Raise or Fold:  A Year of Risky Business

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

Monday, October 27, 2008

Words of Wisdom

I should memorize this:

One thing that you will discover as your game improves is that you will receive way more bad beats than you give out. If it were possible to play perfect poker, a bad beat would be the only way you would ever lose a show-down. Thus as a good player, you mostly get your money in while you are ahead and more and more of your losses will come from bad beats. To make matters worse, because you aren't getting it in behind very often, you almost never get to deliver a bad beat to someone else.

This gives you the impression that the game is somehow unfair to you, but in reality it's just your skill showing through.

This comes courtesy of Loki9 at the Poker Academy hand discussion forums.

To be fair, I should add that I played KK poorly yesterday and caught my 8-outer for a full house and a huge pot, thus bad-beating my opponent something fierce. It was the first bad beat I'd laid on anyone in a long time. And while I was delighted to win the money, I did have a twinge of angst knowing that I'd made a call I shouldn't have on the flop. On the other hand, it was his mistake to call my all-in shove on the river, as there was no way his two pair could have been good at that point (trips, straight, boat... he had so many ways to lose).

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Sunday, October 26, 2008

Day 68: You Win Some...

...you know how that story goes.

But really, 80% (give or take) of the battle is not letting the whole variance thing drive you insane. I'll have losing session after losing session, online and live, and then a little turnaround will happen and I'll make it all back and a bit more.

After a few days of losing multiple buy-ins, I sortied once more to the Crime Scene game, where I had a very nice run and returned to positive territory on the week for live play. Now all I need is to do the same for my online 'roll.

I did manage, at least, to grind my way back to SilverStar status, having lost it in September. It's not clear to me whether or not VIP points will ever amount to any actual scratch, but I do imagine that if I ever manage to start playing for more substantial stakes online it might offset some of the overhead of rake.

Harrah's offered me a free room for two nights in AC this week, so I'll be heading up there on Tuesday. It'll be interesting to see if my results playing 2/5 continue to be good. I'm a little worried that the mid-week crowd may be mostly tougher regulars rather than tourists or casual players. But how much scarier could they be than that table at the Venetian?

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Friday, October 24, 2008

Day 66: My Writing Desk

beautiful latte

I've started a new program of finding cool places to eat and drink coffee that have free WIFI. This beautiful beverage was served up to me at Open City, which is a pleasant downhill walk from my apartment. It's a nice place to sit and write.


Thursday, October 23, 2008

On Being Bad

Most mainstream religions frown on gambling.

There’s definitely something unholy about putting one’s (or, ideally, someone else’s) hard-earned money at risk — subject to the vagaries of chance — rather than to work. Should you be squandering the precious resources entrusted to you for mere entertainment? Furthermore, gambling just doesn’t seem like a godly activity; Einstein, for example, was offended by certain aspects of quantum theory, “God does not play dice with the universe.”

Gamblers come in two flavors, the superstitious and the scientific. The first subscribe to the magical property of luck and the second ascribe to the propositions of probability. Those who wish to mix luck and religion find themselves in the dubious position of asking their Deity to help them be lucky (we may pause to recall the unseemly spectacle of competing prayer-wars at the final table of the 2007 WSOP Main Event). This is particularly awkward for those who believe that God has a master plan, and all is fore-ordained. What is it you’re praying for in that case? “Let me turn out to be the one predestined to win!”

Those who are die-hard probability fans may start to wonder where God is in the grand scheme of things. If it’s all chance, given enough time and the laws of physics, pretty much everything that can happen, will happen. Why bring God into it all? There may be no atheists in foxholes, but there are plenty at the poker table. (Believe me, run bad long enough and you will start to question the existence of a loving God.)

Poker, with it’s skill component, brings some further concerns into play. Now, in addition to the gambling, there’s the matter of using your presumably God-given talents to take other people’s money. Specifically, to take other people’s money by means of deception, aggression, and by taking advantage of their weaknesses. You are to feed on your opponents as the wolf feeds upon sheep. The apparent lack of sharp teeth and overt bloodshed should not mislead anyone: poker is a predatory pastime. This is not the stuff of saintly behavior.

