Each time the new year rolls around I think it is a good idea to look at where you are in poker, where you want to be and make goals for the coming year. This is something that a lot of people do on a monthly basis already. However, when you look at the entire year it is much easier to see the big picture. With proper bankroll management and a solid work ethic both at the poker tables and away from them it is certainly possible to be playing four or even five stakes higher than you currently are by the end of the year. This is the kind of progress that most people are looking for. It is not going to happen overnight though.
It also makes sense to set poker goals at the beginning of the year because many online poker rooms such as Pokerstars have a yearly based rakeback program. This means that your player points count is reset to zero every January 1st. The points that you accumulate all year long determine which level you reach in the rakeback program. The upper tiers of course is where most of the big money is. Therefore you want to be clear on what your rakeback goals are from the start of the year rather than starting your planning in September.
So in this article I am going to go over what I think are some of the best ways to reach your goals at the poker tables this year. If you haven't reached the success that you have wanted in the past it is time to forget about that now and focus on what you can do to start turning your results around in 2015. So let's get started!
1) Consistent Play
This is really so much more important that anything else. If you can't find the time to play poker on a regular basis then you are not going to get the results that you want, period. We all have busy lives but the truth is that if success in this game means enough to you then you will find the time to get an hour or two of play in each day even if you have a full time job or student work load. It is important that you schedule this at the same time each day.
Back in 2007 when I last had a "real job" I would work the typical 9-5 all day in an office. Every night when I got home I would make a quick dinner and then hit the tables. On the weekends of course I would try to play all day and then have a social life at night. I would literally play every single day and I actually managed to put in more hands than most professionals. Why? Because I made my success in poker a priority in my life. If you really want to make it happen in this game then you have to do the same.
Action: Set a specific time period when you will play poker every single day unless there is an emergency. Minimum 7 hours a week. Everybody can find one hour a day if success in this game is a priority for you.
2) Consistent Study
This is also very important in today's games. You need to make sure that you are constantly improving. Playing all the time is huge part of this for a lot of people, myself included. I learn the best through my own mistakes. However, regular study is still important. I need to analysis those mistakes in Pokertracker for instance. I try to watch (and take notes) on at least one training video a week. I try to keep up with the latest poker literature. I discuss hands with poker friends. Sometimes I might even hire a coach.
Now I don't do all of this every single day but I make time at least on a couple occasions each week. Back when I had a full time job I would often do a one hour session review of the entire week's play on Saturday morning. This would help me identify mistakes in individual hands and make sure that my play was solid overall. On Sunday morning I would often do a one hour database review in order to look for overall changes that could be made to my game often by studying the best players at the stakes that I was playing. During the week I would designate an hour on a Wednesday for instance to watch and take notes on a training video that was highly relevant to the games that I play in.
Action: Set a couple of specific times each week (3 or 4 hours minimum) that are dedicated to studying the game in a variety of ways.
3) Make Hand Goals Not Monetary Goals
If you look back through the history of this blog (before I revealed who I was and had any readers) you will see that for years almost all of my entries were about how many hands I played that day and if I was on pace for my monthly goals. Notice that I didn't mention money anywhere. We cannot control our short term results in this game. We can control our volume of play however. So along with playing and studying consistently you should have concrete goals on how much you are going to play each month.
Action: Set monthly goals for number of hands played. I would say that 50k hands a month should be the rock bottom for anyone who is serious about succeeding in this game (6max or full ring).
4) Set Moving Up Targets
This is another area where a lot of people fail because they do not have the proper planning in place. You should always practice good bankroll management but you don't need 90 buyins for the next limit before you move up! I think 40 is more than enough. So say you are playing NL10 right now and your bankroll has hit $1000. This is 40 buyins for NL25. You should immediately move up and give yourself an 8 buyin shot for instance. If your bankroll dips below $800 at any point then you move back down to NL10 and grind it back to $1000. If you stay above $800 though, then you continue to play at NL25 until you reach $2000 which is 40 buyins for NL50.
This is just an example but you can see how having the proper planning in place can make things extremely simple. You can adjust the metrics upwards or downwards depending on your preference. However, if moving up 4 or 5 limits this year is a priority of yours then you need to set targets on when you are going to move up and when you are going to move down as well. Failure will happen and it is important not to beat yourself up about it. Remember that we are planning out an entire year here. There will be many ups and downs.
Action: Set specific bankroll targets for when you will move up and when you will move down. Stick to these throughout the entire year no matter what.
5) Set Rakeback Targets
As I mentioned before, many poker rooms these days operate a yearly based rakeback program. If you play on Pokerstars for instance then you should plan where you want to be by the end of the year. Even if you are playing NL2 right now you can still achieve Supernova and maybe even a milestone bonus with consistent play and moving up throughout the year.
So first things first get your current VPP per hand and do some calculations. You can simply look at how many VPPs you have before a session and then how many you have at the end. Divide the difference by the number of hands that you played. Here are some very rough VPP per hand estimates from my experience.
So let's assume you play NL10 right now once again. At 0.04 VPP per hand if you play 100k hands per month you will collect 4000 VPPs. This is enough to easily get Goldstar, the 2x FPP multiplier and plenty of stellar rewards along the way. However even if you put in this volume every single month at NL10 all year long it would not be enough to get to Supernova where the big rakeback money starts to roll in. Supernova requires a yearly VPP count of 100k. 4000 x 12 = 48000.
