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What should you focus on to make more money at Poker?

There is a lot of talk in the 2+2 forum on how to improve your winrate. For example, just in the March article alone, The Dude said you should focus on improving your hand reading, while Piers said you should make your decisions faster. Jim and Ed reviewed some hands implying that focusing on your fundamental hand decisions is best, while Dr. Al told us avoiding denial is the way to go.

So, who's right, and by how much? Let's take a look at my friend Del Eablo (my way of paying respect to El Diablo), and see if we can quantify exactly how much a particular change is worth. We'll look at 6 potential changes Del can make:

  1. Improving focusAvoiding tilt
  2. Improving game selection
  3. Improving fundamental play
  4. Moving up a $ level
  5. Playing an additional table
  6. Playing more hours week

Del currently plays 4 tables of $3-6, earns about 2.1BB/hr, and plays ~30 hrs/week.

Here are some things Del can do different, and some assumptions about what they're worth.

  1. Improving focus/Avoiding tilt: Develop better self-control, to make one less bad call on the turn per hour, saving yourself 1BB in a 1 hour period, per table. Del tends to read and post on 2+2 while playing, talk on the phone, play for 5-6 hours at a stretch, and occasionally get frustrated when the fish suck out. Note that this is different than improving hand reading - here you would ‘know' you're beat if your were playing your best, but you're not.
  2. Improve game selection: So what's it worth to sit at a better table? Well, let's say your current table is a fairly strong table, but you're able to identify a table with 2 weaker players. Replacing two strong players who win 2BB/hr with two weak players who will lose 2BB/hr is a swing of 4BB*2 players or 8 BB. If the rest of the table divides up those 8BB, that's worth 1 add'l BB/hr to your winrate. Using pokertracker, you can often data-mine before or during play to find a table with 2 fish.
  3. Improve your winrate: Make two better decisions per hour. Since some of your cards can play themselves, let's say 1 hand per hour can be improved thru developing your skills. Let's say for example that you improve to properly identify when to raise instead of call to clean up some outs, say an Ace overcard. And that makes a difference on 3 times of 44 when that card hits. So you win a pot at showdown that you otherwise would have lost. That results in a roughly a 13BB swing on that hand, given average pot sizes at Party and average players seeing showdown. What's that worth? 13BB * 1 hand/hr * 3/44 you hit the card that matters = .88BB, minus the SB you had to invest with the raise -0.5 = .33BB for that one decision. Let's say you can find another decision worth about the same - maybe developing your hand reading skills so you make a better fold or call - so a total of .66BB.
  4. Move up from 3-6 to 5-10: The value of the BB you win goes up from $6 to $10, but your winrate will go down - for Del it dropped 20% from 2-4 to 3-6, so let's say it drops 30% at 5-10
  5. Add'l table: You go from playing 4 tables up to 5 tables. But your win rate suffers slighly (only 95% as efficient) since you can't follow as closely or you mis-click once in awhile.
  6. Play more: You increase from 30 hours/week up to 35 hours.

So, let's put those numbers into a chart, and see what you weekly $$ won will be with these changes (see appendix 1).


Focus/avoiding going on tilt has the biggest impact on Del's play. Del should spend some time in the psychology forum, and implement some of the suggestions on how to avoid tilt, and should also plan more breaks into his play. This may be more difficult to implement however, since it requires developing better emotional control - not so easy to do.

Game selection has almost as big an impact. Using pokertracker, Del should be able to aggressively find good games, and get out of ones that aren't good. He can implement this immediately.

Improving his winrate is also very important. As you expected, keep reading the forums and working on your hand reading skills. Additionally, improving here keeps "working" for you in the future. However, a tight player will only be winning around 5-7 hands or so an hour, and some of those will be no-brainers. So there is a very real limit to how much you can improve at a given level.

Moving up. As long as your bankroll can handle the variance, this suggests you should move up aggressively. Even if you can only generate 70% of your prior earn rate, it pays out. Playing against better competition is also likely to make you a better player, improving winrate. And you can also move back down if it doesn't work out.

Adding tables doesn't help as much as you'd think it would. Particularly if it's going to hurt your win rate.

Playing more hours is really not that helpful. Especially since 1 hour spent playing earns you that hours' results but nothing more. Whereas spending that time to improve your game will influence every table hour that follows. Of course, you need to be playing enough hours to get you close to a desired earn rate to start with - you can't use this to slack off!

Obviously, Del's data is for his play, and your data will be different. You may even disagree with some of the assumptions - that's great. Just review some of your pokertracker data, make your own assumptions, plug in your own data - - and you'll see very clearly what changes will result in the biggest improvement in your own winrate.

Appendix 1: Impact on win rates

Now Going on tilt Improve game selection Improve winrate Move 5-10 Add' tbl 5 more hrs/wk
win rate BB/hr 2.1 1.0 3.1 2.7 1.6 2.0 2.1
# tables at time 4 4 4 4 4 5 4
hrs/wk 30 30 30 30 30 30 35
value of BB 6 6 6 6 10 6 6
win $ wk $1,503 $720 $2,223 $1,922 $1,879 $1,785 $1,754
$ won vs. now NA -$783 $720 $418 $376 $282 $251
By Greg (gergery)