March 13 – The Poker Improvement Cycle

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So this week kind of escaped me. I meant to write a blog post the other night, but got insanely tired. Tonight is no different, but I’ve been thinking about this the last few days and wanted to get this out. I want to write about the improvement cycle. Regardless of where you are in your poker career, you are focused on improving. If you are not, you are fucking up. If you honestly think you have mastered this game, then you should probably quit. I mean that 100%.

objective learning

Poker is a game where improvement is always possible. Anything that is subjective in nature will allow for infinite learning, assuming the level of subjectivity isn’t finite. For instance, if you were going to learn geometry, your learning graph would look nothing like a poker learning graph. Geometry is finite, there is no subjectivity. Everything is provable and nothing changes. Poker isn’t like that. Yes, there are certain truths in poker (reasons why we bet, hand strengths, underlying math, etc), but the rest of the game is subjective as all hell. “How is he going to react if I bet this turn card?” “Is he an elastic or inelastic caller?” “Is 2pair really good against his calling range?”. The answers are subjective, there are a huge number of unknowns, and thus our information and answers become massively imperfect.
Now, as you continue improving and learning in poker, your answers/plays become closer and closer to perfect. But, as any poker player will tell you, there are some issues with the learning process. For instance, often times I will have a student and we will find an issue in their game. Let’s just take “facing a 3b” as a basic example. We will look through their hands and DB, and find out that they are folding to too many 3bets. So much so, that they are exploitable (say their FoldV3B = 80%). We will talk about ways to fix this leak, which is usually done by opening stronger, flatting some hands that they were folding before, or 4betting some hands that they were folding before. We will discuss some strategies, the hour will end, and we won’t see eachother for a few days.
When our next session starts I will say “So, we talked about fixing that leak last time, how has it been going since?” They will show me their DB and they will now have a FoldV3B stat of 40%, a 4B of 5%, and a CallV3B of 55%. They by all means fixed the leak of being exploitable when facing a 3bet. However, they are now most likely calling 3bets too much. And then we would discuss fixing that and coming up with something that works for them. In doing this, we went from one extreme (folding too much) to another (folding too little most likely). This is standard. And then the next session they would show me a FoldV3B of 60%, a 4B of 10%, and a CallV3B of 30%…constantly getting closer and closer to something that works for them.

poker improvement

The point with this example was not to talk about how to react facing a 3bet. The point is to talk about what happened in the learning process. The student learned something that needed to change, they did so…but overadjusted. They then fixed it, readjusted, and kept doing so until they found something that worked for them. This is how learning in poker works. You keep experimenting with certain things until they work in a given strategy. Sometimes overadjusting, sometimes underadjusting, but all the while getting closer and closer to “perfection”.
Now, the issue in poker is that perfection is impossible. Even if you found a “perfect” strategy for today’s games, that in noway means it would be perfect tomorrow. Because of that (and most of it stems to an ever-changing player pool, knowledge increase, and other variable conditions), all we can do is hover as close to the perfection level while playing and learning. And this is true for players of all levels and calibers. For instance, I am still learning and improving my game. I have recently been working on a different strategy in my postflop-3b game when I 3bet. The first few sessions I tried it I adjusted one way (CB-ing 50%), I had X result. The next few sessions I tried CBing 100%, and I had Y result. The next few sessions I tried 75% and had Z result. X wasn’t a good result, Y was getting me murdered, but Z got me in the ballpark of static success. So I adjusted, readjusted, and kept adjusting until I found something that worked in a given strategy for myself.
Does this mean the answer I came to will work tomorrow? Most certainly not. In fact, as the games continue to mature, you will be constantly getting pushed further away from the perfection line. You must constantly be one step ahead of the game, riding the wave of information, and implementing strategies that are as close to optimal as possible. I’m sure this entire post was rambly, but I’m exhausted. The big point is don’t beat yourself up over not getting pure mastery. As far as you need to be concerned, there is no such thing in such a subjective game. Constantly work at staying as close to perfection as possible, while acknowledging that you will never be perfect. And the games will always be changing, so learn how to process information in a singular and global sense as quickly as possible to get to optimal/near-optimal answers as rapidly as possible.
Sorry for the ramble. Hopefully it motivates at least one person though =)


My name is James "SplitSuit" Sweeney and I'm a poker player, coach, and author. I've released 500+ videos, coached 500+ players, and co-founded the training site Red Chip Poker. Contact me if you need any help improving your poker game!

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