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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Friday, October 9, 2009

I take it back.

Once upon a time, I made a rash promise.

I try really, really hard to keep promises I make. But it has become clear that this one was foolhardy; I am just not that noble a person. On the other hand, the motivation had some merit: who wants a Bad Beat Story inflicted upon them unwittingly?

What to do?

I have created a little quarantine ~ a gulag, if you will ~ for the BBSs of our lives. When it all becomes just too much to keep to yourself, c'mon over to The Book of Bad Beats and vent. Misery loves company, after all, and don't we all feel that our particular beat is the very worstest of them all?

Or, for those of you who feel Bad Beats are usually the victim's fault, feel free to analyse via a comment just exactly what the alleged "sufferer" did horribly, horribly wrong to bring on an inevitable and well-deserved fate.

So, this blog will remain a no-BBS zone: none of my readers will have their eyes defiled unless they choose to go visit The BoBB. If you want either to wallow in miserable company or to indulge in the sweet, sweet sensation of superiority brought on by schadenfreude, now you know what to do.

See? Fun for everyone!!!

[Update: First example submitted and posted. Check it out!]

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

I Fold

One thing that poker teaches you, or ought to anyway, is how to fold.
Your hand has no promise, and there are no prospects for a successful steal: fold.

You’re out of position, with a modest holding: fold.

You’ve missed the flop, you have no draws, and your canny opponent has led out: fold.

You’ve raised in early position with pocket 10s, and there’s been another raise and then a shove from a tight player behind you: fold.

Your only choice at this point in the tournament is to raise or fold, and raising will put your whole stack at risk with a weak hand and no fold equity: fold.

You’ve finally realized you’re at a table with significantly more skilled players than you: fold and pick up your chips.

There’s a common saying among poker players: “No one comes to a casino to fold.” And it’s true. Most people go to a poker game to “play” ~ by which they mean to see flops and turns and rivers. To gamble. To bluff and go all in. Not to mostly fold (which, of course, is what professionals do).

No one likes to see the money they’ve invested go to someone else because they surrendered the pot. It’s no fun realizing that the river bluff isn’t going to work and that the better part of valor is to give up a failed betting line. And when faced with a massive raise, it’s a miserable feeling to be backed into a corner (is it a bluff or a monster?) and having to fold. Let’s face it: folding because you were outplayed or outdrawn… both unpleasant.

No one likes to give up. No one likes to quit. And nobody likes to fail.

My friends, I find myself facing the decision: raise or fold. I’ve played for thirteen months. I’ve looked at the numbers, I’ve done the math, and the results are pretty hard to dispute.

I am a marginally profitable player. I cannot possibly make a living playing poker unless my skills improve significantly. I’m a much better tournament player than I am a cash player, and if I could tolerate the huge variance associated with tourney play, it’s possible I could eke out a living that way. But I’m not prepared to make that experiment, it’s simply too risky for my taste.

I’m not particularly happy about this conclusion. But I’m a grown-up, and I truly believe in fiscal responsibility. I do not have, at present, the wherewithal to be a professional poker player. So it’s time to acknowledge that, make the "pro" fold, and move on. Time to generate a viable Plan B. (Got a job for me?)

I do not, however, plan to stop playing poker. It’s a hobby that makes rather than costs money. It has taught me much about myself and others. It has introduced to me to wonderful people. Poker has made incredibly positive contributions to my life, and I expect it to continue doing so. I hope to keep improving my game, and I also intend to keep writing.

I hope that those of you who have joined me for this journey will continue to come along.

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Meetup: Rhumbar at Mirage Hotel

For those of you brave souls who may find yourselves in Las Vegas on Friday evening, August 28th: please join me and other poker types at 7pm in the Rhumbar at the Mirage. Specialty cocktails, comfy outdoor seating, and poker-blog-chat… who could ask for anything more?

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Monday, August 17, 2009

Day 365: Not Finished Yet

Okay, so this is a little embarrassing.

You start a blog out with A Grand Plan. You state it in public. You do a pretty good job of keeping people informed on your progress.

And then, at the very end, you change the plan.

Boooooo. I call shenanigans! On myself.

