Back to School: Study Methods


You’re not good at poker because you’ve made money at one time or another. You’re not the recognition people give or don’t give you. You’re only as good as the work you put in. Most of us are not born Phil Ivey or Viktor Blom. However, there is no height advantage or coach who doesn’t like you in poker. We can become extremely difficult to play against if we’re willing to put in the work.

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Study is what makes a poker player more complete. Research suggests that people who derive their self-esteem and feelings of worth from how much work they put in are the most successful in their careers.

Playing poker is fun. Actually coming up with new strategies to beat the regulars is hard, but it makes the game much more enjoyable and profitable. Today, we’re going to examine all of the ways you can study to become a better poker player. I can tell you personally that every time I’ve ignored studying the game, I have fallen behind and lost money. Heed the advice I wish someone gave me when I started.

One way you can see the current trends in poker, and begin thinking of ways to best them, is to follow forums. Generally, forums for training sites tend to be better than the casual ones. When people are paying to learn, they (usually) are slightly more professional and the advice they give is more solid.

Forums are a great way to meet people who you can collaborate with in your poker journey. Beware, however, that a group ethos can become predominant and stunt your poker development. My Costa Rican horse and I have been extremely consistent this year, but if you watched us play, you might wonder if we’re intoxicated or trying to play bad.

Just because something is the standard play doesn’t mean it’s actually ever been mathematically tested. Don’t follow the crowd. Go with your own findings.

You still should seek likeminded people to discuss hands with regularly. Fellow pros who will provide you constructive criticism or a different type of view are extremely valuable. You need someone to tell you when you’re playing scared or tilted poker.

It also behooves you to select someone who is a different thinker than you. For example, if you are very book smart, try to become friends with someone who is more of a feel player.

It also helps to shake up your group once in a while. It’s hard to find someone who is a higher stakes player who will talk with you for free, but dividing the cost for a coach’s group consultation among four or five guys is not very expensive.

If you are fortunate enough to find a higher stakes player who will talk hands with you, remember he is not your personal free coach. Write him only with your toughest hands, be courteous, and try not to pester him too much.

Receiving access to a great player’s thought process often isn’t free. Personal coaching is usually expensive. Many great players who offer coaching consistently let down their students because their teaching ability pales in comparison to their play. There are also a number of people who have simply run good who actually have little to offer in terms of real analysis.

To preview what kind of coaching you’re getting, it’s best to join a training site. Watching videos is an extremely cost-effective way to learn. Try to focus on certain instructors who really seem to communicate their thought process well. This is another area where your discussion group can help; you and your buddies can trade tips on what videos were the most helpful.

When you’ve watched an instructor who seems to explain his concepts clearly, then maybe you have found your personal coach. A personal consultation with a high-level thinker can do wonders for your game, but only if you come prepared. If you want the coach to speak with you on a certain topic, write down your questions ahead of time. There’s no worse feeling than drawing a blank while you’re being charged hundreds per hour.

Explain to your potential coach before you agree to work together what you hope to learn. If the coach is serious about your development, he should have some prepared materials, such as hand histories or a basic PowerPoint, to assist you in your education. If he has nothing like this, perhaps he hasn’t been coaching for that long because anyone who coaches regularly with a conscience will eventually become aggravated at not being prepared.

That’s not to say you should expect someone who could moonlight as a university professor. Most really good professionals are good at actually winning and not just talking about it. The star player might have some great knowledge to part with, but he’ll need you to guide him. To do this, make sure you study some of his videos ahead of time and get his “free” analysis so you don’t have to pay for it again within your own time. Also, write down any questions you have about his methodology. One of the benefits of private coaching is your old favorite training videos now become interactive experiences.

Don’t be afraid to ask for a package deal if you want to enter a more long-term coaching relationship. Most poker coaches will give you a discount.

If one part of your game is giving you trouble, then go through your Hold’em Manager or PokerTracker hands and mark the specific areas for review with your coach. When he gets on Skype, don’t waste a minute of the time you paid for. Have Teamviewer,, or Skype screen share ready to go with your hands. Bring a notebook to write down notes.

Always, always ask the coach what helped him the most with his poker development. Often, pros will share helpful videos, books, and tips that they may be reluctant to share in public.

