Why Review your Own Hands?On the one hand, there is poker theory and on the other hand, there is playing the game. Too much of the former leads to a mass of confused and unusable concepts. This problem is often known as 'Too Much Information' (TMI) and is very commonly associated with poker students who binge-watch training videos for hours or read a whole book without taking any notes. The problem with too much time spent on the tables is that it is all too easy to wander off into the abyss of illogical decision-making without sufficient theory to guide you. Getting the division of theory and practice right is a challenging feat, but hand review helps massively in coming closer to the harmonious balance required for success.
Tip: Post your hands for review in the POKER FORUM at PokerStars School, you'll get great advice from experienced players.
Hand review is like a slowed down poker hand without the same levels of emotional or monetary pressure. Taking five minutes to think through a hand and critically evaluate your play creates a nice compromise between the frenzied battle of live play and the infinite detachment of theory. The brain gets to practice vital in-game thought processes in an environment that closely resembles real play, but without the distraction of actually playing. This closes a vital gap between concepts learned and concepts used and makes you more likely to find yourself accessing theory and using it effectively during your next poker session.
You Don't Have to Solve ItHand review is not about reaching a perfect solution every time. If you could do that, you would no doubt be crushing high-stakes instead of reading this article. Rather, it is an exercise in organising thoughts, and above all else, good practice. Even if you find yourself unsatisfied with your assessment of a hand, you have still worked some new mental muscles and grown stronger in using thought processes that were previously inaccessible to you during a session.
Why, not What?Work through the hand you have chosen to review street by street and, at each of your decision points, ask yourself: 'Do I like my play here, if so why, and if not what could I have done better?' Think about how different options are likely to differ in their expected value by assessing what your opponent's range is like and how he is likely to play it facing different actions by you. Asking 'what should I do here?' is pointless until you have answered the question of: 'what factors are most relevant here?' If posting in forums, do not seek one-word explanations to give you closure on troublesome hands. Instead, seek a full explanation and ask for further clarification if you do not understand a trainer or peer's response.
Ignore ResultsWhen you called that river bet, you did not know that Villain had a flush and it is only 'obvious' to you now because you are using biased information from having seen a showdown. Do not try to explain how you should have known that you were beat, for you should not have known any such thing. Instead, ask yourself: 'how often do I need to be good to call here?' 'What is Villain's bluffing frequency?' and 'how suitable is my hand as a bluff catcher?' (Does it block any combinations of flushes, or does it beat any of Villain's value betting hands?)
Pretending that you do not know the results of a hand is very counter-intuitive at first, but it will pay dividends in the long-term. It is your future self you are trying to help here and he or she will not have the psychic information of having seen a showdown which is yet to occur. Practice making decisions with all and only the information you will have next time that you are in a similar spot.