The wish to exercise the cardinal virtues of compassion and generosity, the commendable impulse to heal the sick and nurture the helpless, the desire to educate and enlighten the ignorant, and the natural human tendency to bond and form groups for mutual aid — these are all deprecated to the point of being out-and-out liabilities when playing poker. Poker is a caricature of Darwinian competition, “nature red in tooth and claw,” survival of the fittest. It’s a bit like capitalism, except without the productivity part. It’s hard to see how this is a good thing.

Various people have tried, in my view completely without success of any kind, to make a case for poker having some socially redeeming value. The closest that I, personally, have ever been able to get is the notion that poker facilitates the redistribution of wealth from stupid people to smarter people. This seems like a pretty feeble proposition (on a factual basis) to begin with, and I’m not sure that it would represent much of a social good even if it were proven to be true. I see no evidence that people who are good at poker are, in fact, any more likely to do worthwhile things with money than their less-skilled counterparts.

Does boxing have any socially redeeming value? Two people get into a ring. There are certain rules that govern their behavior, which are intended to ensure that the fight is fair. The combatants bring differing levels of preparation, skill, stamina, experience, intelligence, aggression, discipline, and desire to the competition. And then they hit each other. A lot. Let’s face it: somebody is gonna get hurt.

It has always baffled me that some people find watching boxing to be entertaining, and I am stymied even more by the fact that there are people who actually like to box. I don’t like to see people fighting, and I really don’t like to see people hurt. (I especially abhor the idea of hitting or being hit, myself.) Then I wrote the previous paragraph, and now — although it still doesn’t appeal to me — I think I may have an idea why they enjoy it.

Poker is like boxing, without the physical part. The key to both activities is that the participants come to the table voluntarily. 1

When you climb into a boxing ring, you accept that you are going to get punched. Repeatedly. Hard. When you belly up to a poker table, you accept that everybody there is going to do his or her best to TAKE ALL YOUR MONEY. There are rules and referees, it’s not a free-for-all scrum. It is not the case that “anything goes.” If you don’t abide by the rules, you won’t be allowed to stay, and you may even be sanctioned. But within the magic circle of rope or felt, you are permitted to — nay, encouraged and rewarded for it! — exercise all your faculties to prevail. Hit as hard as you can, float and dodge, outwit and baffle. It may not be nice, but it cannot be described as unethical.

In a word: compete. Bring out your bad self and go medieval on their asses. As the teenage son of some dear friends asked drily the other night, over dinner, “You’re not going to trot out the catharsis argument, are you?”

(Smart kid. Let him write the damn book.)

Where was I?

I was raised to be a good girl. I was brought up to be nice. I was taught not to be selfish and to tell the truth. I wanted people to think well of me.

Enter the poker table and Enter the Dragon.

At the poker table I am not nice. I am utterly selfish. I am devious. I am aggressive. I am ruthless. I lie my ass off. I don’t care if people think well of me or not. In fact, if they think I’m stupid, it’s good. If they fear me, it’s good. If they like me, it’s good. I can work with whatever they think. At the poker table, I am not a good girl.

And that’s really, really good. It’s the thrill of defying a taboo. It’s satisfying, on the level of an inchoate itch that you didn’t even know required scratching until you dug in your fingernails for the first time. I can reinvent myself however I please. It’s fun.

But part of the reason it’s fun is because, on a very basic level, it’s safe. I’m playing poker. There are rules. It’s a game, not my whole life. And although, while playing poker, I may not be a good girl, I am always an honorable girl. My integrity remains intact, and it is important to me that others know and can rely on that.

I despite cheaters. They blur the boundary between the game and the rest of life in a destructive way; the “bad” that should be confined to the context of the game leaks out into the world, where it absolutely does not belong. That decompartmentalization is a breach of the poker-player’s social contract, and it undermines the very nature of the undertaking. It renders the game unconstrained, unsafe, and therefore not fun. In the context of a poker game, cheating is sociopathic behavior.

