Team talk

When learning new concepts, don’t forget what you already know

It’s vital you take on board new concepts and strategies in a bid to improve

Being as this is my first Team Talk for PokerPlayer I think I’ll just come right out and say it – my name’s Nick and I’m addicted to poker.

This addiction has led me to strive for improvement at the game, which I’ve done by both logging table hours and good old-fashioned textbook reading. My playing-to-learning ratio is probably around six to one, but the fact I’m a paid-up member of two poker training sites, have a shelf-full of strategy books, and spend more time on poker forums than can be considered healthy, it should give you some idea as to how much cumulative time I spend thinking, talking and learning about poker.

Whisper it quietly, but I think I’m a bit of a poker geek! I’m sure some of you are nodding along thinking, ‘That sounds like me – what’s wrong with that?’ Well, in life, as in poker, you need balance. And just as there’s more than one way to skin a cat, obsession in poker can take on many forms. There’s the obvious things like playing when you shouldn’t, and logging on for ‘just the one sit-and- go’ only to find yourself still playing at four in the morning. But there are more subtle powers at work, too…

I’ve learnt so much from training sites and other educational materials, far more in fact than I would have done through purely independent thought or simple playing time. But have you ever heard the phrase, ‘Take care of the minutes and the hours will look after themselves?’ Well someone forgot to factor in the seconds!

Some of the concepts I’ve picked up along the way have made me a worse player over the short- term, because I became so excited about learning a new ‘trick’ that I would focus purely on that tiny part of the game and forget everything else I’d learned along the way.

Often the concept I’d start off trying to add to my arsenal would become mutated and things would go horribly wrong. Take the notion of pot control for instance. I first heard and learnt about this while watching a training video by Full Tilt pro Jon ‘PearlJammer’ Turner, who is exceptional at pot control. Suddenly, out of nowhere, the amount of times I made continuation bets in position nose-dived. I was a checking machine!

I’d flop top pair, good kicker, on a dry rainbow board and just check it right back to my passive opponent, when I should have been betting with, very likely, the best of it. Of course competent opponents soon cottoned on to this and realised that I was only c-betting with strong hands and so could often bet me off pots on later streets. My game naturally suffered as a result.

Out of context Another concept that I’ve taken too far in the past is that of ‘there’s no point in betting the river because I’m only going to get called by a hand that beats me’. Well, that may be true if our opponents always played perfectly, but no one does – not even Phil Ivey! I mean, how many times have you bet on the river with the winning hand and been called, only to be shocked at what your opponent called with?

But there I was checking behind with sets when an unlikely backdoor straight or flush emerged on the river, even though it was far more likely my opponent had a worse hand and would pay off a value bet.

If I’ve been suffering from these fundamental problems, there’s a good chance many of you have too. So how do you recognise and overcome these schoolboy mistakes and learn from them for the future?

A good starting point is taking time to think about everything you’ve learnt in poker. Then, when you come to put it into practice at the tables, to stop and think about the situation away from the books. As PokerPlayer contributor Nick Wealthall says on p49, poker teachings often assume poker is played in a vacuum, when it isn’t.

It’s vital you take on board new concepts and strategies in a bid to improve, but make sure that you play each hand and situation on an individual basis and remember to vary your play so you don’t become predictable.

It’s fine to be obsessed with poker, and it’s great if you’re constantly learning and improving, but when looking to the future be careful you don’t forget the past.

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