Setting Poker Goals in 2010

Ah, tis the season when we make resolutions and we buy one-year gym memberships that will never be used after Feb. I’ve seen many people writing about their poker goals for the next year and I thought it might be interesting to discuss the difference between goals that you are likely to achieve and those that you are likely to fail reaching.

Back in my project management days we were taught that goals must be SMART. Actually what they mean is that a goal that does not have the following characteristics is not likely to be achieved.

Specific
Measurable
Attainable
Realistic
Timely

This holds true for everything ranging from building a skyscraper to losing 10 lbs. If your goals don’t contain those characteristics then you’re already staking the deck against yourself (pun intended).

Specific

This refers to the What, Why, and How of the goal. What are you going to do? Why are your doing it? How are you going to do it?

So let’s take an example and say that in 2010 you want to improve your poker game. Well, that really doesn’t say what you’re going to do, why, or how. Are you going to chant mantras? Are you going to read a poker book? What, Why, and How?

So the first thing you might do is revise your goal to be:

In 2010 I will improve my poker game by correcting the following flaws in my pre-flop play because they are costing me a lot of money. I will accomplish this by analyzing my pre-flop play and developing a strategy to overcome my leaks.

Be more aggressive in the CO and button to steal more blinds
Widen up the range of hands I’ll play back with at steal attempts
Quit playing marginal hands out of position

Measurable

How will you know if you are meeting your goals? If you can’t measure performance then you’re going to be hard pressed to know whether or not you’ve succeeded.

In our above example, now you can go fire up Poker Tracker or your favorite poker analyzer and start looking at your game. So for instance, if you want to be more aggressive in the CO and button to steal more blinds take a look at your current stats. How do they compare to recommended norms for good players? What should they be? Come up with a target number and now you have a measurable goal. You can do the same with the other sub-goals.

Realistically, you would want to use this to better define your top-level goal. So for instance what range of hands should you be playing? What changes should you make to that range if the blinds are aggressive defenders? This is a place to come up with statistical goals but also to help you better understand exactly what will get your numbers to where they need to be.

Attainable

This can mean a few different things depending on the type of goal but in this case you’re basically asking if you have the resources to accomplish the goal. In this case there’s enough information out there that you can use to help you meet your goals. You have Poker Tracker to track your stats, you have message boards like 2+2 that you can read advice from other players and seek feedback, and you can purchase books that teach you how to play pre-flop correctly.

Realistic

This one is usually where many goals fall apart. Being realistic doesn’t mean being easy but at the same time there are things that make a goal impossible to achieve. A good sign of a poor manager is one who sets unrealistic expectations and expects pure force of will to make up for the shortcomings of his goal setting.

I remember one boss I worked for you listed 70 or 80 software engineering projects he wanted completed in the next 90 days. Given my time estimates the most the available staff would be able to accomplish was 30. I suggested pairing the list down to 35 and offering a bonus or incentive if they can hit 35. He refused saying having 70 – 80 on the list would inspire people to work harder.

Of course, we completed only 27 but could have done more if the staff’s morale wasn’t tanked by the fact that they knew that they could never achieve the objective. The goals were unrealistic and as soon as they realized that they quit working as hard since they could never hit them anyway.

You should keep the same thing in mind setting your goals. Don’t use a timetable that’s going to be impossible to meet or a goal so far out there (i.e. win rate of 30BB/100) that you give up knowing your effort is futile.

Timely

Giving yourself a timeline in which to meet your goal helps keep it realistic since you can then map out how much progress you need to make each day, each week, and each month. But it’s important to have a timeline because many people simply figure they’ll do it tomorrow or the next day or next week. Having firm dates and trying to keep to them keeps you focused on achieving the goal.

Tips Specific to Poker Goals

When looking for goals to set you should analyze your game from the top down. That means start at your pre-flop game and work towards the river. As Ed Miller has pointed out in posts and in his books the more frequently you make a mistake the more it costs you. It’s obviously a huge mistake to fold a royal flush on the river to a small bet but how many times are you going to be in that position over the course of your poker playing career? Very few.

On the other hand, every single hand of poker has a pre-flop action to make. If you are making pre-flop mistakes you have the potential to make them every single hand.

So start with your pre-flop game when looking for goals. When you’re happy with your pre-flop game then move onto the flop since that’s the next most common situation you’ll be faced with and can possibly make a mistake. Then onto the turn and river accordingly.

Seriously, simply being better at stealing blinds can be the difference between a winning and losing player so get yourself out of the habit of focusing on fancy plays post-flop if your pre-flop stats look horrible. Look at your stats. Dig deep and see if you’re playing pre-flop the best game you can play.

Everybody wants to play like the big boys who play trash UTG and steal pots on the turn but unless you’re currently crushing the game, chances are you stand to make far more money mastering your pre-flop game than you are improving your post-flop game.

Anyway, best of luck to everyone on their 2010 goals. Hopefully, I won’t be playing against any of you at the tables :-)

Bill Rini
Bill Rini is currently the Head of Online Poker for WSOP. He has been working in the online poker industry since 2004 and has held management roles at Full Tilt Poker and PartyPoker.

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