Raise or Fold:  A Year of Risky Business

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

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Day 14: Structure

So now I'm two weeks into my year-long adventure, and I'm already learning at a pace that more than fulfills my expectations.

I am chock-full of things to write about. I have no anxiety whatsoever about having enough material to make a book. Every day, in fact, I find myself adding to my list of topics. I'm not crossing them off at anything like that rate. This is actually quite reassuring, although it makes it clear to me that the editorial and organizational task is going to be much more substantial than I anticipated. (Historically, I have hardly ever done second drafts in my writing. I think with this material, though, it's going to be essential, as I move from the incidental and sporadic pieces to what I hope will be a unified and coherent final product.)

I had not fully anticipated, either, how crucial it was going to be to structure my time ~ and this is something I must work on right away if I'm to make best use of the year. In these first couple of weeks, I've allowed my zeal to play cards, and a lingering "pre-job" attitude toward the game that says one must play as much as possible whenever presented with the opportunity, to run away with me. I have been playing long, undisciplined sessions, staying up way too late, and not getting on with the other mundane tasks that are essential for a balanced life (and thus, of course, one's best game).

Now, however, I must approach each session with the goal of optimal play. That means that I must come to the table rested, refreshed, with a mind cleared of distraction. I must get appropriate exercise and nutrition. I can't be thinking about the errands I haven't run or the phone calls I haven't made. I have to take care of business before I take care of business.

So as I go into the second half of this first month, I re-commit myself to the basic outline of a schedule that I set out with: at least an hour of exercise every day; at least two hours of writing every day; a minimum of four hours (a work-week's tithing) of volunteer or charitable work every week. And no poker until the daily obligations are met and the day's essential errands and chores are complete. I also have to start keeping regular hours, sleeping eight hours a night.

I know some of you reading this are rolling you eyes and thinking to yourself, "Well, DUH!!" Your lives are already well-structured, and the discipline with which you approach them is either that of necessity, ingrained habit, or deliberate choice. You're wondering why this is even an issue in the first place. Have I really been living that sloppy of a life? And if so a) why? and 2) how have I gotten away with it?

The answers to those questions are equally matters of pride and embarrassment to me. Honestly, there seems little to be gained by going into them, so (author's prerogative) I'm just going to skip it. Suffice it to say that I acknowledge that, for the purposes of my adventure, I've got to get a grip and stick to a well-ordered program. This will not be easy for me, at least at the beginning.

But, honestly, I will deeply regret it if I don't give myself every chance to achieve my goals in this year. And there is no way I can have the kind of success I hope for if I'm flying by the seat of my pants the whole way. I hope that eventually I too will become a creature of truly constructive habits, so that I don't experience what I believe to be critical structure as a burdensome and restrictive practice.

Some of the people I most admire wear the yoke of discipline lightly and joyfully. They have mastered themselves and they are free. It is a liberation I seek to emulate, but that I know will not come without a struggle.

Past time to get on with it, then.

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Friday, August 29, 2008

Day 12: Meltdown

League tournament: played great, got crushed.
Live cash game: played mediocre, got crushed.
Anybody spot the common denominator?

Feeling cranky about it: mostly annoyed that I'm running like crap, but also not pleased with how I handled the sequence of events.

Grist for the mill.
(Stupid mill. I hate the damn mill.)

P.S.: Thank god for online. Smoked through a bunch of SNGs, got a royal flush, feel a bit better.

Live bankroll: 98.2%
Online bankroll: 120.8%


Thursday, August 28, 2008

Day 11: No Respecter of Persons

One of the things I love about poker is that it is utterly egalitarian, a great leveler. Poker doesn't care who you are, where you come from, what school you went to, what you do for a living, what color your skin is, how old you are, what language you speak, what sex you are, how hot you are or who you sleep with. Poker is entirely indifferent as to what God (if any) you pray to, and rains down luck on the good and the wicked in equal measure. As long as you have enough money to buy in, poker doesn't even care how rich you are, either. Although some of the people at your table may care about these things, if they're smart they'll set those concerns aside for the duration of the game and concentrate on the important stuff, such as: what exactly does that check-raise mean in this situation?

