Mistakes in poker: How do I measure them?

Mistakes are the portals of discovery.” – James Joyce

When I read Suber’s post about the mistake he made, I had to think of one of the basic lessons I’ve learned fairly early:

There are two important attributes of a mistake:
1) The frequency at which you make this mistake
2) The size of the mistake (How much did it cost you?)

While the 1st attribute has a stronger impact on your overall results the 2nd attribute has only a minor impact. Let me show you why.

Suber held the 2nd nuts (only AA would’ve beaten him) on the river and only called a raise to his initial bet instead of 3-betting (which he should have done). So, at most, he could’ve squeezed out another 2 big bets if his opponent would have capped the river (which he, in turn, most likely would have done).

Believe it or not, this mistake is not too big. 2 big bets is quite a bit of money, but just to name a much bigger mistake: If he had folded to the raise the cost would have been 16 big bets. Also, the frequency at which you can make this mistake is rather slim. If you always made this very mistake, you’d probably be able to make it only a very few times per session.

Let’s crunch some numbers. For ease’s sake, let’s assume you’ll be able to make this mistake once every 400 hands (probably optimistic to hold the 2nd nuts that often).
Let’s also assume we’ll always win (which is incorrect since the nuts can and will beat us – note that if we lose this isn’t a mistake, we actually lose less because of the “mistake”). So overall this mistake costs us 2/400 = 0.005 BB/hand (big bets per hand).

Now, let us compare that with a seemingly small error: We always play any hand with a slightly negative expectation (say an average of -0.25 BB/hand). While we should fold this nasty little bugger pre-flop, we just can’t help to call with it. This mistake is tiny, but we get the chance to play cards like those probably every 5 hands (a wild guesstimate by me).

The overall cost of this seemingly small mistake is a whopping 0.05 BB/hand – and thus a 10x bigger overall mistake than missing out those extra value bets every time!

So, the moral of the story is:
Focus on identifying the mistakes (whether huge or tiny) which you get to make very frequently instead of only focusing on the big ones.

I hope this helps you guys to prioritize the leaks you need to work on. Figure out how much they cost you per hand, and then start with the most expensive ones!

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