Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Through the Looking Glass: April Maelstrom
"The main thing about money... is that it makes you do things you don't want to do." - Lou, Wall Street
April 2006 will be one of those months that has been permanently burned into my memory. It was a tumultuous month where I struggled to find answers everyday while avoiding the jagged blades of the existentialist meat grinder called "life." I was bombarded by experiences, flashbacks, and emotions, both bad and good. I stood at the fragile edge of the abyss and peered over into the void. I nearly went AWOL and cashed everything out of my online accounts and moved to a small island off the coast of Thailand to start my own utopia with a bunch of hippies, Leo DiCaprio, and a sexy French chick with pouty lips.

Alas, I'm not living an Alex Garland novel, but instead I discovered that I was completely clueless and rudderless in this universe. I took a few steps back from everything and saw that my life was too cluttered, like a messy desk, and I needed to clean it up before I started any new projects and completed old ones. As the days in April segued into May, I began a new month with a positive attitude. With a drastic change in my mindset, I'm back on track with my writing and I'm ready to peak by the middle of the 2006 WSOP. I have a rejuvenated approach to poker as I'm in the middle of a winning streak. Yes, I ended April as a winner. I'm only down $400 for the year. One good session and I'm unstuck for the year.

I have most of the tools to be a consistent winning player, but what happened during the last six months that I'd lose close to 40% of my bankroll? My game wasn't as bad as I thought. I lost more than I should have due to poor decision making. That stemmed from personal problems that I brought to the tables. I played distracted and allowed negativity from work spill over and cloud my decision making. I was shrouded in a losing and defeatist attitude before I even fired up Party Poker or walked into a card room. I had to get my shit together and make sure that I was mentally prepared before poker or writing.

When April began, my health faltered. I was exhausted and sick as a dog. Not being able to speak led me down a path of utter depression. I felt completely suffocated with every aspect of my life. I knew that I needed to step away in order to give myself an honest evaluation of everything... career, family, friends, relationships, finances, poker, etc.

When I was able to talk again, I left Las Vegas and spent a couple weeks in LA relaxing. I cut back on poker and right away, I was able to breathe again. When I eventually participated in poker activities like covering the WPT Championship, I didn't feel burnt out. I was there because I wanted to be there... and not because someone was telling me to.

During April, I wrote about other topics such as music, philosophy, and treatments for future screenplays that I'll start and never finish. The balance in my writing output allowed me to perform my job as a poker writer more effectively. I revamped how I cover a poker tournament. Since I was one of fifty other media reps, I focused on my strengths as a writer and shifted away from "what happening right now" to stringing together a narrative of the day's activities from the moment I arrived at the Bellagio to the time I left. And the results were outstanding. Not only did I have fun. I kicked ass and rediscovered my voice. Usually, at the end of a tournament, I'm always exhausted. After the WPT Championship, I found myself with plenty of energy leftover. I left Las Vegas in a good mood for the first time in over a year.

I'm a trailblazer. I'm positive that my shift in poker coverage will influence how other media outlets do the same in the future. Sure, you can get any monkey off of Craigslist and teach them how to give you a live update and an out-of-date chipcount on your favorite players who's gonna bust out by the end of the day. But not everyone can tell the story like I can.

A couple of weeks ago, I was dreading moving to Las Vegas this summer. But now, I can't wait to go back! I wanna hit the floor of the Rio and get trashed at the hooker bar with Otis and soak up all the gossip and dig deep to find juicy material to write about instead of being a live-blogging monkey slave, chained to media row only let out twice a day to piss and jerk off in the bathroom because I was too broke to buy a $500/hour hooker. And we all know hookers don't charge by the hour. It's a one shot deal. Even psychiatrists give you 50 minutes and afterwards some shrinks let you take home prescription drugs that you can turn around and sell to high school kids for $5 a pill. With a $500/hour Las Vegas hooker, you'd be lucky if you escape Sin City without an STD or getting rolled. If you think playing poker is filled with pressure points, how about struggling with the decision to tell your wife the truth about why your cellphone, wallet, and bankroll were mysteriously missing? Even the gals that work at the hooker bar in Las Vegas are angle shooters.

