Sunday, October 26, 2014

Frame of Mind

Back in May I wrote a blog entitled "Bad Runs".  In that blog I described how my game had basically gone to pot.  As I said in the blog, it all started with some bad luck and developed into a mental attitude of scared money.  The "bad run" had gotten into my head.

I said back in May that I "won't be traveling to any more series and I won't be making the trek to Vegas this summer unless and until I turn my game around.  I'll be playing the Friday and Saturday tournaments at the Beau until I get my bearings".

I did exactly what I said I was going to do.  I've been strictly playing the poker room tournaments at the Beau with the lone exception of playing a couple of tournaments at the IP during their WSOP circuit event.  As expected my initial results were nothing to write home about (or to write in a blog about).  However, I started to turn things around in July.  Just as in the original blog I declined to "bore you with specific bad beat stories" I won't now bore you with the details of my ever growing good run.  Let's just say that my success rate has improved dramatically and continues to improve every week.  Consequently I'm about to jump back into the saddle of circuit poker.

I believe I already knew it but my "bad run" followed by my turning my game around has enforced my belief that poker is mostly a matter of frame of mind.  During my bad run I became convinced that nothing I did was going to work out well.  Now I'm convinced that I have a chance to win any tournament I enter.

Henry Ford once said "Whether you think you can or think you can't, you're right".  Old Henry's wisdom encapsulates my earlier struggles and my recent resurgence.

Wish me luck.

See you at the tables.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Cupid

And now for a human interest story with absolutely no moral whatsoever.  It's just interesting.

The other day at the Gulf Coast Poker Championship at the Beau I was approached by a complete stranger during one of the breaks.  He said he was certain I didn't remember him but he had a story to tell me.  We stepped to the side out of the crowd and the following is his story:

"About four years ago I was playing in a tournament here at the Beau at the same table with you.  We were getting fairly deep in the tournament and you had a pretty large chip stack.  You got into a big hand with a young lady at the other end of the table and the end result of the hand was her elimination.

She seemed pretty distraught.  I'm sure you didn't notice because you were too busy stacking chips.  I'm also sure you didn't notice that I got up from the table and followed her outside to console her.  I had never met her but just felt like she needed a bit of comfort at the time.  We got to talking and one thing led to another.  We have been a couple ever since that chance meeting and we are both deliriously happy."

He wanted to take a photo with me to show her and tell her about meeting me and our conversation.

As I said.  No moral to this story.  Just interesting.  You never know how your seemingly random actions can affect other people.  Who knew I was Cupid in disguise?

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Being Honest With Yourself

Like a lot of other poker players I track my winnings and losses.  Personally, I do it with a spreadsheet and graph the results.  I'm sure there are multiple ways to track how you're doing, that's just the way I do it.

I've been having a rough poker year.  In fact, this year is (so far) the worst year of my poker career.  My results had gotten so bad that I had quit updating my spreadsheet.  I knew I was way behind but didn't really want to know just how far behind.  It was too depressing.

A month or so ago I stepped back and evaluated the situation and changed my game accordingly.  My results have improved quite a bit.

So.........I decided this morning to update my spreadsheet and graph and see how it looks.  In one word:  "Depressing".  The silver lining is that the last month or so looks a lot better than the overall picture.  I can at least take solace in the fact that the situation is improving.

I wasn't really lying to myself by not keeping my spreadsheet updated.  I knew I wasn't doing well, just didn't know exactly how bad it was.  I guess you could say I was shielding myself from the gory details.  Well the details have now seen the full light of day and they're ugly.

If there's a moral to all this it would be a reminder that the worst person you can lie to is yourself.  Worse than lying to your wife, your best friend, or even God.  Lying to yourself is the worst and it is particularly bad if a poker player is lying to himself.

My results have gotten better of late but I'm not lying to myself---my game could still use a lot of improvement and I'm working on it.

See you at the tables.


Monday, June 23, 2014

Bubble Boy

I only play in the final ("Championship") event of a series if I've made enough money during the series to cover it or if I happen to satellite my way in.  I don't play many "megas" simply because I'm not too fond of rebuy tournaments so I don't often satellite my way in.  Therefore, I'm not a regular in the final tournament of a series.

