Thursday, July 9, 2009


So I've been thinking lately about the evolution of a poker player. It was probably sparked by seeing a t-shirt at the Rio last week with the above image on it. I think it's generally true that as people grow as players they pass through these types of stages. It reminded me of something I studied once when discussing the process of learning a new skill. The theory was that when learning a new skill one passes through four stages.

First is unconscious incompetence. In other words, you're bad - but you're so bad, you have no clue that you're bad. To me, these are the fish. These are the people who don't see anything wrong with playing J2 suited or playing Arag because, aces are good.

If the fish progress they move from being unconsciously incompetent, to being consciously competent. I think this equates pretty closely to donkeys. They're still bad, but they're starting to pick up the ability to recognize their badness. I think the first step of this progression is tightening up preflop. There is a better idea of hand strength, but play after the flop is not so good. Mistakes are still a plenty by these folks, but there is more recognition of the mistakes and if the right effort is made, the donkey will climb to the next rung of the ladder.

Conscious competence. I think this is represented in the above graphic by the man. Someone at this stage has probably devoted some energy to the game away from the game itself. There's some good theoretical understanding and when presented with a hand to analyze they can probably offer a reasonable discussion. The conscious competent's play will be solid and they can work through problems at the table, although it may take more time then they feel comfortable with. Of course, the conscious competent aspires to reach the last level.

Unconscious competence. You've seen these people. They just have an uncanny sense of where they are at when they are in a hand. They can read opponents well and it all seems to come so easy to them. These are clearly the sharks. When they are making a decision in a game they take as long as they want to, not as long as they need.

I think that relatively recently I've transitioned from donkey to man. Unfortuneately I find myself slipping back into donkeydom from time to time. I've had a couple of situations recently where I obviously reverted back to total Level 1 thinking and the results showed it. I think one cure to that is to focus more on "visual thinking" when playing. In other words, I need to force myself to talk through a hand in my mind before I make a decision. I feel pretty good that if I do that then I can make good decisions that are reasoned and not just impulsive. So that's what I'm going to do in my effort to continue evolving.

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