Like most people, I've spent the majority of my life among my own, surrounded by people of roughly similar background, education, and even politics. Some of it was just inertia (I made friends out of people who were nearby, and that generally meant either at school or work), and some of it was a disinclination to move out of my comfort zone. And while I have been more than typically willing to make friends across age gaps in both directions, my pack of pals isn't especially ethnically diverse, for example. Unless you have spent a meaningful amount of time in a social environment that actually does cut across a lot of demographic lines ~ like, say, the military ~ chances are your experience has been like mine.

Welcome to the poker table, baby. Be prepared to deal with anybody and everybody. And be very cautious about relying on stereotypes.

Maybe the pale young guy in the hoodie and sunglasses, iPod buds firmly implanted in his ears, is an internet grinder. But he might have learned the game from watching TV (a girl can hope). Maybe the tanned gentleman with gold chains in his ample chest hair really is full of gambool, or maybe he is a tight aggressive player who has been taking money off the unobservant for twenty years. The gal with the whisky-and-cigarette voice and the lowcut sweater could be just whiling away her time and donking off her trophy husband's bankroll between boob-jobs. Or maybe she's just enjoying the fact that you are so distracted by her cleavage that you've failed to notice her three-betting the nuts AGAIN. That dude with his jeans belted so far down his ass that six inches of boxers are showing may have spent the last three years polishing his $10/$20 skillz at someone's backroom game in the 'hood, or he may be a graduate student in computer science specializing in AI and game theory. The quiet little girl who always seems a bit confused about the value of the chips in front of her and can't quite manage to follow the action? She's a real shark on the felt. On the other hand, the loud, loose and aggressive Asian guy who acts like it's the most natural thing for him to be crushing the table is actually stuck five buy-ins and is desperately hoping his girlfriend will finish up at the spa and come give him an excuse to leave.

You want to be successful at poker? You have to see the player behind the persona.

The delightful thing is how different they all are! Paying attention to the individuals as individuals and concentrating on how they actually play (not how they want you to think they play, or how you expect them to play given what they seem to be) is the only way to really have an edge. In any case, just listening and watching with an unprejudiced frame of mind will teach you a whole lot about other people and yourself. And if you're really lucky, maybe once in a while you'll make a new friend too, perhaps the kind of person you never would have met if it weren't for poker.

Do I have to draw a diagram explaining how useful this attitude towards other people is in non-poker contexts? Martin Luther King dreamed of a time when people would be judged not by the color of their skin (to name just one source of prejudice), but by the content of their character. You can get plenty of practice doing just that at the poker table.

Live Bankroll: 98.8%
Online Bankroll: 119.5%


Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Day 10: Not Exactly What I Had in Mind

Yeah, this is what happens when you make plans in poker. Things go completely the opposite of what you had in mind.

The friendly game kicked my butt. (Okay, actually I'm only down a couple of buy-ins. And that was all due to two hands. In one monster pot, I got all my chips in the middle with the nut straight on the turn, 84% to win, and got outdrawn by a flush on the river. In the other, I re-raised from the button to 10x the big blind with AK suited, and got called by a fool with 10 J who proceeded to flop trips, while I caught my second pair on the turn.) It was just one of those nights where things didn't go my way. I got pretty frustrated, but I'm pleased to say that I kept my head level ~ while verbally venting so as to persuade others that I was massively tilted ~ and played solidly until the game broke. It could have been a lot worse.

Furthermore, I was unable to reach my contact about the crazy-ass game, so I was relegated to coming home and playing online. The beautiful thing about online poker is that you can always get a game, day or night. I played 3 tournaments and cashed in all of them, and I ran roughshod over the cash tables. All microstakes, of course. Still, the net effect was to put me up for the night, which was balm to my spirit.

