My Individual Adult Learning Model Range

This will be my first blog on this page about poker so I should introduce my poker playing self. I am a 30 year old Irish man living in the West of Ireland. I have just finished a degree in journalism and I am hoping to return to college next September to study a Masters. In what, I don’t yet know. I am a recreational/regular player. I play $7 and $15 sit and goes. I love playing and studying poker and in particular analysing the mental aspects of the game.

The following blog will be about the adult learning model (ALM) and my own personal ALM range. As a lot of you already know, I am a big fan of Jared Tendler’s work. I first encountered the Adult Learning Model (ALM) when reading the Mental Game of Poker and it is something I have spent a lot of time thinking and talking about. My idea for an ALM range is influenced by the profiles and questionnaires provided in Jared’s books. I have blogged about the ALM before and there are lots of resources available online so I won’t re-explain it here.

The ALM provides the basis for how I set my process goals in poker. I have added some personal stages to the model based on my own learning experiences, talking with players, podcast interviews, forum posts etc. Below is the outline of my ALM range followed by a detailed description of each stage. I have not included skills in unfocused conscious incompetence or unconscious competence as I think this would give away too much about my game.

In part two of this blog I will discuss how my ALM range interacts with my A-C game range. This is a profile presented in Mental Game of Poker 2 where you define what playing your a-game, b-game or c-game means to you. For me, my A-C game range relates to how best I optimise my mental state during play. My ALM range focuses on the strategic aspects of my game.

Individual ALM Range

Unfocused Conscious Incompetence: Skills I plan to work on in the near future

Focused Conscious Incompetence: 3-4 betting; Strong hand reading

Conflicted Competence: Process versus results oriented mindset; Thoughts on aggression versus passivity.

Conscious Competence: Basic Bayesian thinking; Handling adjustments of regulars; Good hand reading; Reading and reacting to pre-flop shoving ranges

Uncertain Unconscious Competence: Good opening ranges; Playing the bubble well.

Unconscious Competence: All the skills I have learned, good and bad that I can execute without conscious thought.

Unfocused Conscious Incompetence (UCI)

“Having a strong sense of your own capabilities is an underrated skill” – Taylor Caby

Managing the things we don’t know, as well as the things we do, is a crucial attribute. If we focus too much on our weaknesses we will forget our strengths. If we try and improve all of our weaknesses all of the time, our brains will become clogged by a data log-jam. Our goal of learning as much as possible will backfire; we will learn less, or nothing at all.

The UCI is the stage of my range that I am aware is underdeveloped but also the stage I am not actively engaged in improving. If I encounter a decision connected to this area in-game, I don’t expect my thought process to be strong or lucid; being aware of my limitations means decisions related to this area are less stressful.

I still expect to improve the skill passively. For example, through hearing it discussed in a podcast or making in-game notes. However, I don’t engage in intensive study or extensive calculations. I avoid videos that deal specifically with the topic. Over-engaging with multiple subjects will mean too many unlearned things will clog the mechanics of my decision making process.

Focused Conscious Incompetence / Slow Conscious Competence (FCI)

Focused conscious incompetence is the stage of my ALM range where I take skills from UCI and integrate them into my game. These are the areas where I am actively seeking out new information. My theory study, video watching and hand history reviews are geared towards these skills. I also call it slow conscious competence because I expect in-game decisions to be slow and cumbersome. I also expect any hands relating to this area to take a long time to review.

The list of skills in this area should be very short for the reasons given above. Too many skills and our decision making process will be too slow, too frequently. If the skills in FCI are particularly challenging I make sure to play less tables until they gradually move more assuredly into conscious competence.

Conflicted Competence

“Why does it make logical sense that you would react, think, or feel that way?”- Jared Tendler’s mental hand history question.

Conflict is a big part of poker. As it relates to the learning model, conflicted competence refers to a conflict that prevents a skill being learned. It can be a conflict between either technical or mental skills. An example is a tight player who is learning to resteal shove a twenty blind stack versus a steal. This is a very different action from the developed habit of calling or folding. Despite consuming technical information or taking coaching advice, the player can still not bring themselves to make the aggressive play. They will not be able to integrate the new skill unless they express the reasons why they feel the old one is so important. This is a roadblock that can’t be moved with the mantra, “plus-ev”.