Life, and the experience life brings (or leaves in its wake), has a way of interfering with the best laid plans. To wit:
  • My book is not done. Not even close. In fact, the extensive outline that I've been working from has come to seem less and less like the book I want to write. Accordingly, I'm having to reconsider it from the ground up. I fully intend to keep writing, and I definitely think I have a good book to bring forth, but it's not going to be the one I initially thought it would be.

  • I have distinctly NOT succeeded in leading as well-balanced life as I'd intended.

  • My poker results are inconclusive. While I have made a decent profit in the past year, I don't have enough information to make a decision about whether I can survive as a professional. I'm inclined to think I can, but I don't know for sure, and I've determined that I'm unlikely to know for sure in a reasonable timeframe.
So, what to do? what to do?

I'm flying to Las Vegas tonight. I'll be there for 3.5 weeks. I have arbitrarily decided that I will let this short period of time serve as the tie-breaker in my decision-making process. If I make a decent, livable income at the tables on this trip, I'll keep going. If I don't, I'll start looking for a job. You know, actual salaried, every-other-week-a-paycheck, health-benefit-conferring employment.

You say there's a recession on? No kidding. Thank god I live in Washington, DC, where employment opportunities are less awful than in most of the rest of the country. (And nothing stops me from continuing to play poker on the side while I diligently look for work.)

No matter what the outcome of this last lagniappe, this baker's dozenth month of poker, I will never EVER regret having given the past year to my experiment. It has been challenging, fun, heart-breaking, educational, rewarding, and deeply, deeply interesting. I have made wonderful new friends, achieved personal bests, and come to treasure my city and my friends all the more. It has been a spectacular adventure.

I was sitting at Starbucks the other day, having a coffee and catching up on my spreadsheet, as is my wont. The man at the table next to mine leaned over and made a comment about the svelteness of my MacBook Air. We had a brief conversation, during which he asked me: "Are you a lawyer?" I laughed. And then the following sentence emerged unprompted from my mouth for the first time: "Actually, I play poker for a living." And as I said it, it seemed true.

We shall see.

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Friday, July 24, 2009

Pile Up

The last several days have been difficult as various life challenges have all hit simultaneously. I'm playing a bit online, but have been staying away from the live scene while my head is so cluttered. I had anticipated things getting clearer and easier as the end of my year's experiment approached, but ~ to my dismay ~ they are actually getting muddier and more complicated.

Apparently, my naive optimism dies hard. Please bear with me while I sort things out.


Wednesday, July 8, 2009


I'm not talking about the cleaning and maintenance of my physical apartment, although that is sorely in need of attention too. One chore at a time, people!

No, today is all about getting my computer systems organized, backed-up, and fully functional again. A few days before I left for Las Vegas the wireless keyboard for my desktop unceremoniously gave up the ghost. It simply wouldn't turn on. Mind you, it had been living on borrowed time since the day not too long ago that I (for the first time in decades of computing) spilled a mug of coffee into it. To my surprise, after letting it dry out and a little damp cloth cleaning, it seemed to work pretty well after that trauma. Until one day it didn't.

I finally went and bought a wired keyboard (cheaper, and no need for batteries). The aesthetics are almost as good because I have a keyboard tray on my desk, and the wire goes out and up the back. Plus, I'll never again have the aggravation of the computer not recognizing the keyboard and thus becoming utterly non-functional.

Of course just going into the Apple Store is an exercise in "ooo, shiny!" that makes me realize how just about everything I own is hopelessly outdated. I am striving to remind myself that what I have at the moment serves my purposes adequately and it would be foolish to go hog-wild on new technology just now.

Although the new iPhone looks awfully sweet (I have a first gen edition). And if I'm going to upgrade, I should do it NOW before it becomes stupid not to wait for NEXT YEAR'S upgrade. Right? Right?

Ah, technolust. Almost as fraught with peril as pokerlust.


Thursday, April 30, 2009

2100+ Precious Unique Snowflakes

That's how many separate and distinct visitors I've had to Raise or Fold since I started tracking such things in February using Google Analytics. Y'all are visiting from 31 different countries, although the vast majority of my traffic comes from Washington D.C., New York, California, and Nevada in the U.S. Half of you have visited somewhere between 9 and 100 times, which ~ frankly ~ completely boggles my mind.

