Keeping a journal can help your poker game

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By Sean Hansen

So, you just finished a grueling 15-hour marathon cash session. You played OK, but variance reared its ugly head and your exit was to your car and not to the cage. If you’re like most people, the drive home will be filled with a lot of self-talk, going back and forth between calling yourself a donkey, cursing the poker deities and an occasional healthy, rational thought.

The last thing you want to do when you get home is to keep thinking about the session, but this is exactly the best time to sit in front of your computer to write some session notes.

I ask my students to keep extensive journals, and while they all resist me at first, the students that end up actually doing it tell me that they love it. My head instructor here at Big Slick, Zack, encouraged me to start doing it and it dramatically helped my game. But you have to do it right. There are four things I tell my students to include in their journals:

• Things in the session you did well
• Mistakes you made
• Decisions you should’ve made
• What you want to work on in your next session

Four short paragraphs, 10 minutes of work, unless you have a hand that deserves in-depth EV analysis. After a good session, it’s great to bring you back to earth. Yeah, maybe you made four buy-ins today, but were there things you could’ve done better?

Probably. Your journal will help you from feeling bulletproof the next time you play and remind you you’re still capable of a mistake.

And when you bomb a session? Man, is it cathartic! After writing my journals at the end of a bad game, I instantly stop beating up myself. This is a game that requires continuous learning and study and I just did all that can be asked of me by making an honest assessment of my play and putting in the time away from the table to improve.

Sometimes I really hate writing in my journal. Maybe I’m tired and I’m pissed about how I played. Or, I played like a beast and don’t feel like I need to do the work when there are other things I want to do. But once I get started, I often find myself writing a few pages because I love this game and I truly enjoy the work of trying to improve. And before my next session I always review my notes.

The work you put in after a session is an absolutely crucial ingredient to your poker success. There’s a reason professional athletes don’t walk right off the field and into their cars.

— Sean Hansen is founder of Big Slick Poker Academy.