Sunday, June 04, 2006

Dead Reckoning

Finally took the plunge a couple of weeks back and laid down the requisite number of pesos for a copy of Poker Tracker. Anticipating such a decision, I’d been hoarding all of my hand histories since New Year’s and by now have entered the lot. I plan to write something about the program once I get a better handle on how best to read and utilize the numbers. For now I’m just sittin’ here wide-eyed and mouth agape as I gaze at the sheer amount of dope this here program churns out. (Those of you who’ve picked it up know what I’m talkin’ about. What’s your VP$IP? How about your PFR%?)

For me getting Poker Tracker was an extension of an already borderline-obsessive attitude about record-keeping. When I opened my first cash account (at Stars), I had little clue about the value of record-keeping. (I had little clue about a lot of things poker-related, actually. Still do, for that matter, but I’m trying.) Through a combination of good fortune and blood simple fear of playing for more than nickels, I managed to preserve my initial $50 deposit for three months or so. I know I dipped as low as $20-25 at one point, but somehow I never bottomed out. I was sitting on $66.86 when I finally decided to start keeping a log book of how I was doing. I chose one of those little black moleskin notepads with the elastic band and graph paper. Kind of thing a shamus might actually use.

I began by simply noting how much I’d made or lost in a given day, also writing in totals at the end of each week and each month. Eventually I began recording how much I’d made or lost in a given session, as well as what game I had played and on which site. When I look back today I see that the first four days of such reporting didn’t go so well for me (I’d slipped back down under $50). I recovered a bit, but the first full week saw a loss of $6.59. From there began the nice, steady, slow climb that has characterized my poker career (thus far). I was playing mostly NL then (although I didn’t record that fact at the time), and made $21.19 the second week and $50.79 the third. Most weeks after that were in the black (thought not all), as were most months (but not all). About a month after I began the log I cashed my first $100, as indicated by my note of having done so.

Some time after I began noticing pros recommending keeping records. I heard a CardPlayer interview with WSOP Main Event winner Joe Hachem in which he talked about the importance of keeping records as a way to improve your game. “If you don’t keep tabs on yourself,” he said, “you can’t judge whether you’re winning or losing.” He goes on to tell a humorous story of a “hopeless” friend of his, a fellow who is “such a losing player, it’s not funny.” This poor palooka claimed to keep records of his play. The way he explained it, he’d start each month tallying his wins, then if he had three losing sessions he’d wipe the month off and start fresh the next month. (Poker provides endless opportunities for self-delusion . . . .)

Frankly I can’t imagine not keeping records, though I suspect the majority of players don’t bother. Besides being able to help you see whether you’re winning or losing, keeping records has other advantages. Doing so helps you spot trends in your game (e.g., what games/levels are winners for you, whether you do better playing 1-2 hrs. than when you play 5-6 hrs., etc.) from which you can benefit. You also get frequently to revisit the “big picture” and see how, say, one losing session fits into a winning week or month or year. For me there’s also something positive about the routine of taking down the totals insofar as it has become one of several actions (like listening to Frank Zappa or chomping on ice cubes) that help put me in a “comfort” zone when I play.

Anyhow, I recommend keepin’ for yourself a regular reckoning of your play. It won’t automatically make you a winner (unless you keep records the same way Hachem’s friend does), but it will add to your knowledge of the game -- most importantly, of your game.

Poker Tracker’s something all right. Have I been losing nearly half a BB on average every hand I play Q9-suited? Can I really have made a net of $40 playing J4-suited, including 85% of my showdowns with that garbage? Gonna have to investigate . . . .

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