How to Use Data to Pick Your Spots

Many successful poker pros spent months, or more often years, being a grinder. The term can mean a few different things. In one sense, it refers to the mental grind and general stress of earning a living by playing poker. Indeed, it’s tough enough to consistently make the best decisions possible at the poker table without also having to think about whether the river is going to make it a dicey proposition to pay rent and still have stake money. There’s a reason that poker chips are frequently talked about as ammunition. It’s odd because the poker chips actually do represent real money, but I agree that it can be poisonous to the poker player and the decision-making process to see chips as your food and housing costs.  


Keep track of each hand. A lot of professional poker players and serious amateurs take notes at the poker table. This is a great practice that can help refine and continuously improve your granular decisions, both during the session and afterward. The simple ability to accurately remember exactly how a hand played out is itself an important resource. Somewhat surprisingly, it also helped me not to dwell for too long on any hands that got to me a little more than it should have.  

I’ve also found the act of note-taking helps create a table image that accentuates other players’ tendencies. In other words, in my experience, taking notes at the poker table made tighter players play even tighter and looser players even more aggressive. But I would also have a corner of the page reserved for doodling so that I could pretend to be making notes when I really wasn’t. 


Keep track of every session, too. Being a grinder can also refer to a poker player who tries to pick their spots in such a way that they have a consistent advantage and can reliably walk away ahead even if the winnings aren’t that big. What I learned after being a grinder for a while is that you should also track certain data points for every one of your sessions. Some of the information I kept track of were: Game (style), Stakes, Take, Total Hours, Take/Hour, Site and Play. Play was a subjective ranking of whether I thought the table was normal, tight, or loose.  

Most people talk about picking their spots in that they feel they consistently held an advantage over the table. Okay, but this isn’t the whole story. I had one fellow grinder friend start using this spreadsheet approach, and he discovered that not only was he was making more money per hour playing at a higher-stakes table, he was more consistently ahead when playing slightly higher-level competition. For a while, I also tracked my performance hour-over-hour to see if I had better results at the beginning, middle, or end of a session. I didn’t get a lot of insights, which surprised me. I figured, either my read on the table would improve or mental fatigue might set in or something else. 

Anyway, it’s this two-pronged approach to picking your spots that I found most effective for maximizing my time at the poker table overall. Interestingly, of the two approaches, I think keeping track of each session was more important. But maybe this is because replaying individual hands also comes more naturally to the typical poker player.