A few years ago I played in one of these "Championship" events.  It was a $5k buy-in and I had made enough during the series to cover it.  This was the most I had ever paid out of my pocket to enter a poker tournament. 

I made it down to the final nineteen and they were paying eighteen places.  Eighteenth place paid a little over $8k and, since a $5k entry was such a big deal to me, I was determined to make the cut.  I was at a tough table.  Chad Brown was one seat to my left and Vanessa Rousso was a couple of seats to my right.  Most of the remaining players at the table were professionals.  I was a little short stacked at this point but one guy at my table was a little more short stacked than me.  Long story short I waited him out and made the money.  Of course, by then I was so extremely short stacked that I went out in eighteenth place.

While I was proud to make my money back I have regretted my play at that tournament ever since. 

Last year I played in a $1k entry tournament during the Venetian Deep Stack series.  I made it to the second day and really close to the money.  The first hand of the second day I called a raise with a 20 point blackjack hand.  After the flop I had an open ended straight draw and a back door flush draw.  I shoved.  This was a fairly aggressive move at this point in the tournament.  He called with an over pair and I didn't make my draw.  Out on the first hand of the second day.  I've never regretted that move.

This weekend I played the $50k guarantee tournament at the Beau.  I made it to the second day.  We had forty players left and they were paying thirty-six places.  Ten of us were short stacked (less than ten big blinds).  The draw for the button found me in the big blind for the first hand.  The action folded around to the button and he limped.  The small blind folded.  With pocket fives I shoved.  Since I had only three big blinds the button limper called.  He had 69o and hit a 9 on the turn.  Once again, I was gone the first hand of the final day.  Again, no regrets.  I really believe it was the right play and would do it again.

When I play a tournament I'm not there to min-cash.  When we get down near the bubble I'm not generally looking to just make the money.  I want to win the tournament.  That's just who I am.

I'm not saying my philosophy is right.  In fact a really good argument could be made that I'm dead wrong.  I bubble a lot of tournaments.  I also win a few along the way.  My philosophy of not playing for the bubble is consistent with my philosophy of not chopping at the final table.  I came to win.

I would welcome any comments.

See you at the tables.


Friday, May 23, 2014

Examples

A little while back I had an eventful ten days or so.  Three unrelated things happened.

First, a friend of mine lost his battle with prostate cancer.  He was about my age.  I'll miss AJ.

At about the same time I was teaching my grandson how to clean a catfish.  That was an interesting experience.  At first he was simply put off by the whole idea.  He could see nothing to gain from being put through such a horrible experience.  Over the course of a few days I had him clean several catfish and the last one was a whole world better than the first one.  By the time I pronounced him an accomplished catfish cleaner (admittedly a bit of an exaggeration) he was quite proud of himself and appreciative for my teaching him a new skill.

The last thing that happened was quite unexpected.  The same grandson's mother was killed in an automobile accident.  We will also miss Jessie. 

While the three occurrences were unrelated, together they have brought a realization to me.  AJ's passing reminded me (as death often does) of the finite nature of life.  I'm approaching sixty.  How many years do I have left?

Teaching David how to clean a catfish followed by his mother's unexpected passing made me realize that we must take opportunities as they come because we never know which opportunity will be our last.  Believe it or not, Jessie could have taught David to clean a catfish.  She was an avid fisher as well as a "hands on" type of personality so I'm sure she knew how it was done.  But she had never taught David and that opportunity has passed forever.

The poker playing community is filled with grandfathers.  We all know things that need to be passed on to the next generation--or perhaps the generation after that.

We also have something to pass on to the next generation of poker players.  I have found that most older poker players are gentlemen and know how to play the game with class and dignity.  I believe it is incumbent on us to pass that trait on down.  I'm not asking any of you to give any lectures on playing our great game with class.  Lectures never work anyway.  It is a proven fact that behavioral lessons are almost always learned by example.  We just need to keep setting good examples.  We're teaching lessons whether we realize it or not.

