Archive for the ‘self improvement’ Category

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11:00 am and my alarm goes off for the fifth time in an hour. I’m jet lagged. My body is still on west coast time while my mind is trying to shake a food coma triggered by a potent cocktail of tryptophan and empty carbs. Allowing my Thanksgiving hangover to get the best of me, I forego my morning routine of breakfast and the gym only to be sucked into a shit storm of reality TV. Not my proudest moment. But after an hour with Les Stroud battling the elements and turning urine into purified water I realized how invested I had become in not only his survival, but in his overcoming each obstacle along the way. It dawned on me, televised poker is doing it all wrong.

For so many years poker has been packaged as a sporting event, where the focus lies on the action. The introduction of the hole card cam, coinciding with a booming infatuation by a mostly ignorant audience, appeased viewers for the better part of a decade. But as the game matured, so too did the casual viewer. No longer do they commiserate with the well-known pro losing as a 3 to 1 favorite, nor do they berate the amateur who shoved Ace-Queen only to get lucky against Kings. People became numb to individuals winning large sums of money, and moreover uninterested in the nameless faces that all play the game fairly competently. The action has become a mere means to an end, shifting the spotlight to the game’s intricacies, ultimately alienating the casual fan.

A divide has resulted between those in the know and those on the outside looking in. Average Joe Schmoe is no longer your local auto mechanic busting his hump, fantasizing over what it’s like to drag a five-figure pot and take a vacation. Average Joe Schmoe is now scratching and clawing to keep food on the table and doesn’t have time “…to chase cards and action, or fucking pipe dreams of winning the World Series on E-S-P-N.” When he does find an hour to go comatose in front of the boob tube he seeks a way out, a tough way to make an easy living. Moon shining, duck call production, and gold prospecting are just a short list of carrots on strings. When gambling no longer garners the same interest as moon shining and gold prospecting (all prolific activities during eras of economic decline) red flags should be raised. Televised poker needs a face lift, rebranded as an insight to a small, inviting community where the rags to riches story is all too common.

Poker Night In America may provide the first glimmer of hope. They are branding themselves as a one of a kind TV poker experience and I must say I was as wide-eyed as a kid on Christmas morning when I read Nolan Dalla’s pitch:

“…Yet Poker Night in America isn’t really a show about poker.  It’s a show about people.

We’re flying a Gulf stream jet filled with poker players (and possibly you) from Las Vegas to Upstate New York.  We will be filming what goes on around the clock.  Listen up — you won’t see the usual poker coverage that’s pretty much dominated the way the game has been portrayed over the last decade.  This is just as much a show about the chaos that goes on behind the scenes, at the bars, in the restaurants, out on the golf course, getting there, leaving there, and all the ups and downs and fun and games that take place during a major poker event.  There’s actually much more to it than this, but that’s all we’ll say for now.  If this all sounds interesting, than great.  If it turns into a disaster, well that’s okay too.  We’re going to be there to film it…”

I jumped at the opportunity to be a part of such a promising concept. Without hesitation I fired off an email expressing my interest in being apart of a show that is finally getting it right.

“…I’m not interested in being a character of the show because I seek any sort of poker stardom or crave tv time. What I do want is to help grow this game that has been so good to me throughout my career. I feel this behind the scenes concept is a great way to paint poker in a fun, social, welcoming light,and I would relish the opportunity to be apart of it…”

Unfortunately, they were full. Upon learning the 3rd stop would be in Pittsburgh over Thanksgiving weekend, I immediately followed up:

“We had spoken prior to the first poker night in America about me potentially playing in the cash game. When I saw that your third stop would be in Pittsburgh I felt inclined to follow-up. I’m originally from the Pittsburgh area, born and raised 20 miles north of the city… If nothing else I’m certain my hometown presence would be a compelling back story to the show… Most of all I, more than most, have an extreme interest in seeing the River’s poker room grow. I started my career playing underground games in the city and would love to see a resurgence of that action in a place so near and dear to me…”

Again they were full, but I was assured I would be at the top of the alternate list (fingers crossed a spot opens up). In the meantime a spot had come open in the Reno stop, which I had the pleasure of being invited to. I say pleasure not because I’m in the business of shaking hands and kissing babies, but because as a traveling poker professional I can honestly say I’ve never been treated as well as I was by The Peppermill Resort. Poker room manager, Jimmy Horikawa, deserves a raise, or at the very least a medal. This man ensured we didn’t want for anything during our stay at his casino, and worked tirelessly at organizing cash games large enough to keep our interest. So far so good…

The taping itself went off without a hitch. Between the production crew’s endless hours of work, Nolan constantly making himself available to players, and Todd Anderson putting a vision in motion while fronting the bill, I can without hesitation say they have the framework for a successful show. As for the product itself, a lot remains to be seen. From my vantage point the shoots seemed to deviate from this behind the scenes concept. Little to nothing was done to introduce players to the audience. And to my knowledge I don’t believe much emphasis was put on the back stories and local culture that comes with the Peppermill legends chosen to play in the game. I fear by shooting mostly poker, PNIA will pigeon-hole itself into a niche market where only poker enthusiasts watch. Granted, I was a late arrival so I missed out on the extracurricular activities shot the night before, as well as the private jet footage. But the idea of putting a bunch of poker pros in a fun arena and taping them interact isn’t revolutionary…it’s classic B-roll footage seen on any WPT broadcast and it’s extremely manufactured. I have hope that PNIA will flip the script, letting the actual poker itself take a back seat to the human interest stories that arise from examining the inner workings of a specific community; staying true to the initial concept.

Individually the players are as generic and as uninteresting as a random bearded man making duck calls. It’s unreasonable to expect that to change by merely turning the cameras on and encouraging them to let their personality shine through while playing a few hands of cards. It comes off as forced and inauthentic. However, provide the direction for each individual to explore what has gotten him to this point and the audience will be captivated by some certain candid moments. To those in the community we all know what Tom Schneider has accomplished, but to the casual viewer he’s just the guy with the colorful clothing. There’s a massive disconnect. Viewers want to know Tom on a first name basis. The fact that he is a 4-time bracelet winner, a former WSOP player of the year, and that he can quiet a room with his karaoke performance of Garth Brooks’s The Dance should become common knowledge. The goal is to get the audience personally invested, to have them suffer through the $10,000 swings with the hero, to root against the villan, to empathize with the martyr. Put a spotlight on the people, the relationships, the inner workings of the poker community. Transparency is interesting. Conflict is interesting. Successes and failures are interesting. Ultimately, the people drive the plot, poker is merely the vehicle.

It’s quite possible Poker Night In America will achieve all of this and more, the proof will be in the pudding. I just know my involvement was exclusively poker. Speaking of the poker, it’s imperative to the success of the show to cast upstanding members of the community who are comfortable in a live setting. Day 1 of the Reno shoot missed the mark slightly on the latter. Few of the players had brushed elbows on more than one occasion, and moreover there was a distinct age gap. The atmosphere was that of an awkward first date, quiet aside from forced small talk. The overall lineup appeared uncomfortable; the game seemed too big for some and for others No-Limit cash wasn’t their game of choice. I’m sure it’s a daunting task to cast something like this, but finding people who primarily play No-Limit cash at comparable stakes seems like the best starting point.

