This is an article I originally penned for Pokersavvy Plus in my time working there. I have altered it in some small ways to reflect my current thoughts, though the core themes have been carried through.
Article: The learning Process and its Impact on your Poker Development. (by mjw006)
Too often I see people underestimate the value of learning to one’s development as a poker player. This is not going to be a long winded strategy article, nor will it be difficult to comprehend. In fact, it is a core basic which I believe many players overlook in their poker development. Contrary to the belief of many that merely browsing a strategy forum, reading a book, or watching a video will improve their game, it is truly understanding and internalising that knowledge which is important. I have been around training sites and strategy forums for quite some time now, and in that time I have learnt a lot, but without going out of my way to truly understand what I have seen, read, and heard I would have gotten nowhere.
This is not only a poker skill, it is also a life skill.
So what is learning...?
"Learning is the concerted activity that increases the capacity and willingness of individuals to acquire and productively apply knowledge and skills, to grow and mature and to adapt successfully to changes and new challenges" - (source)
"Learning is acquiring new knowledge, behaviours, skills, values, preferences, or understanding, and may involve synthesizing different types of information" - (source)
So if you are reading this article you have probably already taken the first steps in the poker learning process. That is, that you are interested in the game and have actively sought information from a poker training site, and likely other resources. Joining a training site can be hugely advantageous in someone's poker development; however it is how you utilise the resources, which is where the true value lies. In the following section I will discuss the various resources at hand and how I believe you can best gain value from these resources.
Training videos from professional players are a fantastic tool. You get an insight as to how a professional plays and thinks. Too many people in my opinion watch the video and believe that merely replicating the plays that they see will lead to success, where in reality this is a long way from the truth. When you are watching a video you should be thinking about the concepts at hand, the plays at hand, and most importantly the thought process at hand, and how applicable they are to your game. There is little to no correlation between the thought processes required in a $1k husng vs a regular, to the thought processes required in a $200 husng vs a fish. While at the same time there can be a lot of similarities between playing a fish at the $50 level and a fish at the $500 level (though there will not be a lot of similarities between playing regulars at levels so far apart). You need to extract the slices of information which are applicable to you and the game type/limit you are playing or intend to play. Quite often this lies in the thought process, and this is the beauty of the videos.
Taking notes while you are watching a video can really assist the learning process. But what do you take notes on...? Take notes on the concepts or lines which you think you could implement in your game, but more importantly, take notes on the things you do not understand. You have to be honest with yourself as to whether or not you truly understand a concept or reason for making a play. Once you have completed the video you need to think about your notes and decide whether you could implement a certain play in your arsenal, and the things you do not understand you must actively seek answers. In order to incorporate something to your arsenal you must truly understand what it is that you are doing. The only way to truly understand is to research and THINK about it. If you do not understand it, you need to discuss it with someone (there are many place to discuss: HUSNG forums/comments under videos/twoplustwo forums).
The concepts/plays/strategies/lines which are shown in poker training videos should not be taken for granted. Merely watching it does not mean you truly understand it. You must be honest with yourself and actively seek other resources if you do not understand it. If you do understand it, you must think about whether or not it is applicable to you, and furthermore how you can implement it into your game.
Forums are probably the most widely used resource in the poker world. Poker forums such as twoplustwo.com are quite often an ego filled pool of knowledge. Navigating your way past the ego's and to where the true knowledge lies is what is important. Forums are a great place to discuss hands, strategies, and concepts, not only your own, but you can truly gain in insight as to how others think. The beauty of forums is that often people disagree, and that is the beauty of poker in general. Quite often people honestly believe they are right and will bet their life savings on it only to find out that perhaps there is something more optimal.
Utilising forums to the best of your ability should be done in an objective manner. If someone disagrees with something you or someone else has said, there is a reason for it. Instead of disregarding someone else's opinion or thoughts, you should reflect, analyse, and question the varying opinions. There is a reason you are involved in the discussion on a poker forum, and that is generally that you are interested in learning and improving your game. However, too many people assume they know better because they are of a higher standing or they have more posts etc etc. Everyone has an opinion for a reason, and whether or not you believe in that opinion should not really matter all that much. The reasoning behind the opinion is what is important and instead of flaming what someone has to say, maybe you should take the time to understand why they are saying such a thing, and compare it to your own beliefs.
Poker forums can be viewed as an ego war, or, you can view them as a useful tool to develop your knowledge as a poker player. There is no need to get involved in useless arguments without any real grounds or merit, maybe you should take the time to analyse and reflect upon what someone else has said, and in fact what you are saying. Maybe you will learn something.
Books & Articles:
Reading a book or article can be pretty tiresome in my experience, but extremely useful. Merely sifting through the many pages and gathering the information is not really enough. Similarly to the training videos, you are getting an insight from someone with much more experience than that of your own in most cases. Similarly to forums you may not actually agree with the concepts or strategies presented in the book or article. I will say the same as I said in the previous sections; when reading a book or article you should be reading it objectively, and analysing and reflecting on what you have read.
Playing and Reviewing:
This is where the most dynamic and real learning will occur. If you are not learning whilst playing then you should take a good long look at yourself and your thought process. All of the hard information which is provided through books, training videos, articles, and forums, converges into your play when you are at the tables. It is now time to analyse how effectively you can implement certain strategies or concepts, and be constantly questioning your play. Poker is said to be "a game of incomplete information", and the most successful players will be those who gather the most information and use it most effectively. The players who believe they have conquered the game or don't have anything to learn are surely doomed for failure as those around them strive to improve and learn.
All of the knowledge you have gathered about poker is useless to you unless you can internalise the information. Even once you have truly understood concepts and strategies you must establish whether or not it is right for you, and the only way to do this is to be analysing its effectiveness while you play or after you have played a session. Too many players are on autopilot when they play poker, but it is so very important that you are thinking about what you/your opponents are doing, and whether or not it is optimal. Take notes as you play on the key hands, spots you did not understand what was happening, or lines taken which you think you can improve.
Reviewing your own play based on some of the notes you have taken, or by merely sifting through your database for hand histories, is critical in your poker development. You should be once again viewing hands or situations objectively, and learning from both your mistakes and your successes. When you review your play you can analyse the strategies or concepts you have learnt from other resources and decide whether or not you have effectively implemented them. Being honest with yourself is critical. Maybe that strategy is not optimal for your style of play, so you can review it, and further search for something more suitable. When you review your play, you must not just be looking into the hands or the match, you must be thinking deeper and trying to learn from what you or your opponent were thinking, and furthermore, if your thought process could have been better.
I have a great love for poker because it challenges me every day. Every day I am looking for answers to questions. These questions are in my head as I strive to improve my own game and hopefully that of others. Poker is a game which you can play for 100 years and still be learning more and more every single day. I hope you have learnt something about the resources available to you from this article, and I hope you can truly use some of this information to improve the way you think about poker.
Throughout my career so far, I feel privileged to have learnt from individuals who are much better than me, and have a much more in depth insight into the game. You should do the same.....