Learning a new game – Part 2: oversimplified standards

Ok, so I haven’t posted in a while now, I had several reasons for that, but now I’m back at the tables, and back here too. Although I have to pause chasing my dream of being a 10game player, I’ll continue this series, since I believe it’s very important, and not as well known as it should be.

In this part of the learning series, we’re going to look at absolute beginner players, or players that know significantly less about the target game than about their main game. You think that doesn’t apply to you? Read on.

Well, back in the day I started with PokerStrategy’s standard charts for preflop and postflop play. If you don’t know what it is, it’s basically a supertight starting hand chart, and a really simplified postflop algorithm. I have to admit, this method is good for beginners to get a feel for the game, solidify the rules and get a feel for the poker client, the dynamics of the game, etc. However, there is one really big caveat here: it’s not mentioned, or at least not emphasised enough that these charts are exactly for that purpose: to get a feel for the game. On the contrary, you can hear or read even from better, more experienced players that XY is not in the chart, therefore…

The other problem with charts is it instantly takes the biggest element out of the game: thinking. Given it’s a really simple algorithm, only a couple of if-thens, every player can understand it, and get into the games; however not everybody is suitable for being a poker player. (Of course the scripting method achieves the main goal of an affiliate site – more on that in an upcoming series.) This method makes it look like you should have a constant strategy for every situation regardless of most variables that you come across at the tables. I believe in the ‘standard strategies and adjust from there’ type of play (meaning you don’t think through every decision point, just if you have a close situation), however this is way too oversimplified, and to be able to work out good standards, you have to start off by thinking, and not scripting.

I had a student for a couple of months, who started off 2-3 weeks before I first coached her (it was a coaching-trade with my coach/friend), so she was in the exact state where I think throwing away the charts is mandatory. In my coachings we never ever talked about standards, and tried to work only by the American method. The benefit of that is you have to think through even the most obvious decisions, and give reasons that might help you in other situations.

Let me just give an example of that: ask yourself, why do you raise AK UTG in a 6handed game? If you answered something along the line of “it is strong enough to raise”, you might want to stop, and rethink. What about AQ, AJ, …, A7, A6? Is there a fine line, where the hand is “strong enough” or “not strong enough”? Do we cross that point, and then the hand becomes from strong to weak? Now that is the chart-thinking. I don’t want to go through every point of why we raise AK here, but just as an example: AK has a higher kicker than A7. Why are higher kickers better? Because they will provide a better kicker for our top pair if we hit an ace, or we hit (a stronger) top pair more often than with a weaker kicker. Why is is good to hit top pair? Why is it better than going for a straight? Because in holdem if we run two random ranges against each other, one pair is the winner, and if we tighten those ranges a bit, top pair becomes the average winning hand. Ok, so we didn’t just prove that AK is a raise from UTG, but we hit several really important points in the meantime, that might help us later, even postflop, even in the balanced range-building method I’m currently using and think is ahead of the curve. Yep, understanding why AK is playable UTG provides great help in strategies and concepts used to beat the mid- and highstakes games.

So back to my student. I coached her for more than 3 months, and she evolved in a much much faster pace than I did back then – at least in terms of theory, you cannot force the practical knowledge in this short period of time. My advantage was I had much more time to deal with poker, while she had to work most days, but I have to say, she was at least as good of a theorist than I was after 3 months of learning (and I put in 3-5x more time in those 3 months).

But what do you see when you look around the forums? Many people just post these oversimplified standards, and therefore basically blocking their own (and others’) way to improve. And no one is there to force these standards open, mostly because better players are not aware of the nature of this problem.

So this is my summary of the problem: at the beginning, everybody should have some oversimplified standards, because before learning and thinking you have to develop a feel for the game, but the very next step should be to analyse and destroy (or improve, whatever works best) these very standards by using logic and thinking.

I guess this part of the series wasn’t as exciting as the previous one, however I intentionally left the most important thing to the end: in terms of your future knowledge you are always a beginner in the present, therefore the ideas mentioned in this post always apply, and should be used by everyone every time. Or to be more precise, my post is about what I believe is an oversimplifed standard learning method.

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