Common Game Selection Mistakes
Game selection is perhaps the most under-appreciated skill a poker player can have. No one is heralded for their impeccable game selection, but like it or not, game selection is very often the only thing that determines a winning player from a losing one. Consider this Weekly Shuffle an 'ode to game selection'. In it, we would like to give you some food for thought regarding common game selection mistakes and how to improve this part of your poker arsenal.
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Game Selection Mistake #1: Failing to Reassess a Game's Profitability
We are creatures of habit and inertia. When we discover something that is profitable for us, we tend to assume it is always profitable. In other words, our minds turn off. Consider the following example: a good no-limit player starts playing $1/$2 on Full Tilt Poker. After several thousand hands, he has won a couple dozen buy-ins. Because of this, the logic in his mind goes something like, "$1/$2 no-limit on Full Tilt is good for my wallet," and his thoughts end there. The trouble is, this thinking could lead the player to continue operating under this assumption even if it is one day no longer true. To avoid this, be sure to constantly assess whether or not the games you're playing in are beatable, and don't allow your ego to influence this assessment. I'm sure there are plenty of "name" tournament players who were firmly +EV in World Poker Tour events six years ago but now are -EV or only marginally +EV but are unwilling to admit this to themselves. This lack of awareness can be incredibly costly.
Game Selection Mistake #2: Playing Too Many Tables
Generally speaking, I think online poker players overestimate the number of tables they can play for an optimal profit. In the past few years, it's become kind of sexy to play an incredibly high number of hands or tournaments. But how much are you paying to be 'sexy'?
Every online poker player has a certain number of tables they can play for a maximum profit. For many players, that number of tables is zero; not playing at all will result in them having more money at the end of the day than they would if they played. But even winning players probably tend to overestimate how many tables are optimal for them to play. For example, let's say Joe Grinder is a winning sit-'n'-go (SNG) player. Joe can play two tables at once no problem, so he decides to start playing three. After a while, he starts playing four, then five, then six all at once. At some point, Joe will open up a table that is actually -EV to open up. In other words, Joe might actually make more money playing "just" five tables instead of six. Make sense? One way to figure out your equilibrium number is by paying attention to how many "hurried" or "panicked" decisions you make on account of feeling rushed. Also take note of how often you are timing out at tables. You really should never time out and only rarely feel "hurried" to make a big decision. If these feelings are common for you, consider closing a couple of your tables because they're probably doing you more harm than good.
Game Selection Mistake #3: Not Scouring for Juicy Games on Other Sites
Many online poker players play on "just" Full Tilt Poker or "just" Party Poker. In doing so, they could be missing out on some really juicy games. Remember, there are tons of online poker rooms and if you look hard enough, you might find some diamond-in-the-rough games to jump in. Try a smaller site like PKR or 888 Poker. Who knows? You might find your new bread and butter.
Game Selection Mistake #4: Trying to Beat the Best
For every player who takes down Tom Dwan or Phil Ivey for a quarter of a million after taking their "shot", there are ten that try and fail and go broke in the process. If you want to be the best, you've got to beat the best, and if you want to beat the best, you've got to have the money to do it. How do you get this requisite money? By playing people who aren't the best! Poker is not about glory, it's about a grind. It's about focusing on beating John Q. Fish, not Phil Ivey. You should never play someone you don't know you can beat. And remember, in any poker game, almost every player "knows" they can beat everyone else. Someone at the table is fooling themselves. Is it you?
Game Selection Mistake #5: Failing to Capitalize on Optimal Playing Hours
On a Friday night at 9:00 p.m., Bill Murphy might very well be a winning $0.50/$1 no-limit player. However, on a Tuesday afternoon at 2:00 p.m., Bill might be a loser. It would be wise of Bill to be aware of this and not quit his day job just because he's a smaller winner every Friday night. Play when it is profitable to play and go for a jog when it isn't.
Game Selection Mistake #6: Playing Because You Think You're "Pretty Good"
Being an average or even "good" player doesn't mean you're going to be a winner. Remember, poker is a highly negative sum game because of the rake. In order to come out ahead for a sizable amount in the long run, you have to be really good. Being just "pretty good" isn't enough to cut it. You're better off doing something else with your time. Unless of course you just play poker for fun, in that case, have at it!