1 I set aside, here, the case of those addicted to gambling. This a topic that deserves separate consideration.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Day 64: Black & Blue

I caught the fleshy part of my hand — you know, the bit between your thumb and index finger — in the pushbar of a door yesterday. The pain was excruciating, and naturally I now have a giant subcutaneous blood-blister that hurts like hell. Shaking hands is a challenge (of course it's my right hand).

Metaphor alert!

I haven't had a good hand since.

I have been running, you should excuse the expression, like shit. Horrible! My god, I didn't realize how many ways there were to be beat. I have taken the art of the second best hand to a new level. I feel like the freakin' body bag down at the gym: "C'mon, hit me again boys, I hardly FELT that last one!"

Yeah, I'm a little punch-drunk. You would be too.

I busted out of my A League tournament early on Tuesday. I can't even remember how, at this point.

I got smacked around at the Crime Scene game, but managed to get out of there with only a few slight dings. The misery had, however, only just begun.

My poor online bankroll is deflating so fast there ought to be a hissing sound. When you multi-table, and you're running bad on all five tables, your money evaporates incredibly quickly. I'd like to know how my opponents, who are playing amazing crap and making perfectly ridiculous decisions, manage to catch exactly the right cards to make their hands so often... and especially when that card is the one that gives me the great, but second-best hand. And do not even talk to me about AA, KK, and QQ.

Some things just need to be passed over in silence.

It's a wonder I haven't destroyed some nearby household object. There have, I admit, been expletives. It is hard not to become persuaded that the universe is obviously OUT TO GET YOU.

I need a hug.


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Let the Third Month Begin

Razz Victory Lobby

And let it begin with another Glorious Razz Victory!

This was a hard-won battle. I had already come back from dead last place, with only 120 chips, to get to second place, and I was damned if I was going to down without a serious fight. My opponent was an insane card-rack, and arrived at the final table with 75% of the chips in play. We ended up going at it heads-up for probably half an hour. I started the heads-up portion of the program out-chipped about 5 to 1, and just hung in there with what can only be described as grim determination.

I can't really account for why Razz seems to be my game, but I am SO going to play the Razz tournament at the WSOP next summer!

Current combined live and online bankroll: 109%*

*Note that bankroll numbers include the deduction of expenses, so that is net growth in bankroll. And if we were looking at returns in terms of amount of bankroll actually put at risk at any one time so far, the return would look more like 200%.

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Sunday, October 19, 2008

Day 61: It's a New Dawn...

...It's a new day, it's a new life, for me, and I'm feelin' good. (If you don't know the song, I highly recommend it. I like Michael Bublé's version, with a great big band arrangement. Ignore silly video and concentrate on the music.)

It's true, what they say, that clearing external distractions from your mind can greatly help your game. My father died at the beginning of the year, leaving behind a lot of family business to clear up. I got a big chunk of it sorted away this past week, and I've been in a much more light-hearted and undistracted frame of mind every since.

And I've been ripping up the cash tables too.

Back to the Crime Scene game, where I recouped all my losses from the prior visit and made a buy-in's worth on top of that. Ah, sweet, sweet comeuppance. I love it. Happy moi.

Things are firing on all cylinders for me these days. May it continue.


Saturday, October 18, 2008

Day 60: It's Official...

...I hate tournaments.

Once again, I play a great game and get crushed. I went from chip leader in this installment of our WSOP series to out in about five hands. The first three were horrible beats, brilliant calls on my part where I turned out to be 85% or better to win. I watched in horrified disbelief/resignation (yes, it's possible to harbor those two emotions simultaneously) while my opponents got their godforsaken miracle cards. The last two were just me pushing with a naked Ace and not even a blind's worth of chips. It was a massacre.

The biggest leak in my game is that I seem to be incapable of stopping my opponents from outdrawing me, and conversely I'm no good at sucking out myself.