My online bankroll began with one modest bonus-maximizing deposit at the beginning of 2008. I have been exercising strict bankroll management discipline ever since, and have ground it up to its current amplitude without reloading. (I did deposit once to take advantage of another bonus offer, but I do not include that deposit amount in my bankroll calculations.) I fully intend to make at least a 10,000% return on my original deposit by the close of the Year of Risky Business. Since I had already achieved a growth of 1050% by Day 1, that translates to an additional online bankroll growth of 650% from the new baseline (as tracked below) by Day 365. I consider this a relatively modest goal, by the way. There is every reason to believe that I might do meaningfully better.

Live Bankroll: 98.8%
Online Bankroll: 113.6%


Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Day 9: Some Days the Bear Eats You

I eaked out a fourth place money finish in my A League tonight. Which doesn't totally suck, but isn't anything to write home about either.

Online, I've been suffering through another protracted patch of bad beats both in tournaments and in cash games. Even multi-tabling can only dilute the pain so much. Much teeth-gritting is required to get through these stretches, which can seem to go on forever. (I can only imagine how many weeks' equivalent this would be of live play. I shudder to think, actually.) I keep reminding myself that, really, I want people to call down with a flush draw while I make pot-sized bets. Because, you know, statistically I'm gonna make out like a bandit from that. Statistically. Some day. Eventually.

Tomorrow is a live cash game bonanza. One is my usual friendly Thursday $.5/$1 game (being held on a Wednesday, this time), and the other I haven't been to yet, but I gather it's a wild, drunken, crazy-assed $1/$2 game, which gets going right about the time the friendly game ends. Which is to say at about 1 or 2 in the morning.

Perfect. I intend to go and profit mightily. There's a lot to be said for being the only sober person in the room.

Live bankroll: 99.1%
Online bankroll: 103.6%


Monday, August 25, 2008

Day 8: There's a Problem

It's easy to over-emphasize the sleazy side of poker (and gambling in general). But it would be a mistake to overcompensate in the other direction by sweeping what sleaze there actually is under the rug.

Earlier this evening I dropped off a couple of poker pals in a dubious quarter of the city. They had an "introduction" to a raked $1/$2 game, and were chomping at the bit to play. Me, I could care less how juicy the game was. I am not walking into a room filled with guys I've never met and know nothing about, playing an illegal game with a ton of cash on the table, in an extremely iffy part of town.

Not to mention the very strong likelihood of being the only woman in the room.

Hell to the nizzo. Not even with two buddies at my side.

Eventually, I'm going to write a long screed about game selection. But item number one in the list of game selection criteria has got to be: DO NOT PLAY IN A GAME WHERE THE DODGINESS OF THE CIRCUMSTANCES IS LIKELY TO BE A DISTRACTION FROM THE GET-GO.

  • If you are worrying about how you are going to get your winnings out of the room, there's a problem.

  • If you are wondering whether anyone around the table has a gun or a knife, there's a problem.

  • If you are desperately hoping that one of the players will turn out to be an off-duty cop, there's a problem.

  • If you are going to have to call a cab when you want to leave and then pray that you don't get mugged on the sidewalk before it shows up, there's a problem.


Sunday, August 24, 2008

Day 7: A Secret Society

Are you on a bus or in a subway car? Look around. You'd be surprised how many of your fellow passengers are members.

In your office, if it's of any size, there are certainly at least a couple of them. If you don't belong to the secret society, you wouldn't even know that they sometimes hold meetings there, after the last workaholic has gone home.

How do they recognize one another, the members of this underground group? Sometimes it's an inside joke, certain words spoken in a special order, or phrases with a double meaning that outsiders wouldn't catch. But among the true initiates, more often it's the mention of a certain location, or the name of a guy (usually it's a guy), and the promise of an introduction.

You had better come into these groups carefully, selectively, and honorably. Because in many environments, the secret society is perceived as ~ well ~ not quite thoroughly legitimate. Its meetings may or may not be fully sanctioned by law. It's a secret society, because the revelation of membership might cause marital strife, consternation amongst one's fellow churchgoers, or concern in one's employer. It might. Or maybe not.

