Raise or Fold:  A Year of Risky Business

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

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Day 43: A Moral Victory

I returned to the scene of the Bloody Sunday massacre and immediately commenced to exsanguinate once again. I have never in my life been outdrawn so many times, in so many varied ways. It was a donkfest, and I was perfectly positioned to profit from it. Except that I didn't, because my opponents managed to either flop two pair (K2 offsuit for a 5xBB bet? Why not!), or river me with some miracle two-outer. It was sick.

It was the talk of the room. That's how bad it was.

The bad news: I was down to 1/10 of my buy-in.
The good news: I did not tilt this time.
The best news: I ground it all the way back.

I didn't make any money, but I proved to myself that I could take a licking and keep on ticking. I made good decision after good decision as things just went horribly, awfully wrong over and over. But I was patient, I picked my spots, and I successfully executed a stone-cold bluff that brought me back more than halfway in one pot. I raised, or I folded, or I shoved, and I worked it and worked it until at 5 am I was back where I started. And I felt like I had just successfully summited Everest.

One of these days, I'm going to this game and I am going to clean out the entire table. My hands will hold up a reasonable percentage of the time and I will bust every single one of those sorry-ass fools down to the felt, and if they rebuy, I'll do it to them again. I'm getting a bead on each and everyone of these guys. Tonight I knew where I was all of the time, and I kept making the correct choice. (And getting hosed. Variance is a bitch. But the point is I was making the right decisions.)

Would I have liked to make a profit? Hell, yeah. Would I have liked to at least make up for my previous visit's loss? God, yeah. But since I wasn't able to do that, I'll settle for knowing that I can continue to play a rocksteady game when things just aren't going my way.

I made exactly ONE bad call tonight. One. (My full house was beaten by a bigger full house that got there on the river, and I just had to see what I already knew.)

Next time, I'm aiming for ZERO.

And watch out, gentlemen, because after I get my money back, I am coming for yours.


Monday, September 29, 2008

Day 42: Razz is the Nazz

Okay, so I didn't win this one outright. After playing for about 4.5 hours (nearly an hour of which was short-handed), once the chipleader and I got heads-up we agreed to chop. Considering that my opponent had me outchipped by about 5:1 at the time, I think I made a very good deal, as I nearly split the prize pool 50/50. I like to think he realized that I could stage a comeback victory at any time (LOL).

I don't even remember how many players this game had... I think it was over 90. May I just say: I am the Razz Queen.

And on that note, I'm going to bed.

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Sunday, September 28, 2008


Speaking of dying: I nicked an artery tonight and bled green all over the felt. A sample:
AA cracked by the K 10 offsuit that called a giant raise pre-flop.
99 cracked by A 3 offsuit (the case Ace on the river).
Trip sevens on the flop destroyed by a full house.
I finally grinded my way back to nearly even.

And then I flopped a set of Kings, and slowplayed them (one time, I thought, let me bet for value), and of course got horribly outdrawn to a straight and then a flush.

When my opponent went all-in, I should have folded. But I was frustrated from having been outdrawn so many times, for so much money. And the pot was huge. And I thought: if there's a 25% chance he's bluffing, and a 25% chance he's got an underset, then I have to call.

Which was absurd. I needed to fold there, and walk away with the remaining third of my stack.

The good news: I played beautifully until the last hand. I got my money in good and got very, very unlucky multiple times.

The bad news: I tilted, and I wasn't able to get away from a hand that was beat.

It doesn't matter how "unfair" the whole scenario was, from start to finish. I cannot even begin to consider myself a good poker player until I make those laydowns easily and without pain.

I let the past influence the present in a totally inappropriate way. I made a very bad decision, based in wishful thinking and emotion, and I got my ass handed to me.

That, I deserved.

All the crap that went before? Well, that's poker, folks.

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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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Saturday, September 27, 2008

Day 40: Total Exhaustion

Thou shalt not pull two all-nighters in a row.

Thou shalt not expect to play decent poker when thou art ready to pass out from fatigue.

Thou shalt get up from the table and go to sleep until thou has regained a clue and a sense of proportion.

Thou shalt exercise caution in mixing business with pleasure.

Hmmm. Which one should I write 100 times on the blackboard first, do you think?


Friday, September 26, 2008

Day 39: Another Score

I had to stay up 'til dawn to vanquish 691 other runners... But still, it made for a nice little addition to the online bankroll. I turned $2.20 into $290, which is a pretty decent ROI.


NLHE tourney win

I was totally in the groove for this game; a very enjoyable feeling indeed. Utterly dominated the endgame: raise-a-rama, baby!

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Thursday, September 25, 2008

Day 38: Can't Win 'em All

You hit the flop.
You make a pot-sized bet with your top pair, because you know middle pair (if there is one) will call.
You get called.
The turn puts a straight draw out there.
You make a two-thirds pot bet to discourage the draw.
The river puts four to a straight on the board.
You check and your opponent goes all in.
You fold and he shows that he made his straight.
He had, in fact, been drawing to a four-outer gutshot from the very beginning.
He was saved by runner-runner straight cards.

You leave the session down a little more than half a buy-in.
Coincidentally, just a little less than the amount of money you put into that one pot.

This is how thin the margin between profit and loss can be in a no-limit session. This is why a longer session is better than a shorter one, when you know you're a better player than most of the people at the table. This is why ~ from a poker perspective ~ it's wise to consider your cash game to be one long session punctuated by the rest of your life, rather than the other way around.

I look forward to playing in this game again soon.


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Day 37: Life Tilt

Some days, life makes it hard to play good poker. Today was one of those days. Extraneous concerns clouded my head. I am preoccupied with people and matters that have nothing to do with cards.

Feeling gloomy and lonely, which doesn't help either. I'm lucky I have friends I can vent to, because ~ as noted earlier ~ the poker table is a pretty solitary place, and not a venue for exposing your vulnerabilities.

I played a lengthy session online tonight, all the while chatting with a friend and fellow poker-player on the other side of the country via Skype. Made me feel less alone with my angst, for which I was mightily grateful.

My online bankroll continues to grow back toward its previous full amplitude, which is encouraging, thanks in part to a HORSE sit'n'go. (Wouldn't it be INSANE if I ended up being a HORSE specialist?)

