Learning cycles of a Poker Player

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Learning cycles of a Poker Player

Postby vaevictis » Thu May 01, 2008 8:57 pm

Crossposted from http://lesliepoker.blogspot.com/2008/05/evolution-of-poker-player-learning.html



I would like to recap my learning cycles since I started playing poker, all of them falling into separated categories. My feel is that most if not all players go through the same cycle as well.

Unconscious Incompetence - Not knowing you don't know

All beginners start at this stage. We do not know alot of things in poker and we are not aware of our ignorance. We start off just by playing two cards, ignorant of basic concepts such as pot odds, implied odds, drawing odds until we hear someone say something about them and "Hey! let me do some read up and research on these funky lingo spoken by those weird poker guys."

For any enthusiastic new player, this part of his learning cycle is one of the steepest. For there are gazillion amounts of new information for this new player to absorb and to apply. Some hardworking and better ones learn and apply newer concepts in their games, while there are others who simply remain in the "Ignorance" zone, and for whatever reasons these players are just not learning and applying the concepts into their games. When this learning curve is kickstarted, this brings us to the 2nd cycle:

Conscious Incompetence - Knowing what you don't know

As the new player starts to apply newly learnt concepts in poker, and due to the nature of poker (that results do not necessarily verify the viability of a certain concept), he gets into more interesting spots that he is unsure of. He becomes aware of his soft spot, or leaks in general, that needs to be rectified. By being consciously aware of stuff that he doesn't know or is unclear on, he is then able to direct his efforts into learning and correcting them.

Personally, it is at this stage I struggled the most on, in about a year back. Being bombarded by the myriad of information and advice available on the internet, I felt there is just too much intricacies of the game to learn on, and applying them effectively is a greater chore. I learn a new concept, apply them, and still I'm not sure of whether I'm doing the right things. If the first stage of learning cycle is the steepest, then this stage can be considered the deepest and widest. When you start to be aware that you don't know - and I mean don't know ALOT ALOT ALOT of stuff- it can be very draining and demoralising in your games.

To be able to proceed beyond this stage, I believe it is impossible to do it as an individual. You will be lost in the sea of information, and without proper feedback channels, you will just be like me at this stage, knowing what I don't know, and very unsure of what I know. You will need a peer group, a mentor, or someone who has been there to properly guide you and teach you what you NEED to know. I managed to ease myself thru this stage via coaching subscriptions and just learning by players who have been there, done that. With the availability of coaching services and sites out there, this learning stage has been very much reduced. This is also one of the reasons why the games are getting tougher in the major sites. In a nutshell, I feel that paying to learn is a decent investment that will give its returns over and over again.

Unconscious competence - Not knowing what you know

This stage is not a separate stage by itself, as it shifts between the first two stages. As mentioned, during the first 2 learning stages, there are just too many new things that I learnt that subconsciously, I do not even know that I've learnt and done the right things correctly.

Another example that I can fully relate myself to is that when I first got the coaching subscriptions, I was just mimicking the actions done by the Pros into my games, without knowing the reasons of why I'm doing that. The pros say "3betting suited connectors in position is +EV against a late position raiser" and I go "Oh I see! Lets just do it." Alright apparently I "know" what to do, but in reality, I'm totally unaware of the reasons of why I'm actually doing it.

I would say that this stage is the real inflexion point of any player who is trying to advance his game. It is like climbing Mt Everest, reaching the last col before the summit, and you are already out of breath, dying. Only the strongest can cross the inflexion point and make it. The reason why this point is a tough one to break is because of the "ignorance" factor of what you know (which should be alot by this stage). Playing robotic poker without knowing the reasons for your play is commonplace for multi-tabling grinders. Tagfishes fall into this category. Any form of poker without thinking (on the presumption that you "think" that there is a standard play for every situation) fits in as well.

