Review Your Play for the New Year
Jan 02, 2006  
2006 Jason Kirk  

A big part of getting better at poker is taking the time to reflect upon your play, your results, and what sort of correlation there is between the two. Players who never take stock of their game don't improve - they don't know themselves well enough to fix the holes that keep them from advancing. If you're dedicated to improving your game, there are few times as good as the start of a new year to take a look at how you've played and where you're heading. If you play on any sort of regular basis, a year's worth of poker is a big enough sample to give you some idea of how your game is progressing. Reviewing your play over the last year can help you identify weaknesses that you can strengthen - and that you can exploit when you see them in your opponents!

First things first: if you want to be able to review your play, keeping records is an absolute necessity. Online players have it easy because software packages like PokerTracker are available that can log every hand they ever play, tracking how they perform at various times of day, with different hands, at different levels and games. Players who get most of their poker in live games should keep some sort of written records of each session they play, with their final result. Writing down a few notes about the general game conditions can be helpful. For example, knowing that you lost a lot of money to a maniac who caught cards all night is a lot more useful than a simple statistic of -$150. Also, any details about hands you've played can be very helpful down the road when you're trying to assess your game. If you haven't been keeping records of the sessions you've played over the last year, this is a great time to make a resolution to track your play.

There's an old adage that money is the only scoreboard in poker, so the most obvious thing to look at first is the health of your bankroll over the previous year. If you have been keeping records, you'll want to look for the year's high water marks and low points. Anyone who sees a steady rising pattern probably has nothing to worry about. It's always a good idea to look over your biggest wins and losses just to review, but chances are you won't find too much out of the ordinary. For others who may have had a more see-saw year, it's important to figure out whether the swings you experienced were the result of your own poor play or if they came from standard variance. The only way to do that is to get into the nuts and bolts of how you've been playing.

Players using a software package like PokerTracker have everything they need to assess their play right in front of them. The place to start is with a monthly summary of your results. Pick out the months of your biggest wins and losses, and take a look at the sessions that comprised those months. Looking over your biggest losing sessions, you should be able to discover why you lose when you do. One thing to look for is how many hands you choose to play out of position, especially when you play them for more than one bet before seeing more cards. Another leak shared by many players is cold-calling too often - that is, calling more than one bet when you don't already have money in the pot. Then there's how often you play hands which are easily dominated, one of the biggest holes in many players' games.

Looking over the biggest winning sessions of the year can sometimes be even more helpful. For every time someone gets unlucky and loses, there's an other guy who gets lucky and wins - and nobody is immune from getting lucky here and there. The problem is that some players are immune to being honest with themselves about how often they get lucky. The more often you get your money in with the worst hand and win, the more you should be worried about your winning ways ending at some point in the very near future. If you find that the only times you win big are when you get lucky, it's worth going back to the basics and reading a book or two to fix your game.

Whatever you find when you review your play, resolve to make the new year an even better one the last by playing in a way that will improve your results over the long run. There's nothing more enjoyable in poker than winning!

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