See you at the tables.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Bad Runs

Yogi Berra has been quoted as saying "Ninety percent of the game is half mental".  Of course, he was talking about baseball. 

I watch a lot of baseball and my favorite team is the Braves.  The Braves have been on a bad run.  At this writing they are riding a seven game losing streak.  During this current losing streak it seems that everything that can go wrong is going wrong.  When one of the Braves hitters hits a line drive it always seems to be directly at one of the outfielders.  When one of the opponents hits a line drive it always seems to be a "gapper".  All our ground balls seem to be at an infielder ("at 'em balls) and all their ground balls seem to find a hole ("seeing eye grounders").

By now I've noticed that the bad run has gotten into their heads.  Hence the quote from ole Yogi.

The same thing has been happening to me in poker.  I've been on a bad run since late last year.  I won't bore you with specific bad beat stories but suffice it to say that it seems that every time I flop top pair my opponent either flops or turns two pairs.  And when I flop two pairs he flops a set.  It seems as though I never catch any of my draws and the other guy seems to catch his draw every time.  Even one of my friends ("Trucker Kenny") made note of my bad run when he was observing an STT and I actually won a race.  He piped up with something like "Hey, you actually won a race!!".

At first I laid it strictly to bad luck.  After all I hadn't changed my game, had I?  After a while I admitted to myself that perhaps my play wasn't always optimal.  And, let's face it, nobody's game is always optimal.  I started tweaking my game.  Did it help?  Apparently not.  In fact, I probably made the situation worse.

I don't normally go on tilt.  If I suffer a bad beat or if someone draws out on me, I'm pretty good at just shaking it off and avoiding a chip spewing tirade.  However, I believe I am now on what could be called "long term tilt".  I've let the bad run get into my head.  I no longer believe I can win any hand.  I have come to expect the worst.  This was brought home to me by the last hand I played the other night at the WPT Regional event at the IP in Biloxi.  I got it all in before the flop with AA and the other guy had 87 offsuit.  I actually stood up and started gathering my things before the flop even hit the board.  By the time the turn provided an eight to go along with the seven that had come on the flop I had already gathered my things and was headed for the door.  I had no doubt the aces were no good.

There's an old adage in poker:  "Scared money is dead money."  No doubt that is true and my money has become scared money.  Consequently, I won't be traveling to any more series and I won't be making the trek to Vegas this summer unless and until I turn my game around.  I'll be playing the Friday and Saturday tournaments at the Beau until I get my bearings.  And I certainly won't be playing any cash games because the "scared money" philosophy applies even more so at a cash game. 

See you at the tables (Beau only).

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Keeping It Real

Someone once said that when things are bad they're never as bad as they seem and, conversely, when things are good they're never as good as they seem.  As with so many philosophies this one applies to poker as well as life in general.

We need to keep things is perspective as poker players.  I see two extremes in play every day in the poker world:  People that think they have it figured out because of some recent success or sometimes some long ago success and people that think they just can't cut it because they haven't yet won "the big one".  Both are usually wrong.  Just because you made three final tables in a row at your local tournament or won a big tournament at your local series that doesn't make you an "up and coming star".  Conversely, just because you haven't yet won the Main Event that doesn't mean you don't know what you're doing.

I've played against some of the biggest names in poker, played several times against one of the "up and coming stars of poker" (labeled as such because he won a couple of big tournaments a few years ago) and have played numerous times against an older retired guy at the Beau who just plays poker for fun in his retirement.  I know you saw this one coming but it is the retired guy that I most dread seeing at my table.  He plays good solid poker and is consistently successful.  You won't get rich off him. 

The big name poker players are well known because they have had success on the big stage.  Don't get me wrong....success on the big stage warrants some respect but I've found the biggest difference between these guys and some of your local rounders is that the big names have had plenty of opportunities to perform on the big stage.  It's hard to win bracelets if you don't often get to play in bracelet events.

