Playing winning poker is a lot like trying to put together a level 10 puzzle: there are a hell of a lot of pieces, but once you get a feel of how they all fit together, you're working with an impressive masterpiece. Reviewing sessions - and reviewing them properly - is just another piece of your puzzle. Knowing how to dig deep into what matters in a session will help you can learn from and consequently improve your game.
Knowing what spots to pick, what hands to look at and what exactly to look for can take years of experience to figure out.
Thankfully, you don't have to put in quite that much time. That's what I'm going to address here. Right now. In this article.
Now, this isn't to say it’ll be smooth sailing for you after reading this. Yes, I'm going to help make the process a whole lot easier, but you will still have to refine your practice to suit how you learn and your current skill level. For example, if you’ve never studied your sessions before, every spot may seem like it's worthy of analysis, but it's not. Experience is what will help you differentiate between the hot spots, and the ones you can skim past. What's more, the more you play, the more standard certain spots will seem and the less attention they'll require.
The most important hands to look at are:
1) The ones when something out of the ordinary happens;
2) The ones when got into a spot and didn't know what to do.
And the size of the pot isn't really that important.
Most of the time the biggest pots are coolers, and don't require much review. The point of studying sessions is to help you make the right decision no matter what's at stake, and eliminate any small (or large) errors through review and retention before they add up over time and hurt your win rate.
With this in mind, let's get into the more nuanced strategies for a productive study-session.
1. Note hands you're confused about during the session
Don't expect yourself to remember and be able to go back to them post-session. A lot can happen in one game and you can't guarantee you'll be able to recall specifics. Making notes means you'll be able to return to that exact spot in Hold'em Manager or Poker Tracker and analyze the info. Don't panic if you don't have this software: you can simply copy, paste and save your hand history and you've got the goods. Just don't try to look at the info during the session. It’s too distracting – and sometimes disheartening. Wait until after.
Make sure you do take notes every single time you play.
2. Make note when your opponents do something you don't do - and figure out why
Whether it's a good play or a bad one, we can always learn from our opponents. If a winning player is crushing it employing tactics that are totally foreign to you, maybe it's time you drink some of that Kool-Aid, ya know? Note the hands, even if you aren't involved in the situation. You probably will be sooner or later, and if you know how to avoid, navigate and/or manipulate the action, you're ahead of the game.
It's not just about making notes about your hands, either: you need to study your opponents' hands as well. You may not get why someone did something (for better or worse) while in the throes of action, but if you make note and study it, you can learn from it later.
Again, you’re going to want to be doing this every time you play.
3. Record your sessions and watch them at a later date
Yeah, yeah, you've got to catch up with Game of Thrones, or whatever the hell people are watching these days, but ogling Khaleesi won't bring home the bacon. By visually reviewing your games using screen recording software, like Camtasia, you can get some objective insight into the action. So don't watch it right after your done playing. Wait a day or two to let the dust settle and get some distance and insight into the important questions.
Aim to do this at least once a week.
4. Have someone watch you play
It's a little like voyeurism for poker players, except, you know, no one's naked. I assume. Inviting someone to watch you in action will take that objectivity to the next level. It's a lot easier for someone else to point out your mistakes than it is for you to recognize them.
Likewise, it's often easier for someone else to recognize when you're doing something right, since we tend to be our own worst critics. Of course, you'll have to invite someone to watch who is actually a solid player. Who knows their stuff. As much as you love your Mom, and as much as she may be great at both praising and criticizing you, unless she is a white-hot player, pick someone else.
If you don't have anyone to watch you play hit up the Gripsed community. There's always someone willing to trade a sweat session for a sweat session. Doing this once or twice a week is ideal.
THIS SAID, I get that a live audience might have you ready to puke, and if this is the case, refer back to #3: Record your session.
OR... you can always send a poker-savvy friend or respected peer a single hand history to get their input on a spot.
Say, "This is the situation and these are my assumptions about the player. What do you feel is the best play and most importantly WHY do you feel it's the best play?"
If you can run the hand by three to five people, that's great because you'll get more perspectives and more why's. The key lies in knowing that - in a lot of spots in poker - there is no clear 'right or best' play; often times each of the plays have great merit for their own reasons. Your job is to learn the why: the value in different approaches. Your job is to be open to creativity and flexibility in your play.
If, however, all five of your peers agree on one option, then you've probably found a situation where there is one clear, best play, and hopefully it's the play you picked too.
This is where Skype groups come in handy, since not only can you post the hand and get instant feedback, but – unlike a forum - you actually know who's giving you feedback, what their experience level is and how much weight to give their opinion.
And we know that instant feedback is one of the fastest ways to improve your game.
5. Plug in filters in Hold’em Manager to see if you are winning or losing
You can do this once you have a good database. Filters will help you get into the nitty-gritty by isolating certain situations and hands to see if you're playing profitably. You want to be doing this once a month to once every six months - depending on how much you play - since you need a lot of volume for the numbers to really mean anything in Hold'em Manager.
Here's how to set the filters to see if you're making or breaking yourself:
- Set for specific hands. Want to know if you're making money with pocket nines? Set a filter, and BAM: the intel is yours.
- Set for specific positions. You can take it a step further by seeing if you win with pocket nines in various positions. (Remember, it's common to lose money in the blinds or in earlier positions; determining whether or not your strategy is working depends on how much.)
- Set for specific situations. Do you make money with that pair (or whatever other hand) when you 3-bet or 4-bet?
- Set against specific opponents. See how certain hands in certain situations and positions fair against specific players. This is going to be particularly useful when you play a pile and consistently find yourself at the table with familiar opponents.
The idea with reviewing poker sessions is to start broad and go narrow to really wring as much information as possible out of each spot.
All these tips will help you do that. Just keep in mind it will serve you best to do them in order, since they all follow a natural progression.
Do you have any review session strategy you want to share? Lay it on me in the comments!