Conscious Incompetence and Poker

Irexes

Irexes

Legend
Joined
Oct 10, 2006
Total posts
7,016
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 :))
 
ChuckTs

ChuckTs

Legend
Joined
Feb 2, 2005
Total posts
13,642
Nice read Rex, and funny you mention this.

The poker coaching site I'm part of actually recently hired a sports psychologist and each one of his videos so far have revolved around these four states of mind, and how your emotions (see tilt) and your instincts are intertwined in the different levels of your mind. I can't say I've been able to fully grasp the concepts, but I'm sure plenty of other sports psychologists' teachings revolve around them and I'm going to have to really take this in sooner or later.

Could you elaborate on this?

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 always figured those at the top of their game (Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, Daniel Negreanu, etc) would be classified under 'unconscious competance', not 'all of the above'...

But I guess you're referring to the fact that they realize there's always more to be learned, ie they're UI to some strategies/concepts even they don't know, CI to to those they know they have yet to master, CC to those they've almost mastered, and of course UC to those they have mastered?

My head hurts. Again.
 
Irexes

Irexes

Legend
Joined
Oct 10, 2006
Total posts
7,016
I always figured those at the top of their game (Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, Daniel Negreanu, etc) would be classified under 'unconscious competance', not 'all of the above'...

But I guess you're referring to the fact that they realize there's always more to be learned, ie they're UI to some strategies/concepts even they don't know, CI to to those they know they have yet to master, CC to those they've almost mastered, and of course UC to those they have mastered?

Absolutely. The Tiger Woods' of this world will I'm sure only be unveiling small things in the context of their game which take them through the cycle anew but even he decided to spend 2 years rebuilding his swing at one point. Poker is such a game of changing context that I'm sure DN approaches it constantly thinking "what don't I know?" whether it be a new opponent, a tell or something in the metagame that is freshly emerged.



I think that in some ways in poker hanging on the competencies we've got is almost as hard as learning the new ones. It's like a player's game is a rubiks cube where you move a bit here and it has an effect round the other side that can go unnoticed.

More rambling :)
 
skoldpadda

skoldpadda

Caveman Eye Surgeon
Loyaler
Joined
Mar 20, 2007
Total posts
3,769
Awards
2
Lol, you really should find a way to see Jared's videos... I experienced this when I went up in limits at 6man NLHE and it was so horrible that I had switched to playing limit and omaha for the past few weeks. I attributed it in part to knowing I wasn't playing well (conscious incompetence) and yet I was still winning -- probably related to a bit of unconscious competence. It was actually driving me nuts that I was winning when I thought I wasn't playing that well. Whereas at the earlier level I was just more focused on making the right play (conscious competence).

Actually, maybe you shouldn't watch the videos since it may just make you consciously think about it more.

I don't know -- I'm confused.
 
Irexes

Irexes

Legend
Joined
Oct 10, 2006
Total posts
7,016
I think we are all ok as long as we realise we are confused?!?!? :)
 
NineLions

NineLions

Advanced beginner
Joined
Sep 20, 2006
Total posts
4,979
But if the move to $50NL helped to point out these issues to be addressed/learned, will you find the necessary situations to help you to find these competencies at $25NL? If somewhere in the differences between the levels of play there is something that triggers/points out particular issue, you'd need to be able to define those aspects clearly, maybe even determine why they are more obvious at $50 than at $25 so that you can "practice" them when they arise, perhaps with less frequency, in $25.

Not to say that stepping back is not a good plan; on the contrary I suspect too many people are too reluctant to do so and I applaud the acceptance that you seem to be approaching this with. I'm a believer in occasionally rebuilding your skill set from the ground up, preferably with the outside assistance of another skilled person. I've been a musician for more years than many of the forum members have been alive and the the last year or so I've come across two instances of physical habits, intermediate level awarenesses have been compromised without my being aware of it slipping. One where I started holding the instrument slightly too low, and another where I've been rotating the left hand slightly inwards too much.

Anyway, now I'm rambling.
 
