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2021 Journal

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2021 Journal

Intro
Mon 11 Jan
I have been playing poker a long time and have never quite managed to break through from breakeven/slightly winning to being a solid winner at midstakes. I tend to exhibit a pattern where I am a winning player when I haven't played much lately. But when I play several days in a row my results have tended to fall off. I don't know exactly what it is that is changing about my game when my results take this negative turn, I just see patterns in my graph. Now the obvious explanation is that I am tired, less sharp or more tilt prone when I have played a lot lately. I certainly have noted that, if I play a lot of poker at stakes where the money wins and losses are significant to me, my sleep tends to suffer.

The first time I made a serious run at studying the game and playing regularly to make money, I was playing PLO. I really improved my preflop game and found I was beating $25PL zoom for a fairly decent winrate of 4 bb/100 over a 1/4 million hand sample. The only problem was that this was an EV winrate only. I ran 100 buyins under EV over that sample and ended up just breaking even. Sure, other people have had worse runs, sure I still had plenty of room to improve but as 6 months of my life melted away with nothing to show for it I kind of just gave up. I pursued other ambitions and only played poker occasionally.

This year, like so many, I find myself with additional time on my hands. I have been almost exclusively playing PLO the last few years but I stumbled on Ginge Poker on youtube and it made me want to take another look at holdem. I think his content is really good because he grounds his basic strategy in solid fundamentals but is willing to go with his reads too. Holdem has gone well and I have really enjoyed playing it again after so long so I have decided to focus on it again this year.

Now I have a lot to learn. I have not put in an serious volume since before solvers were a thing. I can see that my preflop fundamentals aren't there. My ingrained habit would be to open 87s ahead of K8s. So I need to work on that a little. Really though, the biggest part of my preflop game that needs work is responding to 3bets.

Really though, I need to develop my understanding in every spot if I am to have any hope of becoming a consistent winner. I plan to post here Monday through Friday going forward, marking my plans and progress for study.

Tuesday 12 Jan

Its interesting to be returning to holdem with a newbie mindset. I don't know how many hands I have played lifetime at holdem but I would guess that its something like 1 - 1.5 million. So in some ways I am a pretty experienced player. I have those developed instincts that only come with experience. So I am reasonably well able to look at a player's timing and bet sizing and have an idea that something about the story they are telling doesn't add up. I also know pretty well what sort of hands should be in a value betting range for a given size in most spots and have an understanding of blockers. I can identify the best value bets and the best bluffs.

What I don't have at all really is a good strategic understanding of how bet sizing relates to board textures. I tend to just bet a bit bigger with a tighter range on draw heavy boards and range bet small on all but the most unfavourable boards as the 3 bettor and basically all boards as the 4 bettor. I also don't have a strong approach to balancing my barreling frequencies. Working out a good understanding here will take some time. I favour a two pronged approach to study

Approach 1

Systematic

Preflop
1: Learn simplified opening strategy
2: Learn response to 3bet strategy vs most common sizings. What are my calls, 4bet stack offs, 4bet folds?
3: Learn 3betting strategy + response to common 4bet sizings

Flop
1: Figure out a prioritised list of lines leading to the flop. I will look at holdem manager and do some quick estimations of which spots are most common and which lead to the largest pots. So Btn open SB 3bet will be probably the 1st thing I study because its the most common way to see a 3bet pot.
2: Work out which textures favour which sizings and approximate frequencies using solvers
3: Drill coming up with simplified betting strategies which are not giving up a ton of EV when I node lock them. This technique was covered in a Sauce123 video back a few years ago. I always thought it was a great way to learn in theory but, since I played PLO, I never got the chance to try it.

Turn:
1: Improve understanding of favourable and unfavourable turn cards for each player.
2: Improve understanding of bet sizing theory
3: Use 1 and 2 to generate an approach to approximating a balanced strategy and hence have a reasonably clear idea of what my river range is

River:

1: Be able to approximate entire range
2: Use MDF principles combined with sense of whether line is over or underbluffed to decide when to call down.
3: Be able to use hand distributions to decide on which 1-2 sizings to use to bet and estimate which hands would go in each at equilibrium. Then use that as a factor in the decision of what hands to bet for what sizings.

Approach 2
Based on spots where I was unsure

With this approach I will either mark hands as I play that gave me trouble or do session reviews. I will manually pick my ranges for each decision point and node lock them in a solver noting the EV and the frequencies the solver takes against me. Then I will compare it to a solve where I just input preflop ranges and let it run. I will note the EV loss of the hand as I played it. If the loss is substantial, I will have another go at manually creating a nice simplified strategy which doesn't get owned too badly.

Although I will mainly be using approach 1 and working from preflop to river over the coming weeks and months, I want to spend 2-3 hours a week on approach 2. I hope that I will get to the point where I can do the exercise in about 1/2 hour and be able to do 5+ hands a week with this approach and time commitment.

Approach 3
Database analysis to inform population reads

This one I will not be doing for a while. But when I have played more hands I will use some empirical data to tweak my approach. I don't have enough hands yet for anything but the most common preflop spots yet though.