Poker is easy; life, on the other hand, life is hard.

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Day 36: How Sweet It Is

This evening in my A League I watched my very own personified kryptonite draw out on me yet again when we were all-in with pair vs. overpair. That guy can catch his two-outer on me like nobody's business. Needless to say, we were on the bubble; I played a flawless game and got nowhere. I believe the popular saying is: LOL DONKAMENTS. (I'm beginning to truly appreciate the sentiment.)

I steamed about it for just as long as it took me to drive to the next game.

Ah, the cash game. My new best friend in the poker world. Balm to my aggravated spirit. Four hours of patient work: I doubled up and cashed out. Drove home feeling serene and content with the night's outcome.

It's nice to run good. It's fun to feed an image and then use it to move people off hands. It's gratifying to play well and not be punished for it. But we are not entitled to these results, no matter how skilled we are. We should just acknowledge them with gratitude and move on. Because the next bad beat is never far off.

One advantage of keeping a blog is that it should help me maintain some perspective during those spells where I do run bad; I can look back and see that there were also periods of time where things went my way (or at least didn't go horrendously against me). And at year's end I ought to have some spiffy data to work with to provide me with an even more nuanced view.

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Monday, September 22, 2008

Day 35: Finally, A Little Online Satisfaction

And I don't mean that in a pornerific kind of way.

Finally I won something on PokerStars. (Oh, and I'll link to them the moment there's something in it for me. Are you listening, PokerStars? You know, sponsorship, affiliate kick-backs, whatever...)

I've been running really, really badly in both the microstakes cash games and tournaments. My online bankroll took a harsh beating. Thank god for the recent successful AC trip, because otherwise it would have been getting really demoralizing. (This, by the way, is one reason why I think it's a good idea to have a variety of venues for your game ~ and I suppose a variety of games for your venues. It helps even things out, I find.)

All it takes is one decent score to put things to rights, though. A little thing we like to call the Three Dollar HORSE Tournament. In which I conquer 312 other aspirants to take down the game. Ship it, holla!

Screenshot of tournament victory

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Sunday, September 21, 2008

Day 34: Veni, Vidi, Vici

Gosh, that was fun.

I played at the 2/5 table for three hours or so and walked away having almost doubled my buy-in. I made one bad decision during this session ~ calling when I knew I was beat by the tightest player on the table, although not exactly HOW I was beat ~ which cost me quite a bit.

Otherwise, I played as well as I knew how, and after suffering one truly horrendous beat I stayed patient and tough and half an hour later FELTED the guy who inflicted it upon me.

You want to hear about it?

I thought you'd never ask! :D

You may be familiar with the poker saying, "If you can't tell who the fish is at your table after twenty minutes, it's you." Well, a few hands into my session today, I had identified the minnow at our table. A middle-aged white guy, pounding beers at 11 in the morning, counting out his chips with excruciating deliberateness while making really, really bad decisions about what to do with them. And he was catching cards and winning, against all odds.

I eyed him and his stack as a hungry tiger eyes the lame baby gazelle separated from its mommy on the veldt. He was going to be lunch.

But I thought I'd never get a crack at him, because two thirds of the table were licking their chops too. We were jostling for position, trying to be the first and last to finally benefit from his inevitable largesse. There was no way this guy was leaving the table with any of his money.

And then it happened. The perfect storm. I was in the big blind with Mr. Minnow two seats to my left. It folds to him and he limps in. Two more folds and one more limp from a guy I'm calling TVP because he's wearing a TV-poker-show t-shirt. It folds to the small blind who releases. I look at my cards, and I've got Ks6s. Nothing fancy. I check my option. There is now 7xBB in the pot.

The flop comes: Jc 6h 6c.

Ding ding ding ding ding! How happy am I?!?

For once, I think it's okay to slowplay. Why? Because I'm positive that one of the two guys behind me will bet out. And, sure enough, here comes Mr. Minnow with a 3xBB bet. TVP smooth-calls. The pot is now 13xBB.

Time to make my move. I absolutely, positively do not want anyone to draw to the club flush. Mr. Minnow is such a bad player, and I've seen him draw to the flush without pot odds already more than once, I am determined that if he wants to draw, he is going to PAY. So I make a nearly pot-sized bet with a raise of 9xBB on top.

I am not surprised when Mr. Minnow calls. TVP is a sensible player and he folds. Everyone at the table but Mr. Minnow now understands that I have a six. Everyone at the table also realizes that Mr. Minnow probably does not grasp this proposition.

Turn card: Js.

I have now filled up. I check. To my surprise, Mr. Minnow checks behind. A faint alarm bell goes off. (Weak means strong with these guys, I know this.)

River card: Ac.

I check. Mr. Minnow bets out 10xBB. I ask him, "Did you draw out a flush on me?" At this point, I am praying that he has a flush, but I've got a horrible sinking feeling that he has a Jack. The pot is offering me 3:1. Did he really call my bet on the flop with a two-outer draw?

Of course you know the answer to this one. Yes. Yes he did. He led out in early position and then called a big re-raise with Jh 8s (not even AJ or KJ, not even sooooted). There was a collective murmur of astonishment around the felt when he tabled his hand. You could also hear the faint gurgling sound of six or seven sets of salivary glands going into overdrive.

I was not a happy camper. I was very annoyed at myself for giving him credit for at least having been drawing to more outs. I should have known better. Maybe I could have found a way to fold the underboat to Mr. Minnow.

I will admit that at this point I'm really hoping I get a chance to get into it with Mr. Minnow again. I want my money back, before he goes and gives it all to someone else. I watch in dismay as he gets into several consecutive hands with my tablemates and loses amounts appropriate to his very bad judgment. His stack is dwindling.

About half an hour later, I am on the button. Mr. Minnow, under the gun, limps in. There are two other limpers and then the hijack, a solid player, makes it 4xBB to go. The cut-off (on my immediate right), another decent player, folds. I have As3s. This is a weak-ass hand, and an extremely loose call, especially up against Mr. Hijack, who isn't raising with crap. But I am 100% sure that Mr. Minnow will call, and with him and me in it, the fourth player will call too. I will be getting 3:1 on my money, in position. And so they did.

