Monday, March 12, 2012

Pre-flight Checklists in Poker

There was a small debate within my family this week about the merits of a nonfiction bestseller that one of them had just read. The book is The Checklist Manifesto: How To Get Things Right by Atul Gawande, and it discusses how checklists can be a pathway to success in today's modern (read: complicated) world. The focus of the book is on hospital visits and surgeries, but it also discusses how the whole checklist idea can be extended to non-traditional aspects of life and work. As most people know, checklists were developed by pilots in the early days of aviation to keep small mistakes from turning into big ones. It's way too easy to forget something simple, like set the flaps or verify that the tanks were full of fuel, and discover the problem when it's too late. Nowadays, everyone from surgeons to submariners employ checklists for this same basic effect-- to not forget something critical.

I won't enter family debate here, as I have not read the book. I have, however, skimmed the first few chapters online, and I perused some of reader reviews on Amazon to get a quick flavor of what people liked (and disliked) about the book. I think the most succinct summary that resonated with me was by reader who wrote a single sentence, 1-star review of the book: "The entire book (save yourself the reading) can be summed by: checklists are really, really, really important."

Which brings us to the topic of poker (as most things always seem to do with me...). Back on January 1st, I posted my top-fifty poker resolutions for 2012 on this blog (see that entry here). Number eighteen on my list was Use A "Preflight" Checklist Before Playing.

So am I following my own resolution? Well, yes and no. I actually wrote a preflight checklist, and it's pretty simple minded. It's also effective:
  • Pregame:
    • Go for walk and clear mind
    • Warm up brain immediately before playing (part of crossword or Sudoku)
    • Verify bankroll is sufficient for game stakes
    • Table Select!
  • In The Game:
    • Play with patience, especially at first
    • Fold more than usual early in session (zen of folding)
    • Tag the cows within first two laps
    • Pay attention after mucking
    • Do not cold call; either raise or fold
    • Three bet IP
    • Bet/fold the river
    • REDi: Read, Estimate, Decide, Implement
  • Postgame:
    • Review three key losing hands
    • Review two key winning hands
Okay, so that's the good news; I now have a simple but effective checklist. The bad news is that only about one times in ten do I actually use the damn thing... or even remember it exists.  This is most certainly a leak in my game, but for whatever reason I haven't yet plugged it. Way too often I just jump into the first open game if I have fifteen spare minutes, and I do little if any prep. Typically, about halfway into the session, I realize I forgot to use the list and I do a Polish salute to my forehead.

On the days that I do slow down and follow the checklist, I absolutely, definitely play better poker. So what the hell is wrong with me? Why don't I remember to use the checklist?

Maybe I need a checklist for the checklist...

All-in for now...

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