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Poker Goals

I’ve been playing poker on a regular basis for a while and unfortunately I don’t think I’ve improved significantly over the past twelve months. Even though I’m still a winning player (not that it means much since I’m playing at the lowest stakes available), I’m not winning the maximum I could. After talking to some friends and doing some reading, I realized there are three key areas I can work on that would help me improve:

Paying Attention

I barely pay attention at the table because I’m usually on my phone. I’m either browsing through social media or catching Magikarp on Pokemon Go (yes I’m fishing in more ways than one when I sit at the poker table). When I don’t pay attention I miss out on valuable information. It’s much easier to pay attention when I’m involved in a hand, but that happens what I estimate to be less than twenty-five percent of the time. The other seventy-five percent of the hands I’m dealt I fold preflop and either zone out or go back to my phone. When I’m not involved in a hand, other people are still playing their hands and it’s important to take mental notes when hands go to showdown.

One thing I can work on is to look left preflop before I act and see what other players intend to do. When I’m dealt a hand I don’t look at it until it’s my turn to avoid giving tells as to what I want to do. However most players I play against look at their cards immediately and many blatantly give away their intentions such as holding out calling or raising chips or doing the “fold hold” (cards pinched between their thumb and index finger). It goes without saying knowing what other players want to do before I act makes my life a lot easier at the table.

It also goes without saying if my phone is distracting me at the table then I simply have to stop using it while I’m sitting at the table. I don’t want to delete Facebook or Instagram from my phone, but I recently read online one little trick you can do to limit the amount of time you spend on mobile apps is to move them off your home screen. Move the apps you want to use often to your home screen so you’re more likely to use them.

Recording Hand Histories

All the successful players constantly stress about how important it is to review hands and study away from the table. I barely study and it shows at the table because very often I find myself in spots where I’m not sure whether I should call a bet, value bet or run a bluff. When I record the hands I’ve played and analyze them at home, I can see my mistakes and whether or not I’m profiting. For example if I want to see the flop with a small pocket pair, I need to make on average at least ten times the amount I put in preflop. That’s only a general rule, but it makes the math easy when I’m figuring out whether or not I have the correct odds to call a bet at the table. If I’m not making ten times the amount I put in preflop with pocket pairs, then there’s something with my play I would need to address.

To put this in SMART goal terms, it would be to record at least two hands per hour each session and to post on Two Plus Two at least five times a week. I have a voice recorder app so all I have to do if I want to record a hand is to narrate how it played out then when I get home I can input it in Poker Hand Replayer. This saves me brain power from having to memorize hands for several hours. When I’m sitting at the table, I want to devote my energy towards making the best decision in the current situation, not having to mentally keep track of other things technology can do for me. Posting hands online allows me to get feedback from other players and that’s valuable. I’ll also comment on hand histories other people post to practice articulating my thought process throughout a hand. This leads to the third area I want to work on:

Strategizing

This is very broad since everyone can improve their strategy. My goal is to be able to articulate the reasoning behind every decision point. Two simple questions to ask myself is what’s my value or bluff target? When I value bet, I have to be able to say I’m betting because I put villain on a range of A, B and C and I want him to call with A and B since he puts me on a range of X, Y and Z. When I bluff, it’s because I played that hand consistent with how I would play a monster hand and villain’s range is largely weak one pair hands that will fold often enough for me to make a profit.

Planning ahead usually answers the question of why I’m taking a specific action. To quote an old proverb: failing to plan is planning to fail. Before I make a bet on the flop, I know the other player has only three options: fold, call or raise. I also know there are only forty-seven different possible turn cards, some of them good for me, some of them not so I can begin formulating profitable plans. A simple one involves bluffing the flop with 8h 9h on a 7h Ts 2s flop. Even if you get called, there are a lot of good turn cards for your hand. Any 6 or J will give you a straight. Any spade or A or K is a scare card for the other player (they always put you on AK when you raise preflop) so you can continue bluffing. Furthermore any heart or 8 or 9 gives you more outs. That’s seventy percent of the deck which is a really profitable situation to be in.

I consider these goals to be basic and on paper they seem very easy to achieve. I want to build these habits first so things like picking up physical tells and articulating my thoughts become natural. Then I can work on more advanced stuff like equity calculations, range analysis and game theory optimal plays in different scenarios.

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