Feedback is the information about your performance that you gain from sources such as people, data, and results. The accuracy of the informa- tion you receive in your feedback is paramount, because it determines the adjustments needed to keep you moving toward your goals. There is no superior form of feedback that alone can help you maneuver through the immense amount of uncertainty inevitable in poker. The best you can do is to gather several forms of feedback to generate the most complete and accurate portrait possible.
While there are many potential forms of feedback, poker players tend to overuse the one that is the least reliable in the short run: results. It is simply lazy to use results as the primary method of determining your edge and evaluating your progress. Results are handed to you in poker; no work is required to gather this data—you just have look at your stack size, cashier, or bankroll. The problem is that focusing solely on results can create chaos in your game, mental game, and learning process. If you believed everything your results said, 10-6 offsuit might be a monster and pocket kings a terrible hand. Plus, your confidence would be based on whether you won or lost, not on how you played. That being said, ignoring results altogether is equally problematic. If you tend to ignore results, it is even more important to use other forms of feedback, otherwise you will have no way of navigating the inevitable uncertainty of the short term.
Other valuable forms of feedback include:
- Your opinions: How well you played, the severity of variance you experienced, and the quality of the games.
- Emotions: Emotions such as anger, fear, or loss of motivation pro- vide feedback on your mental game.
- Math: Pot odds, equity calculations, EV calculations, and ICM calculations.
- Statistics: Hold’em Manager stats, EV graph, and time elapsed.
- Others’ opinions: Thoughts from a coach, friend, or other player at the table.
- Instruction: Coaching, books, articles, training videos, and hand history reviews.
All forms of feedback have biases; even statistics can be misleading. For example, all-in EV is often relied upon as a measure of how a player is running, when in fact it measures just a slice of overall vari- ance. Opinions, emotions, and instruction are all biased in some way too. Players are often biased when evaluating their performance because of their strong desire to believe they played well. Plus, it’s easy to convince yourself that you played well when results are good. Emotions are the purest form of feedback, but so few players know how to read them properly and so they are often misinterpreted. A coach may think you should adapt your style to fit their own, or might see mis- takes in your game that are really only leaks at their stakes, not yours. A friend might be too sympathetic to be objective. You can minimize the chances that these biases will have negative impacts on your game by considering the pertinent information from multiple forms of feedback. When measured against and next to each other, they can even function to highlight a particularly glaring bias that you would otherwise have accepted as accurate and credible information. This will give you the clearest possible picture of your progress and the current state of your tactical skill and mental game.
Incorporating additional forms of feedback into your learning routine can be challenging and overwhelming at first. Nonetheless, it is worth putting in the work. Which scenario sounds more accurate and convincing?
- You know you are beating $1/$2 because you have been win- ning at 5BB/100 for the last 40,000 hands.
- You know you are beating $1/$2 because you have a solid winrate, your coach thinks you are doing well, you’re fixing the C-game mistakes you have been working on, you better under- stand the instruction from training videos, you feel confident in your play, and tilt has not been an issue.
You probably feel more convinced by the second scenario, since it describes your progress with so much more depth. The first scenario seems quite one-dimensional and flat by comparison. For it to be reli- able, you’d need such a large sample of results that by the time you had enough, you’d have missed out on a lot of opportunities to improve. Ultimately, you have to become skilled at distinguishing the valuable information from all the rest.
This may sound obvious, but when you speak, you hear what you say, and when you write, you also see what’s been written. When learning, it is always beneficial to stimulate as many of your senses as possible to allow your brain to understand the information on multiple levels. Just thinking about something often doesn’t allow you to connect with the material in a dynamic and long-lasting way. Ever think you’ve come up with an interesting way to play a hand, only to say it out loud or write it down and realize how dumb it is? When studying, try to utilize other tools besides just thinking, regardless of whether it’s a video, book, article, or forum post. By writing, talking, hearing, and/or seeing, you automatically increase your interaction with the material. Of course, that doesn’t mean you have to write down everything in your head. Beyond being impractical, it’s simply not necessary. Just keep in mind how thinking can be isolating, and how valuable it can be to employ a variety of methods in your learning process.