I tell myself I will fold to any bet if I don't hit the flop really hard.

The flop comes: Ks 5s 4s.

Yeah, I flopped the joint; I think that counts as "hitting the flop really hard." Behind a mildly interested-looking exterior, my inner child was dancing an extravagant happy-dance and shouting "booyah!" and other less savory expletives of joy.

It immediately got even better: Mr. Minnow bet out 20xBB. It is no surprise when the other two players promptly get out. I look at the board and ask myself: "What is he betting here?"

Does he have a set?
Big slick (AK)?
A baby flush?
Some kind of insane open-ended straight or straight-flush draw?

I call.

The turn card is 8h. I watch him as it falls. There is no hesitation.

"All-in!" he announces. About 50xBB. I have him covered.

I look at the board again. As far as I can tell, I still have the nuts. I have the nuts, right? How did the eight of hearts possibly help him? Does he have a set now? What the hell is going on?

Of course I call.

I have a flash of deep chill as the last card falls: it is the King of diamonds. Can he possibly have filled up on the river? Does my luck suck THAT BAD?

For once it does not. He turns over ~ wait for it ~ the King of clubs and the 10 of spades. My nut flush is indeed good and I drag all the chips.

But let us have a moment of silence for the beauty of extreme wrongness that was his 1) leading out big with top pair, weak kicker on a monochrome board from early position with three to act behind him and b) the all-in move with top pair, middling spade flush draw, after having his first bet called. (By me, probably the second- or third-tightest player on the table.)

It is easier to spot the fish a) when there are fewer fish in the pond (i.e., it's not all fish all the time) and 2) for once, it's not you.

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Saturday, September 20, 2008

Have I Found My Game?

As I suggested in today's earlier entry, I thought I might take a stab at the 2/5 game, just to see what it was like.

So at about 11 pm, I moved up in stakes for the first time. I expected to be nervous and tentative, but I found that the elevated stakes actually calmed and focused me. I was pleasantly relaxed, and employed a much more chatty and outgoing table persona than I usual project. For example, there was about a half-an-hour's speculation at the table about my name, with me providing clues and seeing if anyone could guess it. None of the men were successful, but a female floor person (who hadn't seen my player's card) got it in 30 seconds flat.

Unlike the 1/2 table, which ~ more often than not ~ is all about playing your cards and your position and hoping for the best (while expecting massive variance because of the random donkey factor), at 2/5 I was actually able to make reads, make plays, and make money.

There's a lot of ribbing on the forums at 2+2 about people "moving up to where they respect your raises." Of course you want people calling you when you make raises with the best hand. But people played a much better post-flop game at 2/5... and the pre-flop bet sizes were more appropriately proportional to the blinds (3x or 4x rather than 5x or 6x or even more). We did see a couple of monsterpotten, but also the pot sizes mostly didn't get ridiculously bloated.

The signal improvement I made in my game was in folding. I am most proud of a couple hands where I got away from huge hole cards hitting the flop because I knew I was either beaten or about to be beaten. I made two really spectacular laydowns that gave me genuine hope for my game. The money I didn't lose was even more gratifying to me than the money I made.

Now maybe I was just (finally) running better than I usual do. Or maybe the increased stakes had me paying closer attention to the game. Or maybe the full night's sleep was a help. Maybe I just miraculously ran into the softest 2/5 table in AC. It could have been all or none of the above. I may have a horrible experience at 2/5 next time, who knows?

Long story short, I profited. And I really enjoyed the experience. I'll definitely be wading in the big kids' pool more often.

Three people asked me if I was a pro today. (Three!) That's not good. I'll admit I got a little thrill from the question, but that's definitely not something I want people thinking about about when they play with me. I have GOT to resist the temptation to talk about hands after they're over and the desire to share my observations about the table with someone on the spot. It's a leak and I need to plug it, fast.

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Day 33: Back in Black

Got myself 8 hours of mediocre-quality sleep, and played about 4.5 hours this afternoon, and bootstrapped myself back into the black. Barely. We'll see how it goes tonight.

I think I need to up my gambool quotient. I've got pretty deep pockets for this trip; I might as well take advantage of the bankroll to work up a little tolerance for the variance that would come with a wider range of hands. I haven't had to rebuy once so far ~ but it wouldn't kill me if I did.

I'm also mildly tempted to step up to 2/5 for one session, just to see how it plays. If I continue to hold my own, I might do that tomorrow, after another decent night's sleep.

One of the fun things about coming back to the same casino over and over is that you see the same cast of characters again and again: the regulars, the floor, the dealers. Sometimes they recognize you, too, and sometimes not. I think a lot of the Harrah's regulars are playing over at the USPC at the Taj this weekend. I was tempted to do that, but decided to stick with cash for now.

Also, take note: there's a new fashion statement going on at the poker table. I'm used to guys in baseball caps and sunglasses, but at my game this afternoon there were no less than FIVE guys wearing black baseball caps (four forward and one backward). All ages and races. Apparently everyone wants to be Darth Vader or something. Frankly, it just plain cracked me up.

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Friday, September 19, 2008

Day 32: In which AC conspires to frustrate the bejesus out of me.

Let's see. I did manage to make money on pocket Aces one time. And a pair of Kings held up another time. Other than that, I got outdrawn pretty spectacularly.

You know what? I'm probably ~ as one kind commenter has put it ~ a TAGfish.

(But I'm a TAGfish that just can't hit a flop like every other lucky mofo on the planet. And if there's a flush draw to be had against me, you can be sure that my opponent will call me without odds and will get there anyway. Every time.)

It's a pathetic moral victory that I'm only down 1/3 of a buy-in. At my best today I was up by 1/3. I've probably paid the equivalent in rake too. Oh well. Tomorrow is another day.

But my freakin' next door neighbor in the hotel seems to have fallen asleep with his television blasting and I forgot to buy earplugs.

I am exhausted and not a little cranky. And it looks like a good night's sleep is going to be hard to come by. Don't be fooled by the timestamp on this post, which I use for book-keeping purposes. It's actually 4:30 in the morning.


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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Stick A Fork In It: Month 1 is So Done

I have yet to really establish a rock-solid schedule. But I've made progress on every front, and I'm feeling optimistic about the whole undertaking.

