Learning how to learn

theory and practice

Some years ago, when I first started to play poker, I only ever played the game and didn’t devote any time whatsoever to studying. This of course isn’t a recipe for long term success because you eventually struggle when you go up against better players. It is no good getting loads of “experience” if what you are doing is wrong. The other end of the spectrum is of someone that only ever studies and doesn’t play poker. This person has more knowledge but lacks the poker playing skills that are required to be successful.

So which is best… totally playing the game and not studying or totally studying poker and not playing? I believe that both are correct in some capacity but both are also wrong. For example, if you are getting your poker knowledge from reading books then you simply will not retain most of what you read in the heat of battle which is the next best thing to never having read it in the first place. If all we are ever doing is reading words on a page, then not only is this failing to sink into our sub-conscious but it also isn’t being utilised in an actual poker playing environment.

I think that successful poker study needs to be broken down into two sectors. The first is to educate ourselves to be solid poker players with a keen eye for the basic fundamentals of the game. This can be achieved by reading books, reading articles and such.

Secondly, we need to be playing poker to identify if we have taken the information in and understood it. Reading something on a page doesn’t always translate to understanding it or being able to replicate that in battle at the actual poker tables.

Combining playing time with study time is the best way forward because when you play, you can see where your flaws lay. If you have a problem in 3-bet pots for example then you can go away and study some good poker material on 3-bet pots and then use that in your game. This is a far better way of working than reading about 3-bet pots and then playing poker. It is a much better way of learning to identify the problem first and then correct it. This may involve costing you more money but there is simply no way that you can get a poker education free of charge.

In this respect it is no different to any other profession that you happen to be learning. There is a combination of time spent learning and studying (which equates to money) and also the cost of the study material or course. Poker is no different because even free material on the internet comes at a price somewhere along the line.

The bottom line is that you need to balance in life just like you have to do at the poker table. This concept also applies to how you go about learning the game as well. Combining study time with playing time is the most effective way to learn. This applies to not just poker but anything in life that is skill based.

You would never dream of trying to learn to drive a motor car by doing it yourself and jumping behind the wheel with no practical instruction. Neither would you read driving theory books for several years and then convince yourself that you were a good driver despite never having been behind a wheel. Poker is exactly the same because you need to learn how to learn but once you know the right way to proceed, then life suddenly gets a whole lot easier.