Raise or Fold:  Learning (From) Poker

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

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The End of An Era

Suddenly, but not entirely unexpectedly, the Commissioner and Treasurer of my A League have resigned. The A League has fallen on hard times lately: not enough games, not enough enthusiasm amongst the participants, and a shortage of folks willing to host. The steam has gone out of the enterprise, and internecine squabbles and personality conflicts have also taken their toll. I will, however, always be grateful to the A League for giving me a venue to learn how to play tournament poker for actual cash stakes, and I'll miss the routine of playing in a well-organized group. I am also confident that the friendships I've made amongst these players will endure.

In other breaking news, my B League hosted a small impromptu tourney last night and I won it. Not a whole lotta cabbage, but welcome nonetheless. I attribute it to the knitting I brought with me.

Finally, an important note: Blogger is discontinuing support for FTP publishing, which is what I use to host my blog on my server. As of May 1, all of us FTP users have to either migrate to Blogger/Google's servers or switch blogging software. Since I have no desire to have all of my writing at the mercy of Goo-we're-only-a-little-evil-gle, I will be migrating to a WordPress blog. This will cause disruptions. The painstakingly crafted design will probably evaporate. The RSS feed may change names. My archives may disappear, although I am working hard to avoid that.

If you want to keep following this blog, I recommend that you make sure your bookmark for my site is the canonical URL:
The next version, however (temporarily I hope) lame, will appear at that address.

Thanks so much for following along with me!

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Sunday, September 13, 2009

In Memoriam

Ben Kramer

This is my friend Ben Kramer. I met him online through Poker Academy software, and then later in person in Las Vegas when he organized a PA meet-up. I took this photograph when he was in the Washington area visiting his parents.

Ben was one of the kindest people I've ever met. He was warm and funny, and he truly enjoyed making others feel welcome and appreciated. He died of heart failure on August 16, 2009. The world is a poorer place for his absence.


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Do The Eyes Have It?


Among the many interesting things I learned during my Las Vegas sojourn, there was one item about myself that genuinely surprised me: I don't much like being watched by people I know while I'm playing poker.

This is completely counterintuitive to me at first blush. Why wouldn't you want your friends and loved ones sweating your action? Wouldn't it be nice to get some (as Rex55 puts it) "rail love?" What could be more flattering than having people you care about follow your every check, fold, or bet (especially if they understand poker)? And how convenient to not have to recount the story of big hands… after all, the people you'd want to tell would witness them for themselves!

Well, it turns out that my assumptions about myself in this matter were incorrect; I don't enjoy this particular kind of attention. It's taken me a while to figure out why, but I think I've got it mostly worked out now.

The first and main reason is this: I am not a good multitasker. If I want to succeed at something complex, I must focus on it to the exclusion of everything else. When I am in the poker-zone, my attention narrows to include the people sitting at the poker table and the clock (if it's a tournament) and just about nothing else. This is how I play my best: the table becomes my whole world and I pay minute attention to the actions of its inhabitants. I'd like to think that an axe-wielding maniac could come screaming up to the table and I would only notice because of the reactions of the other players.

But the problem is, I simply cannot ignore my friends. This is a basic element of my psychological make-up. I am incapable of completely ignoring or blocking out the presence of people who matter to me. The loved one on the rail is a distraction just by virtue of breathing. If I know and care about you, then if you are in the same room as I am, I will pay attention to you. Some portion of my brain will always be actively modeling what is going on in your head and alert to monitor any interaction or potential interaction (past, present, or future!) between us. It is a little bit as if I were a communications center and one of my antennae were perpetually pointed in your direction, whether or not you are actively or intentionally sending a signal to me. And knowing that the spectator's attention is, in fact, intensely focused on me just makes it worse. A thousand virtual conversations can blossom and die in my head every few seconds.

This, as you may imagine, is not helpful to my game.

There is a secondary reason, which is less significant and one I'm more likely to be able to overcome over time: performance anxiety. When someone whose good opinion of me I value is watching me play, I become self-conscious and more worried than usual that I'll make a boneheaded decision and lose a big pot or otherwise bust out spectacularly. If this concern simply caused me to play better, then obviously it wouldn't be a problem. But when it leads me to second-guess myself, play too conservatively (can't make a big mistake THAT way!) or too wildly (hero call! flamboyant bluff!) or spend more time wondering how I'll look to someone away from the table than I do about the people actually sitting at the table, that's no good.