The crew at Turning Stone, by accident or design, nailed the chemistry. The whole group was very familiar with each other, generally close friends away from the felt, and overall great ambassadors of the game. The poker was very uninteresting compared to the banter which provided glimpses of the intricate details that make these individuals who they are. Then it happened, a perfect storm of events. Matesow had just lost the biggest pot of the session and was quietly doing all he could not to blow up. Still trying to shrug off the $40k pot he runs his jacks into quads…and is slow rolled. In the past his polarizing personality made him a villain to most, making his pain entertaining. But in recent years Mike has worked on reshaping his image to that of a time-tested veteran; a man who has battled demons on and off the felt, coming out a better person and player for it. His revamped image casts himself as the martyr when Shawn Deeb slow rolls him. To those in the know, it is what it is; borderline unethical but ultimately just another hand. But to the rest of the audience (the bulk of the target audience) this young kid is all but spitting in the face of a man who can’t seem to catch a break, a villan is born. The audience empathizes…they’re hooked.

Unfortunately, we can’t rely on the poker itself to constantly provide these must see tv moments. The results of a hand, a tournament, or even an entire career are completely uninteresting without context. Fortunately the show’s concept is rooted in the people providing the story lines. The real content comes once we open the doors and invite the world in to see what it is to play a game for a living, through the eyes of seasoned pros. I think through trial by fire, Poker Night In America will find a formula that allows their original vision to come to light, which is something poker has thirsted for since Black Friday.

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Welcome to the Thunderdome…

Posted: July 17, 2013 in poker

Now that the WSOP has come to a close for me I’m very excited to take a step back and reflect on the summer that was. However, considering my main event bust is still a fresh wound, I’ll be merely dipping my toes into nostalgic waters as a reference to support my stance on the discussion of crowd noise. Truth be told I’m not even certain there is a debate taking place, but @shaneschleger brought up reasonable points, and while I love the conciseness of Twitter, 140 characters is a frustrating way to exchange detailed thoughts. Thus, I’m using this outlet to give my two cents on a matter I think holds reasonable importance to the poker community.

My initial intent was to take an unbiased approach, providing pros and cons for both sides. Frankly, that seems dull and unrealistic, all while insulting the intelligence of the reader. I think each side’s strongest points are quite apparent. Rather than playing both sides of the fence, I’m going to let my opinion shine through while highlighting the interesting points of those in favor of enforcing a library-like atmosphere.

Setting the way back machine to 2011, I had the pleasure to be apart of the final table that birthed the infamous “shoe bomb”(1:20). With 6 players remaining, The Brits had shown up in full force to support Thomas “HitTheHole” Middleton. Their creative, orchestrated chants were deafening.  And while courtesy and soberness were not on the agenda, The Brits very quickly won over the crowd and the players, any one of whom could have lobbied to the floor to put a gag on the whole bunch. We couldn’t hear any of the action, the game had become completely visual. As cheers of “Hit the hole, hit the hole, hit the hoooooooole…” echoed throughout the Amazon room, the floorman calling the action had all but given up, yet not one bet was miscalculate, not a single stack misjudged. Not to be outdone, my growing support of friends filled any brief windows of silence with cheers of “Yeaaahp and Hack’em”. Like any good game of Chicken, the Brits upped the ante, drinking beer from their shoes, creating what would grow to be a Brit final table tradition. Suddenly, it became very clear this wasn’t just any 6-handed poker game…we were playing for nearly a million dollars and currently guaranteed a 6-figure score. There would be no corner to hide in, no darkness to fade into upon busting; no choice but to either embrace the moment, relishing our collective success, or crack under the pressure.   

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Fast forward to this summer and the landscape of final table rails has changed dramatically. While I absolutely loved every second of the above scenario, I could see the guys who weren’t built to perform under those circumstances. Being that this isn’t the PGA Tour and we, the players, are the paying customers I am in agreement that the rail can’t take center stage over the actual game in play, nor can players themselves get so out of line that fellow patrons become alienated (The Havad Khan Rule). So rules were adjusted, common courtesies implemented. Rails remained respectful while action was pending, and there after cheers remained celebratory and never malicious toward other final tablists. From my standpoint, a guy who loves sports-like atmospheres, a guy who wants to be in the moment, a guy who isn’t a mental midget, irritated by the slightest disruption to his immediate environment, the current state of rails is fine. However, I don’t represent all walks of life, and again as paying patrons their voices deserve consideration. I do hope they consider what we would be sacrificing by silencing the crowd. After all, I doubt any of us grew up uttering the phrase, “and the crowd goes mute…” when envisioning our spotlight moments.   

We as pros are programmed to believe that these opportunities will not only be frequent, but also that they are just another day at the office. Here’s a little dose of reality, there are plenty of phenomenal players yet to experience the spotlight, and for that matter may never. There are even more of the good, the bad and the ugly who have had a mere taste, yearning for one more shot at the big stage. Fact is while we may convince ourselves that we are cold assassins, trained to ignore emotion, whose sole purpose is to execute, we are actually just a collection of fortunate souls looking to make our mothers proud. What better reminder that we are human, experiencing something most would die to experience, than a large crowd reacting to every dramatic moment with raw, honest emotion. Moreover, for amateurs who do understand that this may be their only time to shine, why not provide a warm, inviting atmosphere full of positive energy where they can lose themselves in one of the biggest moments of their lives. Moving toward a hushed, intense environment only creates a pressure cooker for the amateur, serving as a reminder of how out of their element they are with every cold, quiet glare. Our biggest concern as professionals should be making small sacrifices in order to promote the game…each and every one of us should strive to be poker’s biggest ambassador. In this instance if it means dealing with a little ruckus while grinding an event outside of the Thunder Dome, so be it. I promise anyone who has ever played in a live casino has dealt with far worse in the ringing of slots, the endless calls for wait lists, and drunk blowhards who are extremely disruptive but too good for the game to have removed. I’m all for the WSOP changing their stance on headphone usage in the money, especially if it will further promote an overall improved environment for all involved, but I can’t justifiably get behind the idea of playing in silence.  

My final thought is actually more of a plea: Have some perspective. This applies to so much more than some arbitrary discussion on the effects of crowd noise. Somewhere along the line we all became enamored with a game, and for some it became a vehicle to financial independence. But between the hole cards, ESPN cameras, six-figure scores, and endless scrutinizing of staff, colleagues, amateurs and pros please please please, I beg of you, understand how fortunate we are that this market space exists. Realize that everything we, as players, do to suck the fun out of the GAME ultimately driving away the everyday Joe, can only lead to the demise of this incredibly fruitful landscape we’ve all been privy to for the past decade. Please, lighten up…

My apologies for the long hiatus, I’ve been all over the place with new projects, new students and as luck would have it a freshly repaired ACL. To catch everyone up to speed in my last post I issued a challenge to myself which never really got off the ground. Instead, I found myself continuing to plug away at the bigger games through the New Year with mixed results. Ironically, an unwelcome birthday gift in the form of a torn ACL (and a $5k insurance deductible) served as all the motivation I needed to get to the root of my mediocrity. Knowing I would have to put a lot of focus into recovery, I decided to forgo the bigger games in lieu of heavy volume at $2/$5. In order to further push myself I extended the previous challenge to a couple friends who are regular $2/$5 grinders in the form of a bet. The stakes would be 2.5% of each other’s WSOP main event action, the terms: 8 weeks grinding $2/$5 with a minimum of 35 sessions to qualify, biggest winner scoops. Screenshot_2013-04-05-19-08-17
Today I’m all but throwing in the towel. When I initially made the bet I didn’t think it would take more than a couple days to recover from surgery…it took two weeks. Once my head was out of the clouds (and after two sessions where I played too soon and got crushed) I began a feverish grind of 13 days straight. Unfortunately, this week I missed a day due to Easter, another due to a juicy $5/$10 game I couldn’t pass up (which I have no regrets after pulling a $3k win) and finally yesterday fell victim to coaching priorities. I’m all but mathematically eliminated with 18 sessions in the books and 17 days left to play. I plan to give it the ole college try, but 17 straight days of $2/$5 is certainly uncharted waters for me.