Above all, for the true believers, the hardcore practitioners, it's a secret society because they themselves are embarrassed to admit how important membership has become to them. There is a whiff both of shame and of covert pride. There are very few who bring an unmixed mind and a serene heart to their participation in this community.

And this holds especially true among the members of that particular lodge within the secret society of gamblers who call themselves poker-players.

In any fringe activity, even one as widespread as that of playing poker for money, personal reputation and group ethos end up being incredibly important. The greater the stakes and the more established the group, the more significant a role that both individual and collective responsibility for self-policing play. If you want to see old-fashioned personal integrity in action and as the governing principle in community membership, go hang out with a bunch of people who've played poker together for a long time.

You can bet that any new person coming into the group is going to very quickly be made aware of both the stated and unspoken rules that govern conduct in the community. The consequences for infractions vary among poker subcultures, but they start with overt cautioning, and escalate quickly to ostracization or ejection, and in some cases (extra-legal, of course, and not in my circles) quite dramatically and unpleasantly beyond.

There may be no honor among thieves, but there definitely is honor among poker-players. If they want to keep playing in a given community, that is.

For those who prefer to play in person rather than online and who don't have convenient access to a licensed casino or cardroom, the only options are home games (what counts as legal varies by jurisdiction, if permitted at all) or illegal formal or informal games (including highly organized and profit-making cardrooms). If you're looking for a game, networking is everything.

You need to network to find the game. You need to network in order to learn what kind of game it is, whether the other participants (both organizers and players) are trustworthy, and how to present yourself to the existing culture. If you do not already have a trusted network of fellow players, you are walking into these situations blind and unprepared, presuming you can find them at all.

And rest assured, one way or another your reputation will proceed you, so you'd better make sure you have a good one.

I care tremendously about my poker reputation; I consider it a vital asset and a key element to my long term success in the game. This is why I am scrupulous about playing by the rules, why I work hard to establish that my word is my bond, and why I am never, ever in the slightest bit tempted to cheat. No short-term gain is worth jeopardizing what a spotless reputation will earn me in the long run. (I feel obligated to add that my own personal moral value system would keep me from cheating as well, even if I were sure that I could go entirely undetected forever. But that's a separate point from the one I'm trying to make here.)

I have also had to learn how to nurture and sustain a network. It's not a skill that comes naturally to me, as I'm not much of a joiner of societies, secret or otherwise. I am now constantly looking to find and connect with players whose commitment to maintaining their own reputations is as strong as mine, and whose ability to assess character is demonstrably reliable. Those people are the strong nodes on any network. It's a quality that others naturally recognize, and it is the chief building block of mutual trust and respect.

I don't play in every game to which I'm invited (and, needless to say, I completely avoid anything that is illegal; life is too short and I have too much at stake personally to mess around with that). I rely on my network of resources to help me evaluate the quality and trustworthiness of every new context I explore, and I also put very large stock in my own instinctive reactions to any given scene. I have no difficulty cashing out and leaving the moment I sense something the least bit shady going on. I have no interest in being associated with anything that I even suspect may be dubious in any way. There is always another game to be had on another day, if it comes to that.

Our daily lives are filled with these kinds of communities, subcultures, and affiliations (Kurt Vonnegut called the meaningless ones "granfalloons"). Many of them are out in the open and widely acknowledged and accepted. Many go unspoken, unseen, or unacknowledged, but are nonetheless powerful influences shaping people's lives. Some of them are self-aware and deliberately organized, others are ad hoc or just a case of birds of a feather that find themselves unwittingly flocking together. It is an important part of our identity structure as human beings to know which of these public or secret societies we belong to or wish to belong to (or not!), and an important part of our self-image and self-esteem to be aware of our standing within those entities. The explosion of social-networking software is demonstrating quite clearly just how important this stuff is in our lives.