Mind you, it's worth mentioning that there's a key exception to the above. A week or so into my Las Vegas stay, I asked Rakewell if he would sweat me at a few cash games. Things had not been going well for me at all, and I was starting to wonder if my game really and truly sucked. I thought it would be very helpful to have someone whose game I respected watch as I played and give me some critical feedback. The Grump very kindly agreed to do this, and observed and took notes over the course of two sessions of a few hours each. I was very grateful for his patience and attention, and I didn't find his presence at all distracting under those circumstances. (I may add that his comments were both useful ~ when he pointed out some less-than-optimal choices I made ~ and reassuring, in that he was able to say that he hadn't detected any outright suckage on my part.)

Finally, I should say that while I would probably be both willing and able to perform a similar exercise for another player (watching and providing a post-game critique), I myself make a lousy railbird. I find watching poker without being able to see hole-cards only mildly less excruciating than watching a caterpillar in a cocoon for weeks. (Yes, it's lovely when the butterfly finally emerges, but please!) I just don't have that kind of patience. To my poker-playing friends: please do not feel slighted if I do not rail you for hours. I'm just not cut out for it. I will, however, happily fetch you nourishment, massage your shoulders, and provide you with conversation, pep-talks, or a listening ear on breaks if you like.

Mind you, if someone I know goes deep in a major tournament, if there's a seat in the bleachers and you'd LIKE me to be there, I certainly will if I can.

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Monday, April 27, 2009

Mystery Player

The Grump's HORSE tournament is now history. As is my usual style, I went out on the bubble. (I am, in fact, bubblicious). I was intrigued, however, that the final table boasted what appeared to be two other players from my area. One, NewinNov of Alexandria, I recognized. The other, BitterPill1 (whose location was listed as "Washington"), I did not.

I racked my brain trying to come up with a likely suspect, especially after BitterPill1 gave me the "Hey Sis" high-sign that only a reader of this blog would know.

Someone local, who plays limit games... if it's someone I've played with live, that narrows the field pretty substantially; BitterPill1 did not, however, respond to any of the names I threw out there. If it's NOT someone local, that seemingly leaves only one (very unlikely, but very cool) possibility. BitterPill1 finished second, behind an opponent (Sauza 262) who caught cards something fierce at the final table and heads-up. I think we can safely say that BitterPill1 has skillz.

Perhaps BP1 will take pity on my inquiring mind and lift the veil for me, privately (confidentiality guaranteed). You know how to reach me!


Wednesday, April 22, 2009


Me & Sig & Roy & Lion
I arrived home this morning on the red-eye in a state of total exhaustion. Mentally, physically, emotionally: I got nuthin'. This last week in Las Vegas has put me severely to the test, and ~ honestly ~ the results are not so pretty.

Here is a quick rundown of the highlights (the good stuff):
  1. Dinner with the bloggerati. Mentioned in my previous post.

  2. Hanging out with B.W.o.P. CK very kindly spent some time talking with me about life in Vegas and also introduced me to the O8 game at the Orleans.

  3. Playing poker with Cory Zeidman. The Grump describes the scene quite well. What he doesn't mention is that Cory and I played two hands together and chopped them both. In the second hand, I had Fido (K9), and flopped trips. Plenty 'o betting with banter. Turn was an Ace, River was an Ace. Cory showed 8 9 off. He cashed out shortly after and I asked if he would very kindly let me just win one outright next time we played together. He promised he would.

  4. Playing poker with Jamie Gold. I had been sitting in the Venetian Deepstack Sunday game for about an hour and a half when an unkempt, unshaven, dirty-fingernailed Jamie sat down three seats to my left. He was perfectly pleasant to everyone, and received the constant attentions of one of the massage therapists the entire time he was at the table. I took his big blind one time, but that was it. His game was utterly unremarkable and he busted out in about another hour and a half. He seemed awfully nice, but also the very picture of a poker degenerate. A few minutes after he went broke in the tournament I heard the name "Gold" called for a new 10/20 NL table in the Salon.

  5. Being a tourist and doing touristy things. For example, I saw the Treasure Island sirens & pirates show, which is about as silly and pointless as you could possibly ask for. The Grump was seeing it for the first time too (after three years in Vegas), which gives you an idea of just how much of a can't-miss it really is. As evidenced above, I also had my picture taken in a goofy way, which is pretty much de rigueur for a tourist, right? I played mini-golf. I saw a bad lightshow at the Fremont Street Experience (it was basically an extended commercial for LG). I visited Binions, but did not see the eponymous golden nugget across the way. Oh well, gotta leave something for the next visit.