So, naturally, in my state of high dudgeon, I betook myself to a small-stakes cash game. (Did I say small stakes? Hah. Silly $.25/$.50 game that plays more like $1/$2. We must have had at least half a dozen pots of more than $100, and most pots were around $30.)

I walked in the door tilted.

I walked out $150 to the good, which was some balm to my bruised spirit. I also laughed a lot at the game, which is hosted by previously mentioned birthday-boy BK, who is one of the funniest people I know. Fortunately, it's hard to stay tilted when you're laughing your ass off.

A person who can still crack me up when the sun is rising and birds are tweeting is a rare treasure. The poker-playing is just a bonus.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Do you feel lucky, punk? Well, do you?

Disclaimer: I am not a mathematician. In fact, I have always been somewhat math impaired. This is especially frustrating to me because 1) I find mathematics quite interesting and b) you need at least a basic facility with math to be a good poker-player. And a broader understanding of certain kinds of math, especially probability and statistics, is especially useful if you want to really understand the kind of gambling you are letting yourself in for if you play poker with — how shall I say — intent.

So, follow along with me here, and if you find any mistakes in my calculations, feel free to complain to my editor, because I am counting on her to do the fact checking. This is not my forté.

Okay, the first thing we have to talk about is probability. Probability is a concept that is so widely misunderstood and so easy to abuse in casual usage, that it’s a wonder anyone has a clue about it at all. For example: When the weather forecaster says, “Tomorrow, there’s a 20% chance of scattered showers in the greater metropolitan area" it means…

  1. One fifth of the greater metro region, by area, will have scattered showers.

  2. The last five times the weather chart looked like this, some areas received showers one of those times.

  3. I doubt very much it will rain tomorrow, but if it does, at least I have covered my ass by allowing for the possibility of a few showers.

  4. We’ve been keeping weather data for a long time, and doing our gosh-darnedest to draw out some correlations between conditions, trends, and the actual weather in the days following those conditions and trends. We have a lot of data, but we’re not sure how reliable it is. We do a lot of regression analysis. And we try to pretend that we have some idea how things are likely to go. The fact is, we’ve gotten a lot better at weather prediction, really we have. But for all practical purposes, “a 20% chance of scattered showers” means little more than “it might rain where you are, but probably not.”

Yeah, 5 points for answer D, 4 for C, and 2 each for A and B if the weather report preparer is not a meteorologist.

So now let’s talk about poker for a minute. Everyone wants to look down at the cards in their hand and see a pair of aces. Why? Because aces are 85% to win heads-up against any random hand, and 80% to win over any other pair. Pocket aces: yay! The best! You are gonna get PAID!!!! Right?


Well. Well, maybe. Or maybe not.

Ask any poker-player how they feel about “pocket rockets.” They love them. They want to get dealt them every hand. But they will also tell you sad story after sad story about how their aces got cracked. About the bad beats they’ve taken where some donkey with six-deuce offsuit drew runner runner for the straight, or how they were all-in pre-flop and the jack-four of hearts made a flush on the flop.

Pocket aces are the best hand in Texas Hold’em. And, over the long run, they lose 15% of the time. That’s a little more than one in seven occasions, on average. And believe me, when you’re playing for a monster pot or your tournament life, it seems like it happens a lot more often than that. Which is why, ridiculous as it may seem, there are players who actually say things like, “I hate the bullets, I always seem to lose with them.”

They don’t always lose with them, of course. But they remember the times they do lose, because it hurts so much, and they gloss over the times when they win with them, because they expect to win with them. This is called “selective memory,” and it’s something poker-players should learn how to correct in themselves, because it has all sorts of pernicious effects. We’ll talk about that in other contexts too.

It is true, though, that your can get all your money in the middle pre-flop with pocket aces and lose four times in a row. Or three times out of five. Or eight times out of ten. You can lose with pocket aces over and over and over again, to the point were someone will quote “1:6.6” at you and you will laugh long and bitterly. When you look down at pocket aces you will see, instead, twin headstones with your name engraved on them, and you will long for the sweet, sweet release of death. You will develop a thirst for hemlock.

