In just about any endeavor, if you’re not growing, you’re not likely to succeed. As legendary hoops coach John Wooden said “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”
Never is this more true than in poker. Most players I know, including myself, go through periods of growth coupled with flat periods of no growth. And what about those players who don’t go through this? They remain completely flat, mired in a vicious cycle of blame and self-loathing interrupted periodically by a lucky run that only serves to reinforce their perpetually horrific play.
Poker is a game of never-ending learning that can never be mastered. Ask anybody who has played for a while and they’ll tell you the game has changed a lot in the past five years and is different from what it was 10-20 years ago. So, here are a few exercises to help you get in growth mode on a consistent basis.
First, be honest with yourself. How often are you in growth mode? Do you think you know it all? When you sit at a table, are you of the opinion that you can “outplay” anyone there? How much do you try to learn?
After you’ve contemplated this for a while, then ask yourself how much your game has changed in the past few months, the past year and the past few years. What’s different? What have you learned? Are you surprised by how flat you’ve been during any of these periods?
No matter what your answers are, now is the time to be proactive going forward. If you’ve been honest, you’ll recognize there have been far too many periods of non-growth. Make a list of your strengths and areas for improvement at the poker table and then write five goals you have to work on in those areas of improvement.
Every time you play, try to learn something new about yourself and how others perceive you. Try to make at least one experimental play. Go against your instinct at least once. After the session, evaluate your play and not the results. Be honest in your assessments and don’t automatically attribute a winning hand to a good play.
Finally, every week learn something about poker outside of a session. Talk to a buddy. Discuss hands, but also discuss philosophy, strategy and tactics. Poke holes in each other’s theories. Question accepted wisdom. Pick up a book. Read some back issues of this magazine.
Keep a journal of your progress and in a year look back to see how much you’ve progressed and see if you were consistently growing the entire year and if you managed to avoid those flat periods.
— David Apostolico is the author of numerous poker strategy books including Tournament Poker and The Art of War. His latest, You are the Variable is available on Kindle. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.