I'll be traveling to AC this coming Friday through Monday, and I haven't yet figured out if I want to take my laptop or not. I think I probably won't, so updates are likely to be sparse during that period.

I've decided to change the format of my bankroll reporting, and to only do it at the end of every week and month. Daily reporting puts too much emphasis on short term swings. I'm also going to combine the live and online portions of the bankroll into a single percentage number (rounded to the nearest whole number), while using color to indicate the status of each category. Unless explicitly stated otherwise, the number will include poker-related travel expenses.

For the duration of this project, I have allocated a fixed sum per month to play poker with. I will not wager or lose more than that month's allocation. Any unused portion or profit from the previous month is rolled over into the next month's available lump sum. This allows me, if I'm breaking even or profiting, to play larger stakes as the year progresses. And it also ensures an absolute, well-defined stop loss limit for the entire experiment.

Just for some perspective: If all I were to make was 1% return on my bankroll (as I am at the moment) ~ and I needed to survive on my poker proceeds ~ I'd have to have a bankroll of at least $3M (yeah, that's "million") to lead a very modest life. Bump the return to 10% and I still need a bankroll of $300K.*

Brother can you spare a dime?

Bootstrapping oneself into a real bankroll is astonishingly difficult. As I said at the beginning of this adventure, I'll be very happy indeed if, when the year is done, I have managed to cover my expenses and break even. Earning a living playing poker is no walk in the park. Doyle Brunson is fond of saying, "It's a tough way to make an easy living."

Amen, Brother Brunson, amen!

Currently: Live + online = 101%

*I'm pretty sure there's something wrong with these numbers. But as a math-impaired poker-player (I know, I know) I'm not seeing exactly what it is at the moment. Somebody help?

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Monday, September 15, 2008

Day 28: Working It

It was a good day today.

I had an immensely productive afternoon: four hours of substantial progress on the book. I sat in my local Starbucks, sipping on a quad-shot venti latte and just cranking. I have rarely in my life felt as in the pocket. I am more persuaded than ever that I am doing the right thing at the right time, and it feels really, really good.

Then I zipped across the river to a tournament hosted this evening by one of my A League colleagues. Although not part of our quarterly points system, this game featured a large buy-in and fifteen participants.

I played my ass off: a creative, error-free game. Despite getting knocked down pretty hard a couple of times ~ once at my original table and once at the final table ~ I stayed calm and just fought my way back into contention. I climbed up from a low of 4 BBs heads-up to take the game. Every decision I made was a good decision, and (as one must to win a tournament) I got lucky with good cards when I really needed them.

It was a damn good day today.

Live bankroll: 102.3%
Online bankroll: 94.8%

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Sunday, September 14, 2008

Day 27: Untethered

The other night I stopped into my local Whole Foods Store at about 8 pm to hit up their excellent salad/hot food bar before the evening's cash game. I was standing in the check-out lane when I noticed that the woman behind me looked awfully familiar. Because of context-shock, I couldn't place her at first.

Then I realized that it was my primary physician, whom ~ I'm embarrassed to say ~ I haven't seen for quite some time now.

We struck up a brief conversation. At one point she gestured to my take-out and asked, "Long day?"

"No," I responded, "actually my day is just starting. I'm headed to the office right now."

She gave me a look of commiseration, and I smiled back and said quite truthfully, "I don't mind. Really."

As Week Four draws to a close, I am starting to appreciate just how utterly unconventional the way I'm spending my time actually is. The essential difference, for me, is that I'm now doing intentionally what I was doing anyway, by default and with feelings of guilt, previously. That turns out to be quite a big deal in terms of my mental outlook, and has delivered a major improvement in my overall quality of life.

It does come with a price tag, however, and I don't mean a monetary one (although there is that, as well). I've always been a bit of an outlier on whatever normal curve you'd care to distribute the population along. I'm something of an oddball; I admit it, I'm used to it, and mostly I'm okay with it. But with this change of profession, such as it is, I'm really living into my differences these days. I am out-there.

Sometimes, driving the blissfully empty streets of my city in the wee hours of the night, I feel so detached from the everyday lives slumbering in the darkness around me that it's a little scary. I have stepped out of mainstream of the economy, for example, in a fairly definitive way. My day-to-day activities don't bear much resemblance to most other people's. And I spend a lot of my time thinking about stuff that many people find either ridiculously arcane, of dubious morality, fundamentally frivolous, or otherwise objectionable.

As it happens, probably the most socially-acceptable way I can answer the ubiquitous question, "So, what do you do?" is by saying "I'm a writer." And, inevitably, that just generates a whole barrage of follow-up questions, which I'm more eager to answer some days than others.

I will say, though, that once I start explaining my project, people generally express interest and even guarded enthusiasm. The unconventionality of it appeals to them, vicariously anyway. There's an inverse sort of glamour to it, and it's so different from the way that they organize their own lives that there's a great deal of curiosity and occasionally some well-sublimated envy too.

The latter sentiment is probably misplaced. Very few people would truly enjoy this life for any length of time. In fact, it remains to be seen if I am even one of them!

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Saturday, September 13, 2008

Day 26: Laugh

One little tournament this afternoon, during the course of which I think I actually dragged a grand total of three pots before I was eliminated ~ all-in with great odds to double up and be back in the game, but nuh-unh. Denied. What else is new?

The rest of the day and evening was a vast improvement, featuring good food, good company, and a lot of laughs. I am reminded that it is possible to get to be a geezer and still be silly and funky and have a great time acting out and being irreverent.

I am a much goofier individual than my poker persona (or indeed my former professional life) generally reveals. I am a grown-up (yeah, really I am), but I'm also not a grown-up. There's plenty of kid in me: and the kid likes to dance, and laugh hysterically at dumb jokes, and climb over fences, and ask "why?" a lot, and make up secret languages, and exchange blood oaths with friends, and stay up past my bedtime and then sleep in, and have dessert before dinner sometimes. The kid in me is wildly enthusiastic about some things, some activities, and some people, and will walk through fire to get to them. Most of all, the kid isn't the slightest bit worried about looking stupid or undignified, because a) the kid knows she's not stupid, no matter what anyone else thinks and 2) dignity is for grown-ups and statues.

