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How Do I Study Poker? Top Pros Share Their Secrets

Stephen Song, Andrew Lichtenberger, and Chance Kornuth Weigh In

by Craig Tapscott |  Published: Jan 10, 2024


The Pros: Stephen Song, Andrew Lichtenberger, and Chance Kornuth

This trio of high-stakes poker pros are among the most decorated in history, combining for more than 50 wins on the circuit and $40 million in live tournament earnings alone.

Chance Kornuth is now 37, and had his best year after an already-stellar run coming out of the pandemic. The Colorado native racked up the three biggest scores of his career at this summer’s WSOP. The three-time bracelet winner started off with a runner-up finish in the $25,000 six-max event for $751,463 and followed that up two weeks later with a fourth-place showing in the $100,000 event for another $833,854. The very next tournament, he stepped up the buy-in to $250,000 and took fifth for a career-best $1,202,318.

Kornuth now lives in Nashville with his wife and daughter, and spends his non-playing time sharing his strategies on the Chip Leader Coaching training platform, creating courses such as The Closer, Optimize Your Mind, and Bracelet Hunter.

Andrew Lichtenberger is 36, and has been playing the game for half of his life. The New York native was one of the original high rollers, having won a $100,000 event at Bellagio back in 2014 for $2,104,245. The bracelet winner got close to that score again in 2023 when he finished runner-up in the $300,000 buy-in Super High Roller Bowl for $1,680,000. Incredibly, it was just one notch better than his finish in 2022, when he took third for $1,152,000.

Lichtenberger recently partnered with top pros and minds Nick Schulman and Victoria Livschitz to create Octopi Poker, an AI tool that allows for collaborative GTO study and has a database of hand analysis from top pros featuring numerous real-life hands from the PokerGO Tour.

Stephen Song is the youngest of the three at 26, but is one of the hottest players as of late, having won three WSOP Circuit rings in the span of just two weeks between November and December, taking down the main event in Chicago and two side events in North Carolina. That now gives him six overall, to go along with a bracelet and the inaugural WPT Prime Championship title, which was worth $712,650.

The Connecticut native and former chess standout did so well last year that he was named GPI Player of the Year, despite playing a schedule that was full of mostly mid-stakes events.

Card Player caught up with these three phenoms to find out just how they got to the top of the mountain, and what they do to stay there.

Craig Tapscott: Where do you feel you’re getting ahead of other poker players? What do you think you’re studying that other players may be neglecting?

Stephen SongStephen Song: My advantage over other poker players is having such a great group of close friends I’ve come up with throughout the years. Despite being an individual’s game, I believe having a solid group of motivated poker friends is necessary to succeed in poker.

One of my greatest strengths is getting into my opponents’ heads and figuring out my image through their eyes. I’m not a live reads guy, but I do think I have a solid grasp of being able to read table dynamics and situations that benefit my decision-making in close spots.

For the people reading who find themselves rolling their eyes at someone talking about a hand or their thought process, even if you think they’re wrong or straight-up delusional, I’d recommend still listening. You could learn something that could give you a better idea of how to improve your game.

Studying the fundamentals and running outputs of hands is essential, but people neglect to listen to other people’s opinions. Even if you disagree with what is said, learning someone’s approach to a particular spot or situation can be vital to one’s game.

Andrew Lichtenberger: I have a pretty exceptional memory, which contributes to a helpful recall of hands played, both my own and those of others, as well as strategic recollections from study sessions and discussions with peers.

I also have strong intuition and willingness to trust myself in game and ‘do what makes sense,’ overriding pre-existing ideas or what have you.

Chance KornuthChance Kornuth: My game is very well-rounded. I have seen a lot with my 16+ years of experience playing professionally, so I don’t think there is any area of my game that is seriously lacking.

I spend 20+ hours a month coaching and building content for Chip Leader Coaching. I also get to do the majority of it with [fellow high-stakes crusher] Alex Foxen. This experience has allowed me to spend time studying any past area of my game that I felt could be stronger. 

You can’t be great at poker without understanding the math. Each bet or call has an expected value associated with it. Without understanding this, you are just out there gambling.

Pattern recognition is also essential. People think it’s just my physical-reading ability, and I’m not going to lie, that helps. But it also has helped me see many situations where I just know if a bluff will work and if people are likely to be strong or weak.

You also need to focus. Paying attention to your table after you fold is a poker superpower. There is no hand replayer in live poker.