I owe a huge debt of gratitude to the Poker Grump for pointing so many of you in my direction. The rest of you seem to be stumbling upon this site through Google or other poker blogs. However you arrive, you are most welcome here.

All I can say is: thank you for reading. I value your interest and your comments more than you can imagine. Poker is a solitary business undertaken in a social setting. It is nice for me to know that, in one sense anyway, I'm not entirely on my own.


Monday, April 6, 2009


Recently, I had been running bad.

(Say it in a chorus with me, people: “Boo-hoo, you poor grrl, life sucks and then you die, go tell it to your mama.” I am well aware that no one really wants to hear it. Hell, even I don’t want to hear it.)

The most frustrating component of it had been getting crushed in games where I legitimately believe I have an edge, where in fact my past record shows that I have an edge, and where I don’t believe I’ve done anything meaningfully worse to produce such disproportionately bad results. In fact, the only thing that had really declined over the last month was my attitude.

I experienced frustration, resentment, a foiled sense of entitlement, aggravation, irritation, impatience, and a stubborn unwillingness to revisit my own behavior in the light of current conditions. This is hardly the posture of serene equanimity that I aspire to. Just look at that list; that list is a summary description of someone on LIFE TILT.

Now let’s consider that previous observation again: the only thing that had really declined over the last month was my attitude.

“The only thing???“

Once the basics are covered (fundamentals of strategy, people reading, mechanics, math), attitude is not the only thing, it’s everything.

I was faced with the prospect of two tournaments, one right after another on sequential evenings, that I really wanted to win. On some level, I also felt that I needed to win them. For better or worse (mostly ‘worse,’ obviously), I was pinning some of my self-esteem to the outcome of these two games. This is not a healthy attitude in general, and it’s especially stupid for a poker player, since—realistically speaking—so much of the outcome of any two games is contingent upon chance.

In preparing for the first of the two games, I identified (in addition to the emotional errors listed above) another factor that I felt was missing in my approach to poker lately. I lacked commitment. I was blaming my failures on everything and anything under the sun; I felt cursed, snakebit, gunshy, doomed. On some level I had already given up on bringing my A game, since it hadn’t done me a bit of good for the last six weeks or so. I had all the safety-net excuses in place for my forthcoming failure.

You know how you can tell that someone’s diet isn’t going to work?
They say, “I’m trying to lose weight.”

You know how you can tell that someone isn’t going to manage to give up cigarettes?
They say, “I’m trying to quit smoking.”

You know how you can tell when someone is just one cocktail away from returning to alcoholic behavior?
They say, “I’m trying to stop drinking.”

The people who succeed at their goals say things like:
“I want to be slimmer. I choose to follow this regimen of diet and exercise today.”

“I want to be a non-smoker. I choose to not light up a cigarette today.”

“I want to live a life free of alcohol. I choose to not take a drink today.”
The equivalent for me:
“I want to be a winning poker-player. I choose to make the best possible decisions I know how at the table today.”
These are statements of commitment, and the actions they predicate are not something subject to material failure (e.g., attempting 13 reps in weightlifting and only being able to do 12). These are behavioral decisions that are totally under the control of sane sentient agents. To quote a famous pop-culture sage: “Do or do not. There is no try.”

I brought that frame of mind to the first tournament and won it. I brought that frame of mind to the second tournament and won it. And the following night, I brought that frame of mind to the cash game I’d been losing at for weeks and walked away with a profit.

Coincidence? On some level: of course. I could just have easily lost in all three locations, attitude and all. But in another sense: no. When I make the best decisions I know how, I put myself in the best possible position to win; in fact, because I actually know how to make good decisions, I will win more often. I become the kind of person I have declared I want to be by behaving the way such a person behaves. It is not some supernatural woo-woo Law of Attraction new age bullshit. It is the way human reality functions.

Okay, let’s take this notion of the importance of commitment and widen the perspective a little bit.

When I started my year-long experiment exploring my potential as a poker-player and a writer, I put some safety nets in place: budgetary restrictions and a specific timeframe were the most significant of these. In effect, I was saying to myself: “I’m going to try out this business of being a professional poker player and see how it goes.”

Can you see the problem with this, the weasel-words embedded in the concept from the get-go?

