Monday, September 30, 2013

September in the Books and SNE Thoughts

Despite ending the month on about a 250 BB/10K downswing, September ended up being my best month of the year and third best since Black Friday.  This coming after my worst month in nine years.  I guess that's what statisticians are referring to when they talk about "regression to the mean".

I ended up winning 76K plus 18K in bonuses.  I also finished 6th in the WCOOP limit event for about 6K so it just barely ended up being a 6 figure month for only the second time post BF.  Congratulations to my friend Javier (Cosi on Stars) for winning the tournament.  He's a super tough high-stakes player and one of the very few people I hate seeing at my table (especially at the end of a tournament playing for tens of thousands of dollars!)

I think I played very well for a couple weeks in the middle of the month but mostly I just ran good, particularly at high limits (30/60-100/200):

Enough about results.  I'm nearing the end of the year with two weeks to go and am up to 940K VPPs.  This will be the fifth consecutive year reaching SNE so I thought I'd share some thoughts and tips regarding the journey.

One of the more important tips I can give is to set a VPP goal every day.  Poker Stars has a VPP Status Bar that can be added under options that will appear in the lobby and show your progress through the day.  By doing this, it takes the emphasis off of results and places them on playing hands (earning VPPs).  My primary goal every day is to reach my VPP goal and everything else becomes secondary.  There's a sense of accomplishment at the end of day regardless of my results if I've reached my VPP goal.

Without setting this type of goal, I think people have a tendency to put in volume based on their results.  Everyone is different in this regard but I'll give you a couple of examples from friends of mine.  One of them puts in lots of volume when he's running well but when he hits a losing streak, he takes days and sometimes weeks off.  Another of my friends is the opposite.  If he wins a lot of money, he loses his drive and motivation and stops putting in the volume.  I identify more with the latter but for a different reason. I have a tendency to play more when I'm losing.  In the back of my mind, I know that I'm eventually going to snap out of the losing streak and run well. I feel the more I can play, the sooner (in terms of time) I'll get out of the losing streak.  But again, setting a daily VPP goal alleviates some of this.

Another important tip that is incredibly simple to do: stay hydrated.  It's impossible to quantify how much it's cost me not to drink enough water but it's well into the tens of thousands of dollars at this point. There have been many, many days where I've woken up and downed cups of coffee and energy drinks and found myself unable to think straight.  Almost inevitably, I'm dehydrated and have been playing for hours without realizing it.  As soon as I drink a few bottles of water, my mind clears and my level of play rises.  The best way I've found to avoid this is to get into a routine where every day when I sit down to play, I grab two bottles of water and put them beside me.

I say this all the time but do not underestimate variance.  Without fail every year on Poker Stars I see decent players run exceptionally well and start playing above their heads in terms of stakes and also in terms of game selection.  And without fail, these people disappear within a few months.

I tend to get more careless and less focused when I'm in the midst of a huge winning streak.  This has been one of my faults over the years and I worked hard this year to make sure I was giving one hundred percent effort regardless of how I was running.

I also see great players run incredibly bad for long stretches and their games fall apart.  Some of these people never recover and quit poker, others take many months or years before their games recover.  These aren't just average regulars it happens to, it's some of the very best regulars.  Myself and other high volume players may have an advantage in this regard.  Imagine you're a high-stakes player with a win-rate of .5 BB/100 that plays ten thousand hands a month.  And imagine you hit a seventy or hundred thousand hand stretch like I did last month.  You're going to experience at least a seven to ten month stretch losing money.  Maybe you take time off as well because you're so discouraged by the results and maybe your game deteriorates as well because you start second-guessing everything your doing and your win rate is no longer .5 BB/100. Now the losing streak can last well over a year and you very well may give up or try another form of poker.

In summary, don't get too high on yourself or get careless when things are going great.  And don't underestimate how bad things can go.  I've had several 100K hand break-even stretches both in terms of money and big bets, and several 600-900 BB downswings over the last couple years.

Another piece of advice is to eliminate distractions as much as possible.  This is something I've known for years and done a very good job of but for some unknown reason last month, completely disregarded.  Table chat tends to be a big distraction for me and I think potentially can be for any regular that's putting in a lot of volume.  Several times a month, players (regulars and rec alike) will type some sort of disparaging comments towards me (I see this happen to many players).  My natural tendency is to respond and defend myself but all that does is further upset me when the comments escalate, and further distract me when I'm trying to type and retort while multitabling.  It's best to either turn chat off or completely ignore it.

Something I don't really have the luxury of doing, having to make SNE in less than nine months, but that I highly recommend is taking time off.  Whether it's a certain part of the day or a certain day of the week, it's extremely beneficial to get away from the computer and do something completely unrelated to poker.

I've been playing 12-14 hours a day now, every single day, for almost three months straight.  There are quite a few damaging side-effects to this.  One is that I wake up so many days, completely unmotivated to play poker.  I'd rather be doing anything else but playing poker.  These are the days where I'm just going through the motions, putting very little mental effort into my game, and trying to earn my VPPs for the day.  When I was in Playa Del Carmen earlier this year I made an effort to go out several times a week and I felt so much more refreshed and motivated at the tables.  It really can't be understated how beneficial this is for your game.  For those of you that have a full twelve months to make SNE, I'd suggest planning out your days and weeks so that you have adequate balance in your life while still being able to attain SNE.

Another very strange side effect I thought I'd share is sometimes during the middle of the day, my mind just forces me to stop playing and to lie down.  I try to take a nap whenever this happens but I'm not able to fall asleep.  I close my eyes, and tables keep flashing in front of me with decisions to make.  I'm not in a dream state where I'm getting aces at every table or rivering people in big pots.  It's an incredibly realistic state where I'm being dealt random hands at four tables, random flops, and the hands are playing out in different ways with me winning some and losing some.  My attention is constantly being diverted from table to table to make decisions exactly as it is when I'm playing.  This usually lasts for about 30-40 minutes before my mind finally settles down and is able to focus on something else.  Unfortunately this is normally when I jump out of bed and head immediately to my computer to play more.

I read Dusty Schmidt's blog post a while back that talks a little about this:

I'm not really convinced I'm going to die of a stroke before age 50 as Dusty was told but I don't think it can be very healthy either.  And there most certainly are short-term effects where I'm basically a vegetable for an hour or so after a long session.

Another side-effect to playing so many hours is that my ability to think, and hence my level of play, fluctuates quite a bit during the day.  It's very rare that I go an entire day thinking clearly and playing well.  Often I'll wake up in a fog and it'll take me several hours (and cups of coffee) before I'm tuned in and playing well.  Sometimes during the middle of the day, I'll hit a two to three hour stretch where I'm very low on energy and unfocused.  I've paid a lot more attention to my mental state this year and have made adjustments to the stakes I'm playing based on it.  If I wake up in a fog, which happens often, I won't play any games above 50-100 and even with 50-100, I'll only play in extremely good games.  Likewise if I feel my energy and focus fading during the day, I'll trade some of my higher limit tables for lower limit tables.  The key with this is to really be in tune with your state of mind.  I almost have to step outside of myself sometimes and assess my mental state and playing ability and then make adjustments based on that.

There's much more to say about the SNE journey but as you might of guessed I played twelve hours today and am totally exhausted.  If anyone has questions, feel free to post in the comments and I will answer them.

Two weeks to go!