When my mother died, I discovered the existence of a secret society, a bizarre kind of club that I had never had any reason to know about before. It was the unheralded, largely unrecognized cohort of people who had lost a parent. Suddenly I had something vitally in common with total strangers; we shared something fundamental, something life-altering. While I never formalized my understanding of this new community (through joining a grief support group, for example), becoming aware of my membership opened my eyes to the vast web of unlabeled commonalities that are woven through human society. It was my first step toward learning to value them as well, because I quickly realized that acknowledging and sharing with others my membership in the Society of Half-Orphans was actually helpful to me.

So look around you. Learn to see the ties that bind people together. Make conscious decisions about the ones you want to cultivate and participate in. And prune away those links and connections that conflict with your own sense of honor, that don't reinforce your idea of who you really are or wish to be, and that fail to respect the fullness of your personhood or that of others.

Because your networks are not separate from who you are.

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Saturday, August 23, 2008

Day 6: A Beautiful Day

Just about everything that could go right with this day, did go right.

I celebrated my birthday (which was actually on Day 1) with about twenty friends over brunch this morning. It was a little bit of a When Worlds Collide situation, as people from different parts of my life ~ who had never met before ~ got to know one another. The meal was good, but what mattered to me was being reminded how blessed I am in my friends. They are a pretty disparate bunch, but I love them all, and it was a delight to see them around me. I can only hope that they enjoyed it half as much as I did.

Then a small carfull of us went to Harper's Ferry and spent three hours floating down the river, through little white water rapids that were more like "slowpids." Perfect weather, perfect water, utterly relaxing, although not without an athletic component. I'm already looking forward to doing it again.

Then, back to McLean to play in an A League deepstack tournament. The structure was excellent, and the tourney started with fourteen runners. Poker friends spotted me the buy-in as a birthday gift, and I played an entirely error-free game. I wound up chopping first and second with my opponent in the wee hours of the morning. (I doubled up for the chip lead on the first hand of heads up, AJo vs. A2s, and could have played it out with him for first, but didn't want to keep the host up longer than necessary. The game had already gone on for 7 hours, and I know I'll have plenty of opportunity for heads-up rematches with this fine player in the future.)

This is the kind of day I want to have more often. It had savor and balance, and it was a whole lot of fun.

Live Bankroll: 99.2%
Online Bankroll: 103.4%

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Friday, August 22, 2008

Day 5: Moral Victory (But not much more)

I dashed out to Bristow this evening for a tournament. Nearly a dozen members of my A League attended this shindig in a development clubhouse. Our group took four of the five paid spots, including the top two, in a field of twenty eight. We are definitely better than the average recreational poker-player.

I wish I could say that I was one of the top two, but I was not. I finished fourth and doubled my money. Reviewing my play, I can find only two choices I might make differently another time. I skipped one opportunity late in the game to push all-in on the button and maybe pick up the rather large blinds (everyone folded to the big blind), and I chose not to call from the big blind for all my chips when I was short-stacked and pretty much otherwise destined to finish fourth.

It often seems to be the case that fortune favors the bold; although my opponent turned over a dominating hand, the math of the situation really did dictate that I should have made the call. There's no way, of course, of knowing whether it would have changed the outcome. It probably wouldn't have. I was gambling instead on the slim chance that the one of the other three would somehow manage to bust out before I ran out of chips. Didn't happen.

All in all, I played a good solid game. Had the big blind not found a monster pair when I raised preflop with decent cards earlier in the tournament, I probably would have done even better. I didn't have particularly juicy cards in this game, but I maximized the cards I did have, and got away from my second-best hands with minimum damage. I played the player where I could.

All in all, a solid showing. But dang, wish I'd placed higher.

Live bankroll: 98.3%
Online bankroll: 103.4%


Thursday, August 21, 2008

Day 4: Knowing When To Say When

How do you know when it's time to end a session of playing cash?

This a vital question for anyone who takes the game seriously and wants to actually make money over time. The conventional poker wisdom on the subject is: you should keep playing in a game when you are confident that you have an edge.

