting mistake.That’s all I’ve got to say on poker mistakes. Mistake Tilt should now appear an absurd reaction to a very normal phenomenon. I’ll refer once more to my favourite analogy of getting enraged by it raining in Scotland. Tilt caused by errors is very avoidable even if the errors themselves are not.

Poker Pitfalls 3: Learntertainment


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Session Types. Focus vs Volume.

Have you ever been in that kind of poker rut where you’re doing things you’ve been doing for a while and no longer know why? Some bead of wisdom that once made sense has long been turned into an automated thoughtless process and has crept malignantly into other areas of your game where it’s not welcome. Decisions have become a blur of half thoughts all scrambling over one another to reach the forefront of your mind and influence the finger to hit the right button.

What I’m referring to is the long term breed of autopilot that infects the volume crazed non-reflective grinder. It’s like a rot that grows over your once dynamic and thoughtful game. Succumbing to this ‘game rot’ is so easily done, but with a little planning on how we’re going to approach our grinding time, it can be avoided.

Volume sessions are our bread and butter money churners. They’re what put the dollar signs on the scoreboard at the end of the month. In a volume session we play as many tables as we’ve deemed appropriate to maximise our hourly even if our win rate per 100 hands is lower.  They are essential as making the maximum amount of money is after all our long term goal.

Focus session are a little different. In a focus session we play less tables than usual in order to give our minds more time to contemplate decisions and reach a greater depth in poker thinking. We accept a short term dip in hourly in exchange for improving our game in the long run. They too are essential as they generate time for what I’m going to call in-game thinking and this helps us in the following two ways as shown by the poker learning model below.

Screen Shot 2015-01-31 at 15.58.43

Out of game study is simply the work we do off the tables: either session reviews, theory lessons, watching videos and taking notes or whatever suits best.

Correct application is making sure that these newly learnt or newly enforced concepts are being translated into the right corresponding button pushes and bet inputs in game.

A good foundation is the upshot of applying the well learned concepts correctly and in a long lasting deeply ingrained way.

A strong fluid game is what we’re ultimately aiming for and is one that is both stable due to the good foundations and able to make small changes and adjustments wherever necessarily; to roam off the beaten track and find new temporary ways to play that haven’t been taught in out of game study.

In-game thinking is the ability to think to a sufficient depth during your session and to do this we need time.

So what does this model teach us? In-game thinking and, therefore, in game thinking time, are essential in not just one but two roles. Firstly, the ability to focus on the action in more detail allows us to ensure we are correctly applying the knowledge gained from out of game study and that we’re not creating bad habits through misapplication of new information. Moreover, in game thinking time oils the cogs of our poker game, making sure it’s always warmed up and versatile enough to adapt to new situations we have’t yet covered out of game. Henceforth, we avoid the stagnation explained at the start of this article.

So to briefly sum up, we really can’t do without in-game thinking time. This doesn’t mean that all of our sessions need to be focus sessions. After all, making money is our primary goal at the end of the day. However, if we fill our play schedule with entirely volume geared sessions, we see a gradual decay in the fluidity and solidity of our game and this is a higher price to pay than missing a few bucks in the short term.

Make sure for every few volume sessions you embark on that there’s one focus session thrown into the mix, where your mind gets the time to apply what it’s learned in a stable and accurate way. it’ll also get into the habit of thinking outside of the box and you’ll witness and increase in thought quality during volume sessions and with it an increase in your win rate. Get this balance right and you’re much closer to where you want to be in poker.