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5 Key Concepts for Poker Study Noobies | Episode #205


Sky Matsuhashi

on October 4, 2018

In this episode, I discuss the 5 key concepts that every fresh-faced poker student must explore.  It's time to take this beyond a hobby and work to develop important skills.

Download and listen to this episode as you follow along below.


5 Key Concepts for Poker Study Noobies (2:25)

You’re one of my listeners because you’re intent on improving your poker skills. You want to take this beyond just a hobby. You’re looking to be better than the competition so you’ve started studying and adding new skills to your game.

There are 5 critical concepts to focus on for every poker study noobie. And, even if you’ve been studying and improving your game for a while now, these 5 concepts may help you focus your efforts.

#1: Have a goal (3:20)

There must be a reason you’re taking poker beyond a mere hobby. What’s your goal with all this studying and playing?

Having a goal to pursue is going to make it more likely that you’ll continue pushing yourself for improvement.

  • Maybe you have a goal of making additional income and you think poker’s the way.
  • Maybe your goal is simply to learn a new skill because you’re a lifelong learner and enjoy adding skills to your repertoire.
  • Or, maybe you love poker so much you want to turn it into a career and go pro.
  • Maybe you just love poker, it’s fun, and it’s even more fun when you’re winning. So, you’re studying to win more to have more fun.
  • Maybe you play in home games and you want to crush your friends. Basically, your goal is bragging rights.
  • Or, maybe it is just a hobby to pass the time, but if you’re going to keep playing, you might as well get better while you’re at it.

#2: Choose one game (4:35)

If you’re like me, you started out playing every form of no limit holdem. You tried cash, tournaments and SNG’s. You played LIVE and online.  You tested out other variants like Pot Limit Omaha, Omaha 8 or even Stud, Pineapple or Razz.

Varying the games and formats you play keeps things interesting, but it’s not how you’re going to develop your skills the best. You’ve got to choose one and go with it.

A lot of the skills that make for successful tournament play also works for cash games, and vice versa. But there are some strategies and aspects to tournaments that have nothing to do with cash games. Great tournament players study money bubble's and ICM. They learn about how play changes from the early stages to the middle stages where the antes kick in. They also study how to get from 3 tables to 2 tables and ultimately the final table. And they also study final table play and pay jumps. None of those skills are directly applicable to cash games. So, if you’re trying to play and study both simultaneously, you’re short-changing your poker development.

So, choose one game and one format and go with it. Dedicate all of your time on and off the felt to improving just those skills. I recommend you choose the one game and format that you find most enjoyable because that will help to sustain your skill development journey.



#3: Study one skill at a time and put it to use (6:50)

I've talked about this so many times: don’t allow yourself to be overwhelmed by all the poker content out there.  Too many of us allow our studies to jump all over the place.

For example, and I know we’re all guilty of this, you watch 3 training videos in one day: one on cbetting, one on bet sizing and one playing AKo and missing the flop. Those are 3 vastly different strategy topics, so what are you going to put into use in your next play session? Are you going to work on your cbet sizing as the preflop raiser holding AKo? That’s a pretty specific situation that won’t come up too frequently in your next session.

Choose ONE

How about instead you focus on just one of those 3 things? The first video you watch on cbet strategy should be where you pull your in-game practice from (and don’t even bother watching the other two videos). Maybe the video creator discusses cbetting on flops where there are a lot of turn cards that can add equity to your hand. So, in your next session you can look for these opportunities and act upon them. This is like holding the JsTs on the 962 board with one spade. Any spade on the turn gives you a flush draw, an 8 or Queen gives you an open-ended straight draw and a Jack or Ten gives you top pair. So, you cbet the flop and then you double-barrel on the turn spade, Queen, Jack, Ten or 8.

This is a perfect use of your study and play time. You watched one video, took notes, pulled out one strategy then put it to use. I guarantee you found more benefit by simplifying your studies this way than the person who watched 3 videos in one day.

