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.


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