Regardless of my outcome for this challenge, it will prove to be a much needed examination of both my game and my perspective as a coach. Rather than going through the motions and treating the step down in stakes as torturous punishment, I accepted it for what it is…a great outlet to work on some new concepts as well as refine some old strategies that I’ve gotten sloppy with. I’ve spent the bulk of my hours focused on staying fully engaged while applying as much pressure as humanly possible. The fruits of my labor came early last week in a hand that summarizes my $2/$5 experiment thus far…

A young reg opens first middle position to $20 and is $1100 deep to start the hand. Folds to me in the bb and I flat w/A3 off and cover. I’ve played with this kid before at $5/$10 but he played insanely tight, I can only assume he was playing up in stakes and wasn’t very comfortable as he’s been slightly more active today. Flop is A86 rainbow. I check and he continues for $25, without going into detail on my reasoning, I elect to make it $90. He calls. Now comes the range assessment; it’s very clear to me that he is going into bluff catch mode with something of relative strength, most likely Ax or 97. In either case I expect the turn to check through unless I decide to fire a second shell, which will be unlikely as the board texture can’t really change much. Turn is the A of spades, completing the badugi. As I anticipated the action went check, check. The river now brings a glimmer of hope, in the 5 of clubs. I assume our opponent has trips and is never folding to a single bet, so the only shot we have of winning this pot is either the hand checking down (as we’d almost always be best at showdown in that scenario), or him going for thin value, opening up an opportunity to run a river bluff. After some consideration he decides to bet $210 (pot is $220), which is strong and serves dual purpose; it allows him to get max value while discouraging unwanted check-raises potentially from worse hands/bluffs. Recognizing that he’s rarely full here and that he was attempting to handcuff me with his sizing allowed me to see through his line and pull the trigger. I shoved over his bet for 800 more. In the moment I was nearly positive he would fold trips and about 80% sure he would fold a rivered straight. After the fact I think those estimations were a bit high considering my image; at least I assume he considers me capable of this move. Either way he ultimately made, what appeared to be, a painful fold. That particular hand and a few others lit a fire in me. I’ve rediscovered my edge that had quietly faded, leaving behind a shell of my former self, mashing buttons hoping to be bailed out by the deck.

There is a certain torture that comes with achieving success, in that once you’ve tasted it you can never accept mediocrity again. The climb is hard, but it’s the descent that will kill you. We see it everyday, the celebrated superstar suddenly wakes up one day at 40, no longer able to perform, left grasping at straws in the hopes he can make one last mad dash to the top. Poker is ultimately worse by comparison. There’s no ingrained exit plan or age range where you’re forced to move on, and with the ever changing landscape of the game it becomes a vicious dog eat dog world. Unfortunately, most of us are blinded by the short-term money, the variance, ego, and flawed, idealistic thinking that this can last forever. My eyes have seen the light. I’m not saying that there is a career change in my near future, quite the opposite. I’ve rekindled my focus and hope to see it translate into a monster year. However, I understand we’re all playing on borrowed time. Like anything else in life, you reap what you sow. It requires being a student of the game in order to ultimately master this craft. Most of all it takes honesty and balance. The inability to self actualize, in my opinion, is the biggest flaw we succumb to as poker players. It may be the only trait a professional poker player shares with a degenerate gambler. For me it’s the area I concern myself most with, not only for the benefits it brings to my game, but more importantly to ensure that I never stop growing and bettering myself. It’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture, but most of us got into this game as a means to a better life, and with that financial freedom should come a desire for an enriched life. The only way to enrichment is through balance and selflessness. Putting an emphasis on self educating, health, family and friends, productivity, and most importantly selfless acts toward others will, if nothing else, help us become contributing members to society. I can only speak for myself, but at the end of the day I hope to be defined through my actions rather than just labeled by my career choice.

Ok before this blog turns into an after school special I’ll end my path to enlightenment rant. I blame watching 6 hours of The Bible on History for bringing on such an aggressive “do onto others…” attitude. *Editor’s note: regardless of religious interest or lack there of, if you enjoy good ole fashion hand to hand combat, drawn out battles, and infidelity I promise this show delivers.*

I’ve decided to forgo the task of writing an actual conclusion. Instead I’ll leave you all with the impressive beast that is my pup, Gatsby. He’s about to turn 2 and is the absolute best.

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Since the WSOP I’ve been in an awful lull, moreover when I play I lose. Some of this is a result of negative variance, but mostly I feel I’ve spent a lot of hours pressing. I’ve let the game get away from me. It’s been slipping for quite some time. I have done my best to spend hours off the table analyzing my sessions; where I’m leaking money, even to the point of questioning my entire approach to live cash…something I’ve never, in my career, second guessed.

Life has a funny way of giving you exactly what you need just when you need it the most. In my case it was the opportunity to coach. For two weeks I was holed up in Stony Brook, playing the role of Gregy, a style in which my own game closely reflects. Being surrounded by 9 other people dedicated to improvement through discussion, debate, analysis, even trial and error allowed me to begin a stripping down process. I came home ready to conquer the world, completely blind to how much more work needed to be done. After a handful of sessions where I got beat up by the deck as well as by my own poor judgement, I was fortunate enough to be approached by a friend looking to transition from the work world to playing for a living. My initial response was jaded. I told him, “As much as I love poker and don’t regret the past 9 years, if I had the chance to do it all over again I would have never played a single hand.”. However, I really enjoy the coaching process and seeing his enthusiasm it was easy to take on the challenge of teaching someone from square one. In turn I’m also going to do the same, checking my ego at the door for the greater good.

The Challenge:
So much of my game is built around creating edges in areas where conventional wisdom dictates taking a more traditional approach. The result is a fine line between excellence and utter failure with no middle ground to cushion the blow. So obviously I must be insane to employ such a style if there are easier, lower risk ways of operating. Maybe, but I feel to continually stay ahead of the game and maintain such a high win rate I have to constantly challenge myself and thought process. I trust the foundation in which I’ve built my game upon. Unfortunately, after playing double dutch with that fine line this year, it’s clear that my game needs patch work from the bottom up. So this is where I challenge myself in a different way. This is where I check my ego at the door and take a step down to work out the kinks, strengthen the ABC’s and force myself to care about the intricacies as much as the results. For at least the next 5 weeks I’m going to do two things that I haven’t done in years, grind 6 days a week and do so exclusively at $2/$5NL.

Since this is meant to be a learning experience I am going to go through the same exercises I assign to my student. The first of which is a completed list of short-term goals I expect to complete over the next 5 weeks:

Goals (Nov. 17th – Dec. 23rd)

-Play 6 days a week; minimum 30 sessions total

-Play a minimum of 30 hrs/wk

-Let no session go longer than 10 hrs.

