Monday, February 18, 2008

Light Breaks Where No Sun Shines

By Pauly
New York City

Since Wednesday, I played online poker while waiting for flights in two different airports... Bob Hope (Burbank) and McCarran (Las Vegas). Without fail, both of my flights were delayed and I lost almost two hours of my life that JetBlue will never give back to me. I played two airport SNGs on PokerStars. I bubbled in one and took second place in the other. At least I got something out of it.

I can't wait for the day where domestic flights in the US have internet service... and I can play online poker at cruising altitudes. I've also been patiently waiting for flying cars and true democracy in America. Sadly, I won't be alive to see either. But internet access on airplanes is something that exists... just not on the airlines that I fly the most.

I spent the weekend in New York City. Since the weather was blah, I hung out with my brother and played a slew of online poker. I did not play online that much in January. I spent a couple of days in Hollyweird to start February and took the opportunity to clear my bonus on Full Tilt. Just when I started to get back in the swing of online poker, I headed to Las Vegas for a week, and put the online games on hold.

Aside from Saturdays with Dr. Pauly, I have not played any tournaments, just a couple of SNGs to kill the time when I bored. I'm back to grinding it out at the 8/16 and 10/20 limit tables. ABC poker. Very boring. I'm like a bot. There's zero emotion in my game. I play a lot of raise or fold poker. I occasionally call when the situation dictates that's the most optimal move for me.

Flinging chips around every night in Las Vegas and calling waitresses "Sweetie" and trying to tilt locals reminded me about how much fun I used to have playing poker. You always forget about the love of the game when you focus on other aspects. A couple of years ago, I was mired in a losing streak, and lost all enthusiasm for the game. You really find out what type of person (and more importantly, what type of poker player) you really are when everything is going against you. And most recently, I have been consumed with my career in the poker industry. My passion for poker vanishes from time to time. Some days it disappears and does not reappear for weeks and months at a time.

Now that I have taken a step away from the poker scene, I have been able to enjoy poker as a spectator and player. It also helps that I've been winning.

When you win, poker seems so simple. And it's the simple things that are the hardest to explain.

And of course winning poker has a tinge of luck behind it. In order to post a winning session, your big hands have to hold up, you have to come from behind a beat a superior hand, you have to make your draws, your opponents have to miss their draws, your opponents have to make mistakes, and you have to minimize your mistakes. So many different situations make up any given session, and on the days you're a big winner it seems that everything falls on your side of the fence.

Then there are those dark and dismal days when you can't win a race, you can't hit a draw to save your life, and all of your big pairs get smoked like a cheap bag of ditch weed. That's when desperation sinks in and tilt circles your soul like hungry vultures waiting for the rest of your integrity to kick the bucket, so they can swoop in and feast on your dwindling bankroll. The lost ones are seeking a miracle... for the light to break where no sun shines.

I made a decision in early 2006 that affected my poker bankroll. I decided to stop playing tournaments and NL cash games. I focused on grinding it out at Limit hold'em. It was a tough decision to make and it was even tougher to admit that I had a big leak. By focusing on limit (and some PLO cash games to quell my inner action junkie), I managed to heal a bankroll that was in trouble. I had a good nine months on Party Poker, before they pulled the plug and left American soil.

Towards the end of 2007, I played a lot of live NL cash games. It felt weird for me to play 1/2 NL after consistently playing 15/30 limit. I also took a shots at 30/60 and even 50/100, so sitting down with just $200 took a bit to adjust to. I wanted to make sure I had re familiarized myself with playing low-limit NL. Once I was comfortable, I moved up to 2/5 NL. My goal is to play higher NL stakes this summer during the WSOP.

However, I feel that switching back and forth between limit and NL has been beneficial for my game. Limit for me is automatic. I'm constantly on auto-pilot and I'm playing my cards and the percentages. In NL, I'm relying more upon my instincts and my ability to read people at the tables. After covering the best players in the world for almost three straight years, I have picked up a lot about body language. What I also realized was the astute ability from pros to disguising tells.