And besides, silliness has a dignity all its own, if you look at it the right way. Silliness is a big fat 'f*-you' in the face of death and oppression and bureaucracy and stifling convention. If you can't be silly, you aren't free.

There's a possibility that my poker persona may be too restrictive, even at the table. Maybe I could bring the silly a bit more. It might confuse other people, and it might make poker even more fun for me. (Hard to imagine, but still.) Laughter is disarming and a great stress reliever.

I'm going to think about that a bit.


Friday, September 12, 2008

Day 25: They Hold Up

Tonight's cash game brought a measure of redemption. Maybe I don't completely suck at poker after all.

It didn't start off all that well, though. I lost my entire stack on the second hand of the night, when my opponent (the host) flopped a set of deuces and then filled up on the turn. Yeah, I should have folded my two pair.

I rebought and started to grind it back. Players came and went. My big hands held up and I got action on them, for once. I kept my losses modest. I never was at sea in a hand; I had a pretty good idea the whole time what I was up against ~ my reads were dead on. I was patient and cunning. (The game featured some pretty interesting hands, including one unlike any I've seen before. I'll try to write it up in the next day or two.)

Six hours later, I cashed out having more than doubled my investment. It was a nice night's work.

My live bankroll is now once again within .04% of break-even (including expenses). Wouldn't it be nice to get it squarely into the profit zone? Let's see if I can make that happen at tomorrow's A League afternoon tournament.

It is so much more fun to win than it is to lose. (I wish I could get past that attitude, but I've got a long way to evolve, baby.)


How I Wish...

...that I had discovered poker in college.


Because then maybe I could have been like Vanessa Selbst. (What? We went to the same school!)

You go, girl.


Thursday, September 11, 2008

Day 24: Gone in Two

Cash game frustration.

Hand 1

I am slightly, but not severely, shortstacked for the nine-handed table. This is a crew that plays together regularly, and I'm accurately known to be tight-aggressive. Not that people make decisions based on that knowledge or anything.

I am first to act and look down at two black aces. Hey-ho! Finally something to work with. I raise to five times the big blind, thinking this is an amount that, coupled with my image and my position, will thin the field to come.

The guy to my immediate left calls. Three other people behind him call. Apparently five times the big blind from under the gun scares no one... oh no, wait, they now have "pot odds" to call. What was I thinking? (I have yet to be able to determine what raise amount will, in fact, reduce callers to only one or none with any degree of reliability at this table, as we will see.)

Flop comes Jd 10d 3h.

I lead out for 20xBB, a pot-sized bet, happy to take the hand down right there and, if not, intending to give bad odds to a flush or straight draw.

The guy to my left reraises all in. Everyone else folds back around to me. He has me covered and it's another 20xBB to call.

Ugh. This guy could have any number of hands. I am beating KK and QQ, and losing to JJ and 10 10. He could be making this move with AJ or even the flush or straight draws.

I did the equity math in my head and decided I had to call. I paid no mind to my gut, which was screaming FOLD FOLD FOLD.

Of course he had the one hand I didn't put him on, figuring that even this dude wouldn't call a big honkin' bet from me in early position with 10 J offsuit. But he did, and he flopped two pair, and he felted me.


Hand 2

About an hour later, after a rebuy and a top-up (things are just not going my way at all), I find AhKh on the button. Five limpers enter the hand in front of me, and ~ trying to learn a lesson from my previous experience ~ I raise to 10xBB this time. Surely this will induce some folding.

The big blind calls, as does a guy in middle position.

Flop comes 3s 5c 10h.

The big blind leads out 10xBB into a pot of 33xBB. Middle position guy folds.

I know this bettor. He could be leading with anything or nothing. I think there's a strong probability that my hand is good right now, and even if it isn't, I very likely have 6 outs to the winner. I also have to believe that, given my initial raise pre-flop, I have some fold equity here.

I reraise all in, an additional 31xBB to the original bet. I am called.

Turn is the ace of clubs. River is the ace of spades.

My trip aces go down in flames to... what else, the 2 and 4 of clubs.

Yes, the man called a huge raise out of position with the mighty 2-4 and took my whole stack. As he was explaining his reasoning, he said, "Well, I knew you had just wondered what raise would get people to fold, so I thought it would be fun to call with a donkey hand." He flopped an open-ended straight draw, and called a subsequent all-in bet despite not getting drawing odds.

And that was my night, right there.

I try to tell myself that I want people making these idiotic decisions, that in the long run I'll profit mightily off them.

I also tell myself that I could have folded to the all-in reraise in Hand 1, as my gut was telling me to. Hell, I suppose I could have folded to the first bet in Hand 2, since I did totally whiff the flop.

But I actually think that my choices in both cases were reasonably sound, given what I knew of the players. It didn't work out for me this time. At all.

Gah. Perhaps I just suck at teh pokerz.

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Ooo, my first Q & A post! Sweet!

In response to my post "Day 22: Running With The Red Queen," gentle reader Dave (known on Poker Academy Online as Civitas) asks:

How many online hands are you playing?
Also do you belong to any of the coaching sites?

At the moment, sadly, I have no way of answering the first question. All the poker-tracking and analysis software worth mentioning is, currently at least, PC-only. Words cannot express how annoying this is to me, and I hope the situation changes in the near future. One of the reasons I bought my new Macbook Air, however, was so that I could install a BootCamp partition with *gack* Windows and run the needed programs.

I have yet to do this, though, so the best way I can answer Dave's first question right now is to say that I play enough hands at microstakes to earn SilverStar status on Pokerstars. When I have some numbers for you, I'll cough 'em up.

As for subscribing to any of the online coaching sites: right now, no, I don't. But I've definitely thought about it. The thing is, I spend so much time already reading, thinking, talking about and playing poker that the thought of adding yet another chunk of poker-time to my schedule is a bit daunting. Especially time in front of a computer screen, which I find much more tiring than reading or playing live. The main argument for checking out the coaching sites, I think, is that my better opponents are likely to have done so too... and it would be wise to have some idea what they might have learned from them.

Should I start to show some kind of meaningful profit, I might reinvest some of it in a coaching site. Although I'd really prefer to have a live, personal coach. That option is a heck of a lot more expensive, unfortunately.