Whatever the skill is, writing out the uncensored reasons why you believe the old skill is important will help alleviate the conflict. Using the structure of a mental hand history from The Mental Game of Poker is a really efficient way to do this. The opening quote of this section is from the mental hand history and it best encapsulates its function. We want to know the real reasons why we as players do the things we do.

For me, conflicted competence happens as either a bridge between FCI and conscious competence or between conscious competence and unconscious competence. The latter may not seem intuitive so I will explain. Sometimes a concept can make a lot of sense to me and I can utilise it relatively easily in the conscious competence stage. Then, a thought process surfaces that contradicts what I am learning or I may encounter some new information that does the same. This puts the skill in conflict and executing it becomes difficult.

The conflict is not always polarised and can be multi-faceted. All sides of the conflict can contain valuable information. It’s not just a matter of, “This new stuff is correct, let’s overwrite all the old stuff.”

The most important feature of conflicted competence is that when a skill goes through I discover more about my game than at any other stage. I don’t see conflicted competence as a road block, but a bridge. I can discover thoughts about the game I forgot I had and from these thoughts develop new and stronger concepts.Often I have found leaks connected to bad advice I heard during an old WSOP broadcast. I never questioned the rationale and it lodged in my unconscious, directing my poker conceptions. That is why I think it is so important to get thoughts out of our heads; either by writing, talking to a friend or just talking to ourselves. This includes all the things that sound stupid or irrelevant. These thoughts are steering our game as much as the logic that sounds legitimate or insightful.

Conscious Competence

This stage is already covered well in lots of resources both online and offline. The one point I will make is if a skill is in this stage it should be hit regularly in hand history reviews or information consumption. If the skills in this area are not practised they will fade and decisions connected to them will be weaker.

Uncertain Unconscious Competence

This is my last personal stage of the model and the one I had the most trouble defining. It is also the intermediary stage the  that requires the least management. When skills are at this stage I consider them to be very strong; essentially unconsciously competent. However, when playing somewhere below my best, these skills are prey to doubts or uncertainty that will take energy from my in-game focus. Unlike conscious competence or slow conscious competence, these doubts or uncertainties are not enough to remove access to the skill. The skill is solidly formed but there is a fundamental knowledge gap that causes me to question my play a little too often. The downside of not addressing skills in this area is an extra energy lag when I am not playing my best.

Unconscious Competence

This stage is also well covered by an array of sources and it is not necessary to further elaborate here.


That is my ALM range and I hope it holds some relevance for you. For me, the core benefit of the range is the confidence it gives in my approach to poker. Seeing a skill moving through the stages is very motivating and gives quantifiable proof of development. I find it helpful to be able to pick a skill to work on based on what I want to achieve in the short term or medium term future. If I want to make greater volume in the next few weeks I make sure not to introduce new skills to FCI. I can work on a skill in conscious competence or UUC that will upgrade relatively quickly giving me a much faster, clearer in-game thought process.

I don’t play big online or live tournaments but I think this strategy would work well as  preparation for these. The heavy lifting should be done well in advance helping us to play these events with as clean a thought process as possible.

N.B: I am in the market for an sng/mtt hand history swap partner or Skype strategy group. I can provide results on request. Tweet @sheeprustler or pm sheeprustler on if interested.


Shhmokin Fags Man Yeah

As a teenager I was a full time smoker. I probably smoked on average ten cigarettes a day climbing to as high as sixty when I spent a summer working in Spain at seventeen. Luckily I got some sense after turning eighteen and I successfully quit. About a year after quitting I smoked a cigarette while out drinking and since then I have smoked frequently when on nights out. Even though I rarely drink these days, it is a habit I wish to shake off.  I am writing this blog to reinforce my willpower to break the habit and I hope that talking about my previous experience quitting will help others to quit.

