Sunday, June 6, 2010

An Open Letter to Drew Chapman

Drew, first and foremost, a disclaimer: I am not writing this to single you out or criticize you. I am writing this publicly because it it something that has been troubling both myself and Travis for some time now and we believe that you and others will be helped greatly by reading this.

Though I sympathize greatly with your most recent downswing, I am concerned that you are dealing with it in the wrong light. What I am referring to is your decision to upload your hands to Poker Luck Meter and posting the results of it.

Yesterday I decided to finally do away with my own EV calculator permanently. The reason? I can not think of a single time that it has either helped or reassure me during a session or afterwards. Though I believe that there is both a time and a place for such tools (which will be addressed in a future post), they are far more likely to be a destructive force in your career than a helping hand. You already know that you are a winning player and with your very honest reflective skills, you know full well the quality of your play in any given day. Having an imperfect tool spit back that information without consideration of your opponent or metagame history and based solely on information gleaned in showdown situations is only likely to make you feel victimized.

As any economist can tell you, the pain of a dollar lost is more than the joy felt by a dollar won. What this translates to is that the visualization of a bad run will make you feel much worse than the knowledge of having run well will make you feel good. Perhaps more importantly, it is the denial of reality in that Sklansky bucks can not be withdrawn to pay your rent or put food on the table.

Of even more to concern to me is that posting a bad EV run puts your excellent blog in serious danger of becoming mediocre. Postings of bad runs on blogs are fodder for the common folk. It also tends to draw a powwow of other people who are anxious to spill their guts about bad beats to whom they expect will provide a sympathetic ear. These people usually have nothing to offer and will threaten to take you down with with them. Your self-awareness and the ability to express it is rare and it is what has drawn you your followers and the great respect of your readership. Don't let that go away. Every bad run hides within it a very compelling moral lesson. Find that lesson, and mine it into gold.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Dealing With the Consequences of Being Results Oriented

I wonder if it will ever be possible to escape the tyranny of the overplayed mantra of "you must focus on the long-term, young grasshopper."  This advice would be great, but only if delivered in a dojo or a confessional or perhaps from high on a mountaintop in Tibet.  Everyone can understand this on an intellectual level- this has never, to my knowledge, been contested.  Yet to repeat it, as I have been guilty of many times in the past is to ignore the mechanisms which truly allow someone to enjoy success in poker for the long run.

When I was outside today talking to my Ipad (an article for another day), I realized that in many situations it is often far wiser to babysit your mood than it is to invite marginal situations.  What am I talking about?  While this will vary greatly from player to player and game to game, what I am referring to for myself personally, as a shortstacker, is usually one of two situations:

1.  I get 3-bet all in and have to decide whether to deviate from the script and make a close call against a seemingly aggressive and relatively unknown opponent, knowing full well that the profit is measured in a few theoretical dollars to defend a raise one-tenth of the size of the call.  The variance is enormous and the metagame benefits are tiny, if they ever even existed in the first place.  After all, does my opponent ever need know that I just folded A9s or 66?  He will most likely just assume I was on a straight steal and forget about this hand 5 minutes later.

2.  Someone open shoves on my big blind from the small blind.  I am holding a hand like A7s.  I know that the call is usually correct, but it is actually much closer than most of you will realize.  As that is a discussion for another time, I will just state the obvious fact that you aren't a monster favorite over anything, particularly after paying the rake.

These two situations are basically identical in that I must risk a relatively large amount of money to score a tiny amount of equity with no ancillary benefits.  Even if I prove that I am willing to take a flip with perhaps somewhat the the worst of it with the benefit of the dead money from the raise or the blind, the chances of being able to leverage the outcome of these situations in any given session is very small.

But wait!  The Mantra of the Long-Term says you should always take a profitable situation.  I will counter that with the other great poker mantra of It Depends.  What does it depend on, exactly?  Why, your mood of course!  If you are feeling good and know that the outcome of making this call won't hurt you or it will be fun to take the gamble, do it.  If you know that making a bad call or losing $160 to defend your $12 raise will scorch you, you should decline.  Better still, if you even have to ASK yourself if it will bother you, I can guarantee you that it will.

Monitoring your mood, I have come to believe, is one of the most important ongoing actions you can take at the poker table.  Virtually every time that we sit down we will experience a wide range of painful consequences that vary drastically in their intensity.  And just as you won't have the energy to run five miles every day when you wake up, your ability to cope with the swings in this game is far from stable and can run the entire gamut, often within a single session.

In my best month ever at the cash game tables where I made over $20,000, this was the exact approach that I took.  I woke in the morning and immediately sat down at just $1/2 tables with a sprinkling of some $2/4 game.  If I felt good, I would begin opening some $3/6 games and perhaps even some $5/10.  If I was having fun or doing well, I would continue playing high, but if I began to dread shoving 75s heads up for $200, I would drop down to whatever level that I felt comfortable at.  By doing this and only taking on the level of pain that I felt I could appropriately handle, I could play longer and more often.  The end result was not only my highest grossing month ever, but also my highest volume as well.

In conclusion, we can not escape that we are results oriented.  This is part of our most basic mental wiring and most of us have as much control over this as we do control over how fast our grass grows.  In essence, if we are to believe in the long-term, we are required to trick ourselves and our natural thought processes.  Basically, we must delude ourselves into seeing things for how they really are.  Rather than to engage in such a bizarre contradiction, I believe that we are much better suited to simply ride the ebb and flow of our emotions than to deny their existence.  We are all results-oriented.  Deal with it.