Three-quarters of the way through this undertaking, I find myself looking ahead to a decision point in August. In August I will have to determine what to do, based on my experience. But I will have to make a decision based not only on incomplete information (as with many important life-decisions), but also on information which has probably been distorted by an underlying flaw in the premises upon which the experiment has been conducted.

I have not, in fact, been acting as if my livelihood and well-being truly depended on my poker decisions. I have been “playing at” being a poker player. I have been operating under the assumption that there is a Plan B, that somehow it doesn’t really matter whether I succeed or not. I have not been making the best possible decisions in my life circumstances, generally; I have not been consistently bringing my A game to this project. This renders my results to-date (already a statistically dubious sample) even more highly suspect. The whole thing reeks of lack of commitment.

Here’s the irony, however: there is no Plan B.

I can no longer imagine happily returning to a more conventional way of earning a living. Of course if getting a regular job were to become a pure financial necessity, I would do it and I would make whatever accommodation was required. But I would experience it as a failure.

The fact of the matter is that I had simply never truly considered what the consequences of committing to this life would actually mean for me. It never occurred to me that (barring some kind of life-altering tournament score) I would absolutely have to move—leave my city home of sixteen years, my dear friends, comfortable residence, pleasant seasonal climate, familiar pastimes, rich cultural context. I had no clue that I would find myself ever more radically out of sync with the rest of the workaday world, to the surprising point of a certain discomfort, even for me, the perpetual outsider.

This is a strange place for me to find myself. I have changed careers multiple times in my life. People have often commented to me that they thought I was “brave” for essentially turning the page on one career and moving on to the next without much regret or anxiety. In retrospect, however, I think one of the reasons I was able to do that was that—again, somewhat ironically—I was never truly committed to any of my choices. I always figured: well, if it doesn’t work out, I’ll do something else. I’m lucky enough to have the education, the background, and the intellectual wherewithal to move on to the next thing if the current one doesn’t pan out. And so I have flitted from occupation to occupation (and pastime to pastime) without any truly signal accomplishments and without any deep-seated sense of satisfaction.

I am convinced, however, of this truth now: there is no substantial success in life, of any kind, without commitment. I have to now consider very carefully what I am actually prepared to commit to, because life is short and these things matter. It astounds me that it has taken me so long to come to this understanding, and amazing that I have poker to thank for it.

[Nota bene: "Commitment" is, of course, also a strategic concept in poker, and at some point I'll want to talk about that too.]

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Sunday, March 22, 2009

Two Novelties

I had my very first reader-recognition moment tonight. About an hour into a 1/2 session, the young lady two seats to my left suddenly asked me, "Do you blog?"

I allowed as to how I did, in fact, blog. (Is there an uglier verb in the English language? I'm not sure.)

She said, "I wondered if it was you. I came to your site through the Poker Grump." Over the course of the next hour and a half, we chatted about bloggers and poker in the DC area. I'm embarrassed that I spent so much of the time we played together complaining about how card dead I was (EPICLY card dead, in fact, but still)... sorry Katie!

It was hugely fun for me to know that it is, in fact, possible for people to put the pieces together and identify me at a poker table. And it continues to amaze and delight me that anyone bothers to read what I write in the first place. Thank you all!

The other new item is far, far more mundane, but nonetheless constitutes a revolution in poker attire and comfort for me. Just before I left for AC, I went shopping for a pashmina shawl/scarf. I finally found one that was large, soft, and affordable at Loehmann's. It's a lovely pale neutral color, which goes with just about everything, and it is the ideal climate-control accessory for sitting in a casino playing poker. It can easily be adjusted for various degrees of coverage and warmth, it can serve as a hoodie or even provide a burka-like total eclipse for those all-in moments (if you want to be dramatic), it is lightweight and stylish. I am completely and utterly thrilled with it, and I expect it to be my accessory of choice in casino-wear. Ladies, and fashion-forward men, take note!

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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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Monday, February 9, 2009

No pressure, right?


Mr. Poker Grump himself, the esteemed Rakewell, has caught me off-guard with an extremely kind and surprisingly *extensive* mention of this blog. To all of you who may have arrived here expecting gems of wisdom and fountains of wit, my humble apologies.

