As a fanboy, the 2017 World Series of Poker (WSOP) was awesome. Numbers were up, big names captured gold, and having both PokerNews and PokerGO capture the action was a treat. One of my favorite storylines over the summer was watching Doug Polk take down the $111,111 One Drop High Roller for $3,686,865 and his third gold bracelet.
On the flip side, things didn’t go so hot for me as a player. I played in eight bracelet events (probably a half dozen more about town) and finished in the money just once for barely more than a min-cash. All the while, my game just didn’t seem up to par and it did a number on my confidence. To top it all off, I lasted just three hours in the WSOP Main Event (it’s a long story that’s best summed up by me bloating too many pots instead of playing small ball), which is shameful.
On my long flight home from Vegas, I resolved to work on my game and return for the 2018 WSOP a new-and-improved player. Given that the aforementioned Polk had won three bracelets in four years, not to mention millions of dollars in prize money, I figured there was no better place to reinvigorate my game than on his and Ryan Fee’s training site, Upswing Poker.
Since it launched in May 2015, Upswing Poker has grown into one of poker’s most recognizable brands, bolstered by the fact that its members are continually finding poker success. Over the past four years, I’ve tried to find that same sort of success, the kind I enjoyed after winning the 2013 WSOP Event #1: $500 Casino Employees for $84,915 and a bracelet. Regrettably, that same level of success has eluded me.
Recognizing that change is needed is the first step in what I know it going to be a long journey. There will be no quick and easy fix. To revamp my game, I first decided to tackle the Advanced Heads-Up Mastery course. It just seemed to make sense given that Polk is known as one of the best heads-up no-limit hold’em players in the world. I was anxious to learn his secrets.
The Advanced Heads-Up Mastery course costs $999, which may seem steep for a lot of players, myself included. However, investing in an elite level training course taught by one of poker’s best seemed like a worthwhile investment, so I pulled the trigger.
I should probably note that this particular course was designed for advanced mid-high stakes players. In other words, it’s not where you want to start if you’re a beginner. I am far from a high-stakes player, but I do flirt with the middle stakes. In cash, I usually play $2/$5 and have played as high as $25/$50 (I once appeared on Poker Night in America and won a nice chunk of change). In tournaments, I often play $350-$2,500 buy-ins with the occasional bigger buy-in event sprinkled in.
I began by watching Polk’s intro video to the course, which I learned was comprised of 80+ videos and would span 32+ hours while covering a bunch of different topics. They included but were not limited to:
- Walking through different branches of the game tree
- Breaking down combinations across all actions
- Cover common lines and strategies
- Deep theory and combination work
- 3-Bet pot strategy breakdowns
- Game Tree Analysis
- Combinations Facing River Probe
I’ll admit, I didn’t know what some of that meant, though I figured I’d learn soon enough. After all, 32 hours of video is a lot of content; in fact, it’s an intimidating amount of content (imagine going to a college-level course for an hour a day for more than a month).
Make no mistake, the videos in Advanced Heads-Up Mastery are chock full of sophisticated concepts. It requires you to pay close attention in order to follow what’s being said and how it all ties together. For me, the best way to do that was to keep a notepad next to my computer and jot down notes throughout the course.
Having never signed up for an online site before (I was always “old school” and learned from books), I went in with concerns regarding organization and navigability. Those were alleviated right off the bat as Polk demonstrated exactly how to use the site to its full effect.
To my satisfaction, the course was laid out in sequential manner corresponding to how you’d play a hand of heads-up poker. It begins by examining all things preflop (ranges, three-bets, four-bets, etc.), and exploring the math behind it all.
I’m far from a mathematician, and at times all the numbers and charts could be a bit overwhelming. Still, I wrestled with what I didn’t know and did my best to understand. It’s the only way to truly improve. As I said before, it reminded me a lot of the sort of classes I took in college and, to be fair, if there was a poker doctorate, Advanced Heads-Up Mastery would be a required course.