-Maintain $75/hr win rate (very likely on the high-end, but I’d rather err on the side of unobtainable)

-Spend 5 hrs/wk on hand and session analysis

For the sake of balance I’ve included a few physical goals as well:
-Maintain a strict workout regiment

-Continue strengthening my arm through long toss once or twice a week

-Back to tracking diet via myFitnessPal

Along with logging my hands for future analysis I will also keep a log focused on reflecting upon each session utilizing these questions…

Quality of play:

Quality of the game:

Number of mistakes and cost:

Quality of Focus (did we go on cruise control, tilt?):

Ability to over come dip in focus:

Somewhere along this uncleared path I call a poker career, I lost my way and for too long was unwilling to backtrack. Fortunately, there is a trail of crumbs leading me back to base. I hope this challenge proves to be a step backward in order to take a leap forward, but most of all I hope it humbles me. I’m at my best when my ego is bruised and in check. When the only hurdle is defining to myself just how badly I want to succeed.

“When you want to succeed as bad as you want to breathe, that’s when you’ll be successful.”

ImageGrowing up as an athlete it was beaten into my brain that mental errors are inexcusable. If the sick feeling of screwing up wasn’t enough there was the inevitable browbeating quick to follow. No one ever wanted to be “put in the corner” so to speak; it was embarrassing and counter productive from a learning standpoint. I did, however, take something away from those encounters… even the best make mistakes.

When I decided to create Coach’s Corner, I wanted to keep with the spirit of singling out inexcusable mistakes; less the public humiliation of course. The first subject I chose to tackle is easily the most common mistake among competent players; playing on auto pilot. Whether it’s a marathon session, problems off the table, tilt, or simply being stuck, everyone can think back to a hand, or series of hands where they weren’t totally engaged in the action or decision-making process. This disengagement from the game leads to playing in a predictable manner with an absence of forward thinking, ultimately making us an easy opponent to target. Moreover, when we’re restricted to making decisions street by street we get led down a disastrous path that could have been avoided by executing a well formulated plan. In my own personal experience, I often fall victim to auto pilot when I’m stuck or when sessions run long (not surprisingly these go hand in hand). Session length plays a big role in my game; I’m generally driving the action, which equates to having to make a lot of critical decisions. In order to stay engaged and continually make crisp, calculated choices, it becomes important that I recognize when my brain has checked out. In my bonus pack I have selected five hands, three of which exemplify mistakes I made playing on auto pilot; the final two will demonstrate the deep thought process of our  A+ game.

Hand #1: Snowball Effect

I won’t overdo the detail of this hand, as our mistake is quite clear. A strong case can be made for squeezing preflop, and to be honest had I been fully engaged in the game it’s the option I would have been most likely to take. However, putting in a large three-bet here, out of position is a very high variance play and will require high level play on all future streets. In a vacuum calling is the correct play, and what I would recommend to anyone I was coaching. The flop is a clear check/fold situation. When we call we rarely have the best hand and have no idea which, if any, of our outs are live. Case in point, we were floating ourselves dead in this hand. Biggest point of emphasis is if when we improve we still do not have a hand strong enough to play for max value then folding is the correct choice.

Hand #2: Winning Isn’t Everything

One of the biggest mistakes made while in cruise control is overlooking obvious details. In hand two we see a raise from under the gun by a 60bb stack. Now let me take this opportunity to be clear, in a cash game I consider players with less than a buy in to be short stacked. This is obviously exaggerated as true short stacks are closer to the 40bb or less range. However, we must consider our style; we play large pots applying max pressure forcing multiple decisions. Shorter stacks take that leverage away from us. More to the point, in this case where we hold a small pair we’re calling merely to set mine. Given stack sizes we’re barely getting the proper price, assuming we stack him when we flop a set. Since our opponent is also tight, it’s much more likely he’ll get let off the hook when he misses with AK, has an over card flop when holding JJ, QQ, KK, or worst case set over set us. All these, very apparent, details are forgotten when our mind wanders elsewhere and we instinctually flick in a call. Afterall we are already invested a big blind, and we have a very playable hand. To most this hand becomes an afterthought, just another instance where we make a set and don’t get paid. But the astute realize, that despite winning this pot, we made a clear negative EV call.

Hand #3: Deer In Headlights

This image is a close depiction as to how I must have looked upon facing such an awkward flop bet in a scenario that I hadn’t anticipated. Had my head been in the game I would have realized two things: my stack is too awkward to flat preflop, and this old man has been getting out of line. Folding is fine as is three-betting and playing for stacks, at least at the $5/$10 level. At lower stakes I would suspect that no matter how out of line it appeared this man has been getting, it’s more likely that he’s just catching a solid run of cards, since people play true to their tendencies at $1/$2 NL. Ok fine, everyone makes small mistakes, at least we have position and a strong holding to compensate. Unfortunately, once we’ve mentally checked out it’s tough to reel it back in. The flop is an easy shove. We made a questionable call preflop, but now our hand has as much value as we could ever expect. We hold an ace so it’s less likely he has aces, his bet is quite large so I give him less credit for a set, and if we are unfortunate enough to have run into KK we have some equity. Sure it’s a gamble to shove, but we’ve put ourselves in an awkward spot and it’s certainly the most profitable play at this point (he can easily make a bad call with AK or JJ, as well as draws or KQ)… So I call. I imagine this is what it feels like as the deer realizes a car is bearing down on it. Since it becomes clear that we have either a queen or a draw, our opponent checking the turn leaves us in a position where now we are no longer playing our hand for max value, but instead to lose the minimum when beaten. We can’t really shove for value now as we’ve defined our hand and will likely only be called by better. Also, when we are being checked to it’s often one of two scenarios, a full house or a hand he’s given up on. Since we’re never paying when AK makes broadway, I elect to make at least one good decision in this hand and check behind. Much like an act of God keeping the deer from becoming another victim, the deck saves us with a rivered queen. Unfortunately, we will rarely make any money on this card. It now becomes easy for our opponent to fold ace high, JJ, KK or AA as well as busted draws. Tens full and eights full may make a crying call, but that’s our only glimmer of hope. Of course the old man shows a monster draw that I would have never given him credit for, which had he hit the ace I would have paid off. If nothing else this hand demonstrates just how thin the line is between playing as a high level pro and a breakeven amateur. The devil hides in the detail.

Hand #4: Fight or Flight

Very rarely will we encounter a blind vs. blind battle at the $1/$2 level; in raked games it’s both profitable and good etiquette to chop. However, once we get to the mid stakes we start paying time, in which chopping is now foolish. In this particular hand we have a dream scenario: heads up with a hand that flops well, in position against a decent player who is going to generally try too hard against us. The reason I consider his trying too hard as relevant is it will naturally take him out of his comfort zone, leading to a potential large mistake. Hence why we do not three-bet him, too often he’s going to try to play above the rim and find the courage to four-bet. Since our hand flops well we elect to call with the intent to take it away on favorable flop textures. The 10-6-3 rainbow flop is about as dry as it gets so we should suspect our opponent to hold no pair a large portion of the time. Of course we anticipated his continuation bet, and since we are playing our A+ game we are going to take this pot away with a raise. We have a draw to the nuts as well as a backdoor flush draw, should our flop plan falter we will have ample opportunity to take this pot away as the board texture changes. Unfortunately, we turn one of the worst cards in the deck, and are facing heavy aggression as our opponent retakes control. Since his bet/call range on the flop is mostly middling/top pairs, 54, and strong Ace highs (AJ-AK) this card will often strengthen his hand, it’s also a great card for him to bluff, assuming he had any intention of doing so. Since our stack-to-pot ratio is awkward we can really only shove (likely into a hand or strong combo draw) or fold. We correctly tuck our tail, lick our wounds, and move on.

