In an earlier blog, I suggested that every poker player should know their own strengths and weaknesses, and build a game plan with this in mind. Now I want to address how to apply this same mentality to your study approach. First I should clarify that when I refer to a strength in your game, this is a spot in which you are confident in your strategy, due to your theoretical knowledge or your practical results. The parts of the game tree where you generate edge and you are certain about how. A weakness is the opposite, it's a spot you haven't studied in detail, a frequent point of discomfort and uncertainty at the table.
It sounds obvious, but you need to structure your study time to address these weaknesses. Map out the entire game tree and take note of the most problematic scenarios (bonus points if you start with the most common spots and work gradually towards less common). The reality is that most players don't assess where to focus their attention or identify an intended outcome from their study time. Aimless analysis of their biggest pots played is what I see most often, and it's the type of study that helps resolve emotional tension by addressing generic questions like "did I play poorly this session, or was I unlucky?" What you need to focus on is "in which scenarios am I routinely unsure of my overall strategy?"
For online players, there are very concrete ways to identify your strengths and weaknesses. Review your database. Modern solvers can create aggregate reports that, when used correctly, tell us what our stats should look like. Database Review is my most popular and most effective coaching method because of this targeted approach to study. By comparing your stats to theoretical benchmarks, we quickly identify which spots need to be prioritized. Beyond these benchmarks, you should also be looking at what the best players in your game are doing. Who are your 5 toughest opponents? What do their stats look like? What exploitative edges are they finding that we might be missing (or giving directly to them)?
If you are a live player, or your online play is untracked, you can still go through this process without raw data. Your approach will need to be more qualitative, so I highly encourage you to discuss your ideas with other players or with a coach before diving in. Ask someone for an honest evaluation of what you do well at the table and what you're lacking. Consider physically writing out the entire game tree - all the common lines you take from every position - and give yourself a grade for how confident you feel in your strategy at each node. This process will force you to confront any blind spots you might have let go under the radar.
Blind spots, the strategic flaws in our game we don't acknowledge, are the most dangerous weaknesses. All of my students arrive with a plan for what scenarios to focus on, or questions that need to be answered to further their theoretical understanding of the game, but if we work together long enough I will start to notice the questions they aren't asking and the scenarios we aren't studying. Uncovering blind spots is akin to the 'aha moments' that we have so many of early in our careers. When you plug leaks that you previously didn't know existed, that's when the real progress begins.
There are numerous ways to study, and not all of them will be right for you and the specific weakness you're trying to address. You might be at a point in your learning process where your foundational theory needs to be addressed with solver work, or you might have a disconnect between theory and execution and spend time using a GTO Trainer. The last time I was on The Rake Podcast we discussed some ideas for how you might match your strategic weakness to a study method if you're interested in hearing more ideas on this topic. Most importantly - step back and take the energy to evaluate how you are going to study and where you need to begin to ensure the greatest impact on your results.