Thursday, May 24, 2007

Birth of Cool

By Pauly
Las Vegas, NV

Editor's Note: I sent this email to a friend of mine who was struggling at poker. I cleaned up the capitalization and punctuation but I'm too lazy to actually formulate this rambling and stream of consiousness e-mail into a coherent blog entry. Enjoy...

I have no illusions about my poker game. I'm not a pro and never want to be. After spending two long years on the road following around the carnival-like atmosphere of tournament poker all over the world (along with the side elements of legal casino cash games and not-so-legal underground clubs and rooms), I've come to the conclusion that there are several traits that I don't have (or more so, willing to develop and work on for several years) in order to be a successful professional poker player. And even if I was able to master those traits and be at the top of my game, there's the luck element that comes into play which makes it even more impossible to earn enough money to provide financial security over the next decade in order to weather the mentally tough times, losing streaks, paying taxes, and uncontrollable worldly events (stock market crash, real estate bust, terrorist attack on Las Vegas, or a natural disaster). With too many pitfalls to side step, vultures to fight off, and temptations to duck out there on the road, in Las Vegas, and surrounding the poker world, it's just a matter of time before a player goes broke or goes insane.

Yet every single day, I get emails from people and readers telling me that they are dropping out of school or quitting their jobs to move to Las Vegas to become a professional poker player. While I admire their gutsy ambition and applaud them for following their dreams, I send them my standard "that's a bad idea" email, encourage them to take up the life as a semi-pro (have a regular job and play on the side) and wish them luck. What I don't tell them (and probably should) is that 99% of them will either burn out or go broke within the year and at some point, I'll run across them waiting on my table at a restaurant or dealing poker to me at a locals' casino. They were better off going to law school or starting their own business instead of moving out to the most violent and deviant city in America.

It's poker players like that who have no semblance of their poker ability and game (and on a greater scale no semblance of who they are as a person which ends up destroying their lives and dreams) that make guys like Phil Ivey uber-rich and can afford baller watches that cost twice as much as you bust your ass in a year. The semi-pro life is where its at. Those folks tend to be the happiest that I run across on the circuit. They have smiles on their faces. They have tans. They look fit and fresh. They play poker seriously but not full time which means they have a more fruitful and balanced life and do not have to rely upon their daily outcomes in order to eat, pay bills, and save for the future. In short, they are there because they want to be there not because they have to.

In the end, playing poker for a living is a job and most folks forget about that vital aspect when they make a hastily decision to go pro. By definition, all jobs suck because you are doing something that you'd rather not do but have to because it makes you money. These days, winning $1 million is insignificant in the bigger picture. In order to live the rock star lifestyle of some of the pros you see on TV, you need a score that's close to $5M or $6M. Otherwise, you have to grind that amount out at the cash game tables.

The illusion, the dream, the mirage... it's what makes players go busto. The few smart ones realize that the rock star lifestyle is a fabrication and unessential. Hearing about pros going to bed early, or working out, or investing their money and living modestly seems super boring. But you know what? Those guys and girls rarely go broke.

I know where my heart and talent lies and that's where I'm focusing most of my energies these days. My real passion is writing so I spend most of my free time improving my craft or working on the business end of that to ensure that I can keep writing the rest of my life. When I'm not doing that, I've been spending time with my brother and friends or enjoying as much music as I can and traveling for myself.

The goal of a true professional poker player is to earn enough money so they don't have to run the rat race or wear a tie for 50 hours a week while taking guff from some dickwad of a boss. As a writer, I'm trying to put myself in a position where I can have enough financial security and become independent of the system instead of relying upon it for work which I've learned in the past drains me of both energy and creativity. Writing is a solitary profession and can be extremely frustrating at times. However, it's not as frustrating as getting your teeth kicked in after losing to a three outer on the river.

I'm a low limit grinder and in the last couple of years, I built $200 into almost $19K with the bulk of that coming from getting lucky in a couple of tournaments along the way or grinding it out. My bankroll is strong enough that even if I suffer a massive losing streak and have to jump down in levels, I can and still have enough bullets to compete at that level and survive an initial bad run of cards.

I played multiple 3/6 tables for the longest time because the stats didn't lie... I was exceptionally successful at that limit so played as many tables as I could handle. It's kind of strange that I struggle at 5/10 limit, but had a better than average hourly win rate at 8/16, 10/20, and 15/30. Most recently I took a few shots at 30/60 and the short term results have not been too good, but I haven't played enough hands to determine if I can play at that level. For now, I'm comfortable playing as high as 15/30 and can handle the big swings that come with those games. These days I'm winning or losing pots that used to be the size of my online bankroll three years ago.

Some people are not impressed with my win rate or with the fact I play limit Hold'em or what I do for a living. And I could care less. As soon as you live your life by how others think of you... you cease to be living a life of your own. You become a clone and lack originality.