The catch here is that you have to be able to assess your edge pretty keenly. This turns out to be significantly more difficult in practice than in theory. While most of us are able to judge fairly accurately whether or not we are playing our "A" game, it's not always obvious whether our A game is good enough to prevail at a given table. And if, for any number of everyday reasons, we've regressed to our B game, it can be hard to say for sure that the B game isn't plenty adequate to prevail over the competition.

Should I stop playing the moment I know I'm not playing my A game?

In my view, not necessarily. There are a whole lot of circumstances in which my B game can handily generate profit. Maybe not maximum profit, but enough to make the game worth the candle. If we all only played when we could bring our A game, most of us would hardly play at all. And for a person who's playing small stakes, that's not going to be enough. Maybe if you're Phil Ivey you can afford to only play your A game. (But, hey, I've seen him looking pretty bored and disgruntled at the poker table, so I suspect he doesn't always bring his best to the table. On the other hand, his B game is more than sufficient to put most everyone else in the shade, so why wouldn't he play it at stakes he can easily afford? My guess is that when he plays for nosebleed stakes, he does in fact bring only his A game.)

Should I set a stop-loss and quit when I'm down a certain amount of money for the session?

In many cases, this makes a lot of sense. But not for the reasons you might think. It's not the monetary loss for any one session, in either absolute or relative terms, that matters. It's the cumulative effect generated by losing over the length of a session: eventually you can start feeling like a loser. And it's really hard to play well when you know in your bones that you are A LOSER. A stop-loss policy is fundamentally a tilt-management ~ not a bankroll-management ~ technique.

Should I set an earnings goal for the session and stop when I reach it to lock in the win?

Again, the conventional wisdom is no: if you're winning, and you believe your edge is such that you can keep winning, you should play on.

But there's a catch. Success is a double-edged sword. There is a such a thing as success-tilt; that's when, because you're doing well, you start to suspect you are poker god. The upshot of this excess of self-confidence is that you play less and less optimally, because in your heart of hearts you have begun to believe that you can do no wrong and that you are just that much better than your competition. You are fated to crush them.

Yeah. Not so much.

It would, actually, be better in those cases to quit while you're ahead. This has two benefits. First, you end the session on a positive note; you reward yourself by booking a profit. And you avoid the trap of hubris... which can lead to giving all your gains back and then some. The emotional crash that ensues when you turn a profit into a loss through success-tilt is even worse than a plain ol' gradual decline in a losing session.

A highly-evolved professional will get past being influenced by the highs and lows of session results. When you find such a professional, I will shake his or her hand and bow in respect. I will seek to be his or her apprentice. I aspire to attain that level of detachment myself.

But until I do, I think I'm going to institute some personal guidelines and see how applying a little session discipline to my live cash game works for me. The first one will be the requirement that I step away from the table for fifteen minutes when I reach 2x my buy-in. And that I walk away from the table for a full hour when I get to 3x my buy-in, and seriously consider not returning. The same time-out intervals should apply to losses at -1x and -2x buy-in.

Let me offer two examples of session-ending behavior from my recent trip to Atlantic City, one successful and one not.

Example 1: Recreate Yourself

I had returned from a lovely dinner and sat down at the $1/$2 table. I recognized several players from an earlier session that had gone quite well for me. One, a young Asian woman, who had started with a short-stacked buy-in of about $70, was now sitting with about $300 in front of her. Over the next couple of hours, she positively pillaged the table. I couldn't tell whether she was playing really well, or just getting sick lucky, or ~ most likely ~ a little of both. As I watched, her stack grew to nearly $1000. Meanwhile, I was getting increasingly frustrated at my position, my lack of cards, my inability to hit a flop or get there on a draw. Things were just not going my way, at all. Two thirds of my 150xBB buy-in was gone and my attitude had gone completely to shit. I recognized that the quality of my decision-making was seriously degraded. I had to do something about it.