Ask me more questions! This is fun!

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Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Day 23: Poker Is Not A Team Sport

In poker, we have a word for team players. We call them "colluders" or, more colloquially, "cheaters."

Poker is a game of individuals, with each player explicitly out for his or her own best interest ~ as defined by the goals of the game ~ at all times. No quarter should be asked for or given. The expectation is that there are no friends at the poker table, or at least no deference to friendship. Taking it easy on a pal or a spouse is called "soft playing," and it is also a form of collusion, even if it is not expressly planned in advance. It's not supposed to happen, and depending on the environment the consequences can range from eye-rolling tolerance to disapprobation and outrage to abrupt ejection with prejudice.

It is odd that such an inherently social game should also be so solitary. It can be very, very lonely at the felt.

There is no one to consult with in the middle of a game. The "one player to a hand" rule is pretty clear on this, and it tends to be enforced pretty much across the board. You have no one to lean on in your decision-making, and no one to take the blame or reap the rewards but yourself. "It's on you," they say when it's your turn to act. And it really is on you, and on no one else.

If you play a lot of poker, then, despite sitting at a table with as many as nine other people, you are actually spending a lot of time on your own, psychologically speaking. You must be self-reliant. You must generate your own initiative. You must keep yourself focused. You have to be comfortable with being in your own head a lot of the time, even while you interact with others around you. Part of you must always be observing, measuring, calculating, and self-monitoring.

And since everything you do or say at the table constitutes information for your opponents, you must always be aware of what you are emitting, and modulate it for the intended receivers. This is not an environment for spontaneous truth-telling, which is the heart and soul of true friendship, or indeed any authentic relationship.

To survive the rigors of the table, a friendship ~ or any close personal tie ~ must be able to tolerate setting clear boundaries around the activity of playing poker. Both parties must understand the nature of the game, and freely and enthusiastically assent to the no-holds-barred, bare-knuckled, cage-match-brawl nature of the competition. They must respect the rules and be able to leave the game behind emotionally when it's over. They must truly understand and believe that it is, in fact, just a game. And when they are away from the table, they must take extra pains to renew the bonds of trust and affection between them, so that the difference between the game and the rest of life is made explicit and underscored.

I have witnessed the stresses that intense competition in poker can bring to a relationship. With deep concern I observed as a couple, friends of mine who had been married for more than a dozen years, found themselves on the brink of separation in part because of the way they played poker together. People often bring their problems to the table with them; without a strong ability to compartmentalize, they find that their play is affected by their life circumstances and their life circumstances are influenced by their play. And, in general, this is not a good thing.

Paradoxically, however, it is also possible for real friendships to be born around a poker table. People with a shared passion for the game sometimes discover that they have other interests and values in common. They also see each other under conditions of stress and challenge, they can watch how the other responds to success and disappointment, they have a chance to observe something about the other's attitudes toward money, risk, etiquette, and discipline. They often find out quickly how adaptable the other is, how creative and resilient, as well as something about an individual's inherent optimism or pessimism. You can learn a lot about the quality of someone's judgment and the character of his integrity by watching him play poker. Of course everything one perceives at the poker table comes with an asterisk attached ~ "*when playing poker" ~ but few people are such masters of deception that nothing of their real personality is revealed in their game. Friendships that begin in the context of poker can have a head start on a whole lot of information that might otherwise take years to acquire.

Because of the individualistic nature of poker and the hours of intense solo striving that the game entails, strong friendships and other intimate and familial relationships become especially valuable in the life of a poker-player. Without them, the player has no place to be his- or herself, unselfconsciously and without ulterior motive, with others. Without them, the player has no occasion to experience the voluntary vulnerability that makes generosity, compassion, and love possible. The poker table is not a place for the pleasures of selflessness or the dignity and honor of self-sacrifice. These emotional gestures and moral choices are as essential to our full humanity as the will to succeed; without an opportunity to exercise them, our souls wither and die inside us. And what will it profit us if we win the whole world, but lose ourselves?

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Monday, September 8, 2008

Day 22: Running With The Red Queen

Well, in our country," said Alice, still panting a little, "you'd generally get to somewhere else — if you ran very fast for a long time, as we've been doing."

"A slow sort of country!" said the Queen. "Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!"
~ Alice Through the Looking-Glass, Chapter 2, by Lewis Carroll
So this is the beginning of Week 4 and, like Alice, I've pretty much been running violently in place. My live and online bankrolls have seesawed up and down, mostly in opposite directions from each other. Lately, things have been going great in live games, but I gave back the profit in my online account (all in about 24 hours of brutally bad cardage). Go figure.

If there's good news in this story, it's this: I've been putting a lot more money in play these three weeks than I ever have before, and I'm essentially breaking even so far ~ including covering my poker-related expenses.

Still, I guess it's time to start running twice as fast.

Live bankroll: 99.7%
Online bankroll: 100%


Sunday, September 7, 2008

Day 21: The Rush

Every poker-player is familiar with the term. You are "on a rush" when you get hand after winning hand, when even the rags you play turn improbably into riches, when you are dealt giant cards over and over, when despite getting your money in the middle way behind you nonetheless pull out a win against the odds. People often advise the lucky person who is on the receiving end of this kind of good fortune to "play the rush," to keep betting any two cards since they seem to be winning no matter what.

Probably the only sensation in poker better than being on a rush is pulling off a successful bluff for a huge pot or your tournament life.

There's even such a thing as a meta-rush ~ generally referred to as "running like God" ~ when you win game after game in a statistically unlikely fashion even for the highly-skilled. This is the kind of rush that builds bankrolls and makes careers. Some of poker's household names, while no doubt excellent players, first became famous thanks to magnificent sustained meta-rushes in tournament play.

No matter how many times you may tell yourself that a rush is as much a part of variance as being card-dead or on a major downswing, it is almost impossible to not really enjoy a rush. It just feels really good. The cliché is "better than sex," but I'm not prepared to go that far. Let's just say, damn good. The rush, and its whopping endorphin payload, is a prime contributor to the addictive nature of games in general. And because of the admixture of a skill component, and the indeterminate ratio of skill to luck in any poker win, it's easy to psychologically "own" the rush, to take credit for it (at least partially), and to thereby become even more confident about one's game.

