Book Excerpt: ‘Purposeful Practice for Poker’ by Dr. Patricia Cardner and Gareth James, due in July

May 10, 2019inPoker

Due this July, Purposeful Practice for Poker by Dr. Patricia Cardner and Gareth James provides poker players a wealth of concrete advice about the “right sort of practice” they should pursue in order to improve their games.

Building on the work in her earlier books Peak Poker Performance and Positive Poker, Cardner shares knowledge gained while earning two doctorates (including one in psychology), working as a licensed professional counselor, and her time at the poker tables where she’s earned more than six figures’ worth of cashes in tournaments.

In Purposeful Practice for Poker, Cardner collaborates with tournament coach Gareth “Gazellig” James to show players how to make the most out of their study time away from the tables. They present and explain “purposeful practice” and how it can apply to poker, providing numerous techniques and exercises players can do to start improving right away.

Here’s an excerpt in which the pair explain the difference between “passive” and “active” learning, and how the latter is much more beneficial to those seriously looking to up their games.

Passive Versus Active Learning

Think back to the last time you learned something new in poker. Not when you had a Twitch stream on in the background while you played a Sunday session, passively listening to the streamer discuss their strategies or when you listened to a poker podcast on your daily commute. That is passive learning. You’re not doing anything but listening. We’re talking about the time you took a deep dive into a poker concept, theory, or idea and you were so curious and motivated that you actively took steps to understand it more. You took the time to actively link what you learned to your own game. During your sessions you would see similar situations pop up time and time again. You made mistakes, you learned from them, you made the connections between what you were learning and what you were experiencing. You posted the idea in your study group. You spent time discussing the concept with your poker friends. You did everything you could to deepen your understanding.

If you haven’t ever learned something in an active way, then that is about to change.

The Learning Cone (Dale’s Cone of Experience)

Source: Adapted from E. Dale, Audiovisual Methods in Teaching, 1969, NY: Dryden Press

During the 1960s, Edgar Dale theorized that learners retain more information by what they do rather than what they hear, read or observe. The least effective method of learning is at the top of the cone. This includes learning from information like reading strategy articles and forum posts and listening to podcasts. If you’re reading this book, you’ve probably consumed educational poker content at some point in your poker career. If you read a lot of strategy articles and listen to a lot of poker podcasts you’re probably not making the most of your time and are employing the least effective method of learning. Dale believed that people generally remember 10% of what they read and 20% of they hear. As the co-hosts of the popular Poker On The Mind podcast we obviously don’t want you to stop listening but, instead, want you to recognize that it is less effective than other methods. Having said that, we do encourage discussion of the ideas we present and a lot of our show concepts and topics can be used as a starting off point for your own learning. Listening to podcasts is great, but it’s not the most effective way to learn unless you do some work to transform it into an active process.

The cone looks at the average retention rate for various methods of teaching and learning. The closer you get to the bottom of the cone, the greater the learning and the more information you are likely to retain. It really highlights the importance of active learning over passive learning. According to Dale, we should design educational activities that build upon more real-life experiences. In poker, this means learning from real hands that you play. While it’s certainly educational to watch the Super High Roller games on TV, learning about why they do something and then trying to apply it at your local $100 bar league game might not be the best thing to do. You can work out why the best players in the world are doing what they’re doing, but also recognize that they are doing it because they are playing against the best players in the world.

Active learning is how adults learn best. You can make your learning more active by discussing hands with friends, collaborating with them, thinking critically about hands, spots and situations, solving problems and connecting your new learning and understanding to the games you play.

Here are some examples of passive and active learning in poker:


  • Reading an article or forum post
  • Listening to a podcast
  • Watching live streams
  • Watching a training video


  • Joining a study group and participating in discussion
  • Contributing constructively to a forum or Facebook group
  • Teaching what you know to someone else
  • Running simulations

Watching training videos and live streams are a more effective way of retaining information and learning, but they are still examples of passive learning. Taking notes on the video or stream, though? Now we’re talking. We’re starting to get to the most effective way of learning… active learning.

The Learning Cycle

“Learning is the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience.” – David A. Kolb (Kolb, 1984, p. 38).

Extending Dale’s Cone of Experience idea that we learn and retain more from what we do rather than we read, see or watch, Kolb’s Learning Cycle takes the experiential learning idea and puts it into a continuous sequence of development. He says that to learn effectively, a learner must actually have a concrete experience. They would then reflect on this experience to review what has been done and experienced. This is followed by the process of making sense of what happened, drawing comparisons between what they already know and drawing on theory to further their understanding. The final stage encourages learners to work out how they are going to apply their newfound knowledge and put it into practice. As Dale’s Cone of Experience also explained, it’s important to place the learning in context that is relevant to you.

Experiential Learning

Source: Adapted from D. Kolb, Experiential Learning, Experience as the Source of Learning and Development, 1984, N.J.: Prentice-Hall

As you can see, taking an active role in the learning process takes some effort. It is far easier to passively consume learning materials, but in the end you don’t really learn much and it actually wastes time! Having said that, let’s get into how to plan out your study sessions so that you can increase your knowledge as quickly as possible.

Purposeful Practice for Poker is available for pre-order in paperback and as an e-book at D&B Poker.

D&B Publishing (using the imprint D&B Poker) was created by Dan Addelman and Byron Jacobs 15 years ago. Since then it has become one of the leading publishers of poker books with titles by Phil Hellmuth, Jonathan Little, Mike Sexton, Chris Moorman, Dr. Patricia Cardner, Lance Bradley, Martin Harris and more, all of which are available at D&B Poker.



PokerStars staff

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