  6. Getting my hotel completely comped again. That this was a such a thrill should give you some notion of how much of a trainwreck financially the rest of my trip was.

The bad stuff:
  • Only two profitable cash sessions, and those barely.

  • Three quite expensive tournament blanks.

  • At least three really dubious decisions for a lot of money, when I should have known better.

  • A growing sense of fatalism about my lack of success. (I knew when I was all in with my KK that I was up against AA. When my all in AA went down to 33, I just shrugged and mentally kicked the penguin on the way out.)

  • A sensation of dread about my impending month in Las Vegas. I no longer know whether I'm running bad or I am bad. I do know that I took another big hit to the bankroll, and will have to spend all of May rebuilding, just as I spent all of March rebuilding from February's trip. This does not bode well for my notion of being able to survive on poker in Las Vegas.

I saw a bit of Las Vegas beyond the Strip, and was brought face-to-face with the reality that it is fundamentally a desert wasteland with a car-dependent monoculture pasted down on top of it. During June I will hope to explore a bit more, to see if there are any signs of life and creativity to be found elsewhere in the city.

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Friday, April 17, 2009


Just a few quick notes before either 1) the WORTHLESS wifi in my hotel room craps out again or 2) I pass out from exhaustion and wake up with keyboard indentations in my face.

For the first time in my visit, Vegas was actually warm and sunny today. Rather nice, in fact. I was outside in it for all of about ten minutes as I walked from Harrah's to Bally's.

I played my first live game of Omaha Hi/Lo tonight. It was fun, but I didn't do especially well.

So far, I have not been making any money with the hold'em, either. On Thursday, I busted out of my first Deepstack tourney by misplaying AK. The cash games have mostly been an exercise in frustration. (OOooo the bad beat story I could tell from this evening, if I were allowed to do that.) Anywho, I'm once again at that place where I sincerely question my ability to play the game at all. Perhaps I should just hang it up.

That is not going to stop me from signing up for the Saturday Deepstack event, with its luscious one-hour blind levels. It is, however, beginning to feel like a do-or-die proposition for me. (No pressure!)

The social side of the trip has been far more rewarding. I very much enjoyed the dinner I shared with the Grump, F-Train, CK the BWoP, Short-stacked Shamus and his lovely Vera. Getting to know the people behind the blogs has been a pleasure.

I am trying to remind myself that if it weren't for poker I wouldn't have met any of these charming people, and that I should be grateful for that at least. It doesn't change the fact that I really, really, really need to take a hard look at my game. No one with the results I've been having for the last several months should even *think* about trying to earn a living playing cards.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

"Hey, Sis!"

Well, that was quick: we have our reader-recognition passphrase WINNAR. And it is no coincidence that my dear brother-from-another-mother Bastin came up with the obvious solution.

A little backstory is in order. When I first started learning to play poker, I bought Poker Academy software to practice my game. I hacked around a bit with the 'bots, but then quickly discovered the online component of the package, and started playing for the earned play currency (PAX). It didn't take me long to discover who the real competition was.

Bastin has sat atop the leaderboards at PAO for a very long time. I would chat with him while playing or railing and came to discover that, despite wildly divergent backgrounds, we had many intellectual and artistic interests in common. Despite a couple of years' difference in age, we decided we had been separated at birth; I started calling him "bro" and he started calling me "sis." People who didn't know any better often assumed we were actually related.

About a year after acquiring the software, I went to Las Vegas to meet up with a bunch of fellow Poker Academy Online enthusiasts. I finally met my bro Bastin face-to-face and found him as cool or more so in person than online. (This is actually a dismayingly rare thing, in my experience.) I am so pleased to be his honorary sister.

I like his suggestion for those sentimental reasons, and because it echos but inverts the 2+2 "Sup bro" convention. So if you think that you're sitting at a table with me, and want to make yourself known, throw out a "Hey, Sis!" If it's me, you'll get a "Hey, Sis!" or "Hiya, Bro!" back. Everyone then gets to exchange knowing looks without necessarily directly discussing poker blogging.

Ooo secret codewords! I love them! It's like being eleven again!


Monday, February 23, 2009

Total Information Control

Poker is infowar.

