Raise or Fold:  A Year of Risky Business

Writing and playing poker as if they were activities worth doing well.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Day 41: Today Is A Good Day To Die

Learning how to tolerate the risks that come with poker rewards is essential to a strong game. The idea is: scared money is dead money. ("Dead money" is a term of art, referring to players so weak that their money is sure to get snatched up by others.)

How much risk must you be willing to tolerate? In no-limit hold'em you must be willing to put your entire stack at risk. Everything you have on the table.

Here's what Ed Miller had to say today on the subject:
To win serious money at no limit you have to use your stack as a weapon, and that means being 100% willing to lose it at any moment. I really can’t stress this point enough as it’s extremely important. When I play live, I always play stakes where I can lose stack after stack and just shrug it off, replacing it as needed. That allows me to be more aggressive than the players who are nursing their stacks, and basically it allows me to rob them blind, $20 or $25 at a time.

If you don’t have enough money to replace stack after stack at the stakes you’re playing, move down. If you’re already playing the smallest game in the room, buy-in for less. If you’re playing the smallest game in the room and you can’t buy-in for less because the minimum buy-in is $40 and you have less than, say, $400 to play with… unfortunately, you’re kind of pretty much underrolled to play no-limit. You can play, but expect not to play that well because you’ll be too worried about what you can lose to play as aggressively as you should.
Look at the numbers he mentions. He wants you to sit at the table with 10 times your intended buy-in in your pocket. I literally know no-one who does that. I certainly don't, at least not yet. But I do have a deep enough bankroll behind me that I can tolerate losing session after losing session, if I must. And most of all, his post is about attitude, about the well-calibrated level of aggression which maximizes your risk/reward ratio.

I think this explains why the new crop of good young players that came up playing exclusively on the internet are both so aggressive and so fearless. They learned to play in an environment where there was always another game, night or day, and where they could move up and down in stakes easily and painlessly. The internet is a zero-opportunity-cost environment that pays off the appropriate levels of aggression much more quickly (online "long run" is much shorter in time than brick-and-mortar) than in a casino or a home game. Combine that with running good for the first year of your career (and the pre-UIGEA fishpool), a youngster's inherent lack of appreciation for the real-life value of money, and a skilled online player becomes an absolute Juggernaut Beast of Death.

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