I find myself dealing with an unaccustomed bout of stage fright. My first instinct is to say, "Move along! Nothing to see here!"

Of course my second impulse is to grab each and every one of you by the collar, sit you down, and require you to read every syllable of my deathless prose from now until kingdom come.

So, um, bear with me, okay? I'm going to be in Vegas for most of the next week or so, and am therefore likely to be posting significantly LESS frequently than average. (Perfect timing. I have a knack for that.)

I do genuinely hope some of you will stick around; please don't hesitate to leave a comment or drop me a note.


Saturday, January 31, 2009

Glory Hallelujah!

After more angst than I care to mention, it looks as if I have functioning internet again. (I'm afraid even to type it, for fear of jinxing the whole thing.)

If it's still working in 24 hours, then I'll celebrate.

The joy of flowing intertubes puts my modest wins at my A League totally into the shade.


Monday, December 8, 2008

Day 112: Ungroovy Miscellany

Let's see:

The online debacle continues. I cannot win online at the moment. NOTHING I do prospers. Can't win playing tight, can't win playing loose. Can't win with made hands, can't win with draws. Can't win. Can. Not. Win.

The lack of winning online is annoying.

I played in the Crime Scene game on Sunday and had another of those days that resemble nothing so much as... a day of playing online. Aaaaagh! Again with the not winning.

I console myself mightily with the observation that I am still meaningfully up. I am. I am UP. Nothing can take that away from me. (I mean, other than a serious downswing. Blech.)

It would be nice, very nice, to have one big winning session here before I head to AC on Thursday for the Circuit events. I could use the morale boost in preparation for the battle.

It has always been part of my Grand Strategy to have one substantial live tournament win during this year. The theory is I'll have a much easier job pitching my book to the publishing community if I can point to a high-profile tournament victory. Why would anyone care about my observations on poker and life if I can't win at poker, right? And no one really cares if you are a successful cash player. Tournaments are what get televised, and so they are what people know.

In the meantime, the rest of my life continues to offer up alternately wildly fun and unbelievably idiotic episodes. I am sparing you, my dear readers, the particulars, but suffice it to say that certain gentlemen and certain members of my family are totally batshit insane. (Not at the same time. You know what I mean. Stop that!)

Nevertheless, and despite the various aggravations, I would be remiss if I did not emphasize that my life ~ ramshackle as it may be ~ is far more enjoyable now than it has been in many, many years. I am still not doing everything I want to be doing, but at least I am doing SOME of the things I want to be doing and many, many fewer of the things I don't want to be doing. This is a net win, bigtime. (Every time I decline to a do a job I don't want to do, I feel like superwoman. If I'd known saying "no," was this fun, I'd have started doing it a long time ago.)

I do have the occasional moment when I wonder if I am completely out of my mind myself. There is no doubt that this year is a slightly eccentric undertaking (to put it politely). It's entirely possible that I'll have less than nothing to show for it in the end. I don't think I will, but it is possible. Even in that case, though, I don't think I'll be swamped with regret. On some level, this was a journey I felt I simply had to take.

Thanks for coming along!

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Friday, November 21, 2008

Day 94: Once More Unto the Breach

I'm heading to AC this weekend. I would claim to be entirely unafraid, but that would be only 98.5% true.

The fact is, I've almost recouped my losses from the last trip. I have done well in tournaments, and made a substantial comeback in cash games too. I am no longer wincing with anxiety as I bet out my strong but potentially vulnerable hands. I am ready to take on Demon Variance once again.

So, with another fully comped trip on offer, I'm getting back on the horse again. Say it with me: Ride 'em, Cardgrrl!!

[I'm taking my laptop along, and plan to write and intend to post at least once while I'm on the road. I'm determined to restore my schedule of daily blogging, as I firmly believe that writing is actually one of those things that contributes to my general well-being. Which is rather odd, given my history with writing in the era before blogging ~ but that's a story for another time.]

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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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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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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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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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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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Sunday, August 31, 2008

Day 14: Structure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Past time to get on with it, then.

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Monday, August 18, 2008

A Year of Risky Business

I was brought up all wrong.

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

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

In other words, I am an idiot.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Live Bankroll: 100%
Online Bankroll: 100%

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