Join Date: Sep 2008
Systematic Training Drills for NLHE
Deliberate Practice in Poker
As documented by a slew of recent books like Talent is Overrated, The Genius in All of Us, or Talent Code, all the research in the field of expertise and expert performance shows that world class performers in a variety of competitive fields (Ex: Tiger Woods in golf, Bobby Fischer in chess, Yo-Yo-Ma in music, etc.) reached their elite level by following essentially the same formula: obsessively maintaining 3-4 hours per day of “deliberate practice” over a number of years.
You're probably thinking: “Yea yea, I know. Practice makes perfect...blah, blah, blah.” But then you just go off and passively watch a training video, and think you have done your practice for the day. The point from all this research is that if you want to reach a world class level of performance, then playing on auto-pilot in an unthinking way, or casually reviewing your big pot hands, or flying through a few 2p2 hand histories and replying "standard shove, ldo" isn't going to cut it.
Deliberate practice is the key. This is the kind of practice that hurts. It's intensive, focused on making tiny step-by-step improvements in a very narrow area of one's game. It's uncomfortable, where you force yourself to target a specific skill that is just a micro-step beyond your current abilities. You are forced to slow down, make errors, and then correct them. That's how you get better.
For the Tiger Woods' of the world, repetitive breakdown drills are the key. In golf, this translates to hitting 50 putts from exactly 17 feet away on specifically an x-degree incline. In poker, I believe this translates to drills like those listed below. But it all starts with identifying two or three very specific areas of your game you want to work on for the next two days or the next week (for example, 3 bet pots OOP with medium strength hands; or extracting maximum value vs. loose-passives, etc.)
I'd be very interested in hearing your ideas for poker breakdown drills. Here are some that I've done:
A) The Hand-Reading Game
-filter your HEM database for “Saw Showdown = True”
-reply the hand street by street, and verbally articulate (or write down, or enter into Pokerstove) your estimate of villain's hand range on each street. Was the hand he actually showed down within the final narrowed range you gave him?
-keep score, track results. If the hand villain showed down was in the final range you assigned him, you're 1 for 1. If it was outside the range, you're 0 for 1. Do 10 hands every day, and over the course of each week, track improvement in your average score out of 10
-you can add HEM filters to work on your hand-reading in a specific situation, for example when you're facing a flop check-raise, or when a loose-passive c/c's 3 streets, or in 3bet pots, etc.
B) Grinding PokerStove / Mentally Estimating Your Equity vs. a Range
-Get PokerStove out, or an iphone/ipad app like PokerSniper.
-From recent hand histories filtered in a specific area you want to improve upon, plug in your hand vs. villain's range at the critical decision point. BEFORE clicking “Evaluate”, mentally estimate what you think your hand's actual equity will be using a method like WiltonTilt's TUPAC method (see his Math of NL Holdem series on DC) or a similar method described in the book Poker Math that Matters.
-Compare your estimate with the actual equity found in Stove. Track your results every 10 hands. The average gap between your estimate and the actual equity should gradually go down with practice and improvement
-Soon you should be able to do this in real time at the tables. In the meantime, your intutitive sense of equity in various spots will get much better.
C) EV calcs, EV calcs, EV calcs
-use an Excel template for various common decisions (calling a river bet, shoving with FE, bluffing the river, thin value-betting the river, etc.), or use CardRunners EV.
-Don't just casually review your hand histories, and still wonder whether you made the right play or not. Actually figure out if you made the most +EV decision given the info you had on villain and his likely range. The math is the math.
-Change some variables (tweak his range, stack sizes, bet size, your hand/equity), and see how that affects the EV.
-The more you do this away from the table, the better intuitive feel you will have in a specific decision area at the table.
-Before plugging in all the numbers and solving in your excel sheet, you can work on mentally estimating your EV. Then compare your estimate with the actual EV. If you repeat this over and over and over again away from the table, you can actually get pretty good at doing EV calcs in your head while at the table.
D) ACTIVELY watch a training video
-It should take you more than 40 minutes to watch a 40 minute training video.
-During each interesting hand in the video, don't wait for the coach to tell you what action he will take and why he thinks it is best. Pause the video, and ask: What would I do in this situation? Why?
Then resume the video and see what the coach says. If you agree with the coach, now you have some positive reinforcement for what was likely a good decision all-around. If you disagree, pause again, get Stove out, refine villain's range, do an EV calc, and figure out whether you or the video instructor was (more) right. Don't just take the lines they advocate as gospel. You're a thinking player; you have a mind of your own.
E) Playing Blind
-drop down one or two levels, open up 2 or 3 tables, and cover up the hole cards on your screen with scraps of paper or anything you can think of
-Handread, handread, handread. Develop the habit of going through the same step-by-step decision process on every hand:
1) What is his range? Articulate it clearly in your head or even say it aloud.
2) What is his perception of my range? Not what is my actual range, but what does he or she think I could have.
3) Where does my actual hand fit into that?
4) What will he do? (If I call? If I raise?) Not what he should do, or what you would do. What will he do?
5) What is the most +EV action? (consider ALL options and ALL sizes)
-Obviously in this drill you cut out step 3 because you have XX air. You're simply looking for +EV bluffing opportunities given his range and your perceived range. But most importantly, you're forcing yourself to actively drill your handreading ability; and you're forcing yourself to develop the habit and discipline of going through a proper logical decision-making process on every hand, rather than randomly thinking about different things in different hands.
F) Are you mental?
-Work on your mental game (tilt control, poker mindset, etc.) a little bit every day
-See Jared Tendler & Tommy Angelo's writings/videos for specific things to work on each day, but you should develop a discipline where every day you do something like, for example, 10 minutes of deep breathing or visualizing situations where your emotions might come into play at the table, and how you will deal with those emotions. Some people suggest writing down whatever thoughts creep up in your head immediately after you take a bad beat or get stuck a couple buy-ins early in a session or while you're in the midst of a downswing (or an upswing to fight complacency). This all may sound like a bunch of new age b.s., but I can assure you it WILL impact your bottom line. Elite athletes do this; there's no reason why a serious poker player shouldn't. Every major pro sports teach has a “mental toughness coach” or a sports psychologist on staff. Most of you should be spending as much or more time working on this area of your game as you spend working on actual poker theory/strategy.
G) Drilla in Flopzilla
-give villain a preflop range, enter in a board like Axxr or J98ss, and estimate how often his range has hit TP or better vs. how often he has air. Compare with the actual results flopzilla gives you. Also estimate how often he has an OESD or FD, and then realize how wildly off mark some of you paranoid f***s are to repeatedly make protecting your tpnk against a draw the centerpiece of your decision-making process
H) HEM work
-database analysis to find leaks, answer questions about the profitability of various plays in various situations, or review how specific villain types actually play in your games in various situations (you could use the HEM Vision app). Most of the training sites have at least one video or series devoted to DB analysis (sthief09 on DC, vitalmyth on Cardrunners), or you can hire a leakfinder coach like mpethyridge to help you get started.