“Good Play Makes Good Stats; Good Stats Do Not Make Good Play”
The title of this article seems to be ridiculously obvious, but a lot of people don’t get it. In the stats thread on 2+2, the most common question I get is: “What should X stat be?” Even if you assume that the player asking this question assumes we are talking about the standard 2+2 tight/aggressive style of play, the question is evidence that the questioner believes there is a style of play, a set of perfect stats, that will make them a winner. If you think this, you are thinking backwards; good stats do not result in good play; good play results in good stats. Your focus always should be on making the right play at the right time; good stats follow from a series of good decisions.
Here’s an example. I get a lot of posts in the stats thread from people whose VPIP/PFR stats are roughly 14/7 or so, and they usually have a small, but positive win rate. They ask me, “I should raise more PFR, right? My PFR should be about 10 or 11?”
Well, yes and no. These players have noted the correct problem, but the incorrect solution. I look through the stats of people whose preflop stats look like this, and invariably their position stats look something like this:
When you look at these stats and you ask yourself: “Does this person need to be raising more preflop?” The obvious answer is, “not really.” This player is somewhat positionally aware; although we would like to see even more aggression in late position, basically, this person gets it—he raises premiums in early position, and he opens wider as his position moves closer to the button.
The real problem here is not that the player should be raising more, it is that he should be calling less. The real problem here is that this player has failed to accept that, in general, it is better to raise or fold in early and early middle position than it is to open limp or limp behind. So this person’s leaks are primarily two-fold—in early position he is open limping, and in middle position he is being tempted too often into limping behind a previous limper rather than raising or folding.
Invariably, when I filter this player’s stats for hands they limp, I see a lot of red—they are losing money seeing these “cheap flops.”
So rather than tell these players to raise more, I tell them to fold rather than limp in these negative EV spots, and they wind up changing their stats not from 14/7 to 14/11, but from 14/7 to 12/9, and their win rate explodes.
This example highlights the importance of making correct decisions, rather than playing for stats. In the example, just looking at the stats the player had, the PFR was too low in comparison to the VPIP; thus the player thinks “raise more,” because we think additional aggression is always the answer, and online poker culture respects a 15/11 TAg, but derides as a “nit,” somebody who plays 12/9. But in reality, at the table, this type of player is making bad decisions by limping; the “bad” stat was not the low PFR, but the high VPIP.
Here’s a second example, just to drive the point home. In my leak finder sessions, I analyze stats for a lot of players who are winning, but dissatisfied with their win rates. A typical player’s stats looked like this after 95,000 hands at NL $50:
If you didn’t see his win rate, this player would be the envy of 2+2; his stats are a near perfect representation of the tight/aggressive style of play.
Here are the actual stats of the player:
So what we have here is a situation where a player’s stats are practically perfect, but the win rate—2 big blinds per 100 hands, 1ptbb/100—is barely better than break even.
Looking at these stats, there is simply no way to tell what the player’s leaks are; but he must be leaking like a sieve, or his win rate would be three to four times higher. So how can you have “perfect” stats and be leaking like the Titanic? It’s easy—you make bad decisions at the table. As it turned out, this player’s leaks were primarily a tendency to stack off light with overpairs and losing most of the money he put into pots he 3 bet (although he was winning most of the pots). He thought he was doing everything correctly—3 betting button steals, building big pots with his premiums, keeping his aggression high; he even said to me, “How can my stats be so good and my win rate so bad?” as if good stats are supposed to guarantee good results.
The basic point I am making is not that your stats don’t matter. They do. But all they do is describe the way you played. Who really cares if your aggression factor is 3.2 if half the time you are betting or raising you are on the express train to value-towning yourself? It’s not much consolation; “Well, I just lost a stack, but at least my AF for the session will be high.”
Your focus has to always be on making the best decisions you can make—don’t try to play 15/12 or 21/17, or whatever. Use the stats for their intended purpose—to evaluate your play after the fact, not as goals to achieve.