How to Study Poker Using a Solver: 6 Steps to Success

Updated: Dec 7, 2021

Studying is an essential part of poker if you want to become a profitable player. From my coaching experience there are 6 key steps to success when using a poker solver. Using and sticking to these steps will aid you in your studying process and today I will be outlining these for you today. These steps can be applied to your studying process if you do not have a solver, but it will be much harder to learn the information. You will have to spend the time researching the subject that you are deficient in and hope the information that you learn is accurate.


To make the best use of your time and study efficiently and correctly, there are 6 steps you must follow to get the most out of your time and your solver tool. Let’s start with step 1...


Step 1: Schedule Your Time

As we have established, you have to be studying poker- it's your key to success. A part of successfully studying is effectively managing your time. You should be allocating time in your schedule that is dedicated to playing poker or studying poker. There are two great methods of doing this: scheduling separate times or playing until you fail.


Scheduling time

Let’s say that you have 6 hours a week that you can dedicate to poker. It is my opinion that you should spend half of your time studying, so 3 out of those 6 hours should be spent away from the felt and in the books. You should try your hardest to be regimented, actively booking in the time that you will dedicate to studying. If you don’t proactively set this time aside, you will likely not study as much as you should, and your results will suffer because of this.


Example: You have Wednesday and Thursday’s evening from 7pm till 11pm free to play poker. You decide that you are going to first spend some time studying from 7pm until 9pm, then play poker for the rest of this allotted time. You can then do the same thing on Thursday.

You don’t need to play and study on the same day; however, I would recommend it. Playing after a study session can help you reinforce the areas of your game that you have been learning about- we come on to talk about this in more detail shortly. Some players may find it easier if they schedule a specific day for studying and in a phrase "get it out of the way".


Truth be told it doesn’t matter how you decide to split up your time to study, what's important is that you are studying.


Play Until You Fail

I prefer to use the following method to study, playing until failure. I play poker every day and playing profitably at the higher stakes requires immense concentration and focus. To succeed, you must bring your A-Game and give the session 100%. This is not always possible due to factors both in and out of your control. Any bad-beat or situation that I come across where I’m unsure of my decisions may severely impact my mental game, and subsequently may leave me playing unprofitably for the remainder of a session. Also, there can be other things on my mind outside of the poker world that may be eating away my concentration.


When I stop playing poker and start studying depends on how the session is going. There will be situations that come up where I’m not confident in the decision that I have made, instead of allowing this to weigh on my mind for the potential rest of the session (even subconsciously), I use that natural break to dedicate to studying the spot I was unsure of.


I prefer playing and studying this way as it ensures that I am always playing on the table at the best of my ability. It also means I will spend time studying situations immediately rather than later down the line where it’s easy to overlook them or forget that the situation was a potential issue. When it’s coming to the end of a session having all gone well, I like to go over all the hands I’ve played in GTOTtrainer to check that I was playing them optimally.


For the regular player or the beginner, this method may be too challenging. Some players are likely to encounter situations that they are uncomfortable in regularly. They would therefore stop playing too frequently and not build up their experience with the game quickly enough.


Step 2: Locate your Leaks

Locating your leaks is one of the areas which can be incredibly challenging to do. You must have a great deal of self-discipline and be self-critical of your game when checking yourself for leaks. To be successful you can’t be kind to yourself, you need to be honest and accept that you aren’t playing profitably in certain areas. This is where a poker coach can pay off in dividends as they will spot your leaks immediately.


Once you have found what you consider to be a leak, you should be specific in what area of the game your problem is. This will help you with step 3. Here are some ways to help you find the leaks that lie in your poker game:


Check Your Profitability

One of the first things you can do to spot your leaks is to simply look for the areas in your game that you are not playing profitably. Filter your hands on PokerTracker (PT4) and identify the hands or areas that you are losing the most cash in. You should be playing profitably in almost all areas of the game. Utilise the filters on PT4 to look at all the different areas of the game you can to find which spots are causing you the most upset.

Poker Tracker 4 data of a student with Jacob Topley poker coaching showing a negative wintrate in 3bet pots
This player has a problem in 3bet pots, and so should be looking into what the problem could be in this area.

You should double check that these areas are losing as a result of poor play and not just variance. Similarly, you could be playing profitably in a certain area but you may be uncomfortable playing in it. It's always worth double checking the data to see if the spot was just a cooler or not.




Leak Tracker and Frequencies

One thing that is not reliable in PT4 is the “Leak Analysis” tool. The Leak Analysis Tool does is check your frequencies of certain actions in the game to tell you when you are playing out of what is considered the most optimal. The problem is that these statistics don’t correctly tell you if the decisions you made are optimal, only the frequency. This means you could be x/raising with a terrible hand selection and losing money in this area- except PT4 thinks that this is fine as the frequency that you raise is correct.

An image of poker tracker 4 (PT4) LeakTracker too. Showing a coaching students poker statistics.
All of this students statistics are within the "normal" range. Alas, win rate was -9bb/100

On the other side to that, if you are not doing something at the correct frequency it may be an issue caused by a different aspect of your game, for example, you may not be betting enough on the turn. But this could be due to you not betting the correct combinations of hands on the flop such as back-door flush draws or back-door straight draws, meaning you don’t turn enough draws to continue the aggression with. This is a leak that has come from hand selection in another area of the game that will be solved by looking not at the Turn, but at your flop play instead.