I picked up my wizened stack and went to the podium and asked them to seat me at the $1-$5 spread stud game. I thought it would do me good to switch things up, get out from under the no-limit pressure cooker, and stretch my poker muscles a little bit in a non-threatening environment. I sat down at the stud table and immediately started to feel better. I commenced flirting with my table-mates ~ most of whom were grandfatherly gentlemen ~ and joking with the dealers. (A vast change of persona, in this case.) I realized fairly quickly that my opponents were not especially skilled stud players, so I wasn't outclassed in the least. I began to have fun, and I was playing reasonably well. After about two hours, I'd nearly tripled my stud buy-in and I was ready to go back to the no-limit tables with a whole new 'tude.

I proceeded to rebuild my no-limit stake until I'd not only erased my losses for the day, but was even a little bit up. Which brings us to...

Example 2: What time is it?

It was 4 am. I had been playing poker for 16 hours, with only a two-hour dinner break. I racked up and stopped by at my traveling companion's table to share the good news of my fiscal recovery. The companion was stuck several hundred dollars and seemed uninterested in calling it a night. I looked down at my rack of chips, which by my lights seemed to be positively glowing with health.

What the heck, I thought to myself. (This is the point at which warning bells should have been ringing loudly in my brain.)

I went to the cashier's cage and cashed out all but $200 of my stack. I took those two stacks of red and returned to the poker room and sat back down at the table. Over the subsequent four hours, I managed to part with that money, and another hundo on top of it. The fact is, I was exhausted and not thinking well. And my reasons for being at the table were all wrong.

My traveling companion fared worse. Both of us would have done far, far better to get up and go at 4 am.

Just because I know I'm capable of fighting back from a loss doesn't mean I should attempt to do so at every occasion. And sometimes, when I've scratched my way back to even, I should just pat myself on the back and call it a night ~ not try to turn the break-even success into a profit success.

And, most importantly, I should never let someone else's state of mind or game-plan influence whether I choose to play or not. This is now my job, and I need to be making decisions based on professional, not purely social, criteria.

What time was it? It was time to quit. And the aggravating thing is: I knew it. I knew I should call it a night, right then and there. If I had done what I knew was right, I would have come back from AC showing a slight profit for the trip.

And now, the life example, which ~ such a coincidence ~ happened this very evening.

Life Example: It's Over, Stick a Fork in It

After busting out of my B League tournament early, I went to play in a local pub poker game. I know all the regulars and they know me. I hadn't seen them for a week or so, and I was warmly greeted when I arrived, late, and joined the tourney already in progress. After I won, I hung around for awhile with a few of the guys, had a couple of drinks, and listened to a bunch of youngsters massacre 90s power-ballads at the karaoke machine.

One of the players is someone I know a bit more intimately than the others. I met him originally right after he broke up with his girlfriend. The fact that he was evidently deeply distressed about this didn't stop him from flirting like crazy with me. And the fact that I was entirely aware he wasn't over his girlfriend didn't stop me from returning the favor. Suffice it to say that we proceeded to enjoy one another's company quite thoroughly. And then, not long after, he informed me that he'd gotten back together with his girlfriend (no surprise whatsoever) and in truth that was just fine with me. Lovely fellow, but not long-term material.

Tonight, however, he proposed in most persuasive terms that we reprise our earlier involvement. And, while the prospect had a certain appeal, I found it necessary to inquire into the status of his relationship with the girlfriend. He explained that she was away. I gently informed him that "away" is not good enough for me: that, alas, I am afflicted by scruples in matters pertaining to personal relationships. A rather charming philosophical conversation followed this exchange, and we parted on entirely friendly, one might say even especially friendly, terms. The point is, though, that we parted.

I count this as the successful conclusion of a life session.

You have to know when to say when, and then go ahead and say it.
And mean it.

Live bankroll: 98%
Online bankroll: 103.4%

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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Day 3: AC/DC (and not necessarily in a good way)

I'm back from my Atlantic City trip, totally and completely exhausted and richer in experience and wisdom but not in the 'roll. I'm going to try to process what I learned and give you some of it in a constructive narrative form ~ but not until I've had one good night's sleep.