Hand #5: Driving The Bus

When fully engaged in the game each play we make will be backed by a well formulated plan. Here we are dealt a premium hand out of position. Most of the time our hand strength alone would dictate a three bet, but against an opponent who has such a tight opening range we are much better served flatting. Our plan will be to keep the pot small preflop and either flop the best hand (we assume anytime we make a pair it will likely be best) or use our image of having a wide flatting range to take the pot away on bad flop textures for our opponent’s perceived range (pairs and AQ, AK). Here we have an unexpected caller from the big blind. Despite the flop (10, 7, 3 rainbow) being quite dry, we can take the lead with what is sometimes the best hand or otherwise a hand that has over card equity. Since we expect the big blind to fold every time he has nothing, and some of the time when he has only one pair (based on the pressure of potentially being raised by the player yet to act) we’re putting the big blind and original raiser in a spot where they must have a hand to continue. The preflop raiser’s call tells us one of two things: he either has one pair that we likely have outs against (assuming it’s not AA), or he has specifically top set of tens that he is slow playing. Either scenario is fine for us as we’ll slow down on turn cards that don’t improve our actual hand or our perceived range (what we are representing: set of 3’s, 7’s or T’s, 98 straight draw, or just a ten).

Turn: The turn is actually a monster card for both our real hand and our perceived range, however, it also improves our opponent when he has JJ. Since JJ and TT are only small  portions of his holdings, coupled with his likelihood to misplay both of those hands as well as QQ, KK, AA, and AT, we elect to bet again. The obvious question is why not check in a spot where we are clearly beaten? Two reasons: First we can’t win the pot if we check. In other words he’s never folding when we check, moreover he’s rarely checking behind. The second reason to bet is we are able to set our own price. Against an opponent that I thought was incapable of ever folding one pair, or an opponent who I thought would often check behind/bet too small, I would elect to check. However, this specific opponent will be very likely to make a bet large enough that we can’t call profitably. Since the jack strengthens our representation of JT, sets and 98 I believe our fold equity greatly increases against naked one pair hands.

River: The one thing I can say about aggression is that it is often rewarded. Once he calls the turn it’s clear that if we make a hand we are certainly getting paid. It’s crucial we earn the maximum when we hit such a long shot. If our range assessment is accurate we know that most of our opponent’s hands are sets. That being said this becomes a perfect spot to go for an over bet. Of course check/raising is an option, but he’ll almost always check down KK and AA (where he may call some % of the time)  as well as bet and fold to our raise a lot of the time, yielding us a lower profit than if we had just dictated the price. Analyzing the hand after the fact we see that our opponent makes numerous mistakes, the largest being never attempting to push us off our equity share of the pot. If he puts in a raise on the flop or turn we are forced to surrender. Instead, he allows the board texture to continually deteriorate; even upon rivering a card that improves him, he faces a huge bet and ultimately loses the pot. Here in lies the biggest problem with bluff catching, far too often when pots swell and there is a river bet,  it’s no longer a bluff we are up against.

It’s very easy to lose sight of the big picture while playing a game for a living. But, this isn’t tiddlywinks. We’re playing for real money; cold hard cash, often in excess amounts that most people wouldn’t dream of risking. When signing up for this lifestyle, this career, it becomes our duty to give our undivided attention to the game; that is if we hope to succeed. Eliminate the mental mistakes and results will surely follow.

Anyone blessed enough to engage in raw competition for a living can easily recognize the bullet point moments in their career. For a poker player, no stage compares to the World Series Main Event Final Table. The bright lights of a national audience; ESPN cameras catching every moment of weakness, every heavy breath of uncertainty while $8.5 million hangs in the balance. It would be impossible not to get caught up in the magnitude of it all, that is assuming preparation wasn’t possible.

Much like the professional athlete, gains made in the offseason define future success; to use a tired cliche: fail to prepare, prepare to fail. That’s where the WSOP separates itself from all other events. A three month layoff to develop not only a plan of attack, but also to best replicate the high pressure situation of a once in a lifetime opportunity.

I know first hand what it feels like to get close and come up short, having made a 7 day run. I also have a vivid picture of what it’s like to be a November Niner, accented by all the intricacies that we ignore when dreaming of glory. As my good friend, Phil Collins, went into the final table last year I had the utmost confidence he was a favorite to finish in the top three. After being on the stage and actually feeling the weight of the moment, simply from the stands, it’s unreasonable to assign any sort of expectation. I do know that given the opportunity myself, I would spend every day of that layoff engulfed in details; learning the ins and outs of all the weighing factors and how they affect the mechanics of play.

Unable to obtain my own shot at poker immortality, I was very interested when Jason Somerville invited me to be a part of his coaching process for Octo Niner, Russell Thomas. My mindset has been submerged in strategy content, as I’ve been working hard to help Insta Poker grow. Being so engaged lately, I feel I can really contribute to the quality of content, as well as provide some perspective. I can’t begin to describe the diligence with which Jason has approached this project. The attention to detail all while surrounding Russell with intelligent, poker savvy people has created a very true to life experience. He’s also taken on the responsibility of hiring a production crew to document Russell’s road leading up Oct. 29th. I’m not sure what most finalist have done in the past, or even what the other 8 are doing this year, but I am certain it’s not as thorough as the clinic Jason is hosting.

Episode 1: The Final Table

In 2003 something very profound happened to the poker world. A degenerate accountant, with a last name too ironic to be fiction, parlayed his last $36 of online money into $2 million. A perfect storm, that if pitched as a script would surely be dismissed as hokey. I’m a first generation product of “The Moneymaker effect”. I’ve watched poker transform from a shady backroom game to a sophisticated, calculated, battle of wits where only the strong survive. I grew as the game grew; taking my lumps in stride, receiving a crash course in business, life and responsibility. 

Those who helped blaze the trail for NL Hold’em to become the game of choice, speak as if the game is solved. A mathematical game dying due to readily available strategy content, far-less “dead” money, and young optimists with all the answers. However, NL Hold’em isn’t a mechanical game easily conquered by someone who employs a solid strategy. It’s a living, breathing organism that feeds off of short-sighted, small-minded, narcissists.

The fact is, most players create a ceiling through a flawed approach to how they think about the game. Given the dynamic nature of the beast, the game quickly passes them by. The fraction of players who keep their fingers to the pulse adapt. They creatively find new ways to exploit the human element, manipulating each and every variable, resulting in an undefined style that leaves opponents questioning every certainty solidified in their own play. The true innovators are the ones who don’t accept such terms as alwaysnever, and standard. They are the ones who are trashed for not falling in line; their out of the box ideas often dismissed as reckless and mechanically flawed. But this game isn’t conquered by execution. Game theory is the driving force of a world-class pro, willing to sacrifice fundamentals in order to challenge players of all abilities, rather than surviving on an all fish diet.They are the trend setters, hidden beneath a cloak of judgement.  

A close guard is kept on the method behind the madness, revealed in detail to only a trusted few. As eye-opening as my mistakes have been, the most influential asset at my disposal was the close group of peers I discussed the game with. I imagine very few have been privy to the diverse talent and intelligence as was in my group. We learned the game on the fly and our results grew in correlation to hard work and analysis. Most importantly we learned how to think.