Welcome to the Land Ruled by the Law of Large Numbers, and welcome to its charming capital city: Variance (also known as Luckytown).

The problem with an 85% probability is that seven occasions mean nothing, statistically speaking. Anything can happen in a sample size of seven. Or 20. Or 200. Don’t quote me, but 85% doesn’t start meaning much of anything until you get into counts on the order of thousands, and even then the actual numbers might work out to describe a fuzzy bell-curve somewhere from 65% to 97%.

If you play 300 hands of poker in a typical large tournament, you’ll get pocket aces on average (here we go again with the probability numbers, but hang in with me) somewhere from one to three times. If you play three thousand tournaments, you can expect that your aces will have held up just about 85% of the time when all is said and done. But in one tournament? All bets are off. You cannot say much more than “pocket aces are a very good hand to get all your money in pre-flop with.” Do it, and hope for the best. For heaven’s sake, don’t start keeping score and feeling entitled to have your hand hold up this time because you lost with aces five times in a row in the last few games. It just doesn’t work like that.

Probability is about numbers, but not just any old numbers. Probability is about really big numbers. Big, big numbers. Did I say big? Did I mention, huge? As in: very, very, large.

A program like PokerTracker, which helps players statistically analyze their play and that of others, starts to become useful with a data sample size of hand histories of at least ten thousand, and really comes into its own when you load up 100,000 hands or more. Before the advent of computer-based play, it could take a person well over a year, playing 8 hours a day, every day, to log that many hands (and of course they would have had no way — other than their memory — to keep track of all the action).

It is not unusual now, though, for active online players to log a million hands in a year. That’s a lot of data. Poker sites like Full Tilt and PokerStars have probably served up billions, by now. The statistics to be derived from a dataset like that should be very, very reliable, and should very closely approach the theoretical distributions that the math of the game predict. The correlation is so strong that any noticeable discrepancy between the two is likely to set off alarm bells about cheating or provoke cries of "rigged!"

There is, however, an acronym that crops up in most sensible comments in online forums that address statistics in single specific contexts: YMMV. "Your mileage may vary." It should probably read: YMWV. Because your mileage will vary. Probability is deep. The probability of probability distributions is also probabilistic.

Let’s say we have a group of ten thousand monkeys, each of whom has been dealt and played 100,000 hands of automatic all-in heads-up poker. In that group of 10,000, each monkey’s statistics will vary from the expected theoretical distribution of outcomes by some amount. We would expect that distribution to look like a normal bell curve, with most of the monkeys clustered at the middle, and progressively fewer and fewer monkeys with outlying results either significantly more or less favorable than average.

We call the monkeys at the low end of the curve “unlucky” and the ones at the high end “lucky,” because they are “running good.” They are enjoying the upside of variance, which is the statistical deviation from expected probabilistic outcomes over a given sample size.

Every poker player wants to move from the left side of this graph to the right. Everyone wants to be the lucky monkey. Nobody wants to be the poor chimp at the bottom of this particular barrel.

Here’s the thing, though. For any given snapshot of population and timeframe, there is always an unlucky monkey. By definition, someone is going to get the short end of the stick. There’s just not enough positive and typical variance to go around.

Now let’s zoom out yet another time. Over a poker-player’s career, of — let’s say — a gazillion hands, one would expect standard probability to hold sway. And, ON AVERAGE, it will. But, guess what? There will always be the people who get the statistical shaft: somewhere out there, there’s undoubtedly a guy who always runs bad. (With any luck, no pun intended, he’s already quit playing poker.) Similarly, there are at least a couple of people who always run good.

Gosh, I wonder who they are?

Do you suppose some of them are the people who make it to the final table of major tournaments, or who have built enormous bankrolls online in remarkably short order?


