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Focus Sessions | Smart Poker Study Podcast #8


Sky Matsuhashi

on January 20, 2016

Focus Sessions are necessary to put new plays/techniques into practice so we can develop them as permanent skills within our game.

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


This is Day 2 of my 30 Day Challenge to release a new podcast every day

Focus Sessions, Podcast #8

Podcast Mission

My mission is to teach you how to use FOCUS Sessions to systematically add new skills into your repertoire through focused, concentrated, deliberate play at the tables.

Unconscious Competence (UC) and the Adult Learning Model (ALM)

Do you feel your game has stagnated?

Are you having a hard time adding new skills or plays into your game?

Are you putting in study sessions, but not able to put into play the techniques you’re working on?

When we just load up the usual number of tables and unthinkingly start playing our normal game we can go on auto pilot.  That's not always a bad thing, but we’re relying on our unconscious competence (UC) to guide us through the session and make our decisions.

I learned about the UC in Jared Tendler’s book, ‘The Mental Game of Poker.’  The idea is that unconscious competence happens when you’ve learned a skill so well that you can perform it automatically, even while you’re concentrating on other things.

Building skills to the levels of UC is key to a poker player’s improvement.

So how do we build new skills to the level of UC?

To learn how, we can dive more into the UC.  It's part of the Adult Learning Model (ALM) which is the process of learning that we all go through.  There are four distinct levels in this process of learning:

  1. Unconscious Incompetence – this is where we don’t even know what we don’t know. We’re ignorant of the skills that we lack b/c we don’t even know they exist for others.
  2. Conscious Incompetence – now we know a bit more of what we didn’t know. We understand that there’s skill involved and we need to build specific skills into our game.
  3. Conscious Competence – reaching this level means we’ve done some work and added skills to our game through repetition, but we have to actively be thinking about what we’re doing as we’re doing it. Nothing is natural yet.  We have some skill, but if our mind’s preoccupied or we’re not concentrating, these skills vanish.
  4. Unconscious Competence – At this level we’re a skilled player, things feel natural and we have to barely think at all before we make the 3bet or cbet. It’s rather instinctual at this point and poker feels much more simplified b/c we have to concentrate less to employ our skills.

So, the goal is to build skills to the level of UC, where we act instinctively and are able to employ our skills without much thought or concentration.


One solution to this is to incorporate Focus Sessions in your play schedule.  A Focus Session gives you more time to think through your actions and consider all relevant info before you hit that raise or fold or call button.  This is working within the CC, which is the third level of the ALM.  These sessions give you more time to make decisions by cutting down the number of tables you play.  12-tabling doesn't allow your mind the time to actively think deeply about each situation you’re involved in, so trying to ingrain new skills in your game is near impossible when you’re being bombarded by decisions to make.

Your main goal in each Focus Session should be to put into action your newly developing skills, one at a time.  You’re trying to train something into your unconscious competence which takes dedicated effort to do.  A Focus Session of just 2-4 tables (if you normally 12 table) will give you plenty of time to look for spots to incorporate the new skills and techniques into your repertoire and time to weigh more factors in your decisions such as player stats and reads, table dynamics and situational factors.

5 Steps to Effective Poker Focus Sessions

Keeping in mind that Focus Sessions are all about having more time for decision making and training skills into your unconscious competence.

  1. Proper warm-up. I discussed warming up in episode 5, so if you missed that go back and listen to it.
  2. Limit the number of tables. Fire up three to four tables maximum (2 tables is preferable).
  3. Record your session. Create your own game tape and speak your thought process aloud clearly for each decision made. (I’ll talk about game tape in episode 11 in just a few days)  But for now, use a screen capture program and a microphone to record your Focus Session.  Speak through your thought process as you play.  You want to detail reasons for each action/decision you make.
  4. Notepad available. Keep a notepad to record necessary observations and hands that you want to review. You’ll also want to record situations that baffle you for later analysis, or ideas for future areas of study.
  5. Post-session review. You’ll want to conduct your post-session review the next day so you can look at your plays more objectively.  Review your notes, any marked hands in your poker tracking software, and watch your game tape.  Create a list of things to target in your next Focus Session.

Start incorporating Focus Sessions to build skills to the level of UC.  You’ll see more success on the felt and things will feel like they’re coming much easier to you.  I do one Focus Session in every 4 sessions I play.  This cuts down on the hands I play each week, but working on adding new skills is more important to me right now than grinding out more hands.

Podcast Challenge

Here’s my challenge to you for this episode: make your next session a FS.  Choose a skill you’re working on, and look for spots to put it to use.  Give yourself more time by playing less tables than normal, take notes on what you’re learning and record the session.  Make sure to review the entire session and see how well you employed your new skill.


Sky Matsuhashi

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