The poker world is full of young professionals.  We play with them all the time, particularly when we're playing circuit events.  Usually somewhere along the line they've won a big tournament or two and now believe that they're better than most of the people in the tournament.  They're usually wrong.  The "up and comer" that I mentioned earlier is one of these guys.  He's a really nice guy and a pretty good poker player but I've played at several tables with him and almost always get the best of him.  He has even mentioned that he hates to see me at the table.  Does that mean I'm some sort of poker whiz?  That's an emphatic "NO".  That means he's human--not to be feared.

The older guy I mentioned above is one of the regulars at the Beau.  As I said he plays good solid poker.  Nothing flashy about him.  He never has been nor never will be a "professional poker player" but he's been playing poker longer than most of us have been alive and he's learned a few things along the way.

We all need to constantly evaluate our game and always strive for improvement.  Just don't get too high on yourself because you've had a good run and don't get too down on yourself just because you're on a bad run.  That's just poker.

See you at the tables.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Taking It Seriously

I made a mistake the other day.  I realize that a poker player making a mistake isn't headline news.  But a poker player admitting he made a mistake may be.

The hand:  We were at the very early stages of a tournament.  Most of the players, including myself, had quite a few chips in relation to the blinds.  I was on the button and everyone folded around to my pocket aces.  I raised the standard amount, the small blind folded and the big blind called.  We went to the flop heads up.  The flop was Kxx rainbow.  He checked, I bet about 3/4 of the pot, he called.  The turn was a Jack.  Again, he checked, I bet about 2/3 of the pot, he called.  The river was a brick.  He checked, I put in a value bet of less than half the pot.  He shoved.

I erroneously called for several reasons:

1.  The player in the hand with me is an aggressive player entirely capable of shoving with nothing.
2.  According to traditional wisdom I was "pot committed".
3.  The philosophy of "chip up or chip out" early in a tournament.
4.  My REAL reason.  I'll get to that in a minute.

Let's look at these reasons to call:

1.  Making a call against an aggressive player capable of shoving with nothing is sound reasoning but not enough of a reason for me to have made this call.
2.  The traditional wisdom of "pot committed" is just plain wrong in a lot of cases and this was one of those cases.  In reality I only had about half my chips in the pot.  In any case, if you're beat (with no draws remaining) and you make the call it is wrong even if you have 90% of your chips in the pot.
3.  The "chip up or chip out" philosophy/strategy only applies if there is another tournament/game you can move to if you bust out of this one.  I had full intentions of going home at the end of this tournament no matter what the results.  And, let's face it, this philosophy is pretty thin in any case.

Now for the real reason I made this foolish call:

My wife isn't a poker player and she admittedly doesn't understand a lot of the strategy and math involved in poker.  But she understands human nature and she knows me extremely well.  When I got home and told my sad story to her she immediately pounced on the REAL mistake I made---I wasn't taking it seriously.

One thing I've noticed about my poker experience is that  I almost always win at cash games.  I haven't run the numbers but I believe I come out ahead at about 80% of the cash games I play.  The reason:  I take it seriously.  One of the reasons I don't often play cash games is that I'm exhausted after only a few hours of play.  Why?  I'm playing with real money and since I grew up poor I respect real money.  Consequently, I am concentrating on everything that happens during every hand.  That's why I have a stellar record playing cash games.  I take it seriously.

The tournament in question was a "free roll" at the Beau.  I actually invested $10 into the tournament for extra chips.  Now I'm not a wealthy man but $10 hardly constitutes a substantial investment.  Consequently, I wasn't taking it seriously.  In a cash game I wouldn't have made that particular call.  Period.

Going forward I plan to take each session of poker seriously no matter what the investment.  After all, I'm investing my time and need to take it seriously or don't bother with it.

Now, I'm not saying I won't make any foolish calls (or other plays) in the future because I know better than that.  But I won't be making foolish mistakes simply because I'm not taking it seriously.

See you at the tables.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Insanity

I wrote a blog a week or so ago titled "Gut Check".  It basically assailed the virtues of persistence.  A lot can be said for persistence.  Thomas Edison finally invented the incandescent light bulb after trying hundreds of filament materials.  The now common product WD-40 was the 40th attempt at a water displacement solution.  The hare finally won the race after persistently putting one foot ahead of the other until he made the finish line.

