Saturday, August 30, 2008

Don't be a Leper- Why Pain is Necessary

In Howard C. Cutler's biopic of the Dalai Lama, The Art of Happiness, the Dalai Lama includes a chapter about the necessity of pain as expressed through the experience of lepers. One of the symptoms of leprosy is an intense numbness of the affected areas that causes a complete lack of sensation in those body parts afflicted by this disease. The Dalai Lama explained how the lepers would then become subjected to further problems due to this numbness. What kind of problems? Some of them would sleep peacefully as rats gnawed away at their flesh, further exposing them to even more tissue loss and new infections. Some of them would engage unwittingly in self-destructive acts like reaching into an open flame to grab an object because they were immune to the heat of the flames.

In Ed Miller's site, I had recently replied to a forum response that had quoted (forgive me if this was the second-handedly misquoted) a Stoxpoker instructor who recommended being "over-rolled" for your intended game. Even though I was able to read between the lines here, I don't like this terminology as it can be very misleading. As I had stated in my response, I strongly believe that the losses should sting (yet not be devastating) and the wins should have the ability to be satisfying. If the losses don't sting, you might find yourself reaching into that open flame far too often (i.e. stacking off too much with sub-par hands) or having rats chew away at your flesh (i.e. calling too many raises with trash hands only to fold when you fail to connect).

The sensation of pain at the loss of money is meant to protect us. You have to find your own personal pain threshold that allows you to perform optimally at your chosen stakes. These are your meaningful stakes -- and that can not be overstated. So once again, to quote myself, I prefer the term "comfortably-rolled" to "over-rolled." A minor sensation of pain creates focus, an over-sensation of pain causes fear. Stay focused, not oblivious or fearful.

And since every poker situation always has an "it depends" factor, I am now going to contradict myself. There is one situation in poker where it is appropriate to be completely oblivious to pain and that is in the early stages of a rebuy tournament. A skilled person who is ready to burn through a considerable number of buy-ins during the rebuy period is at a great advantage to the nits who are trying too hard to protect their stacks. Now that is not to say that you just shove it in with any two cards -- you are still looking for an advantage but you should be playing at stakes low enough that you are completely numb to having to buy back in as many times as necessary to capitalize on your advantage.

Friday, August 29, 2008

"Ego as Currency" or "Why I Never Play Heads Up Online"

Sometimes you might find yourself in a situation where the wagering of your ego is far more consequential than the money involved. What could this possibly mean? Before I get into it, I will start this with a story of a seemingly inconsequential event that happened a few years ago.

Back when I had originally set out as a professional, I used to believe that every time an opportunity came up that was +EV I should take it if it involved only a minor monetary risk. After all, that is what people like David Sklansky would approve of. However, there are a certain number of other mental attributes of your game that comprise a part of your "psychological bankroll" that must be protected at all times, just as you would protect your physical bankroll. These are attributes such as confidence, self-esteem, and general psychological well-being.

So there I was at the Golden Nugget, my favorite neighborhood bar. At this bar everyone knew me as the guy who makes a living playing poker. I was on a downswing of about $1500 or so and my bankroll was suffering, as was my confidence. I had a few drinks in me and my friend Mack had propositioned to play me in a heads-up $20 freezeout. I quickly accepted because I had viewed it as easy money since Mack was a rank amateur who perceived himself as far superior to the other rank amateurs (he was not, by the way) that he had played with in the bar's weekly freebie tournament. Since I was short on time, I had set up the game with five minute blinds, thereby increasing the luck factor greatly. Incidentally, back then I only had one aggressive gear and did not know how to handle a player heads-up who would never fold. So even though I thought (wrongly) that I could beat Mack 8 out of 10, I managed to mangle the first game and then being infused with a mild intoxication of liquor with a strong intoxication of tilt, I played a rematch with the same rules and managed to butcher that one as well.

So I hit the ATM, gave Mack his money, told him "good game", and promptly stormed out of the bar. Since I had about $800 or so in the bank and my bar tab was roughly equivalent to the amount that I had lost, the utility of that money wagered was insignificant at the time. In retrospect, I wasn't really playing for the money at all. I was just playing for the pride and a ridiculous need to feel superior to someone who felt superior to others. The end result was a continual second guessing of my abilities which would spill over into my regular game where there was real money at stake. All for a lousy $20!!

So how does this relate to my online heads up game? Since I realize that I lack the ability to beat the heads-up of players at stakes that are meaningful to me, if I were to drop down and play against opposition I am quite certain that I could beat, I would be putting my ego on the line and set myself up for a massive tilt session if things do not go my way. If tilt were contained in a vacuum, this wouldn't be such a problem except for the fact that I would probably sit back down in my normal game to try and recoup those losses- only now I would be doing so with half a brain.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Bankroll Utility

Since I had not previously mentioned it, the reason I have been spending an inordinate amount of time at the Horseshoe is because I am extremely cash poor at the moment and I am sadly trying to scrape together some money to have my insurance reinstated and make rent. I do have a large cashout pending but I am finally coming to grips with the fact that I simply can not predict when these things will arrive and what sort of complications may occur. My goal is simple, yet tedious. I am trying to take $100 or so and make about $100 playing in the $2/4/4/8 game where I then hope to parlay that amount to a much greater sum in the $1/2 NL game that has a $100 minimum buy in. If I happen to double it or better at that game, I will leave and then sit down again at another table with the minimum $100 again. Thereby I will be limiting my exposure, but it will be very easy to dump my hard earned winnings in the larger game. Desperate times call for desperate (and pathetic) measures- what can I say? Since I realize that this will almost certainly be comical several months from now, I am definitely not reporting this as any kind of sob story but rather to offer a certain insight into bankroll management.

So here it goes: I managed to make my goal in the smaller game and then promptly moved into the larger game with my $100. Just a few hands in, I was dealt 44 and I limped into the pot to try and see a flop. The guy behind me raised it to $12 and two other guys called. My first instinct was to fold my 44 because from my experience the whole issue of implied odds is rather sketchy. But then I came across an X-factor and that is that even though I may be sacrificing a tiny bit of expectation (which may or may not be the case -- it is certainly debatable), the value of hitting that potential home run would mean that I could probably at least double my stack and then even if I were to dump $100 later on, I would still be able to come back tomorrow and sit in this game. Specifically, the value of calling that extra $10 was more than offset by the chance of hitting a major score. After all, at some point I was going to have to make a major hand in order to truly get rid of the training wheels. Also, having a smaller stack as a result of calling and then folding can actually be quite useful in a game where the typical raise is between 6 and 7 1/2 times the big blind. This can be very beneficial to the short stacker, as a short stacker is far more likely to double or triple his chips with a one pair hand then a larger stack, thereby adding to the total utility of the hand.

So what is utility? Utility is the unique and special value that an individual assigns to something and can vary widely according to different circumstances and situations. Now this is the actual true secret to individual bankroll management. To begin this discussion I will give an example:

Player A and Player B both have a bankroll of $5,000. Player A plays $1/2 NL and Player B plays $5/10 NL. Who has the bigger bankroll? Obviously the smaller player has a large bankroll and the larger player has a tiny bankroll. Assuming that they are both equally talented and winning players and that neither one is willing to you drop down in stakes, the smaller player would need to be catastrophically unlucky to lose his roll but the larger player could lose his entire bankroll through ordinary daily variance. Therefore, as should be clear by now, Player A's bankroll has much more utility than Player B's.

Since it is almost equally improbable that Player A would even lose $4000, it would be perfectly reasonable for him to take a shot at that same $5/10 game if it is beatable provided that he limit it to a single buy in at a time. Or even better, he could 5-table this $5/10 game as long as he quits after the first $1,000 loss. This is assuming that that $1000 is not necessary for other expenditures outside of poker. The reason? If he can string together several good sessions, he can conceivably move up in the limits to become a full time $2/4, $3/6, or higher player.

There are a ridiculous amount of caveats to this conclusion- once again they are all situation specific. Now suppose that I have run my initial $100 into $1000 in my $1/2 NL game. Everyone else at the table only has $200 except for the skilled loose-aggressive player sitting directly behind me who also has $1000. Even though I can theoretically break him with my stack, the probability of getting my entire stack in against his as a superior favorite is so low that my extra $800 has now become a liability since my positional disadvantage and awkward stack size is more likely to create difficult situations than favorable outcomes.

In the past, I have railed against the 300 big bet "theory" of bankroll management for limit games. This simply does not make sense to me and the reason is because you will not be expending 299 big bets in any game because at that point you will have violated all known bankroll limitations and will be sitting there with only a chip and a chair. Furthermore, at some point far sooner than that, you will have crossed the threshold of the minimum buy in for that game. Supposing that you do have the "required" 300 big bets, your actual bankroll for that limit might be only 50 big bets, since at that time you might be forced to move down or even worse, maybe that game is not beatable for you at all, meaning that NO bankroll is large enough. Likewise if 300 big bets is the absolute minimum for a given limit, does that mean you should pack up and leave if you lose your first hand? Of course not!

The bankroll "requirement" really is only a measuring stick for a player who would never be disciplined enough to use it. Knowing your personal psychological makeup and tendencies is the only way to establish your own limits. I have found that as long as I have at least $400 in my online account I can make thousands of dollars in any given month because I have the discipline to move up or down accordingly. I will touch on this topic more as I have found it to be an endlessly ridiculous debate that people try to quantify through mathematics and repeating book knowledge. All I have to say is, if this is the requirement for true poker success, then where are all those success stories of people who have followed this formula and used to reach the greatest heights of success?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Musings between the agonizing pacing of hands

I just got back from the Horseshoe. I played a little $1/$2 and had a paltry $23 loss. While I was playing like a complete nit, I had time to reflect on what the problems were with my 6-max game. The main things that I could focus on were that I were getting little to no action with pocket aces and constantly losing full buy-ins in with pocket kings and queens. A cursory glance at this so-called problem would reveal that I am simply overplaying my aces before the flop and my kings and queens as well! I think that I also believe that it is in my overall best interests to cold call re-raises with my aces, kings, and queens and thereby increase my post flop expectation. After all, few players at the stakes, where I reside are willing to put in that fourth bet (or call it) with anything less than pocket queens. The result? My fourth bets are generally acting like a filter that actually creates negative expectation on my most profitable hands.

Furthermore, while it is easy for most players to escape their middle pairs pre-flop, if they flop an over pair a typical player will often have a difficult time getting away from his hand, particularly because I failed to put in that last bet, now making it appear more like a bluff. After all, the players that tend to give me the most difficulty and annoy me the most are the ones who fail to tip off their big pocket pairs before the flop!

I feel that generally the correct play is highly dependent on stack sizes. If a player happened to start the hand with 60% or less of a full buy in now you can push with those good hands pre-flop if they are the ones who re-raise you.

Lastly, once again, I find myself getting stuck in the mindset of always having to bet two thirds of the pot. This is truly ironic, because the biggest strength of my game is playing to different stack sizes and finding ways to manipulate them into getting pot stuck. This effective bet sizing is precisely the reason why I have been so successful at tournaments lately. And since your typical player will probably fail to realize that the reason I am making the size bets that I am is due to all of the stack sizes involved, my selection of these bet sizes will probably take on a randomized appearance automatically.

Just for once I have to remember not to forget these things!

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Consensus: no one fucking cares

Hopefully this post will be brief, and I will be able to vent about other completely uninspired poker blogs. Unless I think it will be tactically useful, I will not be offering any graphs, win rates, monthly predictions, tournament updates, etc. With my blog, I hope to create useful discussion and insight into the game that we might all use to become better player. The typical poker blogger is only chronicling his adventures and embellishing them with mundane and senseless stories of muppets, drunkenness, and bad beats. And as I state in the title, nobody fucking cares. ...

Yes, I do suppose that was brief and also helped to illustrate in a roundabout way what I intend for my own poker blog. I'll be adding my own journal entry sometime later tonight when I have more free time.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Musings on the start of a legacy

I ended up playing some $2/4/4/8 limit at the Horseshoe Indiana- what some might deem the "old ladies' game." I only made a $26 profit (less if you include smokes and a sandwich) but played very well. Of the pots that I had contested, I won most all of them except for losing with top 2 and a one card king high flush. Not so bad, but here is the interesting thing: I realized that whenever I play live poker I never take the losses or bad beats seriously and always conduct myself with the utmost of class. For me at least, there is something to be said of losing to the faceless online opponent. I guess I always have this picture in my mind of some sinister foe who cackles endlessly whenever he moves me off the best hand and can practically see my cards with his endless database of Pokertracker madness.

I started taking this vision a little further when I remembered an article that I had seen somewhere recently that had a surprising list of world class pros that dealers hated dealing to. Two of the memorable names were Jennifer Harmon and David Grey. While their list of accomplishments is certainly formidable, I would never want to see myself be part of such a list. As a professional, you should treat your job as a profession and act courteous and respectful at all times. Whether you are at the top of the list or the bottom, this is how your legacy will play out. After all, how much professional respect is given to Phil Hellmuth, despite his undeniable talent?

Friday, August 22, 2008

Black swans and lurking horrors

So here in my first post-Dragon NaturallySpeaking 9 rambling I want to go ahead and focus on the unknown. As poker players we are always trying to make the unknown known, whether that be by focusing on pot odds, hourly rates, or past player tendencies as we try to eliminate risk in all its forms and make things predictable. The problem with this is that we can never fully make our future known through past results. As we all know, the game is ever-evolving and yesterday's tricks will never yield the same exact results.

My current thinking has been heavily impacted by the best-selling business author Nassim Nicholas Taleb. For those of you who do not know, Mr. Taleb is a former options trader who is railing against the current view of society as being predictable both in the future or in hindsight. He focuses on what he calls black swans -- those rare events that are difficult, if not impossible to predict, and have profound impacts, but yet tend to lead to some later conclusion that they were predictable all along. He says that these are the events that truly shape history. The former paradigm was that history crawls forward, he says that it makes jumps.

In his newest book titled The Black Swan, he also mentions that despite all forms of risk management it is always black swans that ruin our plans. So as this applies to poker, we can do everything we want to to protect our bankroll, minimize our risk exposure, or calculate our hourly rates, but these things will always fail to predict our ultimate results. Here are some examples:

1. We do not put in the hours needed to achieve our expected results. This actually happened to me today. I got up fairly early (for me) and took my girlfriend to get a new tattoo with her bonus money from work. The tattoo artist said it could take as little as two hours but I was expecting more along the lines of three hours. So I went to the bookstore and read for a while, checking in periodically to see how the progress was coming. Incidentally, I did not even get home for about seven hours, only to find that my Internet connection was blown out from some unknown force.

2. You have some unknown cash emergency and need to raid your bankroll, thus inhibiting your ability to play at your highest expectation stakes.

3. Someone, knowingly or unknowingly, hacked your account and either lost a portion or all of your bankroll or dumped all of your chips to a cohort. While this was one of the original fears of online poker players, seldom do you hear this actually happening somebody. However, this actually did happen to a friend of mine several years ago. He left one of his friends behind in his apartment alone with his computer. He had about $1100 in his Party Poker account and his friend, believing that this was play money, pissed away about $900 playing $15/$30 limit hold'em.

4. The money transaction site you are using either stops excepting certain forms of payments, blocks access to certain online sites, or completely folds altogether, sometimes leaving your cash in limbo.

5. Your native government passes new laws like the UIGEA that inhibits or eliminates your opportunity to play altogether. This one took me completely by surprise even though the girl I was dating at the time who knew nothing about the industry, couldn't care less about the game of poker, and was altogether basically ignorant warned me about this happening. As a result, I failed to take the warning seriously and left my money sitting in the sites where it was parked at the time and ended up having no access to its for about four weeks longer than expected. Incidentally, this was all the money I had in the world at the time.

6. And quite possibly the most feared of all outcomes, the action in your preferred game either becomes too difficult to make significant money or the game dries up altogether.

I can certainly go on and on giving different apocalyptic scenarios for what can happen to your money or expectation, but I believe that these are some of the most commonly overlooked or underrepresented threats to your online bankroll or moneymaking capabilities.

So as I get used to using this new software, I hope to become one of the most active or prolific poker writers on the Internet. I hope I am not being too long-winded, because it will be far easier to go on waffling about different topics when I can sit here thinking and speaking about it than by typing alone. I am certainly open to different suggestions and discussion but hope to keep it rather non-confrontational, specifically because I hold very little loyalty to my own ideas or things that I say and I am willing to revise them as new information presents itself to me and I learn through my mistakes and the input of others. Hope to keep you guys reading!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

It's been a long time

So, I haven't posted anything in here in months, but I expect that to change pretty soon. I just purchased some new dictation software, and since my lazy as will no longer have to be sitting in front of a computer typing, I am free to spill my guts constantly about anything that comes to my mind. So I won't be saying much for the time being because this program is driving my girlfriend nuts, but check back here frequently for all the latest and greatest in the world of the small stakes hero!