When I was young there were many things about smoking that aroused my curiosity. A lot of people in my age group and the age groups just above me smoked. A lot of adults I encountered through my parents’ social circles smoked. I heard a lot of conversations centred on smoking. Even though these were almost always negative I got a weird sense of community from smokers and I wondered what it would be like to be part of that community.

Before you ever smoke you are warned by all and sundry not to do it as “you will become addicted”. I think the problem with these warnings is that you end up programming kids to be addicted before they even smoke their first cigarette. People warning me I would be addicted didn’t numb my interest. I still wondered what the experience of smoking or even being addicted to smoking would be like. I think that consciously or subconsciously my friends and I set out to be addicted. In our perverse way we thought that smoking alone wasn’t cool enough, we had to be addicted as well.

Luckily when it came to quitting for the final time I had already consciously thought about this and knew it was something that contributed to my mental addiction. Even though I was only eighteen, it was probably my fourth or fifth time trying to quit. Ironically, I think my group also saw trying to quit smoking as being a part of the smoker image. The fact that my final time was my fourth or fifth time was crucial; I had failed a number of times and from experience I had learned enough to ultimately get over the line.

If I’m honest I happened upon most of the strategy that helped me quit accidentally. I didn’t realise at the time how important some of the things I was doing were. I randomly chose January as the month to quit and this turned out to be crucial in helping me do so. I didn’t read Allen Carr’s book then and I still haven’t but I have heard people talking about it and certainly some elements of my strategy are similar to his. My experience with smoking leads me to believe we are both mentally and physically addicted. It is rarely easy to polarise the two into distinct camps but I think if you can address some of the reasons for your mental addiction you can approach your physical addiction with more focus. The fire-power you previously wasted on your mental battle can be redeployed to fight the physical one.

When I stopped smoking in January 2003, I knew the date I would quit about two months in advance. I was a person that for the most part enjoyed the process of smoking but didn’t enjoy the current side-effects or want to experience the potential future ones. Because I had a strong belief that I would stop on the date set I didn’t carry any guilt about smoking. I really enjoyed smoking then and when I smoked I would think about all the reasons why. Because I had smoked guilt free for two months I had become aware of most of the reasons why I liked it.  I didn’t realise it at the time but this was the most crucial thing I did that helped me stop.

Knowing the reasons why I enjoyed smoking helped to alleviate a massive mental battle. In the process of quitting when I got a craving for a cigarette, that craving seemed more logical and reasonable to me. Because of this my natural tendency was to understand and not to fight it. The craving would push on me all the reasons I enjoyed smoking, willing me hard to smoke. I would think, “Yes, they are all good reasons to want a cigarette but I have greater reasons for not wanting one”.  I still went through the physical longings but they were much easier to handle than if my tendency was to fight them.

It was also crucial that I believed in the reasons I gave myself for quitting. If I was in doubt as to the validity of these reasons they would not have overpowered my urges. I think a lot of smokers put the harm of smoking out of their minds. The threat to their health does not seem real enough. When they try to quit their motivation is not strong enough and they fail. If you genuinely feel that your reasons for wanting to smoke are stronger than your reasons to quit you can address this imbalance by learning and thinking more about the ill-effects of smoking. Information is excellent fuel to set the propellers of motivation in motion. People sometimes put the dangers of smoking out of their head and think “Fuck it, I may not get cancer” or “Fuck it, we all die anyway” but living with the side effects of smoking as an older person seems to be something people rarely consider.

I know that spending time in a hospital ward with a stomach infection at sixteen provided part of the basis for my motivation. There were a lot of old people in my ward, the majority of whom had smoked all their lives. One had survived cancer and had his voice box removed. Others had never had cancer but their quality of life was abysmal anyway. There were sixty years olds in that hospital ward who looked and acted ninety years of age. This experience was important in forming my motivation because it made me realise that even if I am one of the lucky ones who avoids cancer what are the benefits I will experience? Smoking is a life or death gamble and the prize for winning that gamble is a pretty shitty one.