Advanced Heads-Up Mastery then moves on to street-by-street play, which covers a plethora of topics such as how to react to/execute a continuation-bet, probing range combinations, and playing against both a delayed continuation-bet and double delay continuation-bet (I had no idea what the latter was before this course).
As I progressed, I discovered Polk presented the dense information in digestible videos that usually clocked in between 6-10 minutes. In today’s short-attention span world, it’s hard to expect people to stay engaged for long periods of time, and they did a solid job finding the sweet spot.
It’s impossible to highlight all the information covered in the Advanced Heads-Up Mastery course in this review, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my favorite part, which was the thorough examination of three and four-bet pots. One of the weakest parts of my game is playing back at my opponents, and part of my hesitation is not recognizing the right situations to do it. Polk solved this for me, at least when it comes to heads-up play.
He delved into calling/raising from both the small and big blinds, defending in and out of position, playing a check strategy, and how playing against each bet can influence the hand on later streets (i.e., it can lead to floating, value betting, bluffs, etc.).
“You have to be a lot more concerned in the big blind about the way you’re going to play the later streets,” Polk said in the introduction to the Big Blind 3-Bet Pots section. “In general, what that means is that it drives down your bet-by street, and it means you’re going to have to play a little bit better when you decide to check.”
The first time I heard that I thought to myself, “What the hell is he talking about?” (I thought that a lot throughout the course). If you’re in the same boat, fear not as Polk’s strength is fleshing things out to help you understand the advanced concepts being presented. Concerning the above statement, he offers his own samples as examples, analyzes bet vs. check, triple barreling, and what to do when facing a flop check back.
It’s a lot to take in, but by taking it one step at a time – for me that meant consuming 3-5 videos a day – you’ll begin to grasp foreign concepts and see the lessons take effect.
The course concludes with “Play and Explain,” where Polk examines online heads-up hands he’s played against Ben “Sauce123” Sulsky. This was one of my favorite parts of the course. I’m not an online player, but I have spent years following the online high-stakes action. It was awesome to not only hear Polk explain his thought processes in each hand, but to actually understand what was being said.
For me, it tied together everything I’d just learned and I saw each hand in a new light. It was that “aha moment” where I realized all the time and effort I’d put into Advanced Heads-Up Mastery had led to a positive poker paradigm shift.
As far as content goes, I really don’t have any criticisms. It’s an exhaustive, all-inclusive course that covers everything you need to know about heads-up play. If there’s room for improvement, and this may be a bit nitpicky, it’s with presentation.
The videos are simply Polk seated at his computer talking to the viewer. He’ll often utilize charts and graphs, but I oftentimes found myself wishing there was something more, maybe onscreen text or bullet points to help highlight the most important information. I would’ve found it incredibly useful if, at the end of each video, there was a quick recap of the concepts highlighted in that particular lesson.
Furthermore, while I found video navigation easy and well organized, the site did not keep track of which videos I’d already watched. It’s a small criticism, but it would have been nice to know what material I’d already covered without having to keep track myself.
I was impressed by what Upswing Poker had to offer and feel the Advanced Heads-Up Mastery course helped me improve not only my heads-up game (I honestly finished it with the confidence and itch to play in a heads-up event at next year’s WSOP), but my game as a whole.
That’s because the course, while geared towards heads-up poker players, isn’t limited to them. I found that understanding the wide-range situations presented applied to all forms of poker. I’ve used many of the concepts presented to improve my pot-limit Omaha game and performance in MTT tournaments.
Speaking of which, I enjoyed the Advanced Heads-Up Mastery experience so much that I plan to continue my journey of poker improvement with Upswing Poker by exploring their other courses, especially PLO University and Tournament Master Class.
Success in poker isn’t guaranteed. All you can do is study, improve your game, and be prepared for the opportunities that come your way. In the past I wasn’t studying, my game was stagnant, and I let many opportunities slip through my fingers. By tackling the Advanced Heads-Up Mastery course, I finally feel like things are headed in the right direction.