Breaking through this stage requires alot of individual thinking of the game. It is when you start probing the intricacies of the game that you will learn and cross this inflexion point. A simple example is thinking of the differences of having AK on a K72 board compared to a KJ10 2-toned board or a K67 2 toned board. Another way is to keep asking questions such as "How do I make my big pairs AA and KK earn more and lose less?" When you start digging deeper and deeper, you may hit rock sometimes. But in reality, you have struck gold by the simple act of thinking. The best exercise that I can recommend is that for every play that you make, be it bet,check,fold,raise, be very sure to have a good logical reason before making the play. Talking to yourself privately "I cbet this flop because ........", "I fold because......." When you talk to yourself, you will find yourself making less unwarranted spewy and stupid plays. Again you have struck gold by putting yourself closer to stage 4 of learning curve,

Conscious Competence - Knowing what you know
Being totally aware of what you are doing on a poker table has dramatic consequences. Personally, after the lessons from my coach, the greatest takeaway was the confidence I've drawn by knowing what I've been doing right and what I've been doing wrong. The simple act of knowing, and having the confidence to know that "Hey, what you have been doing is correct and you should constantly be doing that" from your coach helps validate your plays on the table. No one can take that confidence away from you when you just know you are making the right plays more often in situations you face. (Obviously there is no way you can make the right plays in ALL situations, else you will be Patrik Antonius)

This part of knowing what you know can be dangerous too. The reason why it is called a learning cycle is because it is supposed to be one. When your learning cycle stops at conscious competence, it can even bring about disastrous outcomes. The act of believing that "you know it all" is a sign of overconfidence, and it can hurt your play. My personal example is that whenever I run very well and feel that I'm on top of my game, I tend to hit a downswing pretty quickly due to certain bad plays by having winner's tilt. The good thing about a downswing is that I always end up playing better and having more experience coping with it. The reason is because in order to improve(and get rid of the downswing), you go through the same 4 stages of learning cycles again to review, critique and refine your plays. And whenever you do that, you struck gold again.

Conclusion
In the quest for improvement, the four learning cycles are constantly shifting in and out of your poker game. The important point to takeaway is firstly, be aware of the phases of learning cycles you go through, and secondly, not to be stuck in one particular phase of a learning cycle for too long. If you do find yourself stuck, do seek help from your friends, a mentor, or anyone with a different perspective. (On a side note, many middlestakes to highstakes NL players take coaching from various coaches so as to get a different perspective of the game whenever they are stuck in a particular limit that they can't beat) I would also have to conclude that in order to improve, one has have the work ethic to put in independant study of the game. Poker afterall is an individual game and it is very important to have your own personal views of the game.
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Re: Learning cycles of a Poker Player

Postby DM101 » Thu May 01, 2008 9:28 pm

Very well written Les.
I think this thread is very beneficial to the new poker players.
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Re: Learning cycles of a Poker Player

Postby vaevictis » Fri May 02, 2008 11:57 am

Thanks Chris for the comments, been wanting to write something like this since reading up on a related topic posted in 2+2 magazine sometime back.

More of a reflection coupled with personal experiences in it.
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Re: Learning cycles of a Poker Player

Postby felixleong » Sat May 03, 2008 9:12 pm

Interesting post
keep it up ^_^
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Re: Learning cycles of a Poker Player

Postby baked » Thu Sep 11, 2008 4:45 am

Excellent read. I have been playing poker for a handful of years now and have taken various steps to improve my game. I recently joined this forum and am really impressed with your analytical approach to what it takes to become a good poker player. Keep it up man.
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Re: Learning cycles of a Poker Player

Postby vaevictis » Fri Sep 12, 2008 4:23 pm

Thanks baked.

IMO, My analytical approach is focused more on my mental game and learning process rather than poker itself.

There is a divide between feel/art based poker and math/ev based poker. I figure myself to be more on the feel/art based side rather than the maths based poker player. Good example between the two is aejones and bobbofittoes, both have completely different approach towards the games but are exceptional players.

I wish i could spend more time dwelving deeply into the maths of poker. Having a good knowledge of them definitely helps in your games.
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