In my case, I was in the middle of one of my longest tournament losing streaks and I was affirming to myself that I had no intentions of giving up.  Well, the losing streak is over but I've learned something along the way.

It's one thing to be persistent but quite another to keep doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.  Someone once said that was the definition of insanity.

I had slipped back into some old habits.  We all have weaknesses and some poor tendencies.  I won't bore you with the details of my bad habits and poor tendencies.  Part of the reason I won't delve into those details is because I don't want you to use my weaknesses against me.  Let's just leave it at that.  I have some bad habits and some poor tendencies and slip back into them from time to time without realizing it.  That's what had happened to me.

So yes, I will be persistent but I won't continue to make the same mistakes over and over again.  I've identified my shortcomings (or at least part of them) and will be making some immediate corrections.  Meanwhile I will be persistent.

I wrote the above comments several weeks ago.  Since then I have finished in the money in four of the eight tournaments I've entered.  I've also played a couple of cash sessions and ended up in the black both times.  I've quit making the same mistakes and it shows.

When things get tough hang in there but always look for improvement and stay on the lookout for slipping back into bad habits.

See you at the tables.
  

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Looking for the Positive

I am NOT what Rush Limbaugh calls a "low information voter".  I read a lot of news reports and editorials, watch the evening news most nights and have even been known to listen to talk radio from time to time.  In other words, I pay attention.

If one pays much attention to the news depression can set in.  The news seems to usually be bad and the commentary can be even worse.  The economy is stuck in neutral, the government is taking a bigger and bigger slice of our income each year and continues to use that money/power to usurp our rights and freedoms, the NSA is spying on us, the IRS is intimidating us, the Iranians are developing a nuclear weapon and promise to annihilate Israel with it, the North Koreans already have nukes and are building missiles to reach across the Pacific, our public schools are terrible and steadily getting worse, the country is going broke, reports are that the next "bubble" will be student loans, we have less people working now than at any time since the Great Depression, it seems that a majority of people are on some kind of government handout, we have sunspots, comets, asteroids, global warming (a crock if you ask me), earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, and God only knows what else to worry about.  The list goes on and on.

Someone once said (and I'm paraphrasing here) that when things are bad they're never as bad as they seem and when things are good they're never as good as they seem.  I have had a couple of experiences lately that have somewhat restored my faith in humanity.

Just before Christmas my wife and I attended a concert by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.  The concert was in Birmingham and a cold rain was falling.  We had a couple hundred yards to walk in the rain.  No problem, we had an umbrella.  When we entered the arena the security folks were confiscating umbrellas.  (Said they could be used as a weapon.  No, I'm not kidding.)  Several barrels were available in which to leave your umbrella.  Of course, I complained.  "There's no chance I will ever see this umbrella again."

We had good seats for the concert.  The problem with having good seats is that you're some of the last people to get to the exits after the event.  I'm putting this down in black and white and I saw it with my own eyes but I'm still in shock:  That umbrella was still in that barrel when we got to the exit.  Several thousand people had walked by our umbrella and exited into a cold Winter rain.

Just last weekend we attended the rodeo sponsored by the Beau Rivage and held at the Mississippi Coast Coliseum.  While we witnessed no great examples of chivalry what we did notice was a coliseum full of good, hard working, polite, country folk.  These are the kind of people that form the backbone of this country, the kind of people that built this country, and the kind of people that will eventually save this country from itself.

There are good people all around us but they are usually overshadowed by the lowlife amongst us.  It's the same at the typical poker tournament.  We tend to only remember the one jerk at the other end of the table and forget about the other eight polite people with whom we enjoyed a great game of poker.

Our game is full of ladies and gentlemen as well as professionals.  Yes, it seems they take too much rake from the cash games and too big of a cut from our tournament entry fees but just remember:  We have a poker game available to us at any time and a wide assortment of tournament opportunities, all as a result of the effort and professionalism of the people running the poker rooms and putting on the tournaments.

