3 steps to improve your poker skills by reviewing your play

JL-note-taking-300x200It is well known that if you are not constantly improving your poker skills, you are falling behind. In this blog post., I will share with you 3 steps you can follow that will immediately help you improve your poker skills.

Step 1:

Record your play.

You can do this in live poker by carrying around a notebook and writing down all relevant and interesting hands you play. I make a point to write down every single hand I play in major live poker tournaments any time the hand consists of more than a raise and continuation bet. This leads to a lot of writing but once you get used to it, it will become second nature. I also make a point to note my opponents’ tendencies so I know which adjustments I should make. Be sure to write down your hand, the effective stack, the blinds and your position as well as all of your opponents’ actions. Writing down “I had A-Q, he raised, I reraised, he went all-in, I called and lost to A-J” will not be useful to learning as you are missing numerous important details.

Online, you can download various poker tracking programs, such as Hold’em Manager, to record your hands and your results. This makes for extraordinarily simple hand reviewing, making your job much easier.

Step 2:

Review your play.

In order to discover your mistakes, you must review your hands after you have played them with a clear mindset. Quite often, you will not be thinking soundly at the poker table which will cause you to make errors. Very few people commit major blunders at the poker table on purpose.  After you are finished playing and are no longer actively involved in the game, you should review your hands and think about all of your possible decisions. Try to figure out if the outcome could have been better if you played the key hands differently.

You must realize that quite often, when you bust or lose a large pot, you did nothing wrong. Some players think that if they get A-K all-in and lose against their opponent’s Q-Q, they made a mistake. Most of the time, that situation is unavoidable. You should not be worried about the fairly standard spots and bad beats where everyone goes broke. You have to be concerned with the situation where some people go broke and others do not.

For example, one situation where amateur players go broke frequently when professionals do not is when both players have top pair but you have the worst kicker. Amateur players typically raise and reraise the flop only to find out they are crushed when all the money goes in. Professionals call their opponent’s continuation bet on the flop and then evaluate the bets on the later streets, electing to either fold or call down, losing a small pot. Sometimes what appears to be a standard set up is easily avoidable.

I suggest you not only review the large hands you lose but also the somewhat mundane pots. Quite often, players will discover they are butchering a standard situation that comes up frequently, such as not continuation betting enough or always calling with a draw on the flop instead of occasionally raising. Make a point to review all of your play. You must understand this will not be a quick process. I would estimate I spend about an hour per day reviewing my play. I suspect most players would be much better off if they study and review their play an amount of time equal to the amount of time they actually spend at the poker table.

I also suggest you find a group of peers to review your hands with. You will find that discussing concepts with other players will help all of you grow as poker players much faster than if you only study alone. If you want to post hands for me and other players to review, check out the forums at FloatTheTurn.com.

Step 3:

Recognize your flaws.

Once you have figured out what you are doing incorrectly, you must make a point to not commit the same errors in the future. It can be quite difficult to force yourself to change your default playing style once it has become ingrained into your mind. You must realize that every time you make an error, you are giving your hard earned money to someone else. Since most people want to hold on to their money, this should be motivation enough to improve. To help me focus on correcting my leaks, I carry around a list that outlines them.

For example, I tend to not give players enough credit when they are willing to put a lot of money in the pot in an overly aggressive manner. While I think their play is only good as a bluff, because why else would you put in so much money that their opponent must have a premium hand to call, they are putting their stack in because they are afraid of getting outdrawn. Once you know your leaks, you can constantly think about them and recognize the situations you typically mess up before they occur, allowing you to make the correct decision in the heat of battle.

I hope this blog post helps motivate you to take your game to the next level. Becoming excellent at poker demands a lot of hard work and dedication. If you have any questions about this process, feel free to ask in the comments section below or on twitter @JonathanLittle. Thanks for reading!

17 Comments

  • SEAN MCKINNEY says:

    Anybody that plays competitive chess will already be familiar with these tactics.

  • idriss Elouilani says:

    I voted every day until the 8 of April, in general I like to win because you deserve it

  • John Joyce says:

    Thanks JL,
    something I should be doing more of I think. Will try to dedicate more time to reviewing.
    OneWorld aka F15HH00K5.

  • Sean says:

    Woohoo lets beat phil ivey!

  • Rooie says:

    I just wanted to thank you Jonathan for all your emails and teaching us to be a good poker player.
    We all will vote for you every single time.

  • CARLOS says:

    Excellent as always!
    I’ve been following your recommendations, your literature & videos for a couple of month and I’ve been improving my game thanks to you.

  • Cary Marshall says:

    I had second thoughts about voting for you vs Daniel and Phil. But when it came right down too it, the money ive spent with you has paid huge dividends thus far, so voting for you became a nobrainer! Thanks for everything Jonatan!

  • Ken Adams says:

    I’ve been recording my hands in notebooks @ table for >20 yrs. At final table WSOP-C Balto Event 12, player objected to my pen being on table behind chips between hands. 1st time in 20 yrs. Dealer agreed. Had to move pen.????????

    • Some casinos do not let you have anything on the felt besides your chips. Everything else (phones, pens, cash, etc) must be on the rail. Silly enough, they usually let people use card protectors though.

  • Mannes says:

    Re: Point 3. Recognize your flaws
    When I review my play post-mortem (with or without the benefit of notes) I am often shocked at the blunders I commit in game and under pressure. For example, a hand I played at a recent $240 buyin tournament at level 2 with 55 BB effective. I am in the BB with AKo. UTG opens to 2.25BB, LP calls and I raise to 11 BB (so far so good, I think, although I can see an argument for flat calling OOP here). UTG think-calls and LP folds. We go to the flop with a ~25 BB pot. The flop comes K85 all hearts. I check, UTG bets 15 BB and I shove for my remaining 44 BB. The problem here is, if I simply call his cbet, I am still ahead of much of his range which includes draws with Ah etc. However, when I shove, he’s only calling me with the part of his range that crushes me. On reflection, I should not have made this sort of a play but somehow my protectionist impulse led me to it.
    The result? UTG calls with AhAx (oops!) and I’m at the cage for a re-entry. I didn’t repeat this type on nonsense on my second bullet and hopefully will not again in this life.

  • Mike says:

    Thanks, very useful post! As a poker player, it’s so easy to forget how important it is to keep reviewing and analyzing your game. It’s a lot more fun to just play, so that’s what most prefer to do rather than studying/reviewing. Myself included :)! Being honest to yourself and recognizing your flaws is also not easy, especially in a pretty ego driven game like poker.

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