The person who gathers and correctly evaluates information about opponents while simultaneously emitting as little useful information as possible has a huge edge. These two tasks are theoretically separate, but in practice one almost always generates information for others while trying to obtain it for oneself. (The classic "see where I'm at" bet is a great example of a less-than-optimal approach to the problem.*) And sometimes we give away information by trying NOT to give away information. This stuff is tricky.

At the poker table, Big Brother is indeed always watching. (Well, okay, to be fair, not always. Sometimes Big Brother and his buddies are drunk off their asses and just donking it up, paying attention only to their own cards ~ if that ~ and nothing else. Or maybe they're all too stupid or inexperienced to see the value of learning about other people's play or disguising their own. Need I explain why these are the tables you always want to be at?) It is your job to be a better observer than Big Brother, while giving him absolutely nothing helpful to work with.

I will point out that, although quite difficult, TIC is much easier in poker than it is in the rest of life. Which is to say: in the rest of life, it's well nigh impossible. Arguably, this is a good thing, although it may sometimes prove embarrassing, inconvenient, or awkward.

Without further ado, a little case study for your amusement...

When I began this blog six months ago, I was bathed in the warm waters of virtual anonymity. There were a very small number of friends who knew of its existence. Everyone else who dropped by was someone who had an interest in poker and no particular reason to have heard of or met me before. I quite enjoyed having my own private sandbox to build my little castles in, and I felt utterly unselfconscious about what I wrote. Sort of a Garden of Eden pre-apple environment, I suppose. Security through obscurity.

It turns out, however, that unbeknownst to me, my walled garden was breached in mid-October. A writer for the Boston Globe wrote a one-paragraph blurb mentioning this site. And here's where it gets good.

A woman in Boston read the blurb. Her thought process then apparently went something like this: "This woman lives in D.C. and plays poker. My single son lives in the D.C. area and is a fanatical poker player. I must get the two of them together! I will alert him immediately!" And so she did.

The son looked up Raise or Fold. Saw the picture in the sidebar. Read a few posts for confirmation, and immediately realized that he knew me already.

Single Son is the Esteemed Commissioner for my A League.

But it gets better! The Commish shared his discovery with three other players in the A League. For months they followed along, saying nothing, while I happily prattled away here about this and that, including my progress in the league. I thought I was operating incognito, and they cheerfully conspired to let me keep right on thinking so.

This was entirely reasonable and, in retrospect, pretty damned funny. Good for them! (Hoist and re-hoist for me. Oops! :-) )

And then, unexpectedly, a person with a whole lot bigger readership pointed the poker-blog-reading public in my direction. The very next morning my voicemail and email contained several messages of the "Aha! Busted!" variety. I found myself making a bunch of phone calls, hoping that people wouldn't be too cross with me.

One of them was to an A League player, another woman, whom I consider a close friend. It had always been a challenge to me to NOT mention my project to her. Pause here to imagine my mortification when, in an attempt to pre-empt her hearing about it first from another source, I make my confession only to have her say, "Oh, I know all about it. I've known for months."

Oy. It seems we all have pretty good poker faces!

To my great relief, just about everybody to whom I've either "come out" or been outed has been really positive, generous, and supportive of both my writing and my adventure. I consider myself very fortunate indeed in that respect. I think that there are still a fair number of people I play with regularly who are NOT aware of my secret identity, and to the extent I can, I prefer to keep it that way. But, should you wish to let me know that you know, by all means drop me an email or tap me on the shoulder one evening and we can share a laugh at my expense.

So that's where things stand now. It somewhat changes the intended shape of my project. In my fondest dreams, I hoped I would finish the book, cash deep in a big tournament, get a publishing and/or sponsorship contract, and then do the big reveal: TA-DA!

Reality to Cardgrrl: "Not so much." Total Information Control ~ it is, in fact, a pipe-dream.

Oh, and I still have to finish the book, cash deep in a big tournament, and get those contracts. So, yeah, not THAT much has changed at all.

*If you're wondering why this is not a good idea, strategically, consider this familiar nugget of poker wisdom: "Every bet you make should be designed to elicit a call from a weaker hand or a fold from a stronger one." (Can anyone help me track down the origin of that one?) [back to top]

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Lord of The Fields

The Poker Grump
Behold: His Royal Grumpiness, Sir Rakewell, K.G.F.

The Grump was mystified by how many people approach him at the tables and greet him with kind words about his blog. It struck him as odd that such a high percentage of his readership seemed to make their way to Vegas and then somehow run across him.