In our game we seem to keep running into the guy that apparently had no raisin'.  He's usually one of the young "professionals" that has absolutely no idea how to be a professional much less a gentleman.  He's rude to the dealers, the other players, the cocktail waitress and pretty much anybody he sees.  He thinks he's the smartest and best in the room when, in actuality, he's the pariah in the room.  My suggestion is to ignore him as much as possible and relish the vast majority of ladies and gentlemen with which we enjoy our game.

The same can be said for life in general.  We're constantly running into the guy with road rage, the young woman texting while running us off the road without even knowing it, the rude clerk at the checkout counter, the waitress with an attitude, the low level government official on a power trip,  the doctor or lawyer with a God complex, or maybe even the mugger in the parking garage.  We can't avoid these people and sometimes we can't simply ignore them (the mugger is a good example here) but what we can do is take notice of all the good people we interact with each and every day and not let them be overshadowed by the few bad apples we run into.  The other thing we can do is strive to be one of the honest, classy, hard working, polite, kind, unnoticed "silent" majority.

When I'm playing poker I always keep in mind that I'm here to have fun and the same can be said for the other players.  Why would I want to ruin both their day and my own by be being dour, rude, and obnoxious?  I strive to be upbeat and polite at all times.  I remember that the dealers, floor people, cocktail waitresses, and chip runners are trying to make a living and I can have a small part in either making their work day a pleasurable experience or a nightmare.  My choice.

Are you going to be one of those people that we all hate to see coming?  Or are you going to be someone with whom I can enjoy a good game of poker?  That's your choice.

Until later.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Gut Check

I'm writing this at almost midnight on my fifth day at the Million Dollar Heater at the Beau Rivage in Biloxi, MS.  It's been a rough poker week.

I started out well by placing in the $500k Guarantee opening tournament for the series (87th place out of 1,972 players) and it's been all downhill since then.  I could tell you several bad beat stories but won't bore you with the gory details.  In short, I've played in quite a few tournaments and haven't made a dime.  I've lost all my winnings from the first event and am now in the hole by more than I care to mention.

It is at times like these that a gut check is in order.  Can I afford to keep losing like this?  Will I ever win again?  Is it possible to win a "race"?  Have I lost it?  Did I ever have it?  Am I kidding myself?  Is it time to quit poker?

It's funny how poker often mirrors life.  A lot of times people get down on themselves over one aspect or another of life.  I've heard several variations of some of the following from different people and have had some of these thoughts myself:  Is the system against me?  Why is it that everything I try to do seems to end in failure?  Can I do ANYTHING right?  I've made so many mistakes that it seems I've dug a hole too deep to climb out of.  Is it worth the effort or should I just resign myself to mediocrity?  Why is it that I can't get that promotion when I've worked so hard?  Am I incapable of sustaining a long term relationship with the opposite sex?  Why is it that I don't seem to have any friends?  The list goes on and on.  All of these questions are essentially the same question and can be stated thus:  Am I doomed to failure and should I just give up?  The answer is a resounding "NO"!!

Let's face it, in poker as well as in life sometimes things just seem to go wrong no matter what you do.  Is that a reason to give up?  No.  The proper course of action is to evaluate the situation, differentiate between the things you control and the things that are out of your control, change what you can for the better, rededicate yourself to happiness and success and move onward and upward.

Of course, if you evaluate the situation and find that you consistently lose at poker and really CAN'T afford to keep losing don't be afraid to face reality and move on to other endeavors.  And never play poker with grocery money!

I've honestly evaluated my poker game, accepted that there are some things I can't control (sometimes AQ offsuit beats AA), continued to fine tune my game and dedicate myself to making better decisions, and I'll be back at it tomorrow with the full confidence that I can succeed.

Will I win tomorrow?  I'm playing in a tournament so, statistically the odds are against me.  If I get knocked out before the money I'll pick myself up and try again.  I've heard it said that you haven't failed until you've quit trying.  I CAN be successful, I HAVE been successful, and I WILL be successful--both in poker and in life.

Until later.