Monday, March 01, 2004

Reflecting on a Bad Streak
"Fall down eight times, get up nine." - Chinese Proverb
I have no choice but to learn from my mistakes. I have been playing awful. Why? A combination of:
1. Lack of focus.
2. Playing too many hands.
3. Game selection.
4. Luck of the draw.
Now I hope to address these leaks in my game. They are more than leaks. The flaws in my game look like a massive water main break the size of Rhode Island. On Valentine's Day, I was up for the first time in 2004 with a +49 in winnings playing poker after I crawled out a huge hole earlier in the year. Here's where it got ugly. Let's take a peek at my poker ledger since my heavy losses began:
2.16 Party Poker -67
2.17 Party Poker -20
2.18 Party Poker -6
2.22 Party Poker -6
2.22 Choice Poker -22
2.23 Party Poker -6
2.23 Ferrari Home Game -150
2.24 Party Poker +4
2.25 Party Poker -16
That represents almost a $300 swing. I was up $49 and now I am down $240 for the year. I had only one winning session in that 11 day period. The biggest loss was at Ferrari's where I lost half my loses last Monday.

1. Lack of focus

No excuses. I know why I had my head up my ass... and I'm not as upset with myself because I put my writing and career first. If I put poker before my disciplined minimum of two hours of free writing each day... and before deadlines and meetings... then I'd be in serious trouble. The fact that poker came second demonstrates that I am not an addict (whew!) and I know what my priorities are in life.

OK, I feel good about myself as a person and as an artist, but I feel like shit as a card player. I know from being a writer that you make sacrifices must thrust yourself into your work and at the same time devote 110% of your attention to the task at hand. The minute you lose your focus, you lose your edge. When I'm in full blown "writer mode", some of the people closest to me will admit that I'm one Grade-A asshole. Why? Normal rules of society no longer apply to me. The external world does not matter to me. Only the words, the pages, and the deadlines. I retreat to my studio. I don't eat or drink or watch TV. I ignore emails. I do not answer any phonecalls (During the completion my last novel I had to hide my cellphone, regular phone and the remote control in my sock drawer). I miss birthdays and weddings and happy hour and Knicks games. Sure, I'm difficult to deal with, but as soon as I'm done with my projects... I'm back to being fun-loving Pauly. The only way I improved as a writer, is when I developed that rigid discipline and stuck to it, despite the gripes and grovels of the people around me. My actions hurt my friends and family, but I'm a better writer for it. And lucky for me, I have people around me that are supportive, otherwise, I wouldn't be able to get away with how I live my life.

I have to apply the same focus to playing cards. Don't call me. Don't bother me. Don't distract me. When I'm done... we'll skip hand-in-hand through Central Park. I'll make plenty of Britney Spears jokes on my blogs. I'll watch the sport du jour. I'll listen to you bitch and moan about office politics and how your boss is a second-rate con artist. But that's until after I play poker. And my problem is that only a small collection of my friends are willing to put up with a similar attitude that I take with poker and writing. I suspect that if I want to improve my game, I will have to step on some toes and risk alienating my friends. If you read my regular blog Tao of Pauly you already know about the struggle I have with poker and my friends. Some of them don't gamble and some of them just don't get it... and fail to understand the level of passion that I have for the game... is very close to my pursuit of penning a Great American novel.

I have ended relationships (and had more than one woman leave me) due to gambling and my literary pursuits. And too bad. It's their loss. But I do realize that I am lucky that I have few repsonsibilities... I am not married and I do not have children. I don't have a mortgage or college tuition to worry about. So I am free to do what I please with my money. But I know the average poker blogger is in a relationship and most of them have children, so I can only imagine the pressure that they must deal with... toeing the line with an expensive hobby. The only thing I can suspect is that they are surrounded by people who understand poker, have faith in said person, and are ultimately supportive. Otherwise they wouldn't be playing.

The only ethical problem I have with playing poker is that I am a writer... and I chose a profession that inherently is not lucrative. I'm unpublished and I'm struggling. I should be using my money more wisely. But at the same time, I have always lived in the moment (part of my charm) I see a perfect opportunity to supplement my income and have a fun time. When I'm playing bad, all I can think is... "Wow, $300 in losses. That's a ticket to Paris." But when I win all I can think of is, "Wow. I can now go to Paris this summer." Alas, greed seeps into my mental thought processes and my intentions get clouded. Hence, I lose focus.

Solution: Surround myself with supportive people. Stay in the moment and don't worry about other things. Play poker only when I am ready to play poker. If I have other things on my mind, I have to deal with them first before I sit down.

2. Playing too many hands

I asked my brother to best describe my play. He said that I remind him of Sam Farha. Why? Because like Sam, no one ever knows what I'm playing. I could have the nuts, but I could also have jack shit. I play too many hands and have to tighten up my game. I shift gears too much and although I achieved a level of deception in my play... it's not working because I'm losing money.

This is hurting my game, because I should know better. It's far worse to make mistake especially when you know you are making one. But I'm a gambler... not a cardplayer and that's what gets me into trouble. I walked out of a perfectly high paying job on Wall Street many moons ago to become a writer. Everyone thought I was crazy leaving behind a six figure job. But it wasn't for me. I took a huge risk because that's the type of person I am. If I was a cardplayer, I would have realized my percentages and kept my job. However, I would not be here today and I never would have had some of the best experiences of my life. Alas... I am trying to evolve from a gambler to a cardplayer. And so far it's not working.

Solution: Tighten up and play less hands. When I do play, play more aggressive. Easier said than done.

3: Game selection

Wild card games are killing me. Swish took me down last Monday in wild card games. I should have known better. This is why game selection is important. I found that I play to the level of my competition. I play better against good players and play like one of those nimrods on Celebrity Poker Letdown when I play against fish and bad players. That's why Haley bluffed me so easily. That's why Swish took all my money last week. But when I sit eye to eye with the sharks at Foxwoods, I hold my own.

I found some great success playing the $25 NL ring games on Party Poker. The $5 + $1 NL multi-table tournaments have not been kind to me. But I have been playing those to sharpen my multi-table skills. And I have found that I am not so good at SnGs. Sure I won one and placed a bunch of times, but to date, I've lost more money on those tables than won.

I have been getting slaughtered playing $2-4 at Foxwoods. No more. I must stick with $4-8 and if I lose my buy-in at those tables... so be-it. At least my pocket Aces won't get cracked by 5-8 off suits.

Solution: Adapt a game plan to implement regardless of my opponents skill factor. Stay away from wild card games. Move up to $4-8 at Foxwoods. And stick to the NL ring games on Party Poker.

4. Luck of the draw

Sure, my losing streak has also been running along with a streak of bad cards. I've lost some bad hands on many bad beats. Are the poker gods leveling the karmic field? I know that I have not been catching flops and rivers. Which happens during a run of cold cards. My good starting hands are not paying off. When I get them, I get no action.

Solution: Accept my cards as they fall. Be patient and wait. Sooner than later, I'll get a rush, and when I do, I have to play strong. Know the percentages and feel confident that making the right plays will pay off in the long run.

Alas, I wrote this entry to figure out what has been going on. I normally sort things out when I write about them. And hopefully, I found my problems and solutions. I have a game tonight and a trip to Foxwoods on Tuesday. My leaks involve basics of the game... fundamentals that I have forgotten about. I must focus, play better hands, and pick the right games to play. If I do that... I'll stop the bleeding and slowly be able to build my bankroll back up for my trip to Vegas in six weeks.

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