Why to avoid setting financial goals in poker

Ask someone why they play poker and they would probably give you two reasons - firstly that they enjoy the game, and secondly because they make (or hope they will make) money from it; quite often both. Poker is a challenging, often enjoyable game and at the heart of it is money. Admittedly it's money in the form of chips, and if we're playing online poker then the money becomes intangible but that's basically the point of the game - making money.

So it seems natural then, when we set ourselves poker goals for the month/week/day/whatever for these to be built around how much money we're going to make. And whilst such goals are nice and can be very motivating, in my opinion they're often a bad idea. Why? Because poker isn't a game just of strategy and skill. There is unfortunately the part that we can't control - variance, or luck. And as any poker player who's been around a while will know, variance can be a real bitch and we can easily have a 'losing streak' through no fault of our own.

The risk

Therefore, if we set financial goals (e.g. "I'm going to make $1000 this month" or "my ROI is going to be 10% this week") there is a risk that we won't achieve it due to outside factors (i.e luck). We may start the month off all buzzed and motivated, ready to kick ass and earn that $1000. But then... we hit a losing streak. Our AA gets cracked for the 5th time in the row. Our ROI drops like a stone, as does our bankroll. Half way through the month we start to worry about not achieving that goal. So what happens? Well the danger is we enter a state of tilt - we worry so much about not achieving the goal we do things that are probably counter-productive, such as playing more tables at once, or playing at a higher limit, or chasing expensive draws - in short, anything to reverse what's happening and let us achieve our goal.

As you probably know, doing those things rarely helps (I cover five ways to deal with tilt here by the way) and are usually more damaging. 

A better way

So what's the solution? Well, let me be clear - I'm all for goal setting in poker. It gives us a structure and helps us motivate ourselves to move forward with our game. However I don't think setting financial-related goals are the way forward. I suggest setting goals that you can achieve regardless of luck and variance. That way, you and only you are in control of them and thus the only thing that's going to affect it is your own laziness. So here's some more healthy goals to set that will still keep you motivated

1) I'm going to play 1000 good quality sit n gos this month. (Not "I'm going to win X games"). Setting a realistic target for game volume is a great idea.

2) I will post five hands on a forum (e.g. Pocket Fives, Two Plus Two etc.) for feedback

3) I will have two coaching sessions this month

4) I will read one poker-related book this month and apply what I learn

5) I will review one game in Universal Replayer for each session I play

6) (For SNG players) - I will review at least one game per session using SNG Wiz 

All the above poker goals are measurable (i.e. so you'll know when you've achieved them) and none of them involve luck or variance (short of you getting run over by a bus that is - and that would be a hell of a bad beat). And all of them are ones you can take responsibility and ownership for.

Whatever goals you end up choosing, I definitely suggest having at least one learning-related goal in there. It's all too easy to get carried away with volume, but we all need time away from the tables to study and self-analyse our game. The phrase "it takes a lifetime to master" is so true and as serious poker players we must commit some time to learn and to expand.

Enjoy your poker goal setting and enjoy achieving those goals. Good luck at the tables.