Sunday, February 28, 2010

February in the Books

As expected, my last post cued the end to my upswing. I did end the month fairly well but the last week or so had a lot more swings. All in all, I'm very happy with the way the month went and I ran above expectation. I don't think I had a 200 big bet downswing and I'm not sure I've had one this year which is really amazing. Last year I had several 350-500 big bet downswings. So in that respect I'm very fortunate. I feel like I played my A game for maybe 30% of the month, my B game for about 60%, and my C game for about 10%. There were a few days where I really had trouble focusing and my brain just wasn't working but other than that I played well.

I played very little no-limit and didn't reach my goal of 2000 hands per day. Looking forward to March I'm going to set the same goal, at the very least it should push me to play more than I normally would. I'm also going to get back to watching NL videos, particularly tournament videos. I'd like to watch at least one a week. My annual trip to Vegas with my best friends is coming up in a couple weeks so I won't be playing much during those days but other than that I should be able to get a lot of hands in. Looking forward to April, I'm playing the 5K no-limit tournament at Mohegan Sun which is part of the North American Poker Tour and then the European Poker Championship in Monte Carlo at the end of the month. So I'm definitely not going to be able to play a lot of hands which makes it more important I play as much as possible during March. I'm about 4 days behind SNE pace right now which isn't much at all. I'd like to stay within 2 weeks of the pace throughout the year, I can make a late push if need be.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

En Fuego

I've been hesitant to post a February update for fear of jinxing myself - yes I'm somewhat superstitious. I have run exceptionally well all month particularly at 50-100 and am on pace for one of the best months of my career. I'm not happy with the fact that I'm only averaging about 1500 hands a day, I set a goal of 2000 and am far behind that. I'm playing in a pool tournament this weekend so I won't be able too play many hands the next three days either. On the no-limit front, I have played very few hands this month, about 500 in total I believe. I haven't been able to find the time and I'm giving serious consideration to revising my yearly goals. I still would like to become proficient at no-limit but playing 500 hands a day doesn't seem feasible at this point, at least without making other sacrifices which I'm not sure I'd like to make - more to follow on that.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Emotional Control/Tilt

Emotional control might be the single most important trait for a poker player to have. It’s what separates great players from good ones and good players from below average players.

By emotional control, I mean the ability to prevent emotions from influencing poker decisions. Also the ability to recognize when emotions are playing a part in decisions and the discipline to stop playing until you’ve regained control over them.

I’ve had several players tell me that they don’t tilt, some even insist on it. Everyone tilts to some degree including myself. We’re human, not robots. The key is to recognize the instant that you begin to tilt and stop playing.

So, what causes tilt and how do you identify it?

I think the answers to these questions vary from person to person but I can share my experience. Something that used to tilt me was when I was running extremely bad during a session. I kept expecting the cards to change and with each hand that didn’t I’d get more upset. I started to feel like people were taking shots at me, bluffing me off hands, 3-betting me, and I felt the need to fight back. That caused me to start raising hands I wouldn’t normally raise and to make lighter call-downs thinking my opponents were bluffing which would only further exacerbate the situation. I felt a sense of entitlement to better hands and luck. And when the cards didn’t cooperate with my unrealistic expectations, I’d only play worse. I’d make more and more decisions based on emotion and eventually I’d be way off my game and playing very erratically. If this wasn’t bad enough, I’d then quit the games I was in and play higher limits usually on full-blown tilt. My warped logic was that the cards had to change, I was due and I’d win it all back by playing higher limits. Of course this never worked and I’d end up losing more money in a day than I’d lose during one of my worst weeks.

So where did I go wrong? Well initially I should have been able to recognize that I was starting to make decisions based on emotion and not well thought out reasoning which should have led me to quit the games I was in. Perhaps the bigger problem was my feeling that I had a sense of entitlement to better cards. I didn’t. The cards have no idea who I am, they have no memory, and they have no predictive powers. It’s unlikely the people in my games were taking shots at me, that was likely a function of them consistently being dealt better hands.

I have gotten better and better over the years with this problem and it now takes an extremely bad run of cards to throw me off my game. More importantly I’ve learned to recognize that instant where I make a decision that is based on emotion. It doesn’t even have to be a decision solely based on emotion, it could be a decision where two options are close but the factor that ultimately pushes me to favor one option over another is emotion. For example if I mentally say to myself, I’m tired of this guy 3-betting me, I’m going to cap this hand when capping and calling are two close options.

Something else that has tilted me over the years is the chat-box. It has always bothered me when people would berate my play after a hand or launch a verbal attack on me. My response was always to fight back and engage them and try to humiliate them. This ended up completely taking my focus off the game which would cause me to make mistakes. I’d then get caught up in a verbal war and get upset which would cause me to start making emotion-based decisions particularly against the person that was attacking me.

I rarely have a problem with this one these days because I normally turn my chat off when playing. I think the cons of having chat on far outweigh the pros, at least for me, but I’d guess it’s that way for most. If I do happen to have my chat on and am attacked, I’ll normally block the person’s chat or turn my chat off altogether. I have also matured over the years and come to the realization that the reason the person is attacking me is to throw me off game. The best possible defense I have against this is to ignore them.

There are other things that can potentially tilt me but I won’t go into them all. The important thing is that there have been less and less of them as time has gone on. And I’m nearly always able to quit my games as soon as I make a single emotion based decision. My advice to anyone trying to reduce tilt is to work on recognizing that moment that your decisions are influenced by emotions. If you’re able to recognize it, quit playing immediately. Spend your time trying to figure out exactly what caused you to tilt. Once you’ve identified the cause, work on developing a solution. It might be as easy as turning your chat off or it might be something more complex that requires a change in your thinking. If you’re not able to find a solution, there are several good poker psychology coaches out there that can help.

Good luck at the tables.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Hit and Runners

A hit and runner is a player looking to get up money and quit playing. They are easily identifiable in heads-up games where they'll often play a few hands, sometimes as few as one, and leave up money, assuming they get up money. But they also play ring games and leave after winning a pot or a predetermined amount of money.

I welcome H&R's at my tables and would go out of my way to play them. They are generally poor players, often very poor players. They may even realize they're losing players and mistakenly believe that hit and running affords them a better chance of winning. Many hit and runners lose their entire bankroll trying to get up money. There's no guarantee they'll ever get ahead and often when they do start losing, they tilt and lose the rest of their money quickly.

Imagine if a casino were to institute a rule that you weren't allowed to play one hand of blackjack, one spin of roulette, or one throw of the dice at craps. Also imagine there were hundreds of other casinos next door that would welcome the action. The disallowing casino would lose a fortune in revenue. The reason casinos allow it is because they understand that hit and runners are at a disadvantage whether they make one bet or one hundred bets. And one bet from a hundred different H&R's is identical in terms of expected profit to a hundred bets from a single person. They also understand the H&R isn't going to walk out of the casino and never make another bet. They'll be back to try it again.

Similarly in poker, the H&R's who win almost always come back, sometimes even to play the same player. But whether they come back to play me is irrelevant, there are many other H&R's that will come to play me. And what's the difference between one or another?

Think of how many would be H&R's have sat in your games, never gotten up money, hence never given the opportunity to run, and ended up busting. You probably can't think of any because you never had the chance to identify them as a H&R. Does that mean they don't exist? Of course not, they're playing in your games and busting every day.

So embrace H&R's. They have contributed a significant amount to my poker winnings over the years and can do the same for you.