Earlier this year I was presented with an opportunity to provide content for a poker app that aimed to make a competitive game out of hand analysis.  I couldn’t sign on fast enough. Insta Poker was the perfect format to provide that group-like environment to the masses; providing a road map with a clear starting point to anyone interested in studying the game. Once I committed to working with Insta Poker, it became clear just how enthralled I was with the learning process. My ideas for in-depth teaching quickly surpassed both my time and focus. I developed a structure; each pack would posses a unique lesson, yet collectively (much like chapters to a book) the packs complete a series, “The Playbook”.

Since my audience is vast in skill set and knowledge of the game, I wanted to develop from the ground up. Now that the first two packs have been released, solidifying the fundamentals of poker, I want to expand the learning process by creating a forum in which packs can be further examined/explained, while providing an open line of communication between myself and the audience.

The first major hurdle I aim to overcome is clearing up any uncertainties resulting from my writing style. I’ve received constructive criticism that my explanations tend to be convoluted to those not all that familiar with poker vernacular. I felt blogging would be perfect to further define the content as well as the language in each pack. Furthermore, I plan to address the desire for more free content by releasing a free pack each month which I will dissect both on Insta Poker, as well as in the correlating blog. Finally, I wanted an outlet where the debate can begin where the packs left off. Consider the comment box an open forum where any questions, thoughts, criticisms or general arguments can be posed.

I’ll end this entry with a two-part video series. It’s a commencement speech given by author David Foster Wallace. Amidst his well versed stories and witty quips, lies an eye-opening lesson on our flawed default thought process. In short, he explains the importance in taking the time to learn how to think. Enjoy…

 

HEALTH:

Get health insurance. For the 4th straight year this makes the list of resolutions. I guess I gamble more than I realize considering I never seem to take the appropriate steps to securing some sort of insurance. I’ve said it before, but the reason I don’t have coverage is simply because I don’t want to pay into a policy that I’m uneducated on. However, now that I’m leaving my 20’s behind I think it’s time I bite the bullet and educate myself on the matter, resulting in some peace of mind should something terrible happen.

Get a physical. I know I’m living right and am likely healthy as an ox. However, I haven’t had a simple check up since I was in college (’05). Heart disease and diabetes run rampant through both sides of my family so it seems insane to stay in the dark. The problem is my whole “rub some dirt on it” mentality toward doctors. I trust my body healing itself and have a hard time biting the bullet and getting the tests done. This one may take some outside forces pushing me to accomplish.

Reduce my caffeine consumption. Probably one of my only real vices, aside from my sweet tooth, and I let it get the best of me too often. I’ve actually all but eliminated drinking energy drinks such as monster and red bull, but I still have my pre-workout drink. Which in itself is fine. But I tend to have another before I play, so those two combine are equivalent to 4 cups of coffee/day. There is a lot of room to ween off or at least cut back. The road block is the actual benefits caffeine provides. Maybe I have ADD?

Get under and maintain 10% body fat. A year ago I would have thought this to be somewhat lofty. I’m already taking strides toward it, but I’m certainly fighting against the aging process. They say 30 is a man’s peak so getting under 10% should be no prob. Maintaining it may be a little more difficult, but hopefully once I see that single digit I’ll stay motivated to continue to strive to lower it. 5% would be pretty sick. Lord knows I have enough time on my hands to make it happen. I was 8% in college and that was with a very below avg. diet with the majority of my calories coming from white pasta and fried food. Working with a trainer has been a great experience so far. It really amazes me how much further I push myself when I have someone other than myself and God to answer to. I hope that isn’t the case in all aspects of my life.

Continue to challenge myself mentally and physically. I’m a long way from slowing down, but I do catch myself wasting a lot of time and effort. Always choosing the entertaining outlet over the educational one will catch up with me sooner than later. I want to spend more time educating myself on pressing matters such as finance, economy, world affairs, etc. rather than get lost in facebook for hours on end. Same with my physical health. I want more of a concentrated effort toward improvement rather than just going through the motions. And all things considered that doesn’t mean it has to be torture. I’m ultra competitive and there are a lot of outlets for that aside from Madden and NHL ’12.

WEALTH (Career Goals):

The past 18 months or so was the first time in my life I was dealing w/a 6-figure bankroll and I certainly showed my inexperience. There were a lot of ups and downs, but moreover big mistakes made along the way. Keeping an over inflated ego in check is a daunting task that I clearly wasn’t prepared for. Fortunately it didn’t break me. Chalk it up to an expensive lesson in experience and move on. I’m far more forgiving of aggressive mistakes made out of arrogance and optimism than I am of complacency. Ultimately, I fell short of a few very lofty goals last year. Rather than set the bar lower and appease myself with a sense of accomplishment, I intend to maintain or extend those failed goals.

General:

Profit $500k. I made this goal last year and was actually on pace to accomplish it after my wsop final table. Unfortunately that would end up being the pinnacle of my year as I suffered a major downswing as well as a sizable backing downswing. That’s not to say I think this goal to be too lofty. I was a few spots away from making that in my final table alone. Assuming I can play my way back into the big games I think I can make a sizable chunk of this in cash alone. With no horses to stimulate nor detract from this goal the pressure is solely on my shoulders, which I prefer.

Get back to/surpass my peak of $250k life money. Ended 2011 on a mini upswing recouping a little over half of my downswing. More importantly though it gave me more capital to play with, which ultimately increases my overall earning power. I don’t anticipate being involved with staking this year, but I do plan to play a higher % of tournaments. It’s going to take a 6-fig. score and/or consistently moving up stakes in cash between now and the WSOP to give myself a shot at both reaching and maintaining $250k+. In order to continue to increase my earn I need to increase my bank roll exponentially as well as be in a situation to obtain all of my WSOP action playing as many events as possible. Completely obtainable, to the point of where I would consider it a big failure if I really miss the mark.

Diversify. Investing has been a very grey area these past few years and I’ve chosen to just keep my distance. However, considering this is an all cash business, I’m taking on far too much risk putting all of my stock in the strength of the dollar. Remaining liquid is fine in the short term, but I’m entering my 8th year in this profession, it’s time to take steps to help solidify my future. I’ve already started the process of better educating myself and plan to continue to do so. In the meantime I’ll continue to reinvest most of my worth in myself while further exploring my best options to avoid future financial turmoil.

Explore profitability in ventures outside of playing. Over the past couple of years I’ve actually made some pretty outstanding friends outside of the poker community, more so tied to the business world. Great guys who would like nothing more than to see me prosper. I have a couple ideas I’ve been throwing around, but really did nothing to bring them to fruition. I’d like to see myself take the next step and put myself in a position to sink or swim.

Cash Games:

Play 150 sessions. For normal cash game players this is probably a down year volume wise. My time has always been spread a little thinner. In the past I have always put in a moderate tournament volume as well as online volume. Given the current state of online poker I should be able to make up a few sessions in place of the usual Mon. Wed. Sun. online grind. However, I do plan to travel more and increase my live tournament volume. It’ll be a tricky balance to play often enough to reach this goal, yet take enough time to myself to enjoy the liberties poker provides in order to avoid burnout. I’ve maxed out in the past at 130 sessions and on avg. play about 110 so this will actually be a significant milestone for me to reach.

Earn at least 50% of my yearly profit in cash, or 250k. Obviously if I rip off a 7-figure tournament score I can’t match that in the cash games. Again this is uncharted territory for me far as cash game profit goes, though going into the WSOP this past year I was up $200k in cash games from the $10/$20/$40. Unfortunately, most of that was given back through a downswing in play and backing. Moral of the story, it’s well within reach.

