Anyone serious about poker knows that it’s not just about playing the hand you're dealt. Instead, you must get deep into the proverbial weeds to get really good; that will take a lot of study and practice.

Most players need to work on studying more effectively. Knowing what to study and how to study most effectively and efficiently can be challenging. Sadly, most of us never received any guidance on how to study appropriately to get the best results.

This article will share several strategies to help you up-level your poker board game.

Those strategies will include the following –

  • Active learning (which is way more fun than it sounds)
  • Spacing out your study sessions for better memory retention.
  • Mixing things up using a process known as interleaving.
  • Testing yourself to make sure you've got it.
  • Putting things into your own words to make them even more sticky.

While this may sound like a random collection of tips, it is anything but. You can immediately use these proven learning strategies to improve your poker study - so let’s get started!

1. Active versus Passive Learning

When you sit down to study, what do you do? If you're like most players, your study consists of things like watching videos or reading an article or a book chapter. You may ask a question in a Slack or the 888poker Discord channel or check out the forums for information on various topics.

This process may seem like a sensible way of doing things, but it is very inefficient and not very effective.

ALL these strategies are passive.

Effective Poker Study Techniques: Active versus Passive Learning
Effective Poker Study Techniques: Active versus Passive Learning

Passive learning strategies allow you to passively absorb the information without interacting. Reading, listening, and watching may seem active, but they are passive. These actions are not good if you want to remember and act on what you’re studying.

Psychological studies show that the typical person only recalls the following –

  • 10% of what they read
  • 20% of what they hear
  • 30% of what they see
  • Only 50% of what they see and hear

So, the time you spend reading an article or book, listening to a podcast, or watching a stream with no commentary is essentially a waste - unless you do something with that information to make the process more active. Even watching a very good video with imagery and a voiceover is not an active learning poker term.

2. Learning to Explain Concepts

Active learning requires engaging and participating with the material you are learning. It involves activities like the following –

  • Discussing concepts
  • Applying new knowledge to real-life situations
  • Actively seeking connections between new and existing knowledge.

We remember 70% of what we say and write and 90% of what we say and do.

So, what does this look like in practice? You could watch a video while taking notes and then discuss it with a study partner or group. Give yourself bonus points if you can connect this video with something that you learned previously.

The highest level of learning could include running a simulation and then teaching your study partner or group how you did it and what you learned. If you can explain a concept clearly and straightforwardly to someone else, you've mastered it!

Effective Poker Study Techniques: Explaining Concepts
Effective Poker Study Techniques: Explaining Concepts

No matter what learning strategies you employ, do your best to make them active. You’ll get more out of your study time with less effort because you must keep re-learning concepts – like how combinations in poker work.

Now that we’ve covered this, let’s move on to a few more study strategies that can help you even more.

3. Spaced Practice

Spaced practice is a fancy term for a learning technique involving spacing out your study over time. Research shows that spacing out your study will give you better results than cramming.

SPACING allows your brain to process and retain information more effectively.

Let’s say you want to spend 4 hours studying your preflop ranges or poker hand rankings. You might think it’s better to carve out one 4-hour chunk of time for this. But studies show you’ll retain them better if you study for 1 hour a day over four days.

Consider scheduling your study sessions to take advantage of spaced practice. Even if you only have a few minutes a day to spare during the week, don’t forgo studying until the weekend.

Those little chunks of study time can be very effective if you use them wisely.

4. Interleaving – Mixing It Up!

Interleaving is a fancy word for a learning technique that involves mixing up the order or types of problems you’re solving. It’s the opposite of “blocked” practice, which is studying the same kind of problem in the same order.

If you ever had to complete a worksheet of addition problems in elementary school, your teacher used a blocked practice method. This method is not very practical for long-term learning.

Interleaving works better because it helps you develop a deeper understanding of how concepts relate to each another. That doesn’t happen when you only study one topic or piece of material at a time.

Interleaving has the advantage of encouraging you to apply information in more than one way.

Effective Poker Study Techniques: Interleaving - Mixing It Up!
Effective Poker Study Techniques: Interleaving - Mixing It Up!

Let me give you a couple of poker examples:

  1. Instead of studying preflop ranges for one stack depth at a time (blocked practice), you randomly study several different stack depths (interleaving).
  1. Another excellent study pairing is preflop ranges and c-betting. Using blocked practice, you would study them separately. But you could put them together (interleaving) by studying a bit of preflop ranges and then a bit of c-betting strategy.

By alternating between the topics, you reinforce both concepts while developing a better understanding of the bigger picture.

This learning method beats any Texas Hold’em cheat sheet you can find out there!

5. Retrieval Practice

Retrieval practice is a fancy term for testing yourself. Whenever you recall information from memory you are using retrieval practice. Studies show that the more times you retrieve a piece of information, the stickier it gets in your brain, and the more your understanding of it increases.

Many people believe that simply re-reading information is the best way to remember it, but this isn’t so. Challenging yourself to recall information from memory seems more difficult in the moment (because it is!)

But it is much more effective than simply re-reading in the long run.

Effective Poker Study Techniques: Retrieval Practice
Effective Poker Study Techniques: Retrieval Practice

There are many ways you can implement retrieval practice:

  • You can use flashcard apps.
  • Create old-fashioned flash cards.
  • Make quizzes for yourself.
  • You could also write out (from memory) a paragraph about what you’ve just learned after watching a video or reading an article.

Remember to be as specific as you can. Doing this will let you see exactly how much you remember, and don’t be surprised if it’s not much!

Most of us have been conditioned to consume material passively, making it challenging to recall from memory.

Another popular way to use retrieval practice is to discuss a hand with a study group or partner and explain precisely why you took a particular line. Once we have to explain ourselves, potential errors and blind spots often become evident!

This process can be a fun way to pick up on and correct errors in your line of thinking.

Effective Poker Study – Conclusion

It takes effort to use active techniques, but doing so is far more effective than using passive study strategies. You must actively engage with the material, question it, and apply it to real-world poker spots.

If you want to improve your poker learning, design your study sessions with these methods. And regularly review and apply what you’ve learned at the 888poker tables.

You’ll be pleasantly surprised at the results you achieve!

Dr. Tricia Cardner is the author of Positive Poker, Peak Poker Performance and co-author of Purposeful Practice for Poker. She podcasts at Poker on The Mind with her co-host Gareth James. You can find her at where she teaches poker players the most effective psychological strategies for optimal poker performance.