Monday, March 29, 2010

"Before God we are all equally wise - and equally foolish." -Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)

Well it's now the end of month 2 of my new year, and I'm comfortable admitting I still haven't made any money this year. When I say 'comfortable', it's not because I've lost my tenuous grip on reality or that I've recently discovered the delights of valium. Rather it's because my game has improved over the last month, and my results are improving accordingly. I predict that by the end of this week I will have made it back into profit after my disastrous performance in February, and this means that I can get back to being the HAPPY-go-lucky guy who plays poker successfully for a living.

Interestingly, I actually haven't been too worried about being in the red for an entire month. I think that is down to 2 reasons:
1) I have been playing well overall and my results have been improving
2) I have more than enough money easily available to get by in the short term
If I got really worried about it, it would probably have a negative impact on many things, including my game, girlfriend, family, friends, and lifestyle, and I like all of those things exactly as they are. So I resolved not to change any of them with unnecessary worry or stress.

I've never been one of those people who worries incessantly about things (life is far too short) and I don't intend to change that now. I believe in acting on problems, not worrying about them. When I started playing poker for a living, I made sure I had lots of money set aside and in my bankroll, so that if things didn't go to plan for a month or 2 I wouldn't need to do even think about money. Also, when I noticed things weren't going well (*see February), I took steps to identify and fix them, which seems to be working.

I also believe in being as lazy as possible, and am willing to work very hard (on occasion) so that can remain unchanged for years to come. I like being able to play poker for 5 or 6 hours a day, with plenty of time for breaks, exercise and errands or jobs around the flat. If it means that some days I end up feeling like I've played 10 hours straight, or that some weeks I've had to sweat blood and tears over a game just to break even, so be it. Far better I endure that than be stuck in an office; forced into exchanging daily banalities with a bunch of people you would never speak to outside of the office building....

Thursday, March 11, 2010

“Having Money’s Not Everything / Not Having It Is” -Kanye West, The Good Life

Well, this month has so far been every bit as trying as February was for me poker wise. I haven't got myself in a -7k hole just yet, but it's been a tough ride. Poker is a mental game, but I don't mean just that you have to think about how best to play. I mean there's a lot of psychological and emotional strength and discipline required, and never more so than when things aren't going very well.

I'll level with you here: when things are going really badly, you've lost hundreds and hundreds of dollars in a short space of time and you seem to be getting coolered or sucked out on every time the money goes in, it suddenly becomes very tempting to 5-bet allin with pocket 7s against an aggressive regular, or call off your deep-stack with TT against an UTG donkey. You want to start 3-betting J9s oop against 2 good players. You convince yourself a call followed by a turn raise will make your opponent fold what he has advertised is a big hand. You, you, yours, and you. The focus that you have as a player has shrunk from the game, along with all the other players in it, to just yourself.

If I find myself thinking only about what has been happening to me(i.e. how unlucky I have been, how unfair it is that I was never dealt AA or KK against the big fish, etc.) then I have to admit I'm on tilt. A subtle form of tilt, but one that definitely impacts my play and can be a precursor to the more obvious red-mist-descending, allin-with-a-gutshot, how-the-hell-has-he-got-another-set kind of tilt. The kind of tilt that can destroy your bankroll in a day if you let it.

So, when I recognise I'm tilting, I need to stop playing. It's very simple, but very very hard. It is a brutal conundrum that for human beings the worse things seem to be going, the more stubborn some (maybe most?) of us become and we say it'll get better. It has to improve. Things will turn around soon. We do it in relationships. We do it at work. Being able to dig in in the face of opposition is an asset, but it must be used with discretion. I can't help thinking of the film Enemy at the Gates which showed how thousands of Russians at the Battle of Stalingrad who were ordered to run into the fire of German machine-gun nests, with one rifle between 2 soldiers. You have to pick your battles.

Bringing it back to poker though, I found myself having one of the worst days imaginable. It started with my AA losing to 7To after getting allin on a 3379 board. Then on a deep table AA lost again to AKo allin on a 4JK4 board. Then KK lost to QQ allin preflop for $1600. I was shrugging them all off mentally, but then came the straw that broke the camel's back. And by 'straw', I mean 'giant flaming log with spikes sticking out of it'.... 

I was playing a guy who was 40/12, and very aggressive on later streets. He would often pot bet the river if he was checked to with second pair, busted draws, Ace high, you get the idea. Sometimes he'd have a decent hand, but more often than not your top pair with top kicker was gold. So, I decided to call his UTG raise with a speculative hand and hope for a decent flop. It came perfect: 

Absolute/UB Cereus No-Limit Hold'em, $2/4 Deep  (6 handed) - Absolute/UB Cereus Converter Tool from
Button ($458.90)
SB ($904.50)
Hero (BB) ($894)
UTG ($1692.75)
MP ($328.45)
CO ($1385.20)
Preflop: Hero is BB with A, 7
UTG bets $14, 4 folds, Hero calls $10
Flop: ($30) 2, 7, 7 (2 players)
Hero checks, UTG bets $12, Hero calls $12
Turn: ($54) 6 (2 players)
Hero checks, UTG checks
River: ($54) A (2 players)
Hero bets $48, UTG raises to $1666.75 (All-In), Hero calls $820 (All-In)
Hero mucked A, 7 (full house, sevens over Aces).
UTG had A, A (full house, Aces over sevens).
Outcome: UTG won $3573

I couldn't believe it. There was literally only one hand he could have had that beat me, and it would require that all four Aces came into play. Shellshocked, I knew I couldn't play rationally after such a hand. So I shut down every table I had, and I took a long break.

When I came back, within 3 hands my 77 couldn't fade QQ allin on a 7J4 flop, and I had to really detach my emotions to keep playing well. I managed to win a big pot later on and I finished the day down only about $1100. Not bad, considering how I was running.

So I'm pleased. I showed discipline in the face of adversity. I recognised I was tilting and took action. Results will have to come in their own time. I'll just keep playing as best I can, and try to make good decisions. Sometimes not to play will be one of them. Best of luck to all. 

EDIT - Added Tommy Angelo's blog to my list on the right, check it out for some good poker philosophy and interesting content!

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

“Long is the way And hard, that out of Hell leads up to light” -John Milton, Paradise Lost

Well, the reason it's been a few weeks is simple. After my brief resurrection I had my worst week ever as a pro, and it was more than enough to give me my worst month's result ever too. I finished Feb down by about $7k, and I felt like I was playing terribly day after losing day. I've gotta say it's a pretty awful place to be mentally, and a tough reminder of how easy it is to lose rather than earn wages in this profession. If this was how I started my online career, I don't think I'd have lasted more than 2 months before looking for regular work. As it is though, I've got 2 years of ups and downs under my belt, and I'm determined not to be phased by such a bad start to my year.

So, I got back on the horse after a weekend off, and I lost $40 on Monday. And then $2240 on Tuesday. But today... today I managed a win. It wasn't big, and it certainly doesn't put me in profit for the month, never mind the year. But I played much better, and some of my confidence is returning. So with luck, this is the start of my comeback. It's not going to be easy. But no one said it would be. You have to take the rough with the smooth. It's what being a pro is all about.