Play By Numbers

Every day, in online discussions, someone asks for their stats to be evaluated.

You see, they are using a tool like PokerTracker to collect their hand histories and to produce statistics describing their play. And they want to know if their stats are correct. They have so many questions:

Are they tight enough? Is their VP$IP too high or too low? How about from particular positions? How about their PFR? And their AggressionFactor -- is it high enough? Too high? How about on that street?

Sometimes they are big winners who want to confirm that their profit is not just a lucky streak.

Sometimes they are losers who want to know what they've done wrong.

Sometimes they are break-even, or just ahead a bit, and want to improve their game.

But they're all putting the cart before the horse.

Cause and Effect

We all learn that, generally speaking, the most profitable poker strategy is both Tight and Aggressive. Someone who follows the rules of good poker should be profitable, in the long run. So if you know the stats of a profitable player who follows the rules, doesn't it make sense to make sure your stats look like theirs? If they are more aggressive, shouldn't you be? If they are tighter, shouldn't you be?

But there's a catch here -- do you want to look like a good player, or do you want to be a good player?

If you ignore your stats, but follow all the rules of being a good player, you will develop the stats of a good player.

If you arbitrarily change your play to achieve stats that look like a good player's, you have little chance of getting very good.

You see, good stats are the effect of good play, not the cause.

One of the most common "adjustments" people make to correct their stats is to raise their aggression because their aggression factor is too low. . . But if you bet and raise more for the sake of the statistic, you will end up exercising DumbAggression. The point here is not aggression, it's profit. . . You don't need enough bets to be aggressive, you need the right bets. By adding the wrong bets, a bad player just bleeds even faster!

What to do?

The answer is not to strive to reach a certain number, but to strive to play better poker. When trying to improve your game, it helps if you know your weaknesses -- which is where poker tools have their uses. If you have and use a tool like PokerTracker regularly, you can find out where your stats deviate from the better players, and that can give you some direction on where to focus your studies. . . but the tool can't tell you how to improve your game. It can only show you effect, you must learn to cause it the right way.

Looking for what can't be seen

Oh, and don't assume that just because your stats are "correct" you must be a good, winning player. It's easy to make a combination of bad moves result in "good" stats. Let's say your aggression factor on the flop looks great. . . nice and aggressive, as you believe it should be. Does that mean you play properly?

Maybe not. If you bet and raise with abandon every time you have any pair or over card, but balance it by making terrible calls on long-odds draws, you can still have a healthy-looking number. By including a lot of mistakes that balance each other out, you hide the blunders in the nubmers.

So remember, a stat that's out of line is a likely area to find weakness, but a stat that looks fine is no guarantee of perfection.