How you find your motivation depends on what your feelings on smoking are. Every doubt you have about quitting is not something to be blocked out or denied. It is your brain feeding you data about the reasons you won’t quit. Try and listen to each doubt individually and seek out information relating to it or allow yourself to think about the doubt and decide if it makes sense.  The reasons you find in your time preparing to quit become logic injections (Jared Tendler 2011, The Mental Game of Poker), ready to be rolled out when the physical withdrawal symptoms may make you forget the reasons you wanted to quit in the first place. It should be useful to write down at least three of these logic injections for the times when the cravings become so bad you don’t see the point in not smoking. Look at them as your back-up parachute.

When I first quit smoking I did it on a Monday which I am sure is the day most people choose; picking Friday seems a little ambitious.  The first week off cigarettes is fairly challenging; you can expect quite a few strong physical cravings each day.  The first night out is probably the hurdle that most frequently trips people up. You will be put under more pressure and feel much differently about your cravings than you did at home or at work. I hate to say it but don’t expect any support from other smokers. When someone in a group gives up smoking it is often seen as a game with everyone waiting to see when the quitter will crack. It makes quitting more challenging when others don’t believe you can quit but because others expect you to fail doesn’t mean you have to.

Getting over the first night out is tough but extremely rewarding. You will have a clearer head not just that night but on the following day. The difference between a hangover as a smoker and a non-smoker is the difference between a holiday in the Bahamas or in a caravan with Fr Noel Furlong  If you can bank that first night without a cigarette your enjoyment and the next day’s clear head will help form more motivation making your next night out easier to handle.

I find that on the first week even though the challenge is at its highest, so is your motivation and this provides an interesting energy mix. In hindsight I think the feelings of victory from getting past each individual craving actually provided me with substitute stimulation to nicotine.

A new challenge presents itself in the second and third weeks when the physical cravings become weaker and the battle lines are less clearly drawn. Your day lacks the same stimulation you had when you smoked or initially quit and you start to become bored. Through all the times I tried and failed to quit smoking the time I got tripped up most frequently was through general boredom in the second or third weeks. When the physical cravings lessen it starts to feel like you are losing something. You look at your life and suddenly realise all the situations when you smoked are no more. You start to wonder what the hell else you did besides smoking. The montage reel of your happy memories with smoking starts to play. It feels like you just dumped the family dog by the side of a road because he pissed in your slippers. It’s not too late to get him back. Let’s bring the dog home, let the good times roll and forget the whole thing ever happened. These times are extremely challenging because you are in a situation where you genuinely feel your life would be better if you smoked.  Your body and your mind are fighting the adjustment.

These feelings may seem like they will last forever but they won’t; for me they dissipated after the first three weeks. From there on out life gets far more enjoyable. You start to reap the benefits of being a non-smoker fairly quickly. After the first two or three days you will notice your lungs are clearer; after two or three weeks the difference is monumental. You have a lot more energy, both mental and physical. Things taste and smell better. A lot of people are surprised by the strong sense of smell that returns after quitting (I had to have a shower right away). The fears of heart disease and cancer that played out in your mind are no more and your sense of well-being is increased immeasurably.

As I mentioned earlier in the blog I failed at quitting a number of times before succeeding .You probably will too. Quitting smoking is a huge challenge. It’s perfectly normal to fail. We don’t set out to fail, we set out to do everything in our power to succeed, but when failure happens our brain has consciously and unconsciously learned and there is a lot of data to analyse. Getting angry and judging ourselves as an individual failure instead of human beings makes it harder for us to access that data.  If you do fail try to go easy on yourself. When you are ready to try quitting again you have a much better chance of getting over the hurdle that tripped you up this time.

It was with the benefit of hindsight and studying the psychology relating to learning and poker that I realised why the strategy I accidentally embarked on was so crucial to me quitting. The main source of my recognition was Jared Tendler and Barry Carter’s book “The Mental Game of Poker”. My next blog addresses quitting smoking through the lens of theories presented in that book.