So, don't overload yourself with poker content. Study one skill at a time, and then put one thing to use in your next session.

#4: Have a reason for every play you make (11:20)

There are only 5 options possible at any decision point in poker: check, call, bet, raise or fold. That's it. And with only 5 options, you would think that poker would be a simple game, but that’s far from accurate.

To make the most profitable choice out of those 5 options, you need to have a reason for every play you make.

Let's say you're thinking about making a continuation bet. Some players just automatically cbet 100% of the time. They don't have a reason behind their bet, they're just betting because they were the raiser on the prior street, and betting is just what they should do.

Now this is not a good enough reason. A better reason would be something like, “I am cbetting for value with my top pair hand because my opponent can call with 2nd or 3rd pair hands.” That's a good reason to cbet. Or, maybe you're cbetting as a bluff because “I'm betting my Ace King here on the 10 high board because my opponent is folding most of the time without a pair. If they decide to call, I still have 6 outs to an over pair on the turn.”

Bam! Another good reason to bet, this time as a bluff.

Maybe you can't voice a reason

For many players new to taking poker seriously, you might not be able to voice the reason for your chosen play. Maybe it just feels right to you without any logic to back up your decision. That’s totally okay. You maybe don't know enough strategy just yet, so, you can’t fully articulate your reasons.

When you’re in this situation, where a play feels right, go ahead and make the play but tag the hand or take a note so you can review it off the felt.

When you’re off the felt you have more time to work through the situation and come up with the best play. If you made a correct play, great, your instincts sent you in the right direction. If your chosen play was incorrect, great!  You just learned a little something that you can take with you into the next situation just like this.

#5: Put yourself in Bread & Butter spots (13:40)

If you don't know what Bread & Butter is, I highly recommend that you check out episode #187 because I discussed it in detail there.

But, to get you poker study noobies on the right path, B&B spots are where most of your poker profits come from in NLHE. B&B is where you get to the flop as the preflop raiser, in position, against 1 or 2 opponents.

Because this is the most profitable spot to be in, winning players try to put themselves in this situation as much as possible.

This is just one of 24 different ways you can get to the flop.

First, there are 4 different preflop actions you can take:

  1. Be the preflop raiser
  2. Be the preflop caller
  3. Limp or open-limp (this is calling, but even weaker than calling a 2bet)
  4. Or as the preflop big blind checker

Next, there are 3 different numbers of players on the flop:

  1. 2 players (heads-up)
  2. 3 players
  3. 4 players+ (multi-way pots)

Finally, there’s relative position on the flop:

  1. You can be in position
  2. You can NOT have position

If we multiply these out, 4 x 3 x 2 = 24 ways to see the flop.

And B&B is the most profitable of these 24.

If you’re an online player with a database of hands you can go through and filter for all 24 of these spots to see your profits and win rate in each.  Over a good sample like 20,000 hands or more, I guarantee that you’ll find B&B spots are the most profitable with the highest win rate. The lowest win rate will possibly be as a preflop caller or a limper, out of position, multi-way.

So, your big take away here is to actively try to put yourself in B&B spots. This means you’re raising more frequently than calling preflop, you’re not limping, you look to have post-flop position, and you avoid multi-way pots.

Challenge (16:15)

Here’s my challenge to you for this episode:  Watch the video I embedded in the show notes called “Poker Study Routine Simplified for Beginners” and start conducting your studies this way. You study one thing at a time and put one strategy into action during your next session. You learn one new thing, then you practice it. Repeat this process over and over. This will help you achieve your poker goal.

Now it’s your turn to take action and do something positive for your poker game.

Support the Show

Jon Homan and Paul Stulac purchased PokerTracker 4 to improve their online play, and they supported the show by going through my affiliate link.  In appreciation, I sent them each a copy of my Smart HUD.  Click here to get a free trial of PokerTracker 4.

Up Next…

In episode 206, I’m going to give you a 3-question Q&A.

Until next time, study smart, play much and make your next session the best one yet.


Sky Matsuhashi

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