Irexes

Irexes

Legend
Joined
Oct 10, 2006
Total posts
7,016
I've been a musician for more years than many of the forum members have been alive and the the last year or so I've come across two instances of physical habits, intermediate level awarenesses have been compromised without my being aware of it slipping. One where I started holding the instrument slightly too low, and another where I've been rotating the left hand slightly inwards too much.

That is I think the perfect analogy Nine :)

I think that in switching up to 50NL I made a lot of the right changes but also began to make some wrong ones to areas of the game that were previously "correct". Only talking nuances here, but as we know that is enough. I was also aware that I'm missing some concepts completely and that if I'm to keep moving up I need to learn them. The combination of the two prompted the move.

Shifting down to 25NL has given me a fresh look at the play here as I'm coming at it from a different angle if you like. Hopefully when I decide to move back up the foundation of my game will be more solid as a result. Whether it helps with the gaps in my knowledge remains to be seen, but I'm in no hurry :)
 
WVHillbilly

WVHillbilly

Legend
Joined
Nov 7, 2007
Total posts
22,973
Sometimes when I drink too much I become unconsciously incontinent. Ewwwwww.

I almost feel bad for tainting this high level discussion with my toilet humor. Almost.
 
adventurebound

adventurebound

Cardschat Elite
Joined
Nov 5, 2007
Total posts
4,911
Thanks for the great post Rex, I am sure I'll think of this while playing, esp. if I catch my game slipping like I just experienced.

In fact, wish I would have read it about 1/2 hour ago. I was playing my worst style game, 5 stud tourney with 648 players. Had my A game going, catching great hands and for once I manage to make 2nd chip stack for the better part of the tourney. Then down to the final 14 players I started to slip, checking good hands before the draw instead of raising and checking latter with ok hands only to be out drawn to guys I know would have folded way too often. Several of them I know a small bet would have taken the pot. By luck alone I managed to make several more great hands but not enough to get back to the top. Out in 7th of 648 and I know I should have done way better.

Clearly I went into a state of concious incompetence, I knew I was messing up and I tried to change but I kept slipping back to the same mistakes at the end of the game.

Hopefull this reminder to keep a watch will help me do better in the future.
 
Last edited:
Irexes

Irexes

Legend
Joined
Oct 10, 2006
Total posts
7,016
Anyone else got any thoughts? I'm really interested in the learning process and how it applies to poker.

Do you observe yourself learning? Are you aware of things you don't currently understand? Do you find yourself "drifting off your game"? Or do you sometimes feel you are playing poorly even when winning because you know you are missing something?
 
NineLions

NineLions

Advanced beginner
Joined
Sep 20, 2006
Total posts
4,979
Are you aware of things you don't currently understand?

This is a really tough one, unless you get outside opinions (coaching, sweating, posting hand histories or at least commenting on hand analysis). Or at least read books or here and find terms or concepts that you don't understand.

It can be tough to move out of unconscious incompetence in a specific area (say, completing from the small blind too often) unless someone else points it out to you.

Unless you are already an expert and are reviewing your own stats and notice, holy cow, what are my stats doing that high?
 
W

witl69

Rock Star
Joined
Mar 20, 2008
Total posts
425
I think you made a very well thought out constructive move ... I hope all goes well with your game and take some time to just relax and enjoy your game..I can never understand the people that play in real money tourneys with what they act like are the last dollar they have to there name and are so stressed ...I think the game is meant to be enjoyed .. just my humble oponion ..
 
adventurebound

adventurebound

Cardschat Elite
Joined
Nov 5, 2007
Total posts
4,911
Anyone else got any thoughts? I'm really interested in the learning process and how it applies to poker.

Do you observe yourself learning? Are you aware of things you don't currently understand? Do you find yourself "drifting off your game"? Or do you sometimes feel you are playing poorly even when winning because you know you are missing something?

My biggest one is knowing the move I should make but not doing it for some unexplainable reason. Like the obvious, knowing a raise will take down the pot but just checking and giving the other guy a chance to hit a better hand. Thanks to this thread that bad habit has started to change all ready.
 
Top