Why continual learning is important

As a poker player you are self‐employed. There is no boss to decide when you get a raise. The only thing that decides when you get a raise is your skill level and the types of pay raises you can get are massive. There is huge upward mobility in poker. Win rates might start out at 1 cent an hour but the best players can make something like $5,000 an hour. Only a few people in the world are rewarded on that scale, although there are many players who can earn in the range of $1,000 an hour.

Because of this huge potential reward, it pays to focus extra hard on learning in poker. The best players put as much energy into learning as they can and their whole focus is on the future. The following saying is usually attributed to Abraham Lincoln, “If I had seven hours to chop a tree, I’d spend the first four sharpening my axe”. It might appear as if some players who have had great success are naturally talented and did not need to study to get better. This is ab‐ solutely untrue. I guarantee that if you asked them you will find they studied the game one way or another. Maybe they didn’t have a coach, or post on an internet forum, or do equity equations, but they did something. Whether that was talking to a friend about hands or even something as simple as thinking over poker in their heads in their own time. There is no short cut – a lot of hard work is required to get good at poker.

There are a couple of ways to approach poker. One is to play the game to make money. The other is to play to learn. It just so happens that if your approach involves learning to play better then, as a re‐ sult, you just happen to make even more money than if your goal when sitting was to make money. And the difference will be signifi‐ cant – you will make a lot more money.

It makes sense in poker to take advantage of any resource that might help your game. This is because if you learn something new you don’t get a $10 one‐time bonus, instead you might make $10 more an hour for every hour of poker you play. The math is therefore that if you have to pay $100 for a poker lesson, and the coach teaches you just one little thing, then that is okay. Maybe that one little lesson only makes your expected win rate jump by $2 an hour. Then in that case you need to play 50 hours for it to pay off, and since you are a poker professional and poker is what you do you will play 50 more hours quite quickly. Everything after that is profit.

When I started playing poker I read literally everything I could get my hands on about the game. I bought a printer for the sole purpose of printing out five year old archives from a poker forum. I printed out over a thousand pages and read them all, and read all of the new content from the forum as well. I made friends with every poker player I could and asked as many questions as they would let me. I read every book that was available. When I played a session of poker I saved the hands and then after the session went over every hand thinking it through, deciding whether I got lucky or unlucky and if I played it well and how to play it better. I did equity equa‐ tions on the hands and then when I was going to sleep thought over those same hands. I remember that after my initial introduction to poker – when I obsessed over it for a few months – I then took a break. However, towards the end of that break a couple of hands started popping into my head that I would continue to analyze and consider. It pays to completely immerse yourself in poker.

Another reason it pays to get really good at poker instead of just a little bit good is because the game is so stressful and because of the variance. Because it’s so stressful it is hard to do as a fulltime job as well and this is not recommended unless you play really well. Let’s consider a player who is quite good and makes $75 an hour. For some reason they start playing worse than normal and suddenly they are only making $35 an hour.

What will they do then? If they try playing more hours to make up for the lost win rate they may end up just playing even worse, self‐ destructing and losing money. Furthermore, since this player is just good and not great, they don’t have a lot of money saved up in the bank and they get worried. So they play even more, get tired and keep losing. Now they can run into trouble. However, this is much less of a problem if this player is very good and makes $500 an hour. If they start losing, they have flexibility. They can drop down and still make $200 or $300 an hour and continue living very comforta‐ bly. They have more flexibility and thus less stress. The bottom line is, the better you are the greater your flexibility.

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