Tuesday, August 21, 2012

WSOP 2013: MTT Boot Camp

One of the challenges of mastering poker is simply the glut of available training media and methods to choose from. There are countless books, videos, and software packages that each promise to make you a better player. There are also literally scores of qualified coaches and database reviewers that can elevate your game, as well as countless online study groups, chat groups, such. Then add in all the available forums and email lists to the mix, and the student’s head begins to spin at the options. How does one go about prioritizing and focusing to maximize their bang for the improvement buck?

I’ve been pondering this question for a while now that I’ve decided to play in next year’s WSOP. As I’ve stated before, my cash game skills are pretty good, but my MTT abilities needs some serious work. The way I see it, to improve my game there are a few areas I can/should address:
  • Active MTT Book/Video/Software Self-Study. The problem with most forms of self-study is that the activity tends to be passive. You read a book. You watch a video. You listen to a podcast. Sure, some of the information is going to get absorbed, but the efficiency of this method is pretty low. Enter active study. If you read a chapter of a book, you need to follow up each session with ten minutes of writing down notes and/or blogging about what you just learned. If you watch a video, you need to similarly write down what you’ve learned. Even when playing an online game, it’s all too easy to just go on autopilot and not *learn* anything during the process. You have to actively try to get better. Here are some ideas:
    • Hand Reading. You can do this simple exercise during play (i.e., call out other players hand ranges) or, even better, go back through your poker database and sort on hands that went to showdown. Then hide your opponents hands, and verbally work through groups of hands, calling out the likely hand ranges of your opponents. Do ten of these a day and keep score.
    • PokerStove and/or Flopzilla Drills. Fire up one of these programs, enter hand ranges against specific hands, and then *before* you hit the evaluate button try to guess what the equity actually is. Do 10 of these a day and keep score.
    • MTT Book Learnin’  I’ve got a handful of really well-reviewed poker books I’ve purchased but haven’t gotten to reading yet. Two in particular near the top of my to-do list are J. Little’s book on tournament play, and E. Miller’s book on hand reading. The secret of course is to actively read these and take notes.
    • MTT Video Learnin’ My cardio/card-io exercise method has worked in the past to improve my cash game, so I’m going to dust it back off and start treadmilling my way through a couple dozen MTT videos I own.
    • Blog. As always, I intend to continue to use this blog to improve my own game, but with a new focus on MTTs as much as possible.
  • Put in the Hours. There really is no better way to learn something as complex as poker than just sitting down and putting in the hours. You can theoretically learn how to fly an airplane by reading a book and playing with a Flight Sim program, but does this really sound like the best way to prepare to take a Cessna up for the first time? Poker is similar in this respect, and actual seat time is vital. To address this for my own WSOP adventure, I need to play a lot of tourneys. Worse, I need to play a lot of live poker, which is neither cheap nor convenient. Ergo, my goals include:
    • Play 4-5 online single table SnGs every week
    • Play at least one 100-man or bigger online tournaments per week.
    • Play in a live tournament twice a month.
    •  Play at least one SnG blind every week. We’ve all seen the amazing Annette O. demonstration of playing blind in a tournament and winning. The reason she is able to do this without seeing her own hole cards is she got the whole board texture/stack size/opponent “play the player” thing down cold. If you really want to learn to focus on everything but your own cards, I think Helen Keller poker might be the key.
  • Actively Participate in the Forums More. There is a tremendous amount of knowledge floating around on the web, especially in places like 2+2 and flopturnriver. Again, the key is to not just read the forums, but participate. Posting questions and answers, and debating can only serve to make me a better player. I used to post at least one cash game item every single workday morning on 2+2; it’s time to start that tradition back up, except this time do it in the MTT forums.
  • Hire a Coach Even Tiger Woods has a swing coach (and, no, it’s not his wife wielding a nine iron). I can’t afford a lot of coaching hours, but I can probably pick up a few hours here and there from a specialist on hand and database reviews. This method has been successful for me in the past while I was working on my cash game, and I don’t see why it can’t work for MTTs, too. I need to poke around and find an MTT coach that a) does serious hand history and database reviews; and b) fits my personality and linear “engineers” brain approach to learning. It’s still very early in the process for me to invest in a coach, but as the WSOP draws near I’ll probably spring for a few quality hours.
  • Get Body In Shape. No rocket science here; it's really just eating better and exercising more consistently. The better your body is at pumping and delivering oxygen, the more alert your brain will be. Specifically:
    • Cut way down on the sugar and carbs. For me, dropping my carb count to under 40g per day has and will drop weight faster than pretty much any other method I've tried. The trick is actually doing it religiously, day to day. Then of course keeping it off.
    • Exercise. For me, this means 3-4x per week on the elliptical machine, daily lunchtime walks, and 2-3x per week of weight training.
    • Stretching. Sitting for long hours at a poker table is tough on my lower and upper back. For me, the key to minimizing pain has in the past been getting limber and stretching. Studies have also shown that Limber=Better Blood Flow.  
All-in for now…

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