Have a Coach Look Over Your Game

It can be challenging to find leaks yourself, especially if you are a profitable player or a break even one. You will come to a point in your game where you can no longer find what it is that you are doing sub-optimally or why you can beat one stake but not move up to another one. Poker coaching may help you if you're looking to save a lot of time is by having them look over a sample of your hands to give their opinions on what you're doing wrong. This fresh set of eyes can also be used to skip many of these steps, as any coach with his salt will already know how to fix your leaks and so should be able to explain to you the theory that you are missing.


Step 3: Run Your First Sims

You’ve found an area of the game that you are uncomfortable in or are not playing profitably (or both). This means that it’s finally time to start running your sims. As mentioned in Step 2, when deciding on what to study, you should try and keep the area you investigate as focused and concise as you can. Let’s use x/raising as an example:


You realise that you are not x/raising with enough frequency across all situations. To make sure that you are not giving yourself too much work to do- define the area that you want to study in more detail. The most important area that you will want to be ensuring you have a solid x/raising is from the BB vs a BTN open. Start running your simulations on the specific area and get very good at that situation first.


When loading up the simulating in your various tool there are several things you should remember, most importantly is to run a good variety of board textures that allows you to spot patterns between them. GTO+ has a good feature where you can run several flops successively and then generate a report for them all.

A Poker Solver being used to help study the game of poker
Studying a 4bet Pot using GTOTrainer

When you run your simulations, it’s important to remember that unless you have a supercomputer, these results will take a fair amount of time to actualise. You are also unlikely to be able to use your PC while the solver runs its calculations. Therefore, I recommend running these overnight while you sleep.


Step 4: Compare Results and Summarise Findings

Now that you have your solutions and flops, you should spend time looking through and noting down what the solver is doing. To learn effectively, you should produce some form of notes when looking through the data, this can be done with excel sheets or word documents- or my favourite, a good old-fashioned notepad.


You should be writing down what is happening and try to make some generalisations. For example, the solver almost always recommends not x/raising with top and bottom pair. You also want to categorise what it’s doing on different board textures from low and connected boards to a board full of Broadway combinations. Humans are great at spotting patterns so you should be able to find some commonalities between the results. You should ask yourself as many questions about why the solver is doing what it’s doing and then be hunting for the answers.


From there, you can go into more detail. You may wish to try and simplify the solvers data. This involves re-running the simulations via node-locking certain decisions. This could be betting 100% of the time vs betting only 70% of the time for example. You can then compare the EV of the strategy. This may make implementing some of the solver’s recommendations much easier moving forward. For our check raising example, we could look at always x/raising with certain combinations and not with others and see how this effect the strategy in terms of EV and your playability.


Trying to successfully implement the solvers strategy is vital, as solvers often want to use lots of RNG in their process which makes it hard for humans to remember. Therefore, the next step is also critical to your success



Step 5: Implement Your Strategy

By this point you should have learnt a thing or two that will make you a better player in the long run compared to good you were before you started studying. What you need to do now is try your hardest to implement what you have learnt correctly and successfully. You should do this in two ways:


Play against the solver

GTO Trainer quiz app being used to help a player learn what the optimal strategy is in a 4bet pot
GTO Trainer has a great coaching quiz app to allow you to play against the solver

Most poker solvers have a quiz function. This allows you to play the situation that you have added to your solver against a GTO robot. You should play random hands against this robot for a long time, initially using your notes to help keep you on the right path but slowly trying to go from memory. Some solvers have a training function that immediately tells you when you have made the lower EV decision. Your aim when playing against the solution

is to get as good as you can playing in that

specific situation.

GTO Trainer Quiz app showing the EV of the poker decisions to a poker student from the UK
Most solvers will show you when you have made a suboptimal decision post flop

I would keep the variety of flops that you play low initially. For example, you would want to limit the flop to only being A high with 2 lower disconnected cards or perhaps just paired Broadway boards like KKx or QQx. This is so you get to play with almost all your hands in that situation and become more familiar with what you should do with your entire range.



If you're looking for a convenient, hassle-free solver, you can check out GTO Trainer here.


Implement While Playing

Perhaps the easiest way to implement what you have been studying is to take your newfound knowledge to the table. In your next session, whenever the situation you have been previously studying comes up, you should be spending extra time thinking in detail what the optimal strategy would be. You shouldn’t only do this with your specific hand, but what you’re doing with all aspects of your range. This is why playing directly after studying can be a great help, as you are still learning when you are sat at the poker table with all the information fresh in your mind.


Even if you know that you will be folding in the specific situation that comes up you should still focus. That extra time and though that you put into that spot will re-enforce all that valuable strategy work you have been doing away from the table. You can make it more likely that you will remember the findings of your work later down the line after you’ve already studied something else.


Step 6: Monitor Your Progress

The final step and key to your success is to monitor your progress. Have the changes you made been effective? Is the strategy working out well? Have you remembered what you learnt?


You should be monitoring the areas that you previously identified as a leak in your game. You should go over hands and see if you are still making mistakes, this may involve running simulations of the specific situation after you have played the hand. This is "line checking", where you just check that you got your frequencies correct and that you did the right thing at the time. It's like completing a math question and flicking to the back of the book to make sure you got the answer right.


There will be days where you can’t think of what you should study. This is the perfect opportunity to go back through your database and see if the area you tried to patch up previously has been fixed effectively. Has your winrate in that area improved? Do you feel comfortable on the tables when playing in these spots?


Going back over your database and ensuring what you’re doing now is working is essential for ensuring your success. The final thing to remember is to repeat this process. It should be a cycle, where you continuously try to improve your poker strategy. Make sure you are following each step correctly, and I wish you the best of luck in your poker career.



 


For more information on my UK based poker coaching services you can find out more by clicking on this link"


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