Play less than 75 sessions at 5/10. It’s tough to quantify how many sessions I can play at the higher stakes because the games don’t run regularly enough as well as constant bankroll fluctuations. 5/10 is always around and profitable. I hope to use it as a place to fill in the down times as well as iron out any kinks I may have in my game. I hope to avoid it being the main stake level I play. I assume worst case I will travel a little more to LA this year, than in years past.

Speak softly but carry a big stick. I’m quite confident in my ability, but my results have been less than satisfying. I consistently have wins far larger than the next best player in the game. 50k at 10/20/40, 45k at 10/20, 17k at 5/10. Those are just my biggest wins at each stake this past year, but I seem to string them together at that size. Unfortunately, when variance sets in I lose the max as well. Handful of 30k losses. They hurt and usually lead to me taking time off. My goal is to deal better with the down swings, keep climbing the profit ladder and have a career year that is a reflection of what I believe my skill set to be.

Tournaments:

Increase my volume. Last year I played 5 WPT main events (cashing in 3), 14 wsop events (cashing 2, FT 1), and 9 non affiliated (cashing 1) for a total of 28 live buyins. My hopes are to get that number closer to 50. With the re-entries becoming so popular and buyins moving away from $10k’s I hope to increase this volume at a minimal cost. My results in MTT’s have actually been, to my surprise, through the roof for the duration of my career. I plan to travel more, but also to put in a slightly higher WSOP/WPT volume. In order for that to happen I have to win immediately, cushioning my bankroll for the bigger summer volume.

Win an event. Preferably a WSOP/WPT for 7-figures. I’ve chopped a handful of events live and won I believe 2 outright, but they were all for 50k or less. My two biggest scores were far from wins. Lord knows I had some big sweats in ’11. Bubbled final table of LAPC, 27th in both Legends and Bay 101 after holding the CL late in each event. Finally 6th in WSOP $2500 where I was 1/6. Opportunities missed…

Have a 6-figure score. I’ve had one or more the past 3 years as well as a handful of 30-50k scores. Hopefully continuing to put myself in a profitable position will ultimately pay off.

Qualify for EPL. On one hand I could ultimately care less about qualifying. On the other hand it would mean I picked up a million in cashes prior to the end of Aug. and the right to play some juicy events.

Go to WSOPE if it’s feasible. Every year I say, “This will be the year I go to Europe…” and every year I dread the thought of it. I’m not saying it’s worth it if it means over extending myself, but under the right circumstances it can prove to be a great trip during a very down time of the year here.

Win a bracelet or WPT event. Lofty and mostly out of my hands. However, a must to add to the resume sooner than later…

*I can’t help but laugh a little at even making goals for tournaments. The variance is so high. So much needs to go right in those potential life changing pots. It’s so arbitrary to request a 6-fig score or to cash for a mil before Aug. They both just fall under the “Play excellent and hope for the breaks” category. Never the less it does attest to keeping the long term in plain view and avoiding complacency with marginal results.

PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS:

Could be renamed the “Things I take for granted” or “Things I need to give more priority”

Enjoy the little things. I get so overly involved in the daily grind that I often forget just how lucky I have it. Usually it takes a trip home and a week with just family and friends to remind me just how blessed I am. I often forget what it’s like to get excited over the little things; playing in a big game, anticipating a visit or vacation, meeting someone new, actually allowing myself to ride the highs rather than attempting to always remain neutral to avoid being dragged down by the lows of this career choice.

At least consider a plan B. I’ve been very fortunate to this point in my life in that whatever it was I set out to accomplish I either found success or fell into something else. Poker has been all I could ask and more from a career standpoint. However, the uncertainty of how long it will remain profitable as well as my financial situation when I get out of the game makes me nervous of things to come. In all honesty I have no idea what I would do if I woke up tomorrow and was forced to make a career change. I’m more than capable to succeed in multiple careers, but as is I’m likely under qualified and lost as to what path I would choose. I always thought having my degree would at least point me in the right direction, but I’m 6 years removed from a degree in a technological field that turns over every few years. Not to mention I have very little interest in programming or anything of that nature. Most importantly when it comes to the point of leaving the game I want to do so with money in the bank and on my own terms. Few people leave this game in any other manner than broke, I hold myself to a higher standard…

Look into being a Pitching coach or conditioning coach at least part time. This may fall a little more under wishful thinking. I don’t exactly have a ton of structure in my life and considering my travel schedule early in the year and my heavy volume during the summer it leaves very little room for coaching. However, my winter months are slow and I would love to maybe get my foot in the door now and then come winter help with conditioning and the mental aspect of the game.

Throw 100+ innings. It’s a tough goal to meet just because I’m out of town so often, but I did it in ’10 and fell just short last year. Considering there’s no Sunday online grind I’ll pick up a few more starts.

Take a poker free vacation to somewhere other than PA. I need to go to the beach or Tahoe, wherever, with a crew of friends and just hang out for a week. Everyone needs their batteries recharged.

Continue to provide for my family. My gram is a rock, she’s been what has kept our family together for as long as I can remember. She has the weight of the world on her shoulders and at some point it’s going to break her. The more I can alleviate that for her the happier I’ll be.

Shine a spotlight on the relationships in my life. Too often family, friends, etc. take a backseat to whatever shiny object has caught my attention at the time. I need the reminder to keep them in the forefront and realize the rest is just detail.

Here’s to a healthy and prosperous 2012. And to the Mayan’s getting the date wrong…

I haven’t felt this accomplished since college, and it’s merely the beginning. For the first time since playing serious college ball I found myself working out with a purpose, and doing so efficiently. I researched sprint training and found a great program that progressively intensifies as I continue to get in better shape. So far I’m extremely pleased with my results. I’ve noticed a significant increase in energy. Also, I’m down 8 lbs in 15 days. Last Monday I added weight training, plyos and yoga into the mix. I don’t anticipate my weight fluctuating a lot in the next few weeks as I’ll be adding lean muscle, however, I do foresee my body fat % dropping at a steady rate. Unfortunately I’ll be going at this solo. Dan, for the 3rd time, shredded his ACL. Thankfully he can still pursue his true passion in life, Star Craft. I personally would explore suicide if I were sidelined for life by shoddy body parts, or if I had an undeniable craving for virtual alien warfare.

This past Sunday I got back on the hill, for merely the 2nd time in the past 2 months, to throw in our league’s championship game. We were the #2 seed coming in, playing the #1, and facing a pitcher who stood about 6’6 and pumped ched. No surprise it was a pitcher’s duel, which was a great reminder why I still show up every Sunday. Despite 20 k’s we scraped together 3 runs in the 3rd to take a 3-2 lead. It held until the bottom of the 5th. With one on and 2 outs a lazy fly ball hit down the right field line was mishandled by our RF, however in foul territory. The ump didn’t see it that way calling the ball fair and allowing the run to score. In the bottom of the 6th errors plagued us again as 2 more score w/2 outs. We had one shot at tying the game when our #3 hitter smashed a ball down the left field line w/a runner on in the top of the 9th. Despite his best Fisk like effort the ball hooked foul. My final line: CG 14ks, 2 earned runs, 3 walks and 9 hits and the loss. One of the most frustrating losses I’ve suffered since college ball, but one of the most enjoyable games I’ve played as well.

