Conscious Incompetence and Poker
I recently had a nasty downswing of about 9 buy-ins at 50NL. I'm still running at 3BB/100 at 50NL and although a big chunk of the downturn was just bad fortune with hands not holding, I can't escape the feeling that there's something not right about the way I'm approaching things.
As a result I have moved back to 25NL to work it out at a level I feel entirely comfortable with. What was immediately apparent was that at 25NL I started playing a better strategic game (playing good sessions rather than individual hands) and I wasn't getting stacked in marginal situations. I also found I was analysing my game far more effectively than I did before I moved to 50NL. In part I think I had drifted off of my "A" game and was getting too eager to play for stacks and move the win graph ever upwards, but I also think it relates to a concept called conscious incompetence.
If I'm a better player than I was when I moved up (and started winning at 50NL) why am I feeling I am making more mistakes now? Conscious incompetence
is a concept that's often used in management training programmes (if you've been on a course with a flipchart involved you'll have heard of it). There's a better description here
but the esssence of it is as follows.
When you first begin something you have no sense of what is required and what the skills and knowledge involved are. From driving a car, to making a cake to playing poker we all begin in a state of unconscious incompetence
. Basically we don't know what we don't know and we aren't very good at what we are trying to do.
Eventually we move to a state of conscious incompetence
where we become aware of our failings and also that there exist skills or knowledge that we don't have. This is the point where we begin to appreciate what we need to learn master the task before us and hopefully focus our efforts on learning it.
Next comes conscious competence
where we have gained the skill but utilising it is still a conscious effort that requires focus (think of when you had just passed your driving test and the car still required a force of will to control).
Finally is unconscious incompetence
where the skill is now second nature and takes place without thought, driving a car without conscious effort, or folding J5s under the gun should fall into this category.
For me poker is a constant loop through these cycles as the game reveals itself stages. For example the newbie begins in a state of unconscious incompetence raising with A5o in early position and wondering why a pair of aces on the flop doesn't hold up very often.
They then move to conscious incompetence as they hear of things called pot odds
, implied odds and position but don't yet understand them, eventually moving through conscious to unconscious competence as the application of these principles becomes instinctive.
However the process then begins again as new concepts appear, be it continuation betting, floating, value-betting, 4-betting light and so on and so on. The good player will forever be aware of the fact that they are simultaneously in all four states of competence at the same time
I remember with my development as a tourney player constantly thinking "OMG how could I have played without knowing that" as each new revaltion hit me and I'm now going through the same process with ring. As a result I'm not rushing it, not expecting to play perfect poker or to win big for a while yet. Instead I'm concentrating on where I am in learning the game and not taking backwards steps.
I think that during this downswing I have become aware of some mistakes and gaps that previously I didn't know existed on the one hand (the move to conscious incompetence), but also I think I have taken for granted some of the things I have previously learnt (unconscious competence) and drifted away from some of the basics that had previously helped me win.
A move back to 25NL gives me a safe environment to explore both of these things, think a bit more about some new concepts and get my basic game back on track.
As an aside I think there a lot of people who are stuck in the first phase of development as they complain about losing when the problem is actually that they are making mistakes they don't recognise and are therefore not prepared to do anything about. Less common are those who have made a few circuits of the loop and have some knowledge but have decided they are good enough and that they don't need to (or can't) learn more. This lot are prone to moan more.
(extract from my blog so apologies for rambling )