Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Coming Full Circle- From Server to Gambler to Server Again

Barley's Knoxville in Old City
I know she ain't pretty, but true beauty is on the inside!
In order to preface how I have been spending my time lately, I would like to travel back in time eight years ago to reference my 17th post, which is reprinted verbatim below. Before I was a poker pro, I had worked as a waiter in several different restaurants. When transitioning to playing poker full time as a professional, I found that the skills I had honed as a waiter had a lot of crossover value, particularly with regards to effective multi-tasking. 

Much of this year was extremely painful on the personal level, as I went through a difficult divorce that eventually led to complete financial insolvency. I had to move out of the so-called "marital home" with few choices to live, which were, I shit you not, the tropical island of Curacao, India, or good little old Knoxville, Tennessee.

It was a difficult decision.

While I couldn't take my school age children with me to any of those locations, at least in Knoxville, I was only 4 hours away from home and I could stay with good friends while I set about rebuilding my life. The original goal was just to save up money via what I had always considered to be the best option, which was, sadly, poker. In the mean time, to try to cover the small, albeit personally  significant amount of court ordered temporary child support, I thought it would be great to get a serving job like back in the old days, particularly because cashout times at Bovada poker were becoming alarmingly slow.

It had been nine years since I had a boss, and even that brief gig was just a four month stint as a mortgage broker, right before the fallout of the subprime market. This may strike you as odd, but I was actually excited by the idea of working under someone for a change. A gambling professional in the US is technically self-employed, meaning that you end up playing the roles of both boss and employee simultaneously. The burden of making decision after decision, arguing internally with yourself constantly, and ultimately second guessing yourself all the time quickly gets old, if not downright maddening. Even on your very best days, you will go to bed ruminating over ways you could have played just slightly better, only to wake up the next day finding yourself inventing excuses to skip or show up late to work. That's right...poker is work.

I had been doing this for just over 12 years by the time I had arrived in Tennessee, and I was exhausted. I was looking forward to going into work, punching the clock, doing everything right as per the rules of the establishment, and ending my day at a set time with little or no regrets. I was also looking forward to getting back out into the world and being social again, with some modest expectations that the skills and life lessons gained through a lengthy career in professional gambling and coaching would show some value.

After two months into normal, everyday gainful employment as a server at Barley's in Knoxville, I can wholeheartedly say that literally everything I learned or was taught about surviving in the cutthroat world of poker not only applies to the outside world, it can also give you the opportunity to excel at it as well. Naturally, I realize that there were many things I could have done better at my short time there, and there was much, much room to improve. 

 I will speak more on those aspects later, but in the mean time, I want to point out that the advice given in the article below was not only the advice I have doled most frequently to students, friends, and fellow pros, but also quite likely the single piece of advice that I followed myself that allowed me to hang on for as long as I did. While I don't disagree with a single word of it even eight years after print, I will soon rewrite it and color it up with my new experiences to give it more depth and clarity.


Playing Too Many Tables

Do you consistently get the feeling that you are always doing something wrong or could be doing something better? Trust me, I get that feeling all the time but hopefully if I am able to follow my own advice, I won't be getting that feeling anymore. The question at hand is: have you been playing too many tables? Other than the obvious indicators that you have been, here are a few other ones that might seem minimal when you do them that could lead to grave errors.

1) Have you forgotten who raised the pot?

2) Have you missed seeing a third player in what you thought was a heads-up pot?

3) Have you made your standard button raise with a hand like T9s only to see that the BB was practically all in?

4) And most importantly, do you find yourself playing certain hands EXACTLY the same way every time?

I understand the theory behind playing multiple tables perfectly and believe me when I say that I have had this same argument with myself over and over again to justify doing it.


Actually, you probably aren't and I will use a direct analogy to explain why. My last job was waiting tables. In a smaller section consisting of 3-4 tables, I was usually seriously limited in how much money I could expect to make on that shift. After all, if I was working one or two more tables, I could expect to make more money, right? And that was true. But at least there, I KNEW that after reaching my load of 6 tables, my ability to serve our guests well began to decline rapidly. In what ways? Tell me if some of these sound analogous to you:

1) I could not give each guest special attention (playing the player and missing value).

2) I would forget who ordered what (missing who raised the pot or who was in the blinds).

3) I might deliver the wrong food to the wrong table (thinking you are playing AA when in fact you are holding JJ- ouch!)

At some point in time, by playing too many tables you will reach a critical limit where your ability to play even 1 correctly collapses entirely. Presumably, we are limiting ourselves to that point just before where that decline begins. But even if that were true, there are some unpredictable external events that could push you over the edge immediately. Maybe your phone rings and it is that important call that you have been waiting for. Maybe your dog just puked on the floor. Maybe your kid just woke up and began crying uncontrollably -- all while you were trying to "maximize your expectation" while playing 12-16 tables simultaneously.

Of course, we expect to make some (small) mistakes but these are the only ones we are noticing. In fact, it's almost like using selective memory. We remember the small mistakes that we spot, but will never "remember" the ones we never realized we were making. But the bottom line is that by playing too many tables, we are ultimately stunting our growth as players for some possible (and I do mean possible ) short-term gain. By playing too many tables, it is easy to get too ingrained in habits that are used to beat the average players at your chosen limit. By learning to beat consistently the best players at your limit, you are preparing your self to beat the higher limit.

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