Confidence makes it easier to be aggressive, and selective aggression is a key element of successful play in poker. Properly channeled, the aggression born of success can feed into a virtuous circle that will buoy the player along ~ maybe even until the next rush hits.

This isn't a merely psychological phenomenon. In competitive sports and games, winners (or the winning team, or even just the team's fans!) experience a spike in testosterone levels and the losers' testosterone levels drop. Increases in testosterone are ~ surprise, surprise ~ linked to increased confidence and aggression. (Yeah, and it'll make you horny too; it may not be better than sex but it sure makes sex seem like a better and better idea, if that's possible.) And, in case you're wondering: women have testosterone too, although at much lower average levels than men, and they experience the same effects when their levels rise.

All of this is to say that, as the saying goes, success breeds success. While it is possible to go on "winner's tilt," and I'll address that at some point, there is no disputing that a string of victories can build a monstrous head of momentum. It is good to be the King.

I don't "play my rush," although I'll egg others on to do so. I know that a good run of cards is just a statistical blip, and promises nothing for the next hand or the one after that. I love it when people get that lucky feeling and start playing trash because they think the good luck fairy has sprinkled them with lucky-dust. Those same people, however, will often have an almost superstitious fear of a person whom they perceive to be on a rush, and will stay out of hands with them when they otherwise would have contested them. So I'll frequently play up my rush for show, to take advantage of that common reaction; or, if they're the more analytical type, I'll lead people to believe I'm playing ATC (any two cards) because I'm on a rush, in hopes they'll play back at me light. Tonight, for example, when we were short-handed I raised and then showed three huge hands in a row (I rarely show my cards) precisely because I wanted people to believe I was on a rush and to fear my raises. Paradoxically, this allowed me thereafter to both get my opponents to fold to my aggression and to wonder if I was now playing napkins and stealing. Perfect.

By now you've probably gathered that I've had my own little rush. This is true; I have now won three tournaments in a row in my A League. I came back from way behind in my first game today, and then absolutely dominated the second from about halfway to the end. As with any tournament win, I got lucky when I needed to and didn't get unlucky when I could have. I am reminding myself, despite all current evidence to the contrary, that I am not a poker goddess.

Is it a little warm in here, though?

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Friday, September 5, 2008

Day 19: Wherein I Do Not Totally Suck

After what has been something of a bloody massacre in recent days, I was relieved to have a decent showing at the third installment of my A League's WSOP subscription-series tournament. I finished fourth, which got me my buy-in back and a little bit more. Considering that I was utterly card dead for the last three hours of my participation (after flopping quads in my first hand of the game!), I am content with the result. More important than the money, however, were the points I earned. The top five points earners from the 12 games in the series will each get a share of the subscription fee pool. The idea is that we will use it to go play in the WSOP next summer.

I also played about an hours' worth of short-handed cash, and nearly tripled up. It didn't quite compensate for last Friday's meltdown, but at least I felt less utterly incompetent.

In other news: I finally bit the bullet and bought a new laptop, a MacBook Air which is as light and sweet a little piece of kit as you could want (and the packaging was beyond gorgeous, made me want to go back into design it was so perfect). I am thrilled at the prospect of being untethered from my desktop both for writing and for playing online. From here on out you can find me enjoying the wireless experience at some local coffeeshop, giggling giddily with my newfound computing freedom.

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Thursday, September 4, 2008

Day 18: On Being A Loser

Hamm: What's he doing?
(CLOV raises lid of NAGG's bin, stoops, looks into it. Pause.)
Clov: He's crying.
(He closes lid, straightens up)
Hamm: Then he's living.
~ Endgame, by Samuel Beckett.
I have to wonder whether Samuel Beckett, modern (or early post-modern) patron saint of existential angst, was a poker-player. He certainly had more than a passing acquaintance with futility and despair, emotions which even the most stoic of players are bound to experience more than once in their careers.

Let's face it, poker is as much about losing as it is about winning ~ even for the very most successful players.

For example, a consistent ROI of 15% is considered fantastic for single-table sit-n-go tournaments at moderate stakes. To achieve that kind of return, you have to place in the money in about 30% of the games you play. Which, if you do the math (which we must), means that you are losing 70% of the tournaments you enter. Losing. Failing. Busting out. Nothing to show for your time and effort.

And that's what a really successful SNG tournament player looks like. Like a loser, most of the time.

Playing multi-table tournaments puts you up against even longer odds, and subjects you to proportionally greater statistical variance. The reason why many bankroll management guidelines recommend a roll ONE HUNDRED TIMES the size of your typical tournament buy-in is that it is possible to lose and lose and lose and lose; even for those with exceptional skill the element of luck plays an enormous role in tournament success.

Now consider the cash game player. In a cash game, most of your hands are losing hands. The hands you fold pre-flop are losers. The hands you get bet out of on the flop are losers. The hands you fold on the turn or the river are losers. And, even for the very best players, sometimes almost half of the hands you show down are losers too. Sitting in a cash game, most of the time you are experiencing loss.

It is possible to play optimally for hours and lose multiple buy-ins. It is possible to come back the next day and have it happen all over again. And the next. And the next. No matter how many times someone tells you that cash games are "all one long session," and that superior play will eventually show profit, it can be hard to grasp just how long "the long run" really is. It can be excruciatingly long. Longer than you would believe possible. And that's for the folks who, when all is in fact finally said and done, are winning players.

Estragon: I can't go on like this
Vladimir: That's what you think.
~ Waiting for Godot, also by Samuel Beckett
If you want to be a poker-player, you must become acquainted with grief. You have to somehow befriend the darkness or, I think, it will simply overwhelm you. You must be able to envision the mountaintop view even as you are walking in the valley of shadow.

There is really only one way to cope with the relentless assault of loss that is endemic to the poker life. It is based on two concepts that the human mind does not does not handle very well naturally. Training is required.

The yin and yang of it is: learning to make good decisions moment by moment, while simultaneously letting go of attachment to the immediate results. This is incredibly difficult.

