Gaining Wisdom – Learning Poker from the Wise

During last weekend’s meditation retreat, the teacher described two ways by which we gain wisdom: externally through others and internally through reflection. While this may sound simple and obvious, the topic itself is of such great importance that it deserves exploration. Framing the process of gaining wisdom in this way gives us a convenient starting point for contemplation. Also, as this is foremost a poker blog, we will specifically consider gaining poker wisdom.


External learning presents the challenge of credibility. We must confirm the reputation of the source, be it the author of a book, producer of a video, or poster on a forum. The most direct means is to garner the win-rate or results of this person over a sufficiently large sample size. Otherwise we might assess their publicly regarded skill level from news reports or the opinions of already established, skillful players. These methods may still only yield a weak credibility or they may not be possible. Another option is to assess the credibility from the content of what they say based on what we already know. Reflecting on the information we receive is a natural next step that I will explore later, but for now understand that this also serves to confirm credibility. I imagine there are other ways we can establish such trust, and if you can think of any, I invite you to share via the comment section below.

Other considerations regarding external sources include relevancy, complexity, and density.


We want the information to be as relevant as possible. For example, novice players will get excited about game theory optimal strategy, when it does not apply to their game. GTO requires that all players are playing perfectly and most games do not begin to approximate these conditions until the higher stakes.

For videos or postings of actual hands, we ideally want them to match our own game type and stakes as closely as possible. Also, as there are multiple styles that can win, we do best to seek the advice of players with styles similar to our own.

One further idea is that you (or a coach) might construct a personal curriculum thoroughly covering essential topics and prioritized in a way that the learning is progressive and builds. You could then quite precisely seek and identify the relevancy of poker wisdom.


There is a happy medium between information that is too complex and too simple. Over-complexity relative to our current understanding risks misinterpretation and misapplication. It can cause frustration that will in turn hamper your motivation (which you must carefully protect!) Topics too simple won’t do much to further your game and may lead to boredom. These points may seem obvious, but my hope is that you keep these qualities in mind during the process. If you catch yourself getting frustrated or bored or otherwise emotionally reacting to the content, it could be a signal that it’s not right for you. Move on.


Then there is the density level of the content. While complexity describes how hard it is to grasp an individual concept, density describes how frequently these concepts are presented over time. A reasonable objective would be to maximize the efficiency with which we learn. Two ideas then follow.

First we should prefer sources that provide a good pacing of information. Ever come away from a video and feel like you maybe learned one thing? Pull the plug as soon as the density level seems too low. Similarly many forums suffer from low density content or a low “signal-to-noise” ratio. Periodically re-evaluate where you invest your study time and whether it might be better spent elsewhere.

Second we can choose to tackle more dense and complex material when we’re feeling more sharp and concentrated, perhaps earlier in the day. Save the lighter stuff for when you’re more tired.

These are my thoughts on the matter. Please share yours. Leave a reply below, and perhaps I might gain some wisdom from you!

In my next entry I will continue with the second half of this piece: gaining wisdom through reflection.

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  • Mika Hämäläinen

    Hi! Good article, and relevant to all students of the game.

    You touched on this in the last chapter in the Relevancy-section., and what I’ve been looking for is indeed a curriculum in which subjects are in logical order and they build progressively on each other.

    I’ve been studying poker for a long time but I seriously doubt if I’ve done it in an efficient fashion. I listen to podcasts when I drive, read books when I can’t be on the computer, read different strategy sites (I recently found yours and I like it a lot so far), watch Mike play on Twitch, watch videos etc. but I don’t engage in forum conversations since I think I still have so much to learn from books and videos without having to waste time and distract myself trying to find some beneficial content browsing thousands of topics and millions of pages.

    I just recently heard some solid advice and I think this is key: pick a subject and study it to death, i.e. master it. Only after that pick a new subject.

    What I’m looking for is a detailed roadmap in which order to study which, hopefully including some books to read in between subjects. I know there are some jaw-dropping and eye-opening books out there which might make a huge difference in how we approach the game.

    Any thoughts?

    P.S. Sorry for the long “question”.

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