I've gotten to where I am today as a person and a writer because of a little luck, plenty of hard work, and a strong "I don't give a shit what you think of me" attitude. So far, I like the results. Because people tend to worry about what others think of them, that's what ultimately holds them back from being a complete person. Even those who do achieve success within that fucked up structure of a life (for the benefit of looking cool), they often find that their lives are shallow and meaningless, because in the end they lived a life that wasn't their own and ruled by people whom you so desperately tried to impress. Life is too short so don't waste it trying to impress others.

I've always been great at math and the writer in me has always been an asset at the live tables in regard to reading people. My bankroll management has been solid. That's why I've been a winning player over the last couple of years and endured a couple of junk kicking losing streaks. And I finally filled the leaks in my game with lacking mental toughness and playing the appropriate game at the proper level. That's what hurts most poker players and killed me for a while... they are either playing too above (or too below) their skill level or they are playing the wrong formats.

You basically have three choices; game, format, and levels. Game is simple... Texas Hold'em, PLO, Stud 8, Razz, HORSE, etc. Format comes in two subcategories... cash games or tournaments. Cash games come in two other subcategories... full or short-handed. The last choice is levels... Hi, Mid, or Low and that applies to both cash games and tournaments.

I'm pretty simple. I'm a Limit Hold'em player. That's my bread and butter. I play that as much as I can to make money. A bigger bankroll gives me the necessary confidence to play better. Plus the more I win, the more I can spend on my family and friends. That way, everyone is happy. I have no illusions of becoming the next greatest NL tournament player or a PLO cash game specialist. When I play a tournament or PLO, I'm playing for fun and any loses I incur I write off as entertainment.

Every day I see players with excellent poker skills but they are fucking up by not playing at the right places. The old boxing adage fits... you have to punch your own weight. I see too many people lose their bankrolls by playing too many $10K events after a big score. I witnessed one kid take down $200K at the Borgata early last year and by Christmas he was broke. Now he's got the taxman after his ass because he forget to take out the correct amount and he owes the government. He should have realized that he got lucky and played much smaller events (between $1K and $2K) instead of hitting the tour and blowing his wad on $10K buy-ins to WPT events and racking up tons of expenses like air travel, car rentals and hotels. Had he played smaller events, he could have played anywhere from 5x to 10x more tournaments in fields that he was one of the better players instead of playing against some of the biggest sharks in poker.

Many people I've come across are more concerned about what others think about them and end up making terrible decisions. Winning poker is about making correct decisions. NL tournaments might seem cool but the bottom line is that you can and lose your bankroll quicker if you are not a solid player with proper money management. Playing too many tournaments and not cashing destorys your bankroll. What a lot of these people at home watching tournaments on TV is that the majority of the pros are backed and/or have percentages of each other. The rest of them have solid sponsorship deals or have condos in Vegas to cut down expenses.

Grinding (in a non-sexual Spearmint Rhino kind of way) is not sexy, but it pays the bills. Trying to impress your friends in the short term is a shortcut to disaster. If you really want to impress your friends, play the proper levels and grind out a living as a pro for an entire decade. They'll be super jealous that you didn't waste ten years of your life as a cubicle monkey and instead got to sit around your house in your underwear.

I know you read blogs and too often you hear the same sad story about how blogger XYZ won a big tournament online and then blew his/her winnings playing every tournament under the sun. The hardest point to overcome is the high school and mob mentality that has been ruling not just the poker scene, but most of America for the last two or three decades. Players are more concerned about what's going to make them look cool instead of making intelligent decisions. That's all the entire advertising industry is... to prey on your low self-esteem and trick you into buy their product because you think it might make you look cooler than you actually are. Whether it's sneakers, cars, music, or poker... there too much negative imagery out there that's a constant reminder that you're a loser. I'm not surprised more people don't go on more rampages and mass killing sprees since you can't surf the web, change the channel on the TV, or drive down the street without a constant reminder that you suck... so buy this because others will think you are cool and you'll finally get laid.

The suits are preying on your pyschological weaknesses in order to turn you into consumer-driven robots. The highschoolification of America continues and it's only going to get worse.

Same thing applies to poker. Play what makes you happy and play the specific format that is going to make you the most money. Make these decisions devoid of outside intervention. Otherwise, you're wasting time, money, and energy in a pursuit of coolness. The poker table is the last place in the world you should be working out unresolved behavioral and self-esteem issues or trying to correct a miserable childhood. There's too much money at stake there and if you bring your emotional garbage to the tables... in the end you will go broke.

I guess what I'm trying to say is you need to figure out who you and get you're shit together before you sit down at the tables. And more importantly, don't feel pressured to follow the herd. Because in the end, the herd always gets slaughtered.

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

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