That’s all skill. Skill, I tell you! Poker is a game of skill!


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Day 57: You Win Some, You Lose Some

I won my A League tournament tonight.

Then I went to the Crime Scene cash game (you know the one), and lost again. AA and KK both down in flames. Other assorted miseries too petty and aggravating to recount.

So, a net loss for the evening. Feh.

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Monday, October 13, 2008

Day 56: Back from Vegas

I am back, exhausted but cheerful. I have a cold (I always get sick after I go to Vegas). The circles under my eyes are especially dark. But I am well-pleased because I have determined, to my own satisfaction, that I am officially a not-bad poker-player.

My flight back was on USAirways, in a Boeing 757, and I had the misfortune to be seated in 8b, which has to be the most unpleasant seat in modern aviation. I was stuck between two voluminous muffins who, despite traveling together, insisted that they didn't want to sit together, but wanted me to be the meat in their plump sandwich. The row backs up against a bulkhead, so the seats don't recline. The gentleman in front of me, however, reclined so far back he was practically in my lap ~ perfectly positioned for me to give him a scalp massage. Then the woman on my right asked if she could lift up the armrest between the two of us, which was evidently not comfortable for her BECAUSE SHE WAS TOO BIG for the seat (think: seatbelt extender), so that she could further invade my extremely limited personal space (as if it weren't enough that her jacket was already draped over onto my arms). She got all huffy when I said no. If she had sat next to her traveling companion, they could have lifted the armrest between the two of them and overlapped each other at will, but noooooooo. To add insult to injury, row 8 is right across from the lavatory, so nasty chemical johnny fumes were wafting over us every three minutes for the duration of the entire flight. It was 4.5 hours of genuine unpleasantness; by the end of it I was thinking VERY UNCHARITABLE THOUGHTS in all directions.

Distorted self-portrait
[Squozed photo actually taken on airplane with PhotoBooth distortion.]

All of which I would have been much more prepared to tolerate if I'd gotten more than about 16 hours of sleep the entire time I was away. Which I did not. Or if Vegas had, oh I don't know, actually been warm (it was much nicer in DC then in the desert resort town). Or if the casino had been a little less righteously refrigerated. (Why oh why must they be so arctic? I am not entering another casino without a fleece hoodie. That's all there is to it. Style be damned.)

Okay, I had intended to be posting all the time I was there. I took my laptop, really I did. I also took workout clothes and going-out-on-the-town clothes, neither of which got any use either. Let's face it: if I'm traveling to play poker, I'm going to be in the casino playing poker 80% of the time. Fifteen percent of the time I'll be sleeping, and the remaining time will be divided between eating and talking with friends.

Some quick notes from my trip:

1. There's a reason I never drink at the poker table. On Saturday night/morning, after putting my time in "at the office," I joined some friends at another casino and decided to just play for fun and to be social. So I had a drink or six. Donked off my play money (which was fine, I had set it aside as such). And paid for the whole episode by feeling like crap the next day when I played in the noon tourney at the Venetian. Moral of the story: don't. Which I knew. In future, I will keep the entertainment portion of my travel in a non-alcoholic mode.

2. Table games are Satan. I believe I have covered this topic before, but I feel it bears repeating. No short term profit is worth the long-term losses and the concomitant tsurris. Just don't. Don't. Really. Playing against the house makes people stupid.

3. I went 0 for 3 cashes in tournaments. I didn't play in the most expensive one on Saturday with 40 minute blind levels, and that may have been a mistake, as the longer levels tend to work in my favor. But I was once again reminded how incredibly dependent tournament play is on luck. The escalating blind levels force you to gamble in ways that you never have to in a cash game. My best result was 30th of 240 (I was the last one standing from my A League companions in that one). Only one of our group made a final table, and she got seventh ~ a great showing.

