Deliberate Practice for Poker

Deliberate Practice for Poker: In a 2006 Fortune Magazine article titled "What it takes to be great", writer Geoffrey Colvin wrote the following:

The best people in any field are those who devote the most hours to what the researchers call "deliberate practice." It's activity that's explicitly intended to improve performance, that reaches for objectives just beyond one's level of competence, provides feedback on results and involves high levels of repetition.

For example: Simply hitting a bucket of balls is not deliberate practice, which is why most golfers don't get better. Hitting an eight-iron 300 times with a goal of leaving the ball within 20 feet of the pin 80 percent of the time, continually observing results and making appropriate adjustments, and doing that for hours every day - that's deliberate practice.

Here's how it applies to poker:

Deliberate Practice is the only path to greatness in any form of poker. Here is how to apply it specifically to Super Turbo SNGs.

It's very important to make a note of the hands that are close decisions. That way you can go straight to those hands in SNG Wizard after your session and determine whether you played the hand correctly. Most early game push-fold situations can be memorized, but as players get eliminated and the stacks sizes become more unequal, you must rely on experience and your knowledge of ICM to guide you. You also have to factor in what you think your opponents' pushing, limping and/or calling ranges are.

So when I am faced with a close decision, I'll make my decision to the best of my ability, then I'll write on my notepad something like "2268 KJ P6". This helps me quickly find the hand later for review in SNG Wizard. 2268 is the last four digits of the tournament number. KJ is the hand (king-jack) and P6 means I "pushed when it was 6-handed". Or I sometimes I write down "2268 bub". This tells me that I want to review the bubble hands. This means I will look at each hand played during the time when four players remained.

At the end of a 1-hour session, I might have noted seven or eight hands I want to look at, and I immediately do so while the hands are still fresh on my mind. Doing the review soon after the session helps me remember the specific game conditions at the time the hand was played.

For example, I might choose to fold my small blind on a close decision, because last orbit I got caught shoving J3 and I think the big blind is probably willing to call me pretty wide this time. I'll want to see what a SNG analysis of the hand reveals if I adjust my opponent's calling range to include more hands.

Don't neglect this aspect of your poker skill growth. You should review hands every day that you play. If you stop doing this for a while, you'll start making mistakes that you wouldn't have made a week or month earlier.

Learning to play SNGs well is NOT like learning to ride a bike. The saying goes that once you learn to ride a bike, you'll always know how to ride a bike. But if you manage to learn how to play SNGs well, you'll still have to work hard just to even maintain that ability.

If all you do is play, you'll maintain or improve your ability to read other players hands (a very necessary skill), but your ability to know what to do with that information will deteriorate (or at best not improve). So you must practice. Tiger Woods still has to practice and so do you.

Also, you should often make a note to review hands in cases where your decision wasn't that close. For example, you might be dealt Q8s on the button and instantly you realize you're not sure what you're going to do if it's folded to to you. It's really a close decision. You look at the players to your left to see if you know them to be tight or loose.

But before you come to a conclusion, someone else shoves all-in making your decision a no-brainer fold. You should still make a note of this hand for later review! Don't just think to yourself "Oh well it doesn't matter now, since that other player shoved" and then forget about it. Note it, then when you review it in SNG Wizard you can change that player's shove to a fold and analyze the hand as if it were folded to you.

Another example is when you see two other players get all-in against each other. Your decision in the hand may have been a easy fold, but you might wonder whether or not that other player's all-in-call was correct. So note it and review it later from the perspective of the other player.

Sometimes I might have an obvious push, but I still want to review it. For example, I am dealt AQ and know it's a shove, but I wonder to myself "what if I had been dealt AJ?. Is AJ a shove in that spot? I don't think so, but I want to find out."

SNG Wizard allows you to change your hand from AQ to AJ or whatever and analyze it that way. Occasionally, I'll find out that not only was AJ a fold, the AQ that I shoved should have also been folded, and I'll try to figure out why. Maybe it was because the big blind was pot-committed with a tiny stack, and shoving my big stack through a couple other big stacks and this tiny stack made the risk-reward unfavorable. This will serve as a warning to watch out for that type of situation in the future.

So remember that it's important to write down which hands you want to review. If you merely browse through your different games in SNG Wizard looking for hands that stand out, you'll miss a lot of the hands you need to be studying. One reason for that is because sometimes the default calling ranges that SNG Wizard assigns are not realistic. You might have a close decision with pocket fours, decide to fold it but you don't write it down.

Later SNG Wizard could display a check mark next the hand (meaning you made the correct decision). The check mark will cause you not to notice the hand and you won't review it. But had you reviewed it, maybe it would have shown that the opponents were assumed to be calling with 17% of their hands, but you know that they were more likely to be calling with only 8% of their hands. And that would make it a clear push and even pocket 33 should have been pushed. The fold was wrong. You needed to know this, but you didn't make a note of it and you will probably keep making the same mistake in the future.

Deliberate practice for poker isn't always enjoyable. It would be more fun to just play poker, but if you want to continue to improve beyond intermediate level, you must pay the price with your time and effort. Nobody gets to the top without the specific type of hard work known as deliberate practice.

Recall the definition of deliberate practice from earlier.

"It's activity that's explicitly intended to improve performance, that reaches for objectives just beyond one's level of competence, provides feedback on results and involves high levels of repetition."

END Deliberate Practice for Poker article.

If you want to read that Fortune Magazine article, you can find it here:

"What it takes to be great" by Geoffrey Colvin

return from "Deliberate Practice for Poker" back to "Super Turbo FAQ"

related article: Why Specialize?

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