Enough about hookers.

While I was in California and in Las Vegas, I spent time with my poker friends doing other activities. I watched a lot of baseball with Joe Speaker. I cooked several meals with Change100. I ate buffets with Grubby. I went hiking and climbing with Friedman to Red Rocks. I ate scones with the Poker Prof. I drank beers with Spaceman at the hooker bar. These are all people I know through poker, but made an effort to do non-poker activities in order to strengthen our bonds and forge a layered friendship that's not 100% reliant upon poker. What's great about coming back home and spending time with my brother, is that we're focused on the Yankees and the Jets' picks in the NFL draft. And now that I'm back in NYC, I'm eager to spend quality time with non-poker friends while hanging out all over the city.

This is the balance that I lacked last month. With the exception of one or two people in my life, everyone I knew in some aspect was involved in poker. When things got difficult, I had no one to turn to. All of a sudden it was like that scene from Invasion of the Body Snatchers. And I was Kevin McCarthy desperately trying to find my way out of town, while maintaining my own individuality and identity.

The numbers don't lie. I was a winning player in 2006 only on Party Poker and playing live poker. I was a loser everywhere else, including prop bets and sports betting. I avoided my losing past and stopped playing on Poker Stars and Full Tilt. I focused on Party Poker and I'm glad I did. I've almost wiped out all of my 2006 Poker Stars loses with hit and run sessions on Party Poker.

I prefer playing on Party Poker because I'm anonymous and I don't feel at a disadvantage like playing under "DrPauly" on other sites. Anyone who reads my blog can get a general indication of how I play, then use that info against me. JoeSpeaker and I had a discussion about how readers and bloggers tend to play harder and more aggressive against us. I stopped putting bounties on myself in blogger tournaments because it only encouraged players to try to bust me even more so. I discovered than everyone was moving all in against me. I'm a target and that's just the way it is. I've accepted it and had to develop a different strategy. But when I'm on Party Poker, I can swim around free without any attention. I never have to engage in idle chit chat or worry that I have stalkers or railbirds. Nothing is worse and more embarrassing than having someone watch me play for the first time like a total assclown.

Party Poker has been a wild place for me this year. Am I this good or are the players that bad? I had just under $100 left in my account in early January. I wanted to see how long I could play before reloading. I sat down at a 3/6 table and doubled up inside of an hour. I had another good session the next day, then started playing two tables. When I had enough money, I added a third table. Then I bumped up to 5/10. I played the 6 max tables which produce massive swings. Inside of one orbit I'm up $400 and at the end of the next, I'm rebuying. Within a few weeks, I ran $100 up to $1K.

I did some bonus whoring at Party and the bankroll is at a comfortable level. I bumped up to 10/20, playing full ring games and the 6 max tables, only when my favorite fish are sitting there. I tagged a few players at the 5/10 limit tables and I stalk them. I'll follow them up in levels, but not down. Over the past month, these bad players have been funding my upcoming excursion to Thailand.

I've been trying to improve my play on the turn in limit poker. I have to remind myself to stay aggressive and not give any free cards. On Party Poker, I have experienced that players who check-raise on the turn with a drawing board (two suited cards or two straight cards) are usually players who have a big draw. In the past, I just called the check-raise on a board with two diamonds. Nowadays, I jam the fucker if I think I got the best hand. If he has a higher set or a better two pair, then so be it. Never give someone a chance to catch up with a free card because you are scared you're gonna get check-raised. Jen Harman mentioned that in her chapter in Super System 2.