4. Two-five no limit is definitely my game. I swam with the sharks on Saturday at the Venetian, and I survived. That five hours where more than half the table were obvious pros and regulars was the scariest game I have ever played in. I learned a lot but I was terrified the whole time. I played at several other 2/5 tables during my trip that were much, much softer, and they were positively relaxing by comparison. The upshot is: it takes a LOT to scare me now; I am becoming battle-hardened. Further good news is that I made a lot of money. I paid for all my expenses (travel and accommodation and tourney fees) and had a nice chunk left over too. It's hard to overstate what a warm glowy feeling it gives me to know that I can take on the talent at a place like the Venetian (which by the way is an awesome poker room).

5. I stayed, courtesy of another player, three out of the four nights in a deluxe room at the Venetian. It was, by several orders of magnitude, the nicest hotel room I've ever occupied. The bathroom was SICK. The bed was so comfortable that it made the four hours of sleep I got a night almost as good as six. The freakin' drapes were operated by remote control. And if you like TV, you would love this place: flat screens in every room. The whole thing was just insanely off the hook.

When I'm at a hotel, I usually put my toothbrush, toothpaste, dental floss, and other small necessaries in one of the room's glasses, by the sink. Which is what I did at the Venetian. When I returned to my room the first day, this is what greeted me in the bathroom:

Photo of toiletries
I expected the surgeon to knock on my door at any minute.

Ninja housekeepers, they were scary-good too. They whisked in and out and the place was impeccable. Now if only they didn't overdo the house stink (excuse me, "aroma") that they bombard you with when you arrive in the front reception area. It's really excessive.

I bought myself a little trinket to commemorate my victorious emergence from the shark tank. I will wear it proudly to my next poker game, where it will remind me that I've already beaten some really frightening players. My bankroll is growing along with my confidence; maybe someday I'll be the one striking terror into the hearts of my opponents.

Current live and online bankroll: 109%

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Thursday, October 9, 2008

A Shout-Out to My Birthday Boyz

It certainly seems like some kind of insane conspiracy that three people I play with regularly all share the same birthday today: JJ, JK, and BK.

They are wildly different in temperament, in playing styles, and in the way they lead their lives when they're not playing poker. They each present unique challenges across the felt, and I'm fortunate to have many opportunities to spar with them for modest stakes. In their variety of strengths, they each have something to teach me about the game.

I am also lucky to count at least two of them as friends away from the table.

Thank you, guys, and happy birthday!


Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Day 51: Ready to Go

When I travel, the day before I leave is usually excruciating. Mentally, I'm already out the door, on the plane, getting a taxi, and at my destination.

And then I look around: what the hell am I doing still here??? Something is out of whack: I guess I have anticipatory soul-lag.

The effect is redoubled tonight by the undeniable fact that my endpoint for this trip is Las Vegas. Vegas, the mecca of poker players. Sin City. Land of excess, vulgarity, greed, desperation, and reckoning. I can hardly wait.

There is nothing politically correct about Las Vegas, and little that is socially redeeming. But now that I've decided to give my poker-playing pride of place as a career choice, I feel a little like the new hire who is being ushered into the boardroom at Headquarters. I'm about to be asked to give an account of myself. Will I measure up?

Last time I went to Las Vegas, the city kicked my butt hard. I got my ass handed to me on a platter, with an engraved invitation suggesting that I give it up because I SUCKED. I mostly ignored the suggestion, in part because ~ while acknowledging that I could certainly have played better (almost always true) ~ I also knew that I had gotten outrageously unlucky more than my fair share during that trip.

That was about six months ago. I'm pleased to say that I think I've actually learned quite a bit since then. My cash game is an order of magnitude better. And my head is in a very, very good place.

The plan is to play a mix of cash and deepstack tournaments. Essentially, I intend to earn my tournament buy-ins playing cash, then rinse and repeat as necessary. I'll be hanging out with a bunch of my A League colleagues a fair amount of the time; it will be fun to see how we all fare.


Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Day 50: Payback

Well, Part A of the plan was executed, anyway.

I went back to the scene of the crime, played my ass off, didn't get 2-outered, and recovered all my losses plus a little bit extra for my trouble. So everything henceforth is gravy (that would be Part B).

