Goal setting works.
On the endless road to strengthen your poker game, giving yourself targets will help you become a better player. However, to benefit as much as possible, it is important to set goals which are both useful and achievable.
To give you an idea of some effective poker goals, here’s the top five goals I’ve set for myself:
- Play a set amount of hands/hours per day.
- Dedicate time to studying poker.
- Spend time reviewing my own play.
- Move up in stakes.
- Balance poker with other activities.
We’ll take an in-depth look at each of those shortly. First, it’s important to understand the common mistake many players make when setting goals.
Don’t Set Goals You Can’t Control!
A common goal poker players make is to make a certain amount of money over a set period of time. For instance:
My goal is to make $5,000 at my local $2/$5 game this month.
There are a couple of huge problems with setting a goal like this one. Poker is a game in which variance is inherent, and it is crucial not to define your progress by the amount of money you have won. Such variance means that your results in poker are often beyond your control, and you want to set targets where only you are accountable for whether they are met.
In a similar way, setting yourself such a goal is not conducive to your development as a poker player. The nature of variance in poker means that you can make all the wrong decisions and win, or conversely make all the right decisions and still lose.
I bent my own rule when I set a long term goal of winning a live poker tournament. Luckily I did it on my first try.
Most poker player have met someone who is new to the game and thinks they are the best player ever after winning a tournament/going on one solid heater in cash games. This is the sort of delusion that can come with a results-oriented approach to poker.
Avoid setting a goal where you are to make X amount over Y time so you can evaluate your development in an objective manner.
My Top Five Poker Goals
These aren’t the only practical poker goals out there, but these five have been the most helpful to me throughout my career.
Goal #1. Play A Set Amount Of Hands/Hours Per Day
Choosing a specific target amount of hands/hours to play per day is a great goal for a couple reasons:
- This target is both achievable and entirely in your control
- You will better yourself as a player through experiencing different spots and hands
By setting a volume-oriented goal, you encourage yourself to play more often which strengthens your game. If you play online, you will accumulate a database of hands that can later be used to analyze both your own strategy and those of your opponents.
When setting a volume-oriented goal, be sure to choose an amount where you will always play your best poker. Too often, players give themselves huge targets and set out to grind 10,000 hands or 12 hours a day. The problem with this is that you risk burning out and will struggle to play optimally over such a long period.
Set a goal that will not compromise the standard of your play, as you want to get the most possible out of your time at the table.
Goal #2: Dedicate Time To Studying Poker
While you will develop your poker skill from simply playing the game, your biggest improvements will come from studying it.
While this may not be as enjoyable as playing, you will be grateful later as you become a better player. There are a variety of methods you can use to help you study.
- Training videos are helpful, as they offer concise and fundamental information and are usually made by experienced players.
- Engaging in strategy-related discussions on poker forums are also a great way to develop your game, as you will be encouraged to consider actions from a variety of perspectives.
- Even something as casual as talking about hands poker-playing friends can open your eyes to new ideas.
(Note: Do you want to study poker but just don’t know how or where to start? The Upswing Lab is your answer! The Lab is a poker training course with videos, charts and an active community of members discussing hands and improving together. Check it out by clicking HERE or below!)
Whichever it is that suits you best, setting aside time to study poker will unquestionably benefit you as a player.
Goal #3: Spend Time Reviewing Your Own Play
It is important to be objective and self-critical. Analyzing your hand histories and specific elements of your game will help you to plug leaks in your strategy.
Poker tracking software (such as PokerTracker or Hold’Em Manager) is an excellent tool for this, as you can quickly find past hands or tag hands mid-session for review later. Tracking programs will also record hundreds of stats that can be used to identify where the problems in your game are.
In PokerTracker for example, you can analyze a database of hands to see how much money you have won/lost in each position. If you notice that you are losing lots of money from earlier positions, you may need to adjust your ranges from those positions.
You can also post your hand histories to poker forums, where the community will offer their insights to help you improve your game. If you don’t have tracking software, you can still review hand histories as most poker clients will provide saveable .txt files.
Goal #4: Aim To Move Up Stakes
One of the most satisfying feelings in poker is moving up the stakes. You can set yourself a goal to move up in stakes once you have accumulated a certain number of buy-ins.
Note that there is a key difference between this goal and the one which I advised you against earlier in the article. Unlike the former results-oriented goal, this one has no set time frame to be completed in. With no time restraints and a sufficiently large number of buy-ins to be won, such a goal should take long enough that the variance balances itself out.
Setting yourself a target to climb the stakes is a great way to sustain your development as a player as you pit yourself against progressively tougher opponents. Not to mention you’ll win more money.
(A side note: before moving up stakes, set yourself a limit to the number of buy-ins you are content to lose before moving back down. It is very easy to burn through your bankroll by moving up stakes and running badly or failing to adjust to harder competition. This can be avoided by setting aside a portion of your bankroll for shot-taking. If it does go badly, you can grind the money back at the stakes you were beating and return later!)
Goal #5: Balance Poker With Other Activities
It is easy with a game as great as poker to become completely obsessed with it. I myself have been there – waking up, playing poker all day and then going to sleep – with no breaks in between!
Like with anything in life, you should enjoy the game in moderation. If all you do is live and breathe poker, you will find the swings it presents you with to be emotionally straining. A huge upswing will feel euphoric, but a bad downswing will be soul-destroying if poker is your life.
By balancing the game with other activities as well as maintaining healthy relationships with those around you, you will find that you are emotionally in a better state when sitting down at the tables. If you do this whilst sleeping and eating well, you will create a healthy and positive environment in which you can succeed.
Final Thoughts on Setting Goals in Poker
Setting goals in poker is a key way to keep you focused on sharpening your game. Avoid results-oriented targets and get started with the ones outlined above.
Goal setting isn’t for everyone, but getting complacent is one of the most dangerous things a poker player can do. Complacent players tend to fall behind the curve as their hourly drops over time. Goals are a great “growth hack,” especially if you don’t want to end up moving down or getting stuck at low stakes.
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