Not long ago, one of the bloggers here wrote a post about how watching televised poker was bad for your ability to learn to play casino poker games.
He makes some good points. Watching the World Series of Poker on ESPN isn’t going to turn you into a poker pro – no matter how much time you spend in front of the television watching it.
And the players on shows like High Stakes Poker and Poker Night are probably playing the game differently than they would if the cameras weren’t rolling.
In a sense, these shows are just more reality television. And if you haven’t noticed yet, there’s no reality in reality television.
That being said, I think a discerning poker player can improve his game in several ways by watching poker on television.
1- Keep a Journal
One of the first tricks to improving your poker game by watching poker on television is to start taking notes and keeping a journal based on what you’re seeing. When you write things down, you’re more likely to remember them. Also, it’s impossible to write about stuff when you’re not thinking about it.
Do you agree or disagree with how the player handled that hand?
Were you rooting for one of the players in particular?
Do the players on television exhibit any tells?
Are any of them acting and trying to throw off their opponents?
What are the announcers saying about the action? Do the announcers know enough about the game to provide insight into the decisions that are being made?
Answering questions like these – especially as they relate to specific hands, can help you make watching poker on television a more active and less passive experience, which is a requirement if you’re going to get better at the game this way.
2- Think About What Your Role Model Would Do in a Situation
It’s easy to get caught up in your emotions when it’s time to make a decision. This is true in all aspects of life, poker included. One of the ways to get some impartiality into your thought is to think about what your favorite poker player would do in your situation.
In fact, it doesn’t even matter who your favorite TV poker player is. Just asking the question of yourself before making the decision can provide you with the distance from the situation that you need to make a better poker decision.
What would Doyle Brunson do here?
What would Phil Hellmuth do here?
What would Daniel Negreanu do here?
I can promise you this:
Any of these players has starting hand requirements that are probably tighter than yours. If you’re thinking about playing a marginal hand, you can use this line of thinking to make better decisions and tighten up.
3- Use the TV Shows to Motivate You
Most of us spend too little time reading about and improving our game. We also tend to not get enough practice at the things we’re hoping to be good at. If you have the right mindset, you can use televised poker to get yourself motivated to do what’s necessary to improve your game.
Think about it.
When Chris Moneymaker won the 2003 WSOP Main Event, it was exciting. Who doesn’t want to think they have a chance at becoming a millionaire at the poker table?
And if Chris Moneymaker can do it, so can you. He’s not some kind of savant or genius.
Any time you see someone playing poker on television, use them as motivation to study more or play more. Once you feel ready to go, put your knowledge to the test by gambling on real money sites.
4- Look for Shows with Lots of Commentary
Not all poker shows are created equal. The best poker shows feature knowledgeable commentary from expert poker players. If you can find episodes of World Poker Tour where Mike Sexton and Vince Van Patten are discussing the decisions the players are making, you have a learning resource like no other. Both hosts are excellent players with a lot of insight to share.
Some poker shows feature interviews with the players, too. Any time you get to watch Phil Hellmuth or Annie Duke discuss why they played a hand the way they did, you should take advantage of it.
5- Use Poker Shows for Hand Histories
One of the best things about watching poker on television is that it gives you access to hand histories you wouldn’t otherwise have without risking money. You can post these hand histories in poker forums to ask other players for their opinions.
The amount of knowledge and expertise in many poker forums is astounding, and it really shines when you start discussing specific hand histories.
I advise players who are serious about wanting to get good at poker to avoid play money games. With nothing of value on the line, people make bad decisions repeatedly. They tend to carry those bad habits into games with real money.
In other words, poker on television gives you a shot at getting experience at the tables without risking money and without learning bad habits when there’s no money on the line.
6- Look to the Internet
Not all televised poker is on traditional broadcast channels. If you’ll broaden your definition of what constitutes “poker on television,” you’ll find that a lot of videos of poker online offer learning opportunities.
In fact, you can even find virtual poker classes on some websites. You pay a fee to take the class, but you then get access to a world-class poker player like Daniel Negreanu who actually teaches a class on how to win at poker on your computer screen.
For people who enjoy virtual learning experiences, this kind of poker television programming is invaluable.
You can find multiple websites that offer nothing but poker tutorials on video, and you can also find great poker strategy tutorials on YouTube for free.
Another option is to look through blogs. There a lot of great resources out there written by poker experts. These blogs usually include tips on how to play, how to make the best bets, and pointers on how to win more playing poker.
7- Become Even More Active in Your Poker TV Watching
One way to watch poker on television is to have a friend watch a pre-recorded show and relate the action to you afterward. You can tell him how you’d play the hand without the benefit of seeing the other players’ hole cards. You can then compare your decisions with what the player on television did.
You can also discuss with your friend whether you made the right decisions compared to the players on television. Chances are, your poker-watching buddy will also want you to do the same for him.
It’s best to do this exercise with someone who’s at least as good at poker as you are.
It’s a way of becoming even more active when you’re watching televised poker, even though you’re spending quite a bit of time not watching the action at all.
The ultimate trick to using televised poker to improve your poker strategy is to become a more active viewer. Passively watching what’s happening on the screen won’t improve your game.
But if you take notes and discuss what you’re learning with someone else, you can definitely take your game up a notch.
I’ve had many an enjoyable conversation with my best poker friend about the poker we’ve watched on TV. It’s taken my game up a notch.
I have several notebooks filled with journal entries about what happened on the poker shows I was watching on television, too.
Also, do your best to find shows with commentary from both players and announcers who are watching the game. It’s hard to find a substitute for getting actual advice and insight from real poker pros.
Finally, take advantage of the variety of poker programming now available on the internet – especially the classes available in various venues.
I’m a big fan of Daniel Negreanu, and I think anyone who’s wanting to take their poker game to the next level will find watching his Masterclass worthwhile.
There’s no substitute for experience, but poker TV can be a valuable learning tool, in the same way that discussion forums and books can be learning tools.
If you take nothing else away from this post, do this:
Try writing something down about the next poker game you watch on TV. You might be surprised at what kind of insight that provides you.