Damn, it's nice to triple up. A good note to pause on as I get ready to go to Vegas.


Monday, October 6, 2008


The more I play poker, the more convinced I become that the single biggest component of a winning edge is the player's attitude.

As with any craft or art, one must have mastered the basics. You've got to know the math (to a reasonable approximation, anyway). You have to be in good-enough health to think clearly, observe, remember, concentrate, and put in a sustained effort. You have to be sufficiently experienced to recognize the shape of certain situations and their likely significance. And, of course, when you get to showdown you have to actually have the winning cards often enough.

But the fact is, all of the above is useless ~ as a practical matter ~ without the right attitude. Although elements of the right attitude change with the circumstances, there are some things about it that can be asserted independently. The right attitude is: even-tempered, open, unafraid, patient, focused, flexible, imaginative, rational, creative, self-aware, and resilient.

Aren't these qualities highly desirable in life as well? (Of course, one might also add to the list: ruthless and relentless. Compassion and mercy do not enter the equation at the poker table; whereas, a life devoid of these essential qualities of humanity is hardly worth living.)

I watch with astonishment as decent players fall apart because their attitude is incompatible with success. They are so highly reactive, so emotionally labile (to get technical about it), that a bad card or an insult or the wrong music or indigestion or too much to drink or whatever disagreeable internal or external factor can move them off their best game. They wobble into disequilibrium, they tilt, and then with the slightest nudge they fall.

People often think that I am tilted when I'm not. Some of that is deliberate. I will feign being upset, so as to lead opponents into believing I am steamed and making unwise decisions based on my emotional state. This is often very successful, I think, because many of my competitors really do steam at length and so it's easy for them to impute that frame of mind to me, too.

Sometimes, though, in a friendly game among people whom I know well, I will repeatedly return to discussing a hand in which I was beaten. The other players think I'm obsessing over the hand unhealthily as I revisit every nuance of the play. But that's not it at all: I'm trying to extract the maximum learning out of the experience. I revisit every step of the action, every inflection point, and try to elicit "what-if's" from both myself and the other participants in the hand and observers at the table. They think, "She can't let the hand go." I think: "I'm not letting go of this hand until I understand everything I possibly can about what happened."

There is rarely one and only one correct play in interesting hands (this is, come to think of it, probably the first point in the definition of "interesting hand"). Furthermore, I am not satisfied with my game. Far from it! I try to squeeze every ounce of information out of a failure, so that I can strive to not make the same mistake ~ or the same kind of mistake ~ again (or often, anyway).

My motto as an apprentice in the land of professional poker: Always Be Learning.


Sunday, October 5, 2008

Day 48: Marathon

Fifteen straight hours of poker. I am completely exhausted, and can only cough up these few poor sentences before I drag myself off to church, then nap, then dinner.

I once again failed to cash in my A League end-of-quarter tournament (I bubbled, painfully). This is an ongoing travesty for me, and I'm embarrassed by it. I'm not sure why this particular especially lucrative prize continues to elude me. It is beyond frustrating.

On the upside, however, I cashed in the subsequent tournament, and did very, very well in the cash games between and after.

This is all well and good, but it is not terribly conducive to a well-ordered life, and I suspect I've just let myself in for a very nasty cold or something. I have been shredding my stamina for the last ten days or so, and it's bound to catch up with me.

I will probably be posting thinly for the next five days or so, as I try to get my life at least vaguely organized before my four-day trip to Vegas on October 9th. I've got a lot of ground to cover, and not a lot of time. And I need to try and bank some quality rest before I start up the madness again in Sin City.

Combined Live and Online Bankroll: 106%

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Thursday, October 2, 2008


As a public service, I point you to the new Red Pro Discussion Forum at Pokerroad.

If you want to know what separates these folks from the rest of us punters, just go ahead and follow along as they do hand analysis with one another. I'll be doing my best to learn something from them, no matter that they may be thinking way past my current horizon.