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The Hardgainer’s Guide to Effective Poker Study in 2024


Sky Matsuhashi

on January 10, 2024

Are you a poker hardgainer? You try to improve your skills with studying, but no matter how much studying you do, you’re still the same player you were when you started this journey.

It doesn’t matter how many videos you watch, books you read, podcasts you listen to or notes you take. You just can’t seem to successfully use the strategies.

If this sounds like you, you’re a poker hardgainer! There are millions just like you out there and today, we’re going to flip the switch on your studies, and you’re going to move the needle on your poker skills and results this year.

The study strategies you’re going to learn today will be the driving force behind working with purpose every month and achieving your goals this year.

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Check out these two podcast episodes to help you crush 2024:


The Hardgainer's Guide to Effective Poker Study

How Much Should I Study?

1 Study Session for Every 1 Play Session

You should do 1 study session for each play session. If you play 5 sessions per week, study 5 sessions.

It’s like sharpening the axe before chopping the tree.

Do your studies before you play as a warm-up, or after to review your session. Do them in the morning when your mind is fresh and you’ve got your cup of coffee then play later that night.

Study during your lunch break. Listen to podcasts or audiobooks on your commute. Then play after work.


Follow a 3:1 Play to Study Ratio for TIME

This means that 25% of your daily/weekly time is dedicated to study. Sharpen that saw!

If you can play for 60 minutes today, put in 20 minutes of study at some point.

If you can play for 6 hours this week, study for 2 hours.

One of the great things about starting any task is that a little can turn into a lot! I’ve sat down to do a single hand reading exercise loads of time, but then I end up doing 4 more on the same situation! Once you start seeing the benefits of study, you'll naturally want to do it more.


Tournament Players

I recommend one 30-60 minute study session per tournament played. So, if you play 6 tournaments on Sunday, do 6 study sessions on each tournament. Review hands, the bubble, lead up to the final table, final table, ICM decisions, special format related things like bounty decisions, etc.

You can learn something from each tournament you play.


What Should I Study?

There are about a million ways and things to study:

Soooo many ways to study: HH reviews, videos, books, audiobooks, podcasts, courses, articles, study groups, forum posting and responding, hand reading, range and board work with Flopzilla Pro, GTO studies, coaching sessions and a whole lot more.

Toooo many things to study: Preflop or post-flop, calling 2bets or 3betting, limping or open-raising, cbetting or checking, finding the fold or finding the bluff, player types, hud stats, pot winning plays, the red line, targeting leaks or building your exploitative skills and loads more.

Here are my top recommendations.

Top 3 Ways to Study

  1. Hand Reading
  2. Training Videos – The key is to take notes (don't just passively watch). Notes are how you take your studies with you into the future. They’re great for refreshing your strategies before playing, and they can be great in-game reminders of what you should be focused on.
  3. Follow Along then Do For Yourself – Anytime you see a software demonstration in a video, article or book, open the same program and follow along. Try to get the same output the coach does. Then, find related hands in your database and do it over and over again.


Top 3 Things to Study

  1. Big Losing/Tilting Hands. You made mistakes, reviewing these and taking note of your mistakes is the first step in NOT repeating them. Anger and tilt are huge results-killers and motivation-killers. Improving your anger response is critical in boosting your results.
  2. Finding and Plugging Leaks. This requires you to dive into your PokerTracker 4 database of hands to record and analyze your statistics and win rates (get a free tracker here). Once you see the areas where you’re easily exploitable and the areas you’re losing too much money, you’ll know where to focus your study efforts to cut your losses and improve your overall results.
  3. Stealing Pots. This is a big focus for myself this year. Winning at showdown with solid made hands is great and it’s the lion's share of every poker player’s winnings. However, it’s hecka fun and very profitable to steal more than your fair share of pots. So, do lots of studies on preflop stealing of pots, so seeing where players are weak and pushing them off the hand. Same for post-flop. Spot weakness, attack!


#1 Concept for Hardgainer's to Turn Studies Into Skills and Results

Learn Something, Do Something

Action is the greatest teacher, so just studying a piece of training material doesn’t cut it. Have you ever read 3 poker book chapters in one sitting, but failed to actively practice anything you learned in those 3 chapters? I sure have.

This is going to require that you take notes with every piece of training material you study. At the end of your study session, circle something important in your notes that. This should be a big idea, a key strategy you want to use for yourself.

Now, figure out how you’re going to practice it:

  • What situation do you need to put yourself in?
  • What kind of board are you looking for?
  • Who do you need to target?
  • What kind of hand are you looking to play?
  • What stack/pot sizes are you looking for?

Write this on a piece of paper as a tick sheet. In your next session, every time you purposefully get into that situation or make the play, put a tick mark. Also, practice thinking about it when you're not in the hand and during your studies.


Take Action

Make a commitment to studying 1 session for every single play session or tournament.

Also, devote 25% of your poker time to study.

Whip out your weekly calendar right now and schedule your study and play sessions for the rest of the week. I want to see exact days and times for each.

Next, choose one of the 3 ways to study and one of the 3 things to study. And I’m going to make this simple for you: If you don’t know how to hand read with Flopzilla Pro yet, that’s your goal before you study anything else! Do a full 66 days of hand reading like I did! You’ll thank me for this.

Hand reading will make you a more effective studier and poker player than anything else.

Now get to work!


Sky Matsuhashi

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