Craig Tapscott: Where do you see poker strategy advancing over the next few years?

Stephen Song: It is impossible to say what will happen with future poker strategy. Every year I find myself learning something completely new despite assuming that with the technology and computer power we have at hand there’s not much else to learn.
If I had to guess, I would say that multiway spots will be more studied, and you’ll see people at the highest level trying new things. Heads-up pots have been the focus of everyone for years since the programs for heads-up spots have been much simpler [and faster] for everyone to use.

Now with how good technology is improving for poker software and more and more people studying multiway pots, I’m sure there will be new innovations that will catch on with everyone.

Andrew Lichtenberger: That’s a great question, and certainly, one of our points of interest and focus with Octopi Poker. I would say the likely direction that poker study takes is more practical in nature.

There’s a wealth of theoretical knowledge already available, and while this will continue to become more prevalent when we look at the strategies players implement in game, there’s still a large gap between a lot of these more nuanced theoretical concepts and the actual strategies that (most) players employ. This gap is due in part to models only scratching the surface of realistic parameters and also the inability for humans to recall such nuanced strategies (or find them to have enough merit to implement in game).

There’s also a large component of intuition and ‘intangibles,’ if you will. I expect that over time, we see a more intricate blending of these ideas, and it will be exciting to observe how different players decide to approach this disposition and the depth therein, between the logical and more intuitive aspects of the game.

Chance Kornuth: I think that players will continue to become more exploitative as they already have.

A few years ago, there was a huge GTO/Solver boom, and everyone began to study that. Now, people are starting to realize they aren’t playing against players who are GTO, and that optimal strategy becomes figuring out when and how to exploit them as much as possible.

Craig Tapscott: What would you advise the average player to study and apply to get good quickly in today’s game?

Stephen Song: I personally think the best way to improve at a fast rate is a mix of constant studying and online poker.

Online poker is a great tool to put in massive amounts of volume and become used to similar situations over and over again. There are also tools to review and analyze your past hand histories online whereas live poker you have to resort to memory or writing hands in a journal.

A mix of online and study is great where you can learn something new and put it into practice more often that if you were playing live seeing a fraction of the hands per hour you would play online. This will improve your fundamentals and prepare you for the live arena, which if you want to get into live poker, you have to also devote countless hours to sitting at the tables in person.

Experience is so important when playing live poker, something I did not realize for most of my early career. So, to answer the question of how to get good fast? You can’t do it “fast.” Maybe you could do it in a year, but you’d have to devote countless hours and almost your whole life to the game.

Andrew LichtenbergerAndrew Lichtenberger: I think for a beginner the best thing you can do is to get a private coach who can mentor you and be there with you every step of the way. This might not be practical for a number of reasons, but there’s plenty of free resources right now in the form of streams and YouTube content which has the potential to inform beginners. Octopi Poker will also offer a free tier to gain exposure to beginner study materials, in addition to the content we will publish publicly.

Playing poker is naturally a pre-requisite to learning because you need some kind of relatability between conceptual ideas and pragmatic ones. Finding a friend or two to work with, better yet a group, is even more helpful since you’ll have others to bounce ideas and experiences off of. Being honest with yourself and always looking for ways to improve and avoid losing chips, whilst not pretending that losing isn’t an inevitable part of the game, is also paramount to finding success in poker.

The more you can begin to identify patterns in different poker situations the more likely you are to find success. There’s no one right way though, there are many ways, and taking action in the direction of the desired goal is what matters most at the start. Lastly, always remember to have fun and enjoy the process when times get tough. No growth happens without mistakes and short term fails!

Chance Kornuth: Learn the math first and understand the EV (expected value) of making and calling bets. If there is $100 in the middle and you bet $50 on the river with a bluff, it only has to work one-third of the time to break even. This same very simple concept applies to every street of the game, and I am always confounded by the number of people who don’t understand it. 

Next would be to start seeing what the solver outputs are, but don’t try to memorize them. Try to understand why the solver is doing what it is doing. Once you understand that, the game becomes easy. There are a lot of spots I have never plugged into a solver, but I am able to think my way through them and quite often figure out the optimal play. ♠

Twitter/X: Stephen Song – @songstephen11
Andrew Lichtenberger – @luckychewy
Chance Kornuth – @ChancesCards

*Photos by PokerGO and World Poker Tour