Keep collecting these sources of information. I still read a poker book or watch a training video for an hour every day. If you work out daily at a gym, consider bringing training videos on a tablet to watch while you occupy your nervous energy. If something strikes you as particularly interesting, remember the time during the video, revisit it after you’re not so sweaty, and take a note of it.

Any time you have a free moment, try to read a few pages of a poker book. I read them for only five or ten minutes at a time when I’m between tasks. It’s easy to stay focused for five or ten minutes. It sounds like nothing, but you’d be amazed at how many books you can devour with this method.

Don’t forget to take notes. Studying poker is no different than any other scholarly pursuit. You will remember much more if you put it in writing. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve begrudgingly written something that sounded semi-interesting only to return to the note months later and go, “Wow, that’s helpful.”

Out of your study notes, create some challenges for yourself. If you were a professional tennis player having problems with your backhand, you wouldn’t just go play Wimbledon and hope you get better. You’d put some hours in practicing on your weakness.

Pick something you’ve learned about recently that you want to get better at. Say you’re going to try to double-barrel more on certain boards today or 3bet more in certain positions. Write to yourself why you are going after this goal and what the logic is behind the new play. Mark every hand where you attempted your challenge or, if you’d rather, mark the hands where you didn’t take the line. Watch the hands later on your hand history replayer. Question yourself if the play should have worked or not. Reevaluate your notes at the beginning of the session. Do you still believe in the logic presented to you?

This is where the hardest work in poker is done: evaluating concepts that perhaps 98% of the professional community agrees on, but no one has ever taken the time to mathematically prove. However, in my opinion, this is the most exciting work. It is incredible to see what people believe and then what is reality.

Learn how often your bets need to work mathematically and then analyze if your opponent’s range is responding correctly. Flopzilla has been instrumental in my development in this facet. I’d imagine Phil Ivey’s mind looks like Flopzilla. It helps mere mortals such as myself create hand ranges and see what percentage of the time opponents are doing different actions. It’s akin to studying 100 hands at one time because you’re visualizing an entire range.

It’s arduous and the learning curve is steep, but Flopzilla costs $30.00 and has videos and a user manual to help you. Matthew Janda’s work in the field is incredibly insightful even if his layered theoretical explanations are not for the faint of heart.

Also, you can learn while you’re playing. When you’re learning, you should play fewer tables, take more notes, mark more hands, and perhaps explain your thought process out loud. I even go so far as to have my students record their sessions with their own narration and then review them later when they’re relaxed. None of them – not one – has said it was a waste of time.

The poker world is vast and the nights of study are long, but you will learn to cherish them if you truly love the game. If it gets frustrating to go through so many materials and methods, with many of them explaining the same things repeatedly, remember that it frustrated all of your competition too. They probably gave up, just like you wanted to right then.

Work for the edge others are too lazy to achieve. Enjoy practicing and knowing you are becoming a more complete player. Disregard the results and I promise they will come later. Love the game and the fact that even a dollar can be made out of it, as man is prone to love competition, even when it pays him nothing.

Good luck to all of you.

Alex AssassinatoFitzgerald has amassed $3,000,000+ in tournament earnings alone. Alex is an instructor at PocketFives Trainingand can be reached for private lessons at You can also reach him on Twitter @TheAssassinatoand on Facebook at He currently resides in his suburban home in Costa Rica with his fiancé and poodle.


    • Made my day…I share some of the same notions!!!…

      One thing this guy didn’t mention,(kinda) which is #1 super secret awesome info…a coaches data base!!
      Ive watched all the vids on DTB, and every so once in awhile a coach will pull up there tracker..I pause video and look look look…sometimes its quick and unintended, sometimes its part of the lesson..
      The couple gems Ive gotton from someone with 5 kagillion hands? I aint saying..Every bit of knowledge that’s passed on further evolves this game it seems, and frankly, it needs to slow down a goddam bit..

      And the best part is, you cant just follow this like a guide….Each paragraph needs to be worked at, I mean your head and heart has to be in it..You cant be having in your head the bills, fckn the neighbor, a pizza, none of that..

      I think half assed study breeds less than half results..

      And most wont do it///especially daily….As I do…Big online poker comes back, I will be known!!!!

      This guys articles have given me a path, and confirmed paths…love it

    • Can yu imagine hittin a ftops event for 6 figures? I cant
      I would be checkin it over and over…must be such a bad ass feeling

    • Top notch material from a top notch player. Thanks for sharing your vast amount of knowledge with us Alex!