But this is why we have set targets to move up. If you play at NL25 or higher where the VPP per hand is significantly higher then you can see that achieving Supernova and even milestone bonuses is definitely achievable. So for instance Quarter #1 NL10, Quarter #2 NL25, Quarter #3 NL50 and Quarter #4 NL100. You can then calculate your rakeback based on playing higher stakes throughout the year with the same volume. Our example here according to the VPP per hand numbers above and 100k hands a month would be:
Quarter #1: 12k VPPs
Quarter #2: 27k VPPs
Quarter #3: 42k VPPs
Quarter #4: 75K VPPs
Total: 156k yearly VPPs and easily Supernova.
You could then go on to calculate your FPP's and your stellar rewards according to your rakeback level etc. You get the idea. It is possible to plan out some rough rakeback numbers over the year and then calculate them into actual dollar amounts according to what bonuses you plan to buy.
The numbers above on a very rough estimate represent something like $7500 with fairly relaxed volume and most of the play early in the year coming at low stakes and low rakeback levels. Once you start consistently playing at the upper end of the micros and beyond where Supernova Elite and multiple milestone bonuses become available then the rakeback dollar amounts go much, much higher.
For more on the Pokerstars rakeback system visit here.
Action: Set monthly (and yearly) rakeback targets assuming that you will move up on several occasions this year.
6) Blog About All of This!
Make all of this public. You can start a blog for free in minutes with Blogger or Wordpress so money or time cannot be an excuse here. When you publicly state your goals it is a powerful thing. It doesn't even matter if anybody is reading it or not. I had literally zero people reading this blog for the first three years. It didn't matter to me at all though. The simple act of consistently writing down my goals and charting my progress daily helped keep me accountable. I will give you the opportunity at the end of this post to publicly promote your blog if you want a few readers though.
Action: Create your new blog as soon as you finish reading this post and immediately write down your daily playing schedule, weekly study schedule, number of hands, moving up and rakeback targets and goals.
7) Be Realistic About Your Current Abilities
I get emails all the time from people telling me that they have played 50k hands at NL10 and they aren't winning. In a polite way I typically recommend that they move down. I know this is very hard on the ego for many of us but you have to start at a limit that you can currently beat! If that means playing at the circus they call NL2 then so be it. If you table select just a little bit and understand the fundamentals of poker to any degree then you should have no problem beating this limit.
If you are still having trouble succeeding at these stakes (NL2 and NL5 in particular) then I would highly recommend checking out my first book "Crushing the Microstakes" which literally gives you a complete roadmap on how to dominate the terrible players who populate these limits. I have also put out dozens of totally free videos and articles on how to crush the lowest stakes.
The point is that you start where you abilities currently are. It is going to be a tough year ahead if you are constantly playing in games that you are not good enough to beat yet. It is much better to start at a stake that you are confident that you are a winner at. This will give you the confidence to play more and study harder. Remember, poker is not going anywhere and it isn't a race to the top. Start small and build big.
8) Build for the Future
Success in this game does not come fast or easy. You need to understand that there will be many hills and valleys this year and you can rant about them in completely obscurity on your blog if you want (I sure used to on here!). But as you can see, you are building for something more than the short term ups and downs here. You are building to get out of the micros and start making 5 figures or 6 figures + per year where we all want to be in this game. This is why planning out your year now can help you see the forest through the trees and ultimately reach that end goal.
If you start to look at the numbers now at 4x the stake you are currently playing (which is where you will be by years end) you can use this as your carrot so to speak. I didn't even mention the table winnings above. Assuming you actually beat NL100 for instance for even a couple bb/100 that in itself is a couple thousand dollars a month along with the 1k or 2k in rakeback with typical volume levels.
I am not trying to toss numbers around to get you all excited. God knows I have discussed many times before how much of a mistake that is when you are just starting out. And they aren't really that spectacular anyways. 3k or 4k a month is not exactly spectacular money in any first world country. However, a lot of people do have dreams of playing this game professionally one day or making a significant side income to pay for a new car or some fancy vacations. It absolutely is possible but you need to be willing to put in the work. As I stated right from the start, it begins and ends with consistent play.
Back in 2007 when I quit my job it took me about 8 months to go from NL2 to NL100. I had about a 5k bankroll and maybe 10k in the bank that I had saved from my job. It wasn't anything miraculous. I just played every night for a couple hours and set aside time for study as well. I set targets to move up and down and I stuck with the program every day no matter what.
This was many years ago and it is not quite as easy to have such success this quickly today. However, the opportunity still remains. There are many success stories similar to this that come out every single year. The common denominator among them is almost always the same. They set goals and they work extremely hard at them every single day.
Even with all of this I can't promise you that you are going to move up 4 stakes this year. But I can promise you that it will not happen if you keep quitting every time the going gets tough. I can promise you that it also won't happen if you continue to half ass your commitment to playing this game. This is why the goals, the targets and the process of writing it down each day on your new blog or journal are so important. The only obstacle between you and your success at the tables in 2015 is you. Now go and make it happen!
Leave a comment below with the URL to your new blog if you would like a bit of free exposure. I may promote a few of them on social media as well. If you enjoyed this article please "Like" or "Tweet" it below!