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A New Way To Keep Score

by Andrew Brokos |  Published: Jun 26, 2013


Andrew BrokosMost poker players, whether amateur or professional, want to win money. For some it enables luxuries, while others rely on it to pay the bills. If we’re honest, though, most of us also keep score with our winnings. That’s why the word “win” is right in there. Standing up with more money than you had when you sat down makes you feel like a winner and reassures you that you are a good player, at least compared to those you’re playing against.

Yet most of us also know that collecting money from the pot is only indirectly tied to playing well. It’s entirely possible to play well and lose money, or to play poorly and win money, which makes profit a less-than-ideal measurement of how you played.

Still, even ignoring bad beats, it’s quite easy to play well and get your money in bad, or to play poorly and get your money in good. All of this uncertainty, combined with the fact that money is ultimately what most of us want anyway, makes it tempting to treat profit as the best available metric for evaluating your play.

There’s a well-known maxim among managers: “Be careful what you measure.” If an employee knows that his job performance will be evaluated based on how many phone calls he makes an hour, rather than how many sales he generates, then he may focus on getting off of the phone quickly rather than closing a sale.

As a poker player, you are both employer and employee, and you have to be careful about the incentives you set for yourself. If you pat yourself on the back for a winning session and beat yourself up for a losing one, then you may become risk averse when you are ahead and pass up profitable opportunities in the interest of “locking up a win”. You may also take unprofitable gambles trying to “get out of the hole” when you are losing. You may get frustrated when profitable opportunities fail to present themselves, leading you to make losing plays in the interest of forcing something to happen.

This is why I invented a new way of keeping score. It’s based on how well you play each hand, not whether you win or lose, and there’s room to customize it for the specific skills you are working to improve.

The Basics

The simplest thing to do is give yourself one point each time that you are satisfied with how you play a hand. I use an app called “Click Counter” that does exactly what its name suggests: it keeps a running tally for me. When I click the “Volume Up” button on my phone, it adds one to the tally. When I click “Volume Down,” it subtracts one.

With the basic scoring system, you don’t even need to subtract. You’ll always be up for the session! When you don’t have any doubts about how you played a hand, you add a point. If you do have doubts, record the details of the hand and don’t score a point.

This system has several advantages. One of my favorites is that it rewards you for getting dealt junky preflop hands. Instead of being frustrated that you “can’t win with these cards,” you can happily fold your 9-5 offsuit and score a point. That may not sound like a big deal, but how many times have you found yourself playing a hand you probably shouldn’t simply because you’re bored and haven’t had any good hands for a while? Money saved by not playing bad hands is worth just as much as money won with big hands, and that’s reflected in this scoring system.

At the other end of the spectrum, you aren’t rewarded simply for being dealt a big hand. In fact, big pocket pairs seem to be among my lowest-scoring hands because it’s hard to be sure you played them as well as you could have. It certainly discourages the sort of anticipation that tends to accompany big pairs and that often causes errors in playing them. If you want to score a point, you’re going to have to focus on playing well, not on how much money you hope or “deserve” to win.

It’s significant that the reward for stacking your opponent’s aces with a flopped set is the same as the reward for getting away from aces when your opponent flops a set. If all you care about is money, it’s easy to feel like a genius when you have the set and like the unluckiest person in the world when you have to fold aces.

I keep track of my points by the hour, and I compare them to the number of hands played in that hour. If I always either give myself a point or record the details of a hand for later analysis, then I have a count of every hand I played. A score of 25/30 would indicate that you were uncertain about five of the 30 hands you played in that hour.

Be sure to record your score along with other data about your session, such as hours played and money won or lost. You’re building a quantifiable record of how well you’ve been playing.

This data can be useful to you in a number of ways. A few low-scoring days in a row might indicate the need for a break. You may find that you play poorly the day after a losing session, or at specific hours of the day or days of the week. All of this information can be helpful in deciding when to play and where to focus your efforts in improving your mental game.

After the session, perhaps the next day, look over all those hands you recorded. Look for commonalities: are there certain situations where you’re routinely unsure of the right play? That would be a good topic to bring up with a poker friend or a coach.

Hopefully, writing the hands down will prevent you from fixating on them while you’re still playing. It’s important to study your mistakes in order to learn from them, but while you’re at the table trying to focus on other hands is not the time to do it. Write them down and let them go, at least for the moment.


Before a session, decide to focus on learning one new skill to work and plugging one leak or common mistake. Award a bonus point or subtract a penalty point, respectively, for these items.

For example, you might decide that you want to work on making thin value bets on the river — a new skill you are trying to acquire — and also that you need to stop calling raises with weak, unsuited aces. Any time you call a raise with one of those hands you told yourself you were going to fold, you not only won’t award yourself a point, you’ll subtract one.

If you make a thin value bet on the river, award yourself a bonus point. Do this even if you don’t win the pot, and even if you don’t think you otherwise played the hand well enough to be worth a point. The whole idea here is to escape results orientation and reward yourself for playing well. A thin value bet, by definition, is supposed to get called by better hands sometimes.

It’s also important to have just one way of earning bonus points and just one way of losing points. If you try to learn too many new skills or plug too many leaks at once, you’ll end up doing nothing well. It’s not practical or fair to expect yourself to play perfect poker, and beating yourself up for every mistake isn’t going to help you get better. Have a clear idea of what you want to work on, and wait until you’re satisfied with your progress in that area before you move on to something else.

Playing Online

Live poker provides plenty of downtime for jotting down notes about a hand and updating your point tally as you go. If you’re playing several tables of online poker at once, you probably can’t spare that time during your session.

That’s OK, though, because as long as you use a tracking program like Poker Tracker or Hold ‘Em Manager, you have an even better option available to you. At the end of a session, review every hand you played and award points as appropriate.

Making Yourself Care

This is the tricky part. Money is its own reward, but this new score is just a number on a piece of paper. It can’t be exchanged for alcohol, so you may have difficulty prioritizing it over the monetary outcome of a session, which would defeat the point of using this scoring system.

One option is to create extrinsic rewards for yourself. After accumulating a certain number of points, you could treat yourself to a massage, a nice dinner, or anything that counts as an affordable luxury for you.

I encourage you to try this or some other quantitative method of measuring how well you played rather than how much you won. You may be surprised by how much the simple act of recording and paying attention to this result can encourage you to care about it. Giving yourself an alternative to obsessing over money won and lost can be a big help in getting yourself to do things that you know you ought to do anyway, such as quitting when you are tired but stuck or not getting tilted over a bad run of cards. Remember: every time you’re dealt 9-5 offsuit, it’s an opportunity to play perfect poker! ♠

Andrew Brokos is a professional poker player, writer and coach. He blogs about poker strategy on and is co-host of the Thinking Poker Podcast. Andrew is also interested in education reform and founded an after-school debate program for urban youth.