Google Analytics (which many bloggers use to keep track of traffic to their sites) does not log RSS feed hits. I pointed this out, and suggested that his estimation of reader numbers was probably off by at least an order of magnitude. It made me happy to see him re-calibrate his idea of the extent of his reach in the poker blogging world. I'm glad he now has a better sense of just how popular his writing is.

No one could be more deserving of a wide audience. I am honored to call him my friend.

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Friday, February 13, 2009

Fish in the Desert

...That would be me.

To say that I have not profited in the last twelve hours would be a tragic understatement. In fact, I have sustained my single biggest one day loss in poker EVAR.

Not pleased.

I make no excuses. A better player than I, faced with the same adverse circumstances, would have lost less. I hope I managed to learn something along the way, but at the moment I'm not sure of that.

Despite the day's results I'm feeling remarkably cheerful. I attribute this to two specific factors: I am doing work I love to do; and I had delightful company alongside me while doing it.

Tomorrow is a new day and I have some rebuilding to do. My plan is to play cash on Friday and invest in the big buy-in Deepstack tourney on Saturday.

Status: bloodied but not bowed.

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Thursday, February 5, 2009

Opportunity Knocking?

On my last visit to the Crime Scene Game, the lovely cop who helps run the joint took me by the elbow and urgently steered me into the back room. "I need to talk to you."

You may now picture my blood pressure rising several points as I try to anticipate what deep shit I have somehow gotten myself into.

He said: "TK [one of the few other regular female players; she's also a dealer] is a major actor in putting together a charity poker event coming up in March. She is going to get four free entries into this $1000 game for her participation. They pay great prizes to the top ten, and the winner gets a seat in the WSOP Main Event."

Me: "Wow, that's awesome!"

Him: "TK wants to put together a kickass group. She's playing, and she's giving a seat to JR [the only regular player ~ also a dealer ~ I fear at the CSG] and me. She thinks you have a great style, and JR and I both think you're the best possible fourth. If one of us wins the thing, and goes on to cash in the Main Event, we'll split the winnings four ways. What do you think?"

Me: "I am so in."

Okay, first of all, a potential freeroll to the Main Event? SCORE.

And B, how nice to have been given such a strong vote of confidence by people who've watched me play week after week for months now. I am deeply, deeply flattered by this. TK would officially become my first staker.

You may now picture me doing the excited happy dance.

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Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Kindness of Worthy Opponents

One of the curious features of moving in circles that are ~ for all practical purposes ~ "underground" is that the social mores tend to mimic those of any other such group or movement. So, despite the fact that when we meet over the felt we are diehard enemies striving to take one another's money without mercy, away from the table we often treat each with special courtesy and consideration. We have each others' backs.

Last night I took refuge in yet another free WIFI-offering dining establishment. I won't say which one, because I don't want to get the manager in any kind of trouble. He's a poker player I've encountered numerous times at the Crime Scene Game. (I took a shine to him immediately when we first met. Just a very likable guy, a fairly good player, and incidentally cute as a button.) He was nice enough to comp me a really decent glass of wine, just because. He allowed as how he'd give me a break any time I came in.

Totally unnecessary, but appreciated nonetheless.

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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Whither Poker Academy?

I have noticed with some dismay that Poker Academy's online presence appears to have vanished from the intertubes. If anyone has any idea what's going on, please drop me a comment or an email.

I don't play on Poker Academy Online very often anymore. I'm too busy donking it up live and online for real money. But I credit PA for feeding my initial interest in poker, helping me learn in a safe environment, and introducing me to some wonderful people who play poker (including my dear brother bastin who, now that he knows how to do links, really oughta go back through his previous entries mentioning me and LINK ME UP, DUDE).

I hope to hear that PA is up and running again sometime soon.

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Sunday, November 23, 2008

Day 97: Two Days of Grinding AC

I'm back in the comfort of my own home again. How nice!

The trip to AC was a successful one. Not so much because I came back with oodles of cash, because I didn't. I showed a modest profit, and as my expenses were comped for the trip, it all goes into the bankroll.

But the real success of the trip was endurance under adverse conditions and a new perspective on life at the table. After a jolly start on Friday, things got a little more challenging on Saturday. I moved on up to the 2/5 game, started out very well, and then hit the wall.

It is no exaggeration to say that I proceeded to suffer through twelve hours of being so card dead I couldn't even bluff in position more than a handful of times (the only hands I won) punctuated by the occasional premium hand or lucky flop that proceeded to crush me as I got outdrawn. It was grim.