Wednesday 13 Jan

Last night I had a really poor night's sleep, being more than 2 hours short of my typical 7ish hours. So I decided to take it relatively easy today and to avoid playing. Taking it relatively easy means that I only did what I had specifically noted in my journal for today:

7 minute ab exercise routine - I am also new to working out. I'd done this workout once before and failed to complete all of the minute long segments with 10 seconds rest in between. So I repeated a few days ago giving myself 40 seconds on, 30 seconds off. Today I did it 45 seconds on, 25 seconds off and found it pretty easy. I'll keep going until I can do it properly...

I also did a 10k stationary cycle which is not a big challenge but I decided to combine it with meditation rather than trying to push myself with pace. I really found that a fulfilling experience. I went about 3/4 of what a pushing pace would be for me and counted my breaths which I kept as slow and deep as I could comfortably do. The time really flew by and I felt I got the best of both slightly with relaxation and stimulation.

As for poker, I had planned to do some simplification of preflop ranges. For the past couple of weeks as I played I had been using ranges from the site preflop guru. My approach to implementing them was to make every decision I was 100% sure of without checking and then pause my two zoom tables every time I was on the fence about whether a hand should be opened, 3bet or whatever. This approach was fine in terms of the fact that I wasn't often making any big errors. However those strategies are two heavily mixed to simply learn by rote an I think its good to have rote baseline preflop strategies. I can still exploitatively adjust away from them when it makes sense. But primarily using rote strategies allows me to:

Free up mental energy preflop.
Understand my flop ranges better

So today I used the preflop guru opening strategies as a base but simplified them so that I was opening everything either 100%, 50% or 25% of the time. I'll do preflop drills based on my charts 20 minutes per day until I have them all down, then check every month or so to make sure I still retain the information going forward.

Thursday 14 Jan

Why I want to post every day here

So I have been writing lengthy posts about what my plans are and how I am planning to improve my poker game over time. This is time consuming stuff and I am not sure that anyone will ever really want to tackle the wall of text I intend to generate here. So why am I doing this?

I was listening to the Joe Rogan podcast a few years back and on came Dorian Yates the body builder. If you don't know who he is (I didn't at the time) he is a 6 time winner of the sport's most prestigious title: Mr Olympia. In the world of body building, he is someone who is known to have succeeded less from genetic gifts than other body builders with similar success. Yates was known for his extreme dedication to training and diet. As he talked with Joe Rogan, he explained that he had recorded every single workout he had ever done in his journals. He did this so that he could experiment with and track the effectiveness of various training regimens. As a passing comment he also said seeing the progress over months and years in the weights he could lift or number of reps he could do was a great source of motivation.

Once I started trying to study poker, I did not find it easy. I was surprised by how difficult I found it as I generally would say I have a decently sharp mind and a really good memory for factual information. The limiting factor was not my capacity to absorb information though, it was in unsystematic in my approach. So I decided I needed to systematise and started planning my study approach but I started getting buried in the details. I would spend so long on things with such a narrow field of application that I would end up getting nowhere and losing motivation.

Even since I have started writing I can see that creating simplified balanced ranges for the most common preflop spots is actually a much larger undertaking than I thought it was. Instead of either getting discouraged or skipping on to flop bet sizing study before I am done with preflop ranges, I can see that I will be able to get finished with constructing ranges before the end of next week. Then I can learn those ranges by just spending a few minutes every day drilling them until I am satisfied (and maybe revising once a month or so after that to make sure I am not picking up bad habits). All of that will take maybe 30-50 hours, a time investment that I am pretty comfortable with.

So mainly I am posting here to try to maintain motivation and to keep track of my own plans. I honestly can't see a world in which I manage to post 200+ times this year with considered reflection on my plans and progress and do not achieve a steady winrate at $100z nl. We will see though. And if anyone does end up reading this and taking something from it, then all the better.

Friday 15 Jan

So here I am at the end of a week of journal keeping (mon-friday 40 weeks this year is my goal). I am really excited about my progress so far. Even though it has been slower than I expected in some ways, it has been concrete, organised and foundational. I will remain primarily focused on creating preflop ranges next week but then I will get to flop study with a solid platform already created.

Every weekday I will
Study/create new simplified strategies
Drill/test my ability recall/recreate strategies I am creating in a quickfire manner
Journal
Exercise
Play (taking 1-2 days off from play based on energy levels)

On weekends I'll just play.

At the moment I am not too focused on putting in volume. I am more interested in working on focus and implementation of new ideas. I have only put in 2.5K hands this week so far but I intend to at least double that tonight and this weekend. Over the next couple of months I will include volume goals for play, though I think it is easy to push too hard with volume to the detriment of both life quality and bottom line.

Monday 18 Jan

The weekend did not go as well as I hoped. I lost around 6-7bi which by itself is a fairly normal swing. However I noticed that I was loosing patience in some spots too readily. I made a couple of bluffs which I still think in retrospect were sound but which got snapped off. Then I paid off a couple of hands where I really knew even before I clicked that I was making a mistake. I ended up backing away from the amount of volume I had intended to put in.

Today I got back into my study of preflop. I am fairly confident that I am not making any massive errors with my frequencies at this stage. Mainly the reason I am putting so much time right now into studying and drilling preflop is to free up mental energy. Also, though I do think about factors beyond blindly following a chart when I actually play, like everyone I can find that I autopilot a little bit when putting in a bit of volume. So I really want to get my ranges embedded into my subconscious mind. Still though I am looking forward to getting my attention on flop bet sizings next week

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