Playing vs Studying – How do you really decide what to do?

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Every day you decide how to invest your time in poker.

In this article, we look at whether you’re really making the best possible decision between the two main activities when working in poker: 

  1. Playing and;
  2. Studying. 

Is there something very simple and practical you can do rather than just act through unconscious habit?

The Losing Stress Podcast Ep 53 – Playing vs Studying

Either watch, listen or read below:

This is obvious…why look at this at all?

Very simply, playing and studying are the two main activities that you do in poker unless you are a streamer or somebody that runs private games (then you also have to do some extra additional activities around that).

The reason we want to look at this is that, in general, we’re unaware of the fact that we are making this decision consistently.

You’re having to make this decision every day when you’re putting in hours into playing poker. Often this decision is made very quickly without really considering the factors that make sense to look at when it comes to deciding what to do.

So it’s both interesting and valuable to look at this as an architect or a designer.

Somebody that is trying to design a decision protocol or even an algorithm that can consistently help you decide what to spend your time working on in poker.

Do you honestly have an edge?

I think the first thing that you have to consider is whether or not you actually have an edge in the games that you play.

And to actually get an honest and accurate answer to this it helps to get some feedback from somebody else. Because it’s almost impossible to be objective about your own abilities.

And this is a particularly murky question to answer if you’ve not been in poker for that long.

Or if your results haven’t been going well recently.

Including if you don’t have a proven track record over at least a few months.

So if you honestly find that you’re unclear and unsure of whether you have an edge, that’s typically a sign that it makes a lot of sense to be spending most of your time on the activity of studying.

How’s poker been going for you recently?

Another factor that’s really valuable to look at, no matter what stage you are with poker is to look at how your results have been going for you recently and how that’s actually making you feel.

Even though we’d all like to bypass our emotions, the reality is they do actually have an effect on the way you operate in poker:

  • the way that you make decisions;
  • how you react to things not going well;
  • how happy you feel going into play.

What we’ve said on this podcast before is that in reality, confidence is the same as results and you can clearly observe the effect confidence has on your ability to make decisions and overall for your happiness in poker.

So looking at this clearly and simply, it makes it a lot of sense to remove yourself from the need for having to make decisions all the time when playing poker.

It makes a lot of sense to prioritise studying and improving your knowledge and strategy.

Now, this isn’t something groundbreaking…

Because a lot of people in poker have worked this out, they point out that if things aren’t going well it makes sense to go ahead and study.

And often this is given as advice rather than taking the approach so that the other person, so you as the reader, fully understands why it makes sense to do this.

This is essential because if you understand for yourself why this makes perfect sense then it’s far more likely that you’re going to go ahead and actually do it.

A Decision Made Unconsciously Out Of Habit

When you look at this decision between deciding how to spend your time between studying and playing poker, you find that you’re often just making it habitually and unconsciously.

In that, if you have been playing poker for a few days then you tend to just slide into that rhythm. And just end up playing poker as a habit without much thought.

With this, you can start to neglect studying poker.

And the same thing holds true the other way around too.

You could end up studying poker and studying poker when in fact the best thing for you to actually be playing poker at the time.

For example, if you’re an online MTT player, if you decide to study on Sundays rather than play.

So the factor of how good the games are is a very important one in deciding what to do between studying poker and playing.

The Fourth And Final Factor

There’s one last very important factor that also has an effect on this decision:

How you actually feel about how things have been going in your general life outside of poker?

So how things have been going for you in your relationships and also with your health.

Because the reality is if these things haven’t been going so well and you’re not feeling so great about them, then this is likely to have some kind of effect on your performance in sessions.

And when you start to see this as a fact and that it is something that does actually apply to you (and not just to other people) then you start to see that it’s really important how we have broken this down.

Can we turn this into something practical?

That is can you ensure that you look at these factors that we’ve talked about here at the right time when you’re deciding between playing and studying.

And actually look at these factors objectively.

What you can use practically is what I’d call a decision protocol.

So actually asking yourself how do I honestly feel that poker results have gone over the past few days. And give that a score out of 10.

And you also ask yourself, how do I feel my general life has been going out of 10?

Then you also ask how good are the games likely to be the next day out of 10?

And finally, objectively assessing your edge in the game or effectively how you actually rank in the games that you play.

And this can be quite a difficult thing to do.

You can do it if you have longterm results and an accurate picture of your winrate. And then seeing how that compares to an average win rate.

Or you can get objective input from a friend who also plays in the games and can honestly assess your ability in your typical games against others out of 10.

But if you can’t do either of these things, you can think of a typical table you’re going to play against.

For example, suppose you pay 6-max.

You can think of five typical players that you’re going to play against.

And then compare yourself to each player by honestly answering the question, who do you think is better?

And if you think you are better than somebody else, then you give yourself two points.

So you go around each player or each player type and make the comparison to yourself.

If you think you’re roughly the same ability to you can add +1.

And if you can do this honestly you can come up with a fairly accurate picture out of 10 for your edge in the games.

So if you’re playing 6-max, if you’re better than all five players and you’re going to have a +10 score.

Making A Smarter More Rational Decision Based on Honesty

So putting this all together, what are you going to have is four categories scored:

  1. How good are the games going to be tomorrow /10?
  2. What is your edge score in the games you play /10 using one or more of the three methods described above (long-term winrate, other players’ opinions or player comparison method)?
  3. How do you honestly feel results in poker have been going recently /10?
  4. How would you honestly score how life outside of poker has been going recently /10?

Adding these scores together you’ll then have a score out of 40.

Then looking at this number if it’s below 20 then you would know that makes a lot of sense for you to go ahead and just study instead of going into play.

Whereas if the score is above 20 then it makes sense for you to go ahead and play.

This is a fairly rough and ready decision protocol, one in which you may decide that you want to alter for yourself, but it gives you something to start with.

It’s something that if you actually use, you’ll see, allows you to make far better and clearer decisions around how to spend your time in poker than just unconsciously going through the motions.

One Of The Most Important Decisions When Working In Poker

This decision on how you’re going to spend your time working in poker is one that you have to make every single day.

And so it’s one that’s actually really important to get right.

That’s what this protocol is there for.

It’s there to be simple so that you actually go ahead and use it.

And it’s there to make sure that you make this decision in a way that makes sense and is rational.

So do feel free to go ahead and start using it.