Poker Strategy

You’re Studying Hand Histories All Wrong!

You’re Studying Hand Histories All Wrong!

The Ancient Stoic Epictetus once said: “If you want to improve, be content to be thought foolish.” Nowhere is this more true than at the poker table, where growth is almost entirely dependent on the ability not just to weather the storms of variance, but to withstand the judgment from others as well as from within.

When first studying hand histories, most inexperienced poker players focus solely on analyzing their opponents rather than aiming their attention inwardly where it should be. They are scared to look foolish, even to themselves. But to have a shot at greatness, you must first overcome your most frequent opponent: yourself.

So if you’re still struggling to make consistent money at the poker table, consider turning your attention inward — beginning by asking yourself a specific question that will serve you well in your hand history study (and maybe in life too).

The Core Question

“How many mistakes — or areas of uncertainty — can I find in my own play?”

When employed properly, this core question serves as a guiding light, illuminating the path on the way to mastery. Forget other players and forget the forces of fate, or luck. Instead, focus only on finding as many areas of uncertainty in your own play – in your own decision making – as you possibly can.

As you begin to do that, keep in mind that it is completely natural to feel discomfort when first reflecting on the vastness of what you don’t actually know, but don’t let that stop you. Remind yourself constantly if necessary: the goal isn’t to have played perfectly in the past, but to hunt down clues to your shortcomings so you can transform them into strengths. By recognizing that the anxiety of self-reflection is the ego desperately trying to protect us from the discomfort of self-doubt, we can empower ourselves to reflect deeply on the things that will lead us towards growth.

Clues For Weakness

When studying poker hand-histories, there are certain thought patterns that hold higher value when it comes to revealing areas that require our attention. Here are some of the most helpful thoughts to look for:

“I’m not sure if this was the best play.”

This one may be obvious, but discovering a common poker situation in which you lack a clear strategic approach remains the holy grail of poker study. The more frequently the situation occurs in an average game, the higher priority you should give it. One tip is to seek out a handful of such scenarios to rank in order of frequency and then proceed in analyzing them in that order.

“I hate when this happens/my opponent does this.”

Ultimately, a game of cards is agnostic, it doesn’t have favorites and it certainly doesn’t conspire against us. Feeling annoyance, irritation, or injustice at a specific situation or an action taken by an opponent is a perfect signal to investigate.

Would I hate a situation where I knew the exact right approach to maximize my earnings? Would I hate an opponent making a play that I had analyzed in far greater depth than he or she had? Of course not. Meaning that I better stop hating and get to work figuring out the knowledge gap that’s impeding my progress.

“Why do I always do this?!?”

The next time you hear yourself saying some version of this, get up from your chair and high-five yourself because you are now at the doorstep of greatness. There is nothing more powerful for your development as a poker player than plugging the “leaks” you have become intimately familiar with. These recurrent tendencies hinder your progress, deflate your confidence, and destroy your bottom line. The key is to refuse to get down on yourself when they surface, embrace the excitement of discovering a persistent pain-point, and begin analyzing both the internal and external factors responsible for its repeated appearance, as well as your struggles with it.

Then, repeat forever.

Just as one person delights in improving his farm, and another his horse, so I delight in attending to my own improvement day by day.

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