Monday, December 12, 2005

Poker Realizations

Most of the time, I'm very cognizant of my poker shortcomings and weaknesses. I have known from the first time I played that I can never "out-math" the math guys, "out-aggress" the hyper-aggressive guys, "out-last" the marathon players, etc. I'm pretty realistic when it comes to my place in the poker world.

I got really lucky in that not long after I began to play seriously the poker boom hit. Not the mega-boom that we have now, but the 2002-2003 'poker-is-now-on-American-TV-and-Moneymaker-won-the-WSOP' pre-boom which exploded into what we now call the poker boom.

I was lucky because games that were only marginally profitable, and tough to beat, became a cakewalk. That was mostly Hold'em, Stud stayed tougher for a long time.

Suddenly, I found myself as one of the veterans. I was old school, and I hadn't even been playing seriously for a year! I was also a dinosaur, because the Stud games were drying up, and I still preferred Stud (when I say "Stud," I am always referring to any Stud game; Stud High, Stud 8, Razz).

Since my shortcomings included some odds, ability to make the third bluff (lack of hyper-aggressiveness) and inability to play 12+ hour sessions, I pushed my strengths in order to make up for the difference.

One of my strengths is awareness. I tend to be the most aware player at the table. I know how much I have on the table at all times. I know how much my opponents have, as well. I pay attention to their rolls if they bust and rebuy.

An extreme example of my hyper-awareness happened one time at a low stakes O8 game. I glanced down for the billionth time and added up my stake, only to find myself a quarter short. Yes, a quarter. I pondered and pondered this, but let it go, due to playing the game. About a half an hour later I found the quarter under the railing. That's me, hyper-aware.

Being so aware is made easier if one can quickly scan and calculate chips, without missing action at the table. This has always come easily for me. I look, I calculate, it's close. I don't even "think" about it.

Readers might remember my story of being a reporter for the WPPA at Orleans back in 2004. Although we were all exhausted from the 16 hour day, I quickly scanned the chip counts and wrote them down for my report. The TD asked for my count, I gave it, he then proceeded to tell me that I was way off. He was then challenged on HIS count, told that HE was actually the one who was off, and took it very badly, embarrassing himself in public and in front of the final GSN table and all of the GSN crew. The WPPA was a sham, but this TD guaranteed himself failure in the poker biz by his continuous errors and terrible rulings.

Anyway, my point is that I have always had that ability.

Not anymore. Unfortunately, one of my biggest strengths has turned into a weakness. I simply cannot think as clearly as pre-chemo. Numbers look odd to me now, sort of like they are in another language. While I used to be able to just look at stacks of $1, $2, $5 and $25 chips, etc, and add them quickly and effortlessly in my head, now they are just stacks of markers I don't understand. This is not to say that I can't "add" anymore. A stack of chips is just a simple matter of finding out what denomination they are, and then multiplying by the number in the stack (estimating how many chips one has in his stack). It is when there are many denominations together in separate stacks that I start to have problems. Problems that prevent me from estimating quickly and effortlessly, then moving to the next seat and repeating, until I know what everyone has on the table. Now it takes time and concentration. Concentration I should be saving for play. It doesn't just "come to me" anymore.

Another weakness I have found is that I have a harder time reading boards. I don't just "know" what the best hand is without thinking about it. In Omaha and Stud games, I sometimes don't see a possible wheel or straight anymore, no matter how hard I look and concentrate. It refuses to come to me. I absolutely cannot see it. I am showing down too many second and third best hands because I believe I have the nut one way or another, yet I don't.

The cards seem to be floating in and out of focus. They don't make sense anymore. They are like reading another language that I don't understand. Sort of like dyslexia, I suppose. At times, I am 100% and on top of my game, but unfortunately I don't seem to realize when I am slipping, until I've lost some big bets. It can be the difference between a winning and losing session. It is very frustrating.

Another strength I always had in poker was an ability to discern. I could "see through" players who were FOS pretty easily. A question I got asked often was, "How did you KNOW?" I just did. It wasn't any looking into the soul or watching the pupils dialate type of thing. I just made decisions based on many factors, one of them being body language and/or verbal tells. Helps out, not always reliable, but gave me a slight advantage in certain situations. An advantage that the all-math-all-the-time guys didn't posess, at any rate.

I don't seem to have that anymore. Sure, anyone can pick up overt tells like telegraphing and the most obtuse Mike Caro giveaways, but I don't pick up the subtle things anymore like I used to. Once again, I have it at times, I'm on top, but then it fades away and I don't even realize it until it's too late.

I lost my buy-in in a small 1/2 NLHE game on the ship due to this failure. Something I would not have done a year ago, but many giveaways that I missed this time (pre-flop, flop, turn, river...missed them all).

It actually took Glenn to prove to me that I don't have "it" anymore. Oh, what hurt comes with that realization. I've had a back-of-the-throat nauseated feel since that time. A vomitous bile lump whenever I even think of poker and how much I've gone downhill.

Yes, I know this is not my fault. It is no one's fault, it just happens. I've tried to convince players much better than I am right now to give it up. Naw, they don't listen, they never do, but the fact is that there are players who play a lot better than me who shouldn't be playing for any real stakes.

Fortunately, I'm not one to bury my head in the sand. I don't just go on doing something when I realize I'm not meant for it. I have never been a hand-holding, Kumbaya-singing person, nor will I start now.

Far from stomping my feet and angrily declaring, "I'm never playing poker again!" after a bad session, I will say that I'm not going to be dead money in the