Whether you want to call it “playing on feel” or whatever else, the fact of the matter is that practical play on a strong level is based around a higher level of abstract thought. The reason for this is simple: Poker is a very complicated game. You can’t analyze things in an incredible amount of depth at the tables like you can in your practice, so you have to deal with more general principles and ideas.

Some people think that just because ideas are general that they have to be simple and low-level. However, this is not the case. My goal here is to show you how you can approach poker in a way that will help you to build your ability to play poker based on feel or more abstract ideas by systematically building your intuition for the game.

Steps of the Process

I’m going to outline a very straight-forward process that will systematically make you a better poker player at the tables. It’s not a question of if you will improve, but instead it’s a question of how much will you improve. Long story short, we’re going to immerse your brain in the micro-level details of common situations. When you do this, your brain will naturally start building out patterns and learning at a higher rate than you think it is. All we’re doing is taking advantage of the brain’s natural ability to do this and applying it towards poker.

Step 1: Choose a Topic

Pick a certain topic or type of situation that you want to learn. I suggest that you start with the most common situations like continuation betting, blind stealing, 3-betting, etc. You’ll get the most mileage by working on these spots first because they happen so often. Once you get a feel for them, you can start looking at other scenarios on the turn and river.

Step 2: Break Down the Topic

Next, you’re going to break this topic down into its main components. The pot size, bet sizes, stack sizes, ranges involved, board textures and things like this are the individual components that matter. You’ll want to write out a brief description of how each of these components will affect the overall picture because you’ll want to have a clear idea of what’s happening in any given scenario for this particular topic, and you’ll want to be using these terms to describe what’s going on.

Step 3: Analyze 20 Examples

This is the part where we’re going to lose a lot of you. You’ll want to take a single example and break it down in the terms that we came up with in step 2. You’ll want to be able to list how every single one of those components affects the example scenario, and you’ll want to use those factors to try to come up with what you believe is the correct action. This will take some time and effort, but this is where the real magic happens. The more effort you put into this part, the more your brain will pick up patterns and start accessing information in more efficient ways. You’re literally rewriting your brain to make yourself a better poker player.

Step 4: Consult With Other Players

Here’s where you’re going to leverage the forums. On example hands that you aren’t sure about, you need to post your entire analysis and thought process (including breaking down the factors that influence the hand) while asking for advice. Only do this for the hands that you have trouble with out of the examples instead of trying to post every single hand that you analyze. Out of every 20, you should have four or five at a maximum that fall into this category at a time or you’ll wear out everyone on the forum from posting such an overwhelming number of hands all at once.

Why This Method Works

Your brain is extremely good at finding patterns and using those patterns to influence your decisions through your feelings. This is the source of true intuition and a true feel for what you’re doing.

If you want a practical example, then think about what things were like when you first were learning poker. You probably had to consciously think about which draws were available on the flop and what your best five-card hand was. After a bit of time doing it over and over, you start to be able to do it on auto-pilot while very rarely making any mistakes because your brain has put together the correct patterns to process that information in an exceptionally efficient way.

Long story short, that’s what we’re trying to train our brain to do with these individual scenarios. In the long run, studying individual scenarios will improve your understanding of poker as a whole as well.

The Long View

If you study four or five scenarios one after another in this way, it might take you two or three months to complete it, but you’ll certainly be a better player at the end of that time. Something interesting that will start to happen as well is that you’ll start playing better in situations that aren’t one of the specific types of spots that you have studied. If you think about why that is, it’s not too hard to figure it out.

When you look at specific scenarios in the way that I’ve outlined above, then you’ll be studying the individual aspects of poker like pot size, bet sizes, ranges, etc. Not only will your understanding of and feel for those specific scenarios improve, but you’ll also improve your feel for the individual elements of poker. This is why you’ll improve at poker as a whole, and it’s the long-term goal of using this approach.

It’s worth noting that every single student that I’ve ever had who followed this approach was able to make it to at least mid-stakes and make a lot of money.

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An Introduction to Abstract Thought in Poker
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