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!


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