Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was originally published (2010) in Bluff magazine.
Today I’m going to teach you the easiest way to know whether you’re playing poker profitably. It’s a rough measuring method that almost always tells you correctly whether you can expect to win.
In courseware I’m developing for Mike Caro University of Poker, we call it the Fast Selectivity Index (FSI), but I’ve referred to it by other names over the years, and you can call it anything you want. The concept behind FSI is simple: Your opponents’ main flaw is that they aren’t selective enough about the pots they enter and play too many hands. Fine. But sometimes when you’re playing the aggressive style that I teach, which means pushing small advantages with daring bets and raises, it’s hard to keep track of whether you’re actually playing more selectively than your opponents. You can get blinded by all the betting.
Will work wonders
First I want to provide a disclaimer. FSI doesn’t work well in heads-up games or short-handed games where opponents may be playing too tight and you have an opportunity to run over them through frequent bluffing. It isn’t intended for rare ultra-tight full-handed games, either. But you don’t run into those very often, and if you do, you’re unlikely to be in a very profitable situation and should probably seek a different game where players are surrendering money through too-loose play. Most players seldom play in any of the games covered by this disclaimer. And FSI will work wonders in the games you’re likely to encounter over and over again.
Here’s how it works:
- Each time an opponent enters a pot voluntarily, score one point. You don’t count blinds, because those aren’t voluntary investments, unless that player bets more money at some point during the hand.
- Under the same rules, each time you enter a pot voluntarily, add the number of opponents that were dealt cards to a separate tally. This is the number of opponents only and doesn’t include you.
So, you can see that you’ll be keeping two totals — one for your opponents and one for you. Even though these numbers may grow large over the course of the game, you should be able to keep them in your head, especially after a little practice. If not, just write down the scores on paper. Oh, and obviously you shouldn’t count hands played by opponents anytime you weren’t dealt in.
Now, this is the key to interpreting your FSI. In typical games, you always want your score to be less than your opponents’ score. How much less? Well, this is really a looseness/tightness gauge, and you’ll usually make the most profit if you play at least 10 percent (and sometimes as much as 30 percent) more selectively than your opponents do, on average. So, let’s say that after two hours of play your opponents’ tally is 120. Ideally, you want your score to be less than that. Ten percent more selectivity would mean 12 fewer points or 108. But here’s the glitch. Two hours isn’t enough time to really know. You could have been on a rush and played many more hands than you usually would. Your score might be 180 (50 percent higher than your opponents’ score) or even greater. Or you could have been in a drought and have a ridiculously low score of 20. So, you need to use common sense in interpreting your FSI in the short term.
But over time, your FSI will tell you if you really are in a profitable situation versus your typical too-loose opponents. If you keep these scores totaled at home day after day, the picture will come into focus and will be extremely accurate. And even in the course of a single session, your FSI — though volatile — can keep you from straying too far from profitability, if you use good judgment in interpreting it.
Here is a chart illustrating a typical, imaginary 10 hands. It shows how your FSI scores are calculated:
Opponents dealt in*
|Opponents who played||Did you play?||
* This is the number of opponents and doesn’t include yourself. If you were dealt a hand in a nine-handed game, then opponents = 8. ** If you played, then you add the number of opponents to your score. *** You’d score a “1” for the number of opponents who played if a single player raised the big blind and took the pot without seeing a flop or if someone just called the big blind, who never put additional money into the pot. **** You’d score “0” if nobody called or raised the big blind, who won by default, because nobody added money voluntarily to the pot.
Yes, you need to use finesse to get the most profit. So, of course, it will matter how well you play the hands in which you’re involved. Still, the miracle is that you usually can expect to win in the long run in typical games, as long as your FSI score is a bit less than your opponents’. When a game is very loose, you can play some hands that seem weaker than your usual guidelines and still win, because your FSI will indicate that you’re playing more selectively than they are. Profit exists whenever your hands average better than theirs. So, you can generally relax your standards in loose games — just not as much as your opponents do. That’s important, because often you don’t want to appear too tight for the game.
I recommend that you begin monitoring your FSI. For inexperienced players and when in games much looser than normal, I recommend somewhat tighter play, targeting a 70 percent score relative to opponents. Some students have been shocked to find that after a week, their score was higher than their opponents. That meant they weren’t as selective as they thought, and it explained why they were losing. There are many other reasons why you might be losing, but your FSI will often tell you whether hand selection is the cause.
Go win! — MC