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.