And you know what? I hung in. I stayed tilt free. And when I suffered a loss I ground it back. While it was hardly a laugh-riot, I do take some pride and enjoyment from the knowledge that I have the mental toughness to persist in the face of adversity. The mistakes I made were seriously outweighed by the very solid game I played over the long haul.

And the long haul was long indeed. I stayed up all night on Saturday, and when the 2/5 game broke up at 6am this morning, I moved back to the 1/2 game. After the higher-level effort required for the 2/5 game, the 1/2 game was positively relaxing. I started having fun again, and booked a win. At about 10am, I went up to my room to shower and pack.

I returned to the poker room and ended the trip with one of the most entertaining poker sessions I've ever played. My 1/2 table was well stocked with donkeys (sure, why not call the 7.5xBB raise with K8 suited!), playing loose and limpy. It was as juicy an opportunity as I've seen. It also dealt me two big blows early on, the most memorable of which was having my AA cracked by the fellow cited in the previous parenthetical. Quoth he: "We're all here to have fun, and it's no fun just sitting and waiting for aces and kings!" ("No, sir," I muttered under my breath, "I'm here to take your money. The fun is just a bonus.")

About half an hour into the session, a massive young man sat to my immediate left. At first, I was put out just because he was exceedingly large and was impinging into my personal space, which is a pet peeve. But he immediately endeared himself to me because, having witnessed the aforementioned AA crackage, he proceeded to deliver sotto voce witticisms about the extremely bad play being demonstrated in every hand. It was immediately obvious to me that this was a genuine student of the game. I would not be the slightest bit surprised to learn he is a regular denizen of online poker circles. It was nice to feel that I had an ally of sorts (aha! it's the DK syndrome!). Despite my fatigue, I was immediately inspired to break out my A game.

That AA hand felted me. With my efforts concentrated by this new voice of reason to my left, and with a sudden strong desire to prove my mettle, I rebought, and with some truly inspired play (and no horrible suckouts) I had bootstrapped myself back to even in about an orbit. The amusing dialog continued. In short order, I was actually up. And, in fact, I was having a tremendous amount of fun.

Alas, the bus waits for none, and I had to head out.

So, the two lessons I learned on this trip were: 1) I can grind it out, if I have to, and b) I can have fun doing it. I hereby resolve to have a hell of a lot more fun. I am going to extravert it up at the tables for a while. I am going to wisecrack, flirt, banter, converse, and generally just socialize myself silly at the table, because grinding is a boring and grim experience on its own. Why not make it less unpleasant if I can?

Any EV I lose, for example, by enlisting a table ally is probably more than compensated for by the enjoyment I derive from it and the likelihood of it keeping me off tilt and on my A game. I think that, if I had stayed longer today, I could probably also have learned something substantial from my neighbor to the left, in addition to having a hell of a good time. Why not recruit coaches and mentors whenever the opportunity arises? And, never fear, I've found that it's possible to do this without giving away much of one's own actual strategy or thought processes.

It was truly notable how many of my tablemates were essentially giving away the store on their 'thinking' (*pft* if you can call it that!) on their hands and strategies. The amount of (mostly wrong) hand analysis that goes on, especially at the 1/2 table where so may feature themselves as poker experts, is astonishing to me. I just sit back, listen, and pay attention to what each of these obvious poker gods is telling me about how he plays. As is my policy, I almost never reveal my hand or on how or why I played as I did. When I do say something, it is almost always a lie with a purpose.

The more time I spend in casinos, the more aware I become of the poker ecology. As a subculture, it has its fascinations. I'm also enjoying the benefits of becoming a regular. The poker room staff recognize me and go out of their way to be helpful. The dealers know my name and some of them can even recite memorable hands they've dealt that I was in. I am learning who the regulars are, and whom I need to stay away from and whom I should seek out. I am something of a creature of habit, and I find this level of familiarity with the territory comforting and conducive to relaxation and my overall equanimity.

It looks likely that I will return to AC for the Circuit Event at Harrahs's in December. While I'll certainly donk it up in a couple of tournaments, the side action at the cash games should be especially tasty.

[My DSL is cycling on and off again. I may be internet disabled again any minute now. Crap!]

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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, 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 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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Saturday, August 23, 2008

Day 6: A Beautiful Day

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

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

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

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

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

Live Bankroll: 99.2%
Online Bankroll: 103.4%

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