Harman also discusses that the key to short-handed limit poker is aggression and isolation. If you are going to play any hand at a short-handed table, you have to raise preflop. You are trying to thin the field and play heads-up against the blinds or someone else. She's also a staunch proponent of defending your blinds in short-handed play. I've improved that aspect of my game. I'm not giving up my big blinds as much as I used to. That was my biggest leak according to Poker Tracker... my blind play was awful. Sometimes I think I'm defending too much, or defending too little. I had to pay more attention to the situation. Plus if you know that someone's on a button steal, call and be prepared to check-raise them on the flop. And if I win the pot with nothing, I'll show my junk hand to prove that I'll defend my blinds with anything and to increase the implied tilt odds of the table.

The hardest part about cracking low limit games like the 2-4 at Foxwoods or the 2-4 at Commerce is that there are 7+ players to every flop. Your aces and big pairs decrease in value with so many players seeing a flop. That's why you have to play more hands, especially any two cards in late position to do well. And even then, you're gonna experience huge swings.

Moving up in levels decreases the number of players per pot. Limpers are more willing to fold in a 10-20 game than a 2-4 game. Plus most pots that I win at 10-20 are taken down before showdown. I remembering reading Lou Krieger's book Hold'em Excellence and he spoke about in low limit poker that you are need the best hand to win at showdown so don't try to bluff. But at the higher limits, you can get away with missing flops with small pairs or A-K and A-Q and still take down the pot with a continuation bet.

I haven't gotten used to play 10-20 shorthanded 6-max. I play too timid when I move up in levels for the first time. I hate playing scared. Here's an example...

I'll found J-J and re-raised from the cutoff. With two callers there was a King on the rainbow flop. One guy bet out and the action came to me. I raised and he re-raised.

"Pocket Death," is how Derek describes pocket Jacks.

He's right. So do I call or fold? I folded and dropped my pants to find my testicles. Normally I would have called the raise and check-called all the way to the river. Since it's limit, that's only another 2.5 BB investment. I told you I play new levels like a pussy. I would have called that in a heartbeat if it was a 5/10 table.

Now if that hand was live, then that's another story. I have a better read on people in live games. I've been catching civilians lying to me all the time. At least poker players get to practice their poker faces. I had such a great read on liars that my ex-girlfriend insisted she talk to me on the phone only because that way it would be harder for me to pick apart the lies in the conversation.

Covering poker for a living over the last year, I've been able to pick up on more subtle tells on pros. When I announced the TV table at the EPT Barcelona, there was one hand in particular when I knew Gus Hansen had quads. Even the ever cool Great Dane's hands were shaking as he bet. That was pretty obvious. Plus the tone of his voice was much different then when he made a move the hand before with 9-3o after flopping bottom pair.

I still haven't cracked the 10-20 barrier. For me it's psychological and I'm playing weak-tight at that level. I can afford to play it regularly and I should. Everyone keeps telling me about the juicy 15-30 games on Party Poker and if I have a good May, I hope to take that shot in a few weeks. But the few times I played 10-20 and up live, I've played poorly, except for my last session at Red Rock. I'm much more comfortable playing higher stakes online, when I'm a much better player live. That makes no sense to me. And it's one of several hundred contradictions that I have to deal with in life... like the fact that I like peas, but hate pea soup. I love marinara sauce, but hate tomatoes.

It all traces back to detaching yourself from the money. When I was on Wall Street, I used to make critical decisions in an instant, usually with six or seven figures on the line. Why did it come so easy?

Because it wasn't my money.

When April ended, I regained control of my writing, my poker bankroll, and my life. I have a clearer head now which means better decisions at the tables. I also have a better outlook as a writer in the poker industry and I'm going to focus more on my writing and less about all the bullshit that's involved. A balanced schedule makes poker more enjoyable for me.

I'm going to be playing poker by the book for May, which means a lot of limit on Party Poker and trying to play more live games. My goal is to take shots at 15-30 by the end of the month. Plus, I was invited to a game in the city and it's short-handed NL, so I played a few hit and run sessions so I can get used to playing short-handed NL games again.

Breaks are good.

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In homage to Tony Pierce, welcome to a new installment of Today in Tao of Poker History... May 3, 2005 and May 3, 2004.

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