Becoming a Better Poker Player is All About Deliberate Practice


Alex ‘Assassinato’ Fitzgerald is back with another lesson on poker study habits.

One of the first questions I’ll ask you if you ever do a lesson with me is, “How many hours a week do you study?”

The answer most players had for many years was, “Once in a while.” I’d ask what they meant by that and they’d explain that they watched a video on occasion. They admitted they probably did not study enough, but they felt like they were wasting their time while they did it.

They would be very surprised when I’d agree with them. “Most training videos and forums are worthless,” I’d agree. ‘But you still have a responsibility to find out what is really valuable.”

What has helped me a great deal is to find specific topics that I’ll study to death. I’ve then focused my teaching on explaining those concepts to the fullest extent of my understanding.

When I’ve shown my players how I “deliberately practice,” you can see a light go on in their head. “This is what I’ve always needed,” they always say.

If we wanted to become a scratch golfer, we wouldn’t just go play 18 holes whenever the feeling struck. We would make a schedule. On certain days, we’d work on putting. On others, we’d work on our chipping. Some nights would see us at the driving range. Then, when we felt all the parts were coming together soundly, we’d get some full rounds in.

We can set up a similar system in poker. Let’s talk about some of the practice sessions available to us today.

In Hold’em Manager, you’re going to want to go to the “Reports” tab and then select “Tournaments.” All of your hands will load up below. From there, click on a button at the top that says “More Reports.” On the bottom right of the pop-up there, will be a number of “Quick Filters.”

This will contain all the practice sessions we will be discussing today. If you are on a different statistic tracking software, just Google the topics I am going to list. It is likely your program has them as well.

If you do not have a statistic-tracking software installed, it is time to get one. You can get past hands that you played by writing the poker sites you frequent.

Now, let’s discuss some filters…

4. Defend Big Blind

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Defending the big blind is one of the most important concepts in the game. Thankfully, it is also one of the most misunderstood.

Many people have begun grasping that when someone raises 2X the big blind, they need to flat more. What they don’t know is that flatting 2.5X raises from the big blind can be much more dangerous. The chip addition doesn’t seem like that much, but in numerous statistical analyses, it is found to be much more difficult to turn a profit.

The reason for this should be obvious if we sit and think about it. Generally, when people flat 2.5X the big blind, they’re thinking, “Well, this guy is making an old-school raise, which means he’s probably playing a tighter range. I have to call because I’m getting a good price, but I should only continue if I hit the board.”

This is patently false. To call 2.5 big blinds out of position is a serious investment. You need to be check-raising, donk-betting, and out of position floating more. You cannot take your pedal off the gas, otherwise you have no right to be making this investment.

Furthermore, when you do call do you just play the flop if you hit something? That doesn’t mean you’re playing unprofitably, especially if you’re flatting 2X raises typically. However, this can also mean you’re missing great opportunities to pick up chips.

If your opponent is opening 20% of the hands and continuation betting 80% of the time then generally he has missed the board 55-60% of the time. This is huge. You can close your eyes versus this opponent, checkraise the size of the pot, and collect a paycheck. Why? Your bet will need to work 50% of the time, but if he folds high cards he’ll be folding north of 55% of the hands. He folds 65%+ if he folds up to second pair.

Of course, you can’t just checkraise any time you feel like it. That will get really predictable really fast. So, you need to make it a point to study the checkraise, and then try to implement the new ideas.

This also goes for donk bets. Do you ever donk bet underneath this filter? If you don’t that’s worrisome. Donk betting is a great way to neutralize your opponent’s positional advantage.

5. Double Barrel

This is a very interesting filter to apply. Look at every time you fire the turn. Is there rhyme or reason behind the play, or do you do it when you’re feeling like it?

Be very wary of when you’re making your turn bets based on “feel.” What that often translates to is, “this guy hates folding to me, which pisses me off, so I bet again.” That’s a great person to not double barrel bluff.

The people who are good candidates for double barrel bluffing generally have fold to continuation bet numbers around 30-40% on the flop which jump to 55%+ on the turn. That’s the person’s honest street. They call the flop bet because they assume the continuation bet is mandatory, but they believe if you fire the turn that means you actually have something.

Pay attention to how many times you fire into the opposite of this player. There are many guys who fold more than 60% of the time on the flop to a continuation bet. These gentlemen are very honest; you miss the board about 60% of the time.

There is no point double barreling versus them. They call with good hands on the flop. They’re not going anywhere on the turn unless the card severely diminishes their equity. Unsurprisingly, many of these players have a fold to continuation bet percentage of 30% or less on the turn.

If you’re constantly firing at these players you need to go out to the stationary store, get a pack of sticky notes, and write “what’s their fold to CB?!” on one. Stick it to your computer. Pinch it on every break. Mark hands when you follow your rule, and mark the ones where you don’t. Improve.

6. Fold Vs. Flop C-Bet And Float Flop

Now, let’s put the shoe on the other foot. Take a look at your overall statistics when you get a chance. Is your fold to continuation bet 60% or higher? That means you’re probably a little honest. Is it 40% or below? You might be a little too aggressive.

You should generally be floating when your opponent has a high raise first, high continuation bet, and a low turn continuation bet. Those statistics will be something like 25% or more for the raise first, 75% or higher for the continuation bet, and 40% or less for the turn bet.

If their turn bet is 30% or below that’s really important to note. You have a decently strong hand about 30% of the time on the turn. If that’s how often the player bets then generally they are betting when they have it, and check/folding when they don’t.

If they never bet the turn that might not be a good sign. That might mean they check all their value hands hoping you lead. Look at their W$SD and WTSD. That shows you how often they win money at showdown and how often they go to showdown. If the WTSD is 45% or higher and they win money at showdown frequently then that means they like to play the pot control game on later streets.

Blessedly, most players fall into the first category. These players you should be floating frequently with the intention to pick it up on the turn.

If your player goes bet, bet, bet constantly then you should be calling with more flush draws with the intention to shove them on the turn. This makes your hand look more like a set, and it collects more money from his bluffing range.

Versus that same player you should be raising more flops to put him in “shove or fold” spots since you’re going to have a hard time controlling later streets.

If your opponent statistically bets all three streets then pay great attention to when you call two streets and fold. That is literally the absolute worst way you could have played that opponent.

As we discussed previously in the article, it is not the end of the world if you are making any of these mistakes. In fact, it’s excellent. We’re finding out exactly why you’re not making the money you want. We can work on all of these, one by one, by assigning ourselves a task for the day. We can mark the hands and review. We can study, make new coursework, and grow.

This article has been a preview for Alexander Fitzgerald’s upcoming webinar Master Poker With One Hour A Day. Discount tickets are available only till April 16th, so act now!

Alexander Fitzgerald is the world’s most active tournament poker coach. You can reach him for questions about the webinar and additional free materials at .