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OTB #022: My 5-Step System for Improving Your Poker Game Faster Off-The-Felt

Updated: May 29

When it comes to learning anything, not just poker, there are often two terms used somewhat interchangeably: studying and training.

Today I want to explore the differences between the two and give you my simple 5-step system for keeping your poker study and training focused and specific for faster improvement and better results.

Let's dive in...

What's the difference between studying and training?

Studying typically refers to the process of gaining knowledge and understanding concepts, theories and principles.

In poker, this can mean watching training videos, reading books, attending webinars and exploring sims to gain a deeper understanding of a particular topic or concept.

While all of these activities are useful there is a risk of passive or naïve learning, and not fully absorbing the information.

Training, on the other hand, focuses on developing skills and abilities.

It involves hands-on practice, repetition and feedback to improve your performance. This is a more active learning approach and is one Dr Tricia Cardner and I encourage in our book, Purposeful Practice for Poker.

Passive vs active learning

After two weeks we remember:

Passive learning

  • 10% of what we read, like a poker book or a strategy article

  • 20% of what we hear, like listening to a podcast

  • 30% of what we see, like watching a final table replay with no commentary

  • 50% of what we see and hear, like watching a training video or a stream

Active learning

  • 70% of what we say and write, like discussing hands with a study group/partner or responding to hands in a forum

  • 90% of what we say and do as we perform a task, like training drills, teaching others and practising purposefully.

While you will remember more when you take an active approach to your learning, you still need some of the passive learning techniques like watching a training video or reading an article to gain knowledge and understanding.

The important idea is to be more active when consuming this kind of content by taking notes and asking questions to dive deeper.

My 5-step approach for focused poker study & training

“Learning is the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience.”

- David A. Kolb

I have a very simple system that I use for my own study and encourage my students to use as well.

It follows the principles set out by David Kolb's learning cycle:

Source: Adapted from D. Kolb, Experiential Learning, Experience as the Source of Learning and Development, 1984, N.J.: Prentice-Hall for my book 'Purposeful Practice for Poker' with Dr Tricia Cardner.

Step 1: Identify the area you want to improve

It's really important to get clarity on exactly what it is that you want to improve.

To do this, I recommend two things:

  1. Leak finding

  2. Reviewing marked hands, but not in the traditional sense

I go through a simple leak finding process in phase 1 of my Train & Play Like The Pros programme. It is a quick exercise that highlights exactly what you need to work on straightaway.

When reviewing marked hands, don't try to study them. Instead, create groupings and tally up how many hands you have in each group.

Whichever group has the most hands in it is the area you need to study and train.

Nazim should focus his attention on single raised pots IP vs BB (but from both in position and out of position). I would also encourage him to set aside some time to do some preflop work in Holdem Resources Calculator.

By gaining clarity on exactly what you need to work on you can keep your training focused and specific. This will lead to better results.

Step 2: Set up training drills for those spots

Once you've identified the area you need to work on, you should set up training drills for those spots. You can either do full hands or specific nodes.

If you're not c-betting the flop enough in position against the big blind, then try some IP vs BB single raised pot spots.

If you're struggling in 3-bet pots OOP as the preflop raiser, set up some SB vs BTN 3-bet pot spots.

If you're struggling with delayed turn c-bets, then set up a training drill for playing in position versus the big blind when the flop goes check/check and the big blind checks again on the turn.

Similarly, if you lack confidence in river probes, then set up a training drill for playing out of position as the big blind after check/calling the flop and seeing the turn check through.

Step 3: Review your mistakes and blunders

When you use software like DTO Poker Trainer or GTO Wizard to drill these spots, you'll get instant feedback as the programmes show you which decisions are costing you the most EV.

Use code "10COACHGAZ" for 10% off any DTO Poker Training product. Disclaimer: If you sign up using my code, I receive a little kickback.

At this stage you should look to study the strategies and try to understand the 'why'.

In OTB: 002 I discussed my 4-step framework for flop strategy, which you'll probably find useful in this step.

Where are you making mistakes?

Are there some common areas that you don't fully understand?

If so, now is a good opportunity to ask friends, study partners/groups and coaches for feedback.

You can also look to watch training videos, attend webinars or read articles on the specific topic, concept or node.

Step 4: Try again with new knowledge, understanding and skills

Now you've got to actually play poker again and try to implement what you've been working on.

But make sure you're still marking hands because this improvement loop is never ending.

If you were struggling with out of position spots as the preflop raiser, are you still marking those spots when you play, or is there a new area that you're struggling with?

You should either notice an improvement and move on or recognise there is still work to be done and continue to study and train those spots.

Step 5: The cycle starts again

Repeat the process for each new leak or weak area you identify.


Studying and training are two different approaches to learning, each with their own focus, methods and outcomes.

Whether you want to gain knowledge and understanding or develop skills and abilities, both studying and training are essential components of improving your tournament poker game.

A recap of my simple 5-step approach to focused study & training:

Step 1: Identify the area you want to improve

Step 2: Set up training drills for those spots

Step 3: Review your mistakes and blunders

Step 4: Try again with new knowledge, understanding and skills

Step 5: The cycle starts again

Poker demands a delicate balance between absorbing knowledge and improving your ability to apply it in the heat of the moment.

If you would like to learn more about how I can help you create a clear roadmap for your own development, develop effective study habits and routines, and ensure you have solid MTT fundamentals, join the next cohort of Train & Play Like The Pros.

Good luck!


Whenever you're ready, here's how I can help you:

The Final Table: Play your best poker when the most is at stake. Detailed analysis of over 100 hand examples at different stages of play. Learn how to make great decisions every time and set yourself up for daily progress.

Poker On The Mind: Listen to my podcast with Dr Tricia Cardner as we discuss peak poker performance and tournament poker strategy.

Train & Play Like The Pros: Join the next cohort of my flagship program that will take you from amateur to training and playing like the pros in the next 8 weeks. There are only 12 spots for each cohort, and when they're gone, they're gone and I close enrolment until the next one.

Purposeful Practice for Poker: Gain a clear theoretical understanding of the science of purposeful practice and how you can apply it to your poker study & training. Includes specific exercises designed to create an infallible plan for poker improvement.


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