I considered ending this entry on a positive note, ignoring all things shitty, for sanity’s sake. I’m not one to coddle or be coddled, so I feel it’s best to put myself under the microscope. Poker has been tortuous these past few months. I mentioned in my previous blog that I’m experiencing a downswing of epic proportions. In my few sessions since, I’ve continued to get mashed. Of course mistakes were made, but I believe I’m running quite under par. My past two sessions I’ve tracked every hand played over 80bbs. Of the 30 hands I’ve tracked, I won 8.5. Of the 5 largest pots I’ve played I’ve won 1/2 of a pot. I definitely have a couple spots I need to clean up and I think tracking these hands are a huge leap forward in doing so. I took another analytic step by breaking down my profit margin, year by year as well as over my career, for live cash play. Turns out the area I’ve considered my bread and butter has accounted for a mere 20% of my lifetime earnings. Moreover, my hourly at 5/10+ is less than 3bbs/hr. By my standards this is abysmal. Year in and year out I trend toward a massive downswing at whatever stake I’m playing. Last year it was a 20 buy-in downswing at 5/10 right after the series. This year it’s a 15 buy-in downswing at the 10/20 – 10/20/40 level, again in the months following the series. Both have accounted for half my yearly profits which go unnoticed due to big tourney scores cushioning the blow. In my opinion I have the skill set of a top 5% cash game player w/the return of someone trending toward the avg. winner. My focus moving forward will be to get my win rate up to par. I have no certainty that my tournament scores are reflective of anything shy of positive variance, I am however, certain that my cash win rate is an embarrassment given my ability.

I made some very lofty short term goals in my last blog. I’m quickly realizing those are out of reach, so my adjustment will be to put myself into a position where those goals become obtainable. First and foremost, my volume will be increased. If it takes grinding smaller stakes, so be it. This year I would take days off before I would drop down to a profitable 5/10 game. I owe it to my career to get off my ass and collect a pay check every chance I get. I avg about 110 sessions/yr over the past 6 years. 150-180 is much more reasonable/necessary. I think there is a fine line between putting in a healthy volume and obsessively playing just to play. Anyone putting in 200+ sessions a year likely lacks, drastically, other important aspects and balances in life. In order to be efficient over that duration I need to continue to keep a focus on studying the game. Most of my downswings have come after my 50th+ session for the year, a time where the series has past and complacency/over confidence has settled in. There is no excuse to harm my bottom line due to an issue of focus and lack of fundamental application. Finally, I need to keep the finish line in view. In other words, where I need to continually press the envelope and set lofty goals, I also need to allow myself to succeed. Continually creating new, lofty, short-term goals will allow me to both achieve and adjust on the fly. It’ll keep the long-term in plain view and still allow for me to take calculated shots in tournaments that I’ve proven to maintain a high return.

I understand there is a leap in logic for me to so strongly pursue conquering ring games as opposed to tournaments, which up to this point have accounted for the bulk of my yearly earn. It’s possible I’m way off base, missing my mark on maximizing my earn. However, I feel very strongly, that over the long-term, the variance of tournament play will catch up with the vast majority of the field. Of course the top 3-5% will always show a significant profit, but I have done little to show that I belong in such an elite group. Call it arrogance or disillusion, but I feel that despite my numbers I do fall in that elite class of live cash players. Here’s to putting my money where my mouth is…

Let’s get right to the meat and potatoes, I’m writing again flat out because I see a direct correlation between dumping my brain onto paper and achieving the goals I set for myself. I took a break from writing when donkeyfishpoker was absorbed by Deepstack University.  Donkeyfish was a fairly private community I was comfortable with and rarely, if ever, did I play with anyone who had read any of my entries. However, Deepstack is a business that seems to only be growing with the introduction of their tournament tour in ’12, and will likely draw more attention of those serious about improving their game at higher stake levels. My writing is purely self serving and never do I intend to draw a road map for my peers to find a way to exploit me. That being said if you are reading this you are likely a good friend or a non poker player. Hopefully you take something away from these scattered thoughts; if not, I’m sorry, I’m not sorry.

Sticking to the self improvement theme, today is day 1 of what I will refer to as the “Things I want to achieve before 30” challenge:

First up is a gentleman’s bet I have with my roommate Dan in which we are going to hit it hard til Thanksgiving, % of body fat lost will be the deciding factor. That’s merely the mid way point though, my 30th birthday, Jan 29th will be the final weigh in and measurement. The stakes are a handful of house chores, including cleaning up dog shit for a month, as well as a few bucks. We agreed to keep it friendly in hopes of actually pushing one another for once. We both weighed in at 205 lbs with my body fat being 15.75% and his 19%. I’m going to set the bar high for myself hoping to achieve 10.5% by Thanksgiving and 8% or less by my birthday.  It’s going to take a level of dedication I’m not sure I still possess to get back to my college playing shape. However, with age comes wisdom so hopefully a more precise diet and workout regiment will lead to similar results. Stay tuned for weekly installments of my shin splints, sprains, breaks, and bruised ego.

On deck we have career improvements, but first let me go into a little detail as to what happens when you neglect your profession. I was quietly on pace to meet my yearly goal through the end of the world series, then came the downswing. I lost a chunk in bad games the following month, then I just decided to wait it out and enjoy the summer. I didn’t have nearly enough fun, making the ensuing downswing even tougher to swallow. All toll between backing and my current downswing I have the yearly win rate of a moderate 2/5 grinder. The worst aspect of career missteps is the reflection of the mistake in my net worth, consequently the restrictions that follow due to bankroll adjustments. In my case I lost over a third of my net worth, forcing me to scale back one horse to strictly cash while cutting the other. It pains me to give away equity and to see a friend in a bad spot, but mistakes were made by all parties involved and I certainly let them compound.

From a business perspective disaster was eminent. I was playing the biggest stakes at any given time along with a moderate tournament schedule. Throw in expenses and I was in a comfortable, at best, situation for myself. However, I arrogantly chose to over extended myself. Fine, no gamble no future. Problem with backing is you can only control one real variable: amount invested. Unfortunately the concept of getting a horse to the long term clouds judgment, leading to biting off more than I could chew. Online going down really crushed things as well forcing our hand at more expensive live buyins. Ultimately it came down to taking the reigns of an opportunity rather than wishing in one hand and shitting in the other, needless to say my hand stinks.

Onward and upward. Adjustments need to be made. I likely won’t drop stakes in cash as the 10-20-40 is rarely running these days, which I can easily game select when it goes. I do plan on spending some hours at 5/10 working on some new concepts and patching up a few areas I feel I’ve neglected. I will scale back my tournament buyins indefinitely, which I’m not exactly shedding a tear over. I don’t foresee me playing any big buy in events until Jan. at the earliest. I expect to be in a position to play PCA along with LAPC. I have very lofty expectations of myself over the ensuing months leading up to PCA and my birthday. There are 105 available days to play, I expect to play 75 of them. My goal is to triple my net worth in that allotted time, which barring a big tourney score, would be an upswing of epic proportion. Both of these would be career achievements for myself and the tip of the iceberg. I lack those bullet point achievements that separate the elite and it’s a long time coming for me bolster my resume.

The arbitrary deadline of my 30th birthday only serves the purpose of a wake up call. I recognize the opportunities that youth, freedom and intelligence provide, yet ignore how limited life can become when squandering any/or all of the above. In kissing my 20’s goodbye I hope to tread lightly, paying a little more attention to the here and now. And currently I want to be accomplished. I have a lot to prove to myself and want to raise the bar to an unreachable level. If I fail, great so long as I don’t walk away with a gap between my effort and capabilities.