After playing 1/2 or 2/5 NL against sloshed tourists in Las Vegas, I had forgotten about that extra edge you can gain by processing body language. Tourists have no idea on how to mask their tells or give off reverse tells. I made a lot of plays and calls in Las Vegas that I normally wouldn't make... but the majority of the time, it seemed so obvious when a player had a hand or didn't have a hand. If they showed weakness, I swiftly attacked. If they indicated strength or deception, I proceeded with caution.

The one thing I liked about NL was the ability to wait for a big hand, double up, then walk away. In limit, I'd have to grind it out for a couple of hours to get a score like that. For me the difference between limit and NL was risk assessment. Do I want to risk a little bit of my bankroll and get back a small amount, or rather I put more of it on the line at any given time... with potential of a big loss or a huge gain.

In early 2006, I was not confident in my game. I made too many mistakes at the NL tables. I played too aggressive and I tried to run over everyone on every single hand. I lacked patience and discipline. I switched to NL in order to focus on ABC poker. I grinded my way out of a losing streak and managed to boost my bankroll. Small weekly wins added up and I finally got my bankroll to a healthy amount, even though I got creamed playing 10/20 limit on PokerStars in 2007.

I'm a good player, but the reason I've done well playing NL cash games most recently has been my ability to contain my (many) mistakes and take advantage of the numerous mistakes from my opponents. Most of the time, I walk away a winner not because I played magnificently... rather, because my opponents played so bad that they spewed away their stacks. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time.

Timing. Luck. Karma. Math. Instinct. Mental stability.

You need to master four or five of those six things. You are born with instinct. You can learn math and work on positive metal health. You make your own karma. And depending on who you talk too, some people have a predisposition for good luck or bad luck. Some people believe that they make their own luck.

I'm a firm believer in karma. You get back what you give off and more importantly you affect others with the type of energy you radiate onto the world. Karma is not something that can be calculated in Poker Tracker, and it extends to more important things beyond the poker table. Bottom line... those people who have their shit together and do not lug around hefty amounts of emotional baggage will have a more pleasant time at the tables.

Your emotional weaknesses in life will eventually be exposed at the poker tables. I see it happen all the time. Like so many things in life, such as business and relationships, you need to improve your personality flaws and focus on your assets. When you don't take your personal problems into work, dating, or to the poker tables... you will quickly discover that things run more smoothly instead of slowing things down... which usually happens.

So the next time you're caught in a rut at the tables... it might not be your opponents, or the poker site (or poker room) you're playing at, or the cards you are getting. Most likely, the biggest problem is... yourself.., and your reluctance to take account for your own actions. Time to step back. Reassess everything. Then make better decisions.

Self-knowledge is one of the most necessary steps towards self-fulfillment. The most important thing a human being needs to know... is him or herself. Once you figure out who you are, everything else in life becomes easier to understand. We often admire and replicate our lives based on what other successful people do. As many Eastern philosophers have stated, "The lock to the door of ego or self-consciousness, which separates us from our natural, spontaneous and true selves, cannot be opened by any other key than self-knowledge. There is no master key."

Basically, if you use someone else's way to play poker or to lose weight or to seek enlightenment, then you are setting yourself up for frustration and disappointment. The Hindus called that maya which means a false image. You are confusing yourself with a false image. And the result? A unsatisfying life caught up an illusion of dualism. That's the worst pursuit of all... trying to find enlightenment in a way that's not your own. The result is often an empty soul.

Bruce Lee explained this concept best in an essay he wrote in 1973 called "In My Own Process." Here's an excerpt...
Most people only live for their image. That is why where some have a self, a starting point, most people have a void. Because they are so busy projecting themselves as "this" or "that," they end up wasting and dissipating all their energy in projection and conjuring up the facade, rather than centering their energy and expanding and broadening their potential or expressing and relaying this unified energy for efficient communication. When another human being sees a self-actualizing person walk past, he cannot help but say: "Hey now, there is someone real!"
Basically Lee said that you are headed in the wrong direction if you substituted the ways and beliefs of others in place of cultivating your own. It's your life. Your journey. Time to start following your game plan.

In case you were wondering, this post was a regurgitated homage to several authors/philosophers/poets that I recently read including Alan Watts, Bruce Lee, Dylan Thomas, Betrand Russell, and Sun Tzu.

Original content written and provided by Pauly from Tao of Poker at All rights reserved. RSS feeds are for non-commercial use only.

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