If you've forgotten what the Kolb model for learning is, here's a quick link showing the four basic phases of the learning cycle. As it turns out, it's not much of a stretch to apply Kolb to poker. To do this, let's imagine a day in the life of one of our Phils. Let's call him Poker Pro Phil, or PPP for short.
- Concrete Experience. During a typical day on the felt, PPP plays his normal game at his normal stakes in his normal cardroom. This is the “Concrete Experience” phase of the Kolb learning cycle. PPP might win during this session, or he might lose, but all along he’s trying to play as perfectly as possible. He's also keeping mental notes of his play, especially key hands that weren't standard, or that he was unsure afterward of how he played them. He's also noting how his opponents are playing, particularly the players that he regularly faces at these stakes in this cardroom. Bet sizing tells, type of hands played, positional information, and so on. He might write these things down in a notebook during breaks in the action, or just remember them for later, but PPP is having a focused "concrete experience" playing poker.
- Observation and Reflection. Immediately after the session, PPP takes 10-20 minutes of quiet time to record the results and notes from his game session more fully in a notebook or journal. He records how long he played, what stakes he played, what his results were, and so on. He also writes down all the key hands he can remember, his impression of how he played, tricky spots he got himself into, as well as specific notes about other players and how they played, etc. He also begins the process of identifying what he did right—and what he did wrong in the session. In other words, our hero is actively participating in the Observation and Reflection phase of Kolb’s cycle, or as I like to call it: the Post-Game Review phase.
- Conceptualizing. The next step our hero takes is to actively work on and improve those areas of his game that he identified in the post-game phase. PPP might perform detailed hand reviews either by himself or with a study group, for example. He might post some particularly tricky hands on a forum for a wider audience to chime in on. Maybe he hires a coach to help work through the issue. He might even teach what he’s learned to others as a way of reinforcing his lessons. (Surgical medical residents have a saying that you “see one, do one, then teach one” to truly master a new operative technique. If it works for brain surgery, it should work for poker, too, right?.) Poker Pro Phil may also take some of this Conceptualizing, or Off-Table Homework time to make other, more general self improvement strides, such as watching training videos, reading a chapter of a poker book, listening to a strategy podcasts, performing mental exercises, working out, eating right, and so on.
- Active Preparation. Finally, Poker Pro Phil takes the time immediately prior to starting his next on-table session to get ready to play. He reviews what he’s worked on. He then goes through a pregame check-list to ensure the lessons he’s learned are foremost in his mind. PPP might also do some mental warm-ups at this time, such as doing a Sudoku puzzle or something else to get focused and shelve all the other stuff going on his life. Oh, and Bankroll Management is front and center too, as well as game, table, and seat selection, too. In other words, PPP is acting exactly like any other athlete doing their last-minute warm-ups and mental game preps prior to entering the arena.
- ...and then PPP is back to the tables for another Concrete Experience, where he will both apply what he's learned off the table, and begin to identify the next areas that needs improvement....
Many poker coaches recommend that a player who seriously wants to get better should spend an equal amount of time away from the table studying as they do actually playing cards. Many professional players echo this sentiment. Early in their careers, guys like Phil Galfond and Phil Laak reportedly spent at least an hour reviewing their play for every hour spent at the tables. Religiously.
Are you doing this? And if not, why not?
Answer: because you're probably not truly serious about getting better at poker. Don't believe me? Go ask Kolb. Or one of the Phils. They'll set you straight on the cycle.
All-in for now...