Learning a new game – Part 1

Finally I moved all my old posts that are worthy to be here, so now I can start writing new ones.

Picking up other games as my main/second game is harder than I thought. For the last 2.5 years I’ve been so busy with LHE, without me knowing I became a specialist. Now being a specialist is really two-sided. On one hand, you understand that game by the core, know every detail, every nuance of it – or at least you think you do, but that’s certainly not that far from the truth. And in the meantime you forget… well, not forget, but automatically build general poker concepts into your game, and therefore you don’t use them in your thought processes.

When I first became aware of my knowledge and learning curve in LHE (little less than a year after picking up the game) I started to differentiate between two schools of poker – at least that’s how I called it. In my mind there is the American school and the European school. American is the logic-based, more thinking-oriented style of approaching the game, while European is more math-oriented, calculation-based approach. The names might not have to do anything with the continents (however I think there is a correlation between the continents and their education-system), they simply got their name from educational sites (American – DeucesCracked, European – PokerStrategy). Also, I have to say that one is not better than the other – just different. Also, as always in poker, these are not disjunct, just the two end of the stick.

My learning curve started with the standard European scripting method, got my Starting Hand Chart and started playing as my hot-cold equity told me to do. Honestly, despite what the general conception is, I don’t think it’s a good method to start learning a game, at least if you’re interested in poker from the start. However, it is very good to lure people into the game, make them think it’s not that hard, and let them get a feel for the game. Nonetheless, I feel in the long term these players are less likely to become high stakes crushers, but more likely 24-tabling grinders at 25NL.

The biggest problem with the European method for a beginner is that you cannot actually make logical sense of the results you get by the calculations. As probably most(/some?) of you know, hot-cold equity is more hurtful than useful if you can’t use it correctly, and even then it’s not much use for early street play at least. However, they don’t teach you how to make sense of this data anywhere on the internet (that I know of), so you, Mr Beginner, are screwed.

Let me explain it a little bit more in detail. As a coach at PokerStrategy I really loved interacting with students. Instead of doing some shitty liveplay or session review vids or coachings, I did user reviews, brought them into my vids, even for theory ones. I cannot count how often I heard the following and alike: “I’m ahead if his range, so I bet.”, “I have equity edge multiway with my draw, so I jam the pot as much as possible.”, “I don’t have the odds to call to my draw, so I fold” (when he should at least consider semibluffing), etc. etc. I hope you can see, where these mistakes come from now – not thinking about the situation, just putting the data to and pulling the results from Equilab, and decide based on the numbers, not thinking about the future: the opponents reaction and the future streets. Equilab cannot tell you these, so these are irrelevant.

After a short while I signed up to Deucescracked, and was really surprised I didn’t see any of these calculations, just simple logic-based concepts, verbal reasons instead of numbers. Verbal reasons, that could be easily built up from simple poker concepts, but the ideas could become much more complicated, linked by only the chain of implication. They understood and explained concepts without depending on numbers. Needless to say, my results started sky-rocketing from here, and although it would be nice to say I never looked back, luckily I did.

There is one giant problem with the American method. People’s logical thinking in general is terrible. Of course, we’re talking about top poker players, so they are high-level thinkers, but still, there are countless flaws in mostly the complicated (but sometimes even simple) concepts created by only logic, without proof. And these players rarely have the mathematical background or the affinity to prove their theory. The logic is more than enough.

Actually, it’s really funny to see, how these players use equity-calculators to try to prove certain concepts. Their methods are so obviously bad I can’t even tell you. Just an example from a random NL vid (actually made by a European player): the action is something like we 3bet a CO open from BB with QQ, the flop comes down Jc9h7c, we cbet and CO raises us – the coach puts the following range into Stove*: JJ, 99, 77, AcTc, Tc9c, T8. I’m not a NL expert for sure, but do we really think the opponent is calling with all his T8o, making his nuts:non-nuts ratio 16:11 instead of something like 4:11 (if he calls with T8s only)? Also accounting for only two FD combos that the opponent might have… I think this is bizarre at least.

*it’s telling in itself that the coach uses Stove…

Still, I think for beginner players this method is much more useful, because there is one really good doctrine that is only taught by this method: to think. You can have all the computational power in the world, if you can’t understand that being ahead of a range is not equal to being ahead of a calldown range, or that your gain by jamming the flop with a draw will easily be countered by the value you lose on the turn by either turning your hand face up, or making a ridiculous bet with a no man’s land hand.

After a while I realised that sometimes this logic-only thinking has flaws, and created the mix of the two methods – thinking logically, but proving it by calculations. As I climbed up the limits, I played more and more against regulars, therefore balancing and the GTO-perspective of the game became much more important, so I switched the sides, now I mostly did calculations, and tried to find the logic in the method, and use it for a certain extent as the base of my calculation. (Since we’re worried about our own range, we have a small freedom to set part of it ourselves.)

Okay, so I basically wrote close to nothing on my original subject, however I think it is very important to realise the way we got where we are now, because we can see the pros and cons of certain techniques and choose the one we find the most suitable to work on our main game – or to learn a new one.


1 thought on “Learning a new game – Part 1

  1. Pingback: Loose passive players – how to adjust | Madorjan's Poker&Life blog

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