Mr. Pareto’s principles for poker players

Sep 4, 2012 3:00 AM

Mr. Pareto was a turnofthecentury economist who probably never played a poker hand in his entire life. But his advice will go a long way toward helping you maximize your profits at the tables and elsewhere.

The Pareto Principle, commonly called the 80/20 Rule, says that 80 percent of your results in life come from 20 percent of your efforts.

If you’ve ever worked for a sales group, you know that 20 percent of the salesmen make 80 percent of the sales. In business 80 percent of the profits are generated by 20 percent of the products. And in poker, 80 percent of your earnings come from 20 percent of your hands.

If Mr. Pareto were sitting next to you at the table, he would be following the 80/20 Rule 100 percent of the time. Here are the principles he’d be practicing on every deal:

• 80% of your profit comes from 20% of your hands. You’re dealt a pair of aces on the button in hold’em. Clearly, this is a highpercentage hand and you may raise before the draw. But what if you’re holding a K-J offsuit in first position? Should you ram and jam it? Call? Fold? Ask yourself Pareto’s question, “Is this an 80percenter? Is it likely to generate a win 80 percent of the time? If you come up with a no, toss it.

• 80% of your losses come from 20% of your judgment calls. How often have you beaten yourself up for making too many loose calls? Selfflagellation is one of the most demoralizing mental games you can play. It’s easy to go on tilt when you’re thinking, “You dummy! When are you going to learn not to call a guy when you’re sure he’s got the nuts?” Solution? Use the mental reminder a buddy of mine likes: “More tosses equal fewer losses.”

• 20% of the players beat you 80% of the time. This one’s tough to take. Last week I was playing next to Nicky Nitwit, who couldn’t tell a diamond from a spade. 

But the one thing he could do was beat me, even with all my smooth calls and checkraises with trips (that time he drew out with 7-4 offsuit, making a straight on the river). Use Caro’s advice on tells and either raise them out or bow out.

• 80% of your time should be spent observing, 20% playing. What do you do when you’re not in a hand? Play the hidden camera game: Mentally photograph the moves Slick makes when he has a big hand, the twitches in Doreen’s cheek when she’s bluffing, the disinterest Cool shows when he flops the nuts. That way, you’re using 100 percent of your time profitably.

• 80% of your profits come from discipline, the other 20% from card skill. When you’re flopping spades instead of hearts, or catching blanks on the river, these fright nights can take you to the limits of your selfcontrol. But you can learn to congratulate yourself as much on the money you didn’t lose by exercising selfdiscipline as on the money you won playing your 80percenters.

One technique you can use to remind yourself of the monetary value of discipline is to set aside a stack of chips equivalent to the mistakes you’ve made in “curiosity calls” and other foibles. 

And that is how they keep the gambler’s edge.

Contact Dana T. Smith at [email protected]