The big challenge from this episode is to try absorb the positive lessons as thoroughly as the negative ones. There were both kinds to be had in this chapter of the story. It is much easier, though, to dwell on the things I did wrong than on the things I did right. After all, evolution has built in higher priority and more efficient pathways for the negative feedback loops that help us survive danger than for the positive loops that reward success in competition or acquisition and in learning (hierarchy of needs = survival > reproduction > status, roughly, according to Maslow and, less academically but more entertainingly, by various PUAs).

I love poker but, you know... poker is hard. (If it were easy, anyone could do it.) I am trying to remind myself that, expenses aside, I came back less than one buy-in down over the session. Statistically, in a poker year, that means nothing. I recovered from worse while I was still there, for example.

Would I rather have come back with fistfuls of cash? You know it.

Am I going to panic because I didn't? Nah.

Dudes: it's day three. We're on a long road here. Have a look at the bankroll numbers, which do include poker-related travel & lodging expenses, for perspective (that sure helps me).

Live Bankroll: 98.3%
Online Bankroll: 100%


Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Day 2: Just Another Day at the Office

I'm in AC for a couple of days. It's been interesting playing with a new attitude. Updates as time allows and a full report on my return.


Monday, August 18, 2008

A Year of Risky Business

I was brought up all wrong.

My parents were both artists, and they raised me to believe that a person should follow his or her own vision, passionately and eagerly, whether or not that vision is shared or approved of by the rest of society. It was therefore sheer good luck that we led a modestly middle-class existence as I was growing up.

The upshot of this family ethos, for me, has been a series of creative careers ~ many of which could actually have been lucrative, had I given money-making the slightest priority. But no, I have preferred to do what engaged my enthusiasm rather than what was likely to plump up my wallet.

In other words, I am an idiot.

I am, nevertheless, a consistent idiot; I am doing it yet again. I am following my interests and inclinations despite many very good rea$ons not to do so. I am setting aside a well-established track record in interactive web design to pursue a totally unrelated career trajectory.

Perhaps I am also an insane idiot. It's entirely possible.

In an effort to mitigate the potential bad effects of this madness, I am setting a time-frame in advance: one year. I will give it a year and give it my all. At year's end, I will assess my progress and either bring the experiment to an end or drink a very large amount of champagne whilst celebrating wildly with those I love.

For the next twelve months I will be playing poker and writing.

Yes, poker. Specifically No-Limit Texas Hold'em (mostly), both in tournaments and in cash games. And yes, for money. I hope, eventually, for lots of money. But initially for modest stakes in casinos, online, and in home games. If I manage to break even (including my poker-related expenses) this year, I will consider it a raving success. If I cover my ordinary living expenses as well, I will break out the aforementioned champagne and be ~ temporarily, I trust ~ insufferably proud of myself.

But what about the writing... why would anybody muck up a perfectly delightful plan to play poker all the time by adding writing into the mix?

Damn good question. (Kindly refer back to the speculation about sanity cited above.)

All silliness aside, however, I will be writing because I'd like to share with others what poker has taught and continues to teach me about facing a challenging world succesfully: who I am, what I want, how I respond to fear and stress and even success, what I know about other people, and how to always keep observing, learning, and adapting no matter the circumstances.

I don't intend to write a poker strategy book. I'm nowhere near good enough to do that. Poker is a game of many, many layers. I am just beginning to peel them away, and with each new one I realize how very few I've mastered and just how deep the game really is. I do think, though, that I have something to offer in reflecting on how learning to play poker well can build skills that will help a person to live well too.

Like this blog, the book's working title is Raise or Fold, and an important part of this year's activity is the commitment to finish it within that timeframe. (No book, no champagne.) I'll be posting work-in-progress from the book as I go. I'll also be posting about my day-to-day experiences at the poker table, the status of my bankroll, and ~ to some extent ~ the other parts of my life that contribute to my ability to play my best, including exercise and charitable activities.

Your comments and criticism will be gratefully received: for heaven's sake please don't hold back!

Live Bankroll: 100%
Online Bankroll: 100%

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