Studying Hand Histories to Improve your Game

written by: John

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There isn't a better way for a poker player to improve than by studying his or her hand histories. Studying hand histories gives you the opportunity to go over your game with a fine toothed comb checking for leaks that are costing you money.

A few things you might look while reviewing your hand histories include:

  • Are you playing to many hands? Are you not playing enough? Most importantly, do the hands you decide to play change based on who else may be in the pot or is left to act after you?

  • Making sure you're aware of position and attempt to play more hands in position than out of position. While studying your hand histories you might find that perhaps you call too many bets while in the blinds. Or it's possible that you're playing to wide a hand range from early position creating very difficult situations for yourself post-flop.

  • Are the ranges you assign your opponents correct? A better question might be; are you even assigning hand ranges to your opponents?

  • Do you steal the blinds? If not, why? If you are, how often are you stealing the blinds and are you taking these hands too far in the situations where you're played back at?

These are just a few of the many things you might look for when reviewing your games. You just want to check for situations that you might commonly find yourself in or tendencies that you might have that are slowly costing you money. Once you find these errors in your game, you can then proceed to coming up with a solution to correct them.

Tips on How to Study Hand Histories

To be honest, studying hand histories isn't really the most fun thing to do. I mean, if I'm going to be doing something poker related I might as well be at the table playing cards. I imagine many of you feel the same way.

But since it's got to get done, you might as well make it as quick as possible all the while still getting all that you can out of it. With that being said, here are my 5 tips for making the process of studying your hands as useful and efficient as possible.

1. Study as soon as possible after you finish a session. I like to study my hand histories right after a session because often times there are unique variables that were factored into my decision to play a hand a certain way. Maybe an opponent was extremely tight/loose or I butted heads with someone over the course of a couple hands. The point is; I might not remember these variables a couple days later which may affect my thoughts when reviewing my hands.

That being said, it's always a good idea to take notes if possible in case you can't study immediately after your session. A great way to do this is to have a text editor like notepad open where you can copy/paste individual hand histories and make notes on specific players or table dynamics.

2. Review all hands, the good, the bad and the ugly. Many players have a tendency to study the hands they lost, but not the hands they won. The problem with this is that even if you won a hand, it's possible to still have misplayed it or maybe not play it in the most profitable way possible.

When I review hands, I will generally start with all of the biggest pots lost. Most of these are in the neighborhood of 15 big blinds or more. Once I finish those, then I'll move on to the biggest pots that I won.

After you've reviewed all the biggest pots that you won and lost, you can then review the smaller pots and hands you weren't involved in if you have time. Whenever I'm reviewing hands, I will also have Hold'em Manager up so I can take notes on my opponents if something out of the ordinary pops up.

3. Use tools like poker stove, sit n go wizard or your HUD. Tools such as these will only help you further in spotting any leaks that you may have. When I was playing sit n go's regularly, tools such as sit n go wizard helped me to understand the push/fold game. I would study my hand histories afterward and see which hands I was correct in pushing, if I was pushing wide enough and maybe which hands were too wide and should've been folded.

Having your heads up display available is ideal as well since the replayer will display the stats you have on each player which will obviously affect what you may or may not do in a situation. As mentioned in #2, having your HUD will also allow you to take notes on your opponents.

4. Save individual hand histories and discuss them with friends and on forums. Getting a second opinion on the way you played a hand is a great way to learn because in some cases there might be more than one way to play a hand. To get the most out of this, jot down your thoughts about why you played a hand the way you did and compare that with others. Not everyone will analyze situations in the same way, so you might be surprised to find that a fellow poker player spotted something you missed.

5. Make a video. Although it's more time consuming, a great way to get a lot out of reviewing your hand histories is to make a video of you doing it and then having someone else watch it. Not only will the viewers see the hands you play and comment whether you did good or bad, they will also be able to comment on your thought process as well and point out anything you may be overlooking. 

Studying Poker Hand Histories

Studying hands histories isn't one of the most exciting things to do, especially when compared to reading a poker book, watching a training video or actually playing poker. But what you will find is that studying poker hand histories is one of the biggest aids in your development as a poker player since you are seeing first hand the things you're doing well and of course the things you could do better. And besides, after a couple days of forcing yourself to review your hand histories you'll find that it becomes a habit and that your game, and your bankroll, is slowly improving as a result.