Monday, March 12, 2007

My Thoughts on "Poker Goals"

I've seen threads on Cardschat.com regarding "poker goals" and I've been thinking about mine a bit. As someone with a sales background, I know the importance of setting goals for one's self. If they are for things like losing weight or sales quotas, a person can set the goal with a certain time frame to achieve it. A person can monitor their progress and step it up if they fall behind or cruise if they are assured of hitting the goal in the homestretch. But in poker, things are not so predictable or easy to monitor. You can't "try harder" if you are behind or "slow down" when you are ahead of pace. If a player does those things in poker, they will either start tilting or start missing bets or pots. "Poker goals" are an entirely different animal than regular goals.

I'm of the opinion that poker goals must be adjustable because there are so many uncontrollable factors affecting our play. The nearest I can tell at lower levels, every cash table and every tourney table is different. The players or even the type of players is rarely the same. Even in freerolls this is true. Also, the cards never fall the same way at each table. No matter how much we poker fanatics deny it, luck will always be a factor in our game to varying degrees. Even the best poker pros in the world get robbed on the river.

I usually have a daily goal, a monthly goal, and a long-term goal tucked away somewhere. But I know the each can change at anytime. So when and how should we "adjust" our goals? I usually start a day of poker with a realistic goal relating to an amount I want to make. Then as the day passes, I assess that goal as conditions change. About every hour I consider things like if I'm tense, if I ran into some good players, if I had some bad beats. I'll even go back and look at some hands to see if I lost because of luck or bad play (I'm about 50/50, so far). If I'm running a negative amount, I usually reset my goal to getting back to or slightly back over "even".

So why reset a goal? Isn't that cheating, as goals go? My opinion is "No". The simplest way to explain my reasoning is just to re-utter that worn out phrase "That's poker." Basically translated, it means "I played that hand perfectly and I still lost. The luck in poker is what got me." Though it is advisable to avoid being "results-oriented" and to always play that hand the exact same correct way when faced with it again, I still think a player should then adjust his goal in allowance for the bad luck hand (or even the bad luck day or week, in some cases). I'd allow this since the play was correct and the result shouldn't penalize the player and hurt his progress towards his goal. I'd categorize this the same as having to take a week off from poker to go visit sick Aunt Bessie. An adjustment would surely be in order then.

It's all psychological. If a person wants to progress in their poker achievements, I think they should be able to adjust on the fly as conditions dictate. They should be able to treat themselves to a sense of accomplishment, even though they lost. It's good for the confidence. Now when I fail to reach a daily or even monthly goal, I do analyze my play and fix what needs it. I don't always "make excuses" for why I shouldn't worry about it. There's been plenty of times when my adjusted goal wasn't achieved and I had to realize I failed. Making goals would be fruitless if I always tried to "adjust" my way out of them. But I always keep perspective and put blame where it deserves to be. I think it's OK to be happy about a small loss and to also be unhappy with a big win. Luck can decide it both ways.

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