We are bad at making rational decisions over and over again, especially under stressful circumstances when we are flooded with hormones that tend to bypass or even shut down higher cognitive functions. And it's especially true when the rational choices we should be making are often high-risk and/or counterintuitive. Staying in the present moment, and considering each decision in its proper context, unswayed by recent experience ~ whether positive or negative ~ and with one's judgment unclouded by all of life's contingencies, is a practice that only grows strong with deliberate cultivation.

We are a results-oriented species, and in the evolutionary scheme of things most of the outcomes that have mattered to us have been short-term results (that mushroom is poisonous, don't eat it! that individual looks like a good baby-making prospect, let's have sex!). We are not well-wired for patience with feedback mechanisms that require sample sizes in the tens of thousands to be reliable. In fact, most of us have an extremely poor intuitive grasp of probability and the math of large numbers. We have a hard time "learning from experience" when that experience is stretched out over very long periods of time or a whole lot of iterations.

I'm quite convinced, for example, that ~ with few exceptions ~ people who become avid gamblers are those for whom the first few forays into the world of wagering were more successful than average. We all started as winners. We considered our early losses to be anomalies (based, of course, on a totally inadequate sample-size). Our little lizard-mammal hybrid brains were flooded with dopamine rewards as we were successful on those original outings, and like lab rats we went back to that "happy" switch to press it again and again looking for the same jolt of joy-juice. Every casino on the planet wants your initial ventures into gambling to be winning ones, so that you will forever after consider your losses to be a temporary speed bump on the royal road to riches.

"Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better."
~ Westward Ho, AGAIN by Samuel Beckett
In gambling pastimes where skill either plays no part or merely slows how quickly you lose (i.e., every casino table game where you play against the house), there is only one way to truly learn from the inevitable failures: to quit. Permanently.

In a game like poker, however, skill can and does give some players an edge that, ultimately, means that local losses are not the end of the story. The challenge then becomes how and what to learn from the inevitable and repeated intermissions of failure that all of us encounter.

We are required to distinguish between the losses that come from bad choices and those that come from being on the wrong side of a metaphorical coin-toss. We have to be honest with ourselves when our bad choices are actually rewarded by good results (which happens amazingly often), and properly attribute those successes to a happy roll of the dice rather than our own unheralded excellence. And we must have the strength to recognize when we've made all the right choices, even when those decisions lead to catastrophic failure, and be prepared to make those very same choices again the next time the circumstance arises.

A good poker-players' motto, hand after hand, must be: Do the right thing.

Not the easy thing, or the thing that happened to work last time, or the thing your buddy told you was the thing to do. You have to do the right thing for this moment, this game, this situation, as you perceive it and as you are able. You have to do it with full understanding that you may well lose anyway. Playing good poker is a perpetual exercise in taking the high road: ignoring the flashing neon signs of distraction; disregarding the siren song of emotional memory; equally deflecting the dull knife of boredom and the razor-sharp edge of the risk-taker's thrill.

Some day, it may even become possible to positively enjoy this state of detachment from results, to relish doing the right thing for its own sake. We sometimes give lip-service to the notion that "virtue is its own reward," but the poker-player would do well to take that sentiment to heart. It proposes a baseline attitude that can render bearable the onslaught of negative outcomes. It provides for something rare and precious at the end of the day, however long and frustrating that day may have been: the peace of mind that comes from having no regrets.

Live bankroll: 98.18%
Online bankroll: 107.4%

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Tuesday, September 2, 2008


Posting from my iPhone because my home DSL is down.

Won my A League tournament tonight again, finally. Maybe this will mark an end to a long string of bad outcomes despite good play. God willing.

It's an unpleasant sensation to be cut off from the online poker world. I hope the hapless tech support dude I spoke to (heavy Russian accent, nice chuckle) will actually report the problem up the hierarchy at Verizon.

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Monday, September 1, 2008

Day 15: Razz Me, I Can Take It

I can't remember the first time I played Razz, but I do recall that my take-away from that encounter was something like, "You mean, the person with the worst hand wins? Obviously, this is the game for me!"

The only time I won the Ferguson (Full Tilt's hugely popular $1 multi-table tournament that starts at 1 am daily) outright, the game was Razz. Of course the primary reason I was successful on that occasion is that I suck at Razz just marginally less than most people who barely play the game.

Something about the sheer perversity of Razz tickles me. I love that it is an inverted version of Stud. I love that there's no such thing as qualifying your low. I love that straights and flushes mean nothing.

Razz is surely the version of poker that is played in Hell. Or maybe Heaven.

One or the other, anyway.

The point is, I'm not the worst Razz player in the world, and I enjoy playing it. I lose Razz tournaments for two reasons, and two reasons only.

  1. I get bad cards. Razz is very card-dependent. If you're showing a pile of bricks in your up cards, you simply can't win the hand.

  2. I fail to fold when is self-evident that I am beat. I'm looking at a hand that's undoubtedly a made 7. The guy is BETTING it like it's a made 7. I have a 9 low. Anyone looking at my hand can see this. I probably can't even beat a bluff. Why do I call the bet on fifth street? Why why why?

It's a bizarre form of tilt, and if I could rid myself of it, I'd win most of the Razz tourneys I play. (I actually believe this.) You'd think that would be incentive enough to get me to stop doing it. Just writing it down in black and white makes me realize how utterly idiotic it is.

There are two major kinds of poker mistakes: mistakes of ignorance or insufficient analysis and mistakes of emotional origin. Both result in play that is not properly guided by rationality. It is staggering to me how much more easily faults of the former type are corrected than those of the latter. I'm guessing this is true for most people of at least average intelligence. It is much easier to learn how to think one's way through a situation than to maintain true emotional equanimity under stress.

The fundamental Theorem of Poker (viz. Sklansky) states that we will profit if we can consistently get our opponents to play differently than they would if they could see our cards. Optimal strategy, then, would seem to suggest not only striving for intellectual excellence and emotional equanimity for oneself, but also that we should seek to make the essential cognitive and emotional tasks of poker as difficult as possible for our adversaries.

I believe in courtesy and proper etiquette at the poker table (as indeed in the rest of life). I have no interest in engaging in needling or taunting or mean behavior. Aside from being morally dubious, it's just not my style. But it is worth considering how one's play and demeanor might nonetheless accomplish those aims without becoming crude, cruel, or otherwise inappropriate.

Any suggestions?

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