Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Tim Wakefield and the Knuckleball: A Metaphor

Enough right now of the frivolities, it's time to get back down to work. For this next entry, I am going to present a metaphor for understanding my short stacking mindset. I used to be a left handed pitcher up until my junior year of college at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Kentucky. Being that this is the only sport I have played competitively, this is the one that I understand the best.

Tim Wakefield is a knuckleball pitcher for the Boston Red Sox. He has had an illustrious career with them all this time and is arguably neither a pitcher in the true sense, nor even a “real athlete.” His “fastball” is known never to exceed 75 mph, but it doesn't need to. He doesn't have a devastating curveball, slider, or changeup. He basically has two pitches: a knuckleball and a straight pitch (described as being too slow to call a fastball). The key here is that is all he needs. For those of you who might be unfamiliar with the term, a knuckleball is an extremely difficult pitch to throw that is designed to have no spin whatsoever, allowing the ball to drop and curve sharply at angles so severe and unpredictable that even the pitcher and catcher have no idea which way it is going. Picture it like throwing a beach ball into a headwind, except that the beach ball is the size of a baseball and is moving at 55-60 mph. Now try to hit that with a round bat after you have been practicing all week to hit a moving target at 93mph that is speeding in a straight line. Suppose even further that you are prepared to hit that tiny beach ball and you can guess one of three directions that it is going to move, but now all of a sudden a straight ball comes down the pike that is moving far faster, but you have already slowed down your motion in preparation for that beach ball, but by then it is too late and that ball has already slapped into the catcher's mitt. You are fully aware of the pitcher's game plan, but a slight variation in the strategy throws you off completely.

You see, Tim Wakefield was originally drafted to play professional baseball. He was a Double A first baseman with no exotic talents and very little hope of ever making the Big Leagues. One day he was fortunate that a scout was watching him during a pre-game warm up and mixing in a few vicious knuckleballs. The scout was so impressed that he had him throw some more and then it wasn't very long before he was owning batters left and right and had a permanent spot on a top billed Major League franchise. While he certainly has peers and opponents who don't consider him one of the guys or a true athlete, you simply can't deny that the man shows impressive results. He's not trying to be the next Nolan Ryan or Roger Clemens. He never can and he doesn't have to be. He simply found something that he was extraordinarily good at and worked it to perfection. Furthermore, his career is likely to out-perform all but the most genetically gifted and lucky players, due to the fraction of the strain that he puts on his muscles and tendons.

I consider the story of Tim Wakefield to be a great lesson in humility. While we all grew up with notions of the being the best at every facet of life, at some point in time we are either forced to accept our limitations or embrace them along with the strengths that we own. I believe it is fair for me to predict that no one who reads this will ever be a winning regular at Rail Heaven, ever win a gold bracelet at the World Series of Poker, or ever win a World Poker Tour title. But none of us need any of these things to be or feel successful at this game. Don't be afraid to try new or unpopular things and accept that you will not excel at everything you try. Challenge the conventional wisdom and re-define success as a personal venture. Take the unbeaten path.


Anonymous said...

God you're a fucking gobshite.
"I consider the story of Tim Wakefield to be a great lesson in humility"

From the last 3 or 4 (or all) of your posts it is clear to see you haven't the slightest bit of humility, so STFU and stop thinking you're great, with your stupid mindless, retarded idea that shortstacking is the way to play poker. Go FUCK yourself

L4Y SP said...

AMEN to that brother , amen !!!!!

havin_a_laff said...

Know nothing about baseball but totally get the point. Nicely put.

Lorin Yelle said...

@ shytey

You clearly missed the point here. To my knowledge, I have never said that short stacking is "the" way to play poker. It is simply "my" way. I also never said that I was going to do this forever. Like any interest in life, if and when it plays itself out, I will go on to other things. My only aim is to offer another way of thinking about the game, not to replace or try to "improve" upon what is already out there. I have called it a rat race before, simply because it is thousands upon thousands of people who are all trying to do the same thing in the same manner.

The standard advice for everyone is to always buy in full. I consider this to be the absolute worst advice, period. Why? Because most people will never be long term winners at this game and buying in full will only hasten the inevitability of their ultimate fate: going broke. Other such advice says that you should always play in the largest beatable game that you are rolled for. In my address to Microstakes Bankroll Builder, I pointed out that there are highly successful and skilled players out there who just prefer to reside at $1/2. While the game has probably mostly past the point of pure stimulation for them, they remain there because they are comfortable and make a solid living.

It is not necessary to always sit in a state of mild to extreme uncomfortability. I personally can not think of anyone who laughs repeatedly when they get stacked. I would be willing to bet a significant sum that Kush789 can beat any FR game at Full Tilt. He probably makes about $1,000 a day, is happy with that, but doesn't much care to lose that amount on a single hand, like which would happen at $5/10 on a regular basis.

You can call me an egotist (true), an asshole (definitely), or a hypocrite (at least somewhat), but I can promise you that I have been through most of the stages that this game can put you through and I have at least a little something to teach everyone about them.

In conclusion, this is what I am offering. You don't have to like it or respect it, but you can't deny that it is not original or real. Take it or leave it, and thanks for reading.

Anonymous said...

Hi Lorin!

I've spent last 2 days reading thru your blogg and I must say I am very impressed and it really got me thinking about the game and seeing it in new ways. Some months ago you were talking about coaching or selling some strategies. Is that still the case? If so please drop me an e-mail at

// Larken

Dr Zen said...

f the haters. I'm loving this blog. I play lowstakes STTs with moderate success, and I wouldn't mind learning to shortstack. I don't care about the nobility of playing full. I only care about learning how to make money.

Lorin Yelle said...

Yes, the idea of nobility in poker is very akin the question of "is there honor among thieves"?

Kind of funny to think about ethics in game where good strategy is said to be having the shrewdness to check raise your own grandmother for her last nickel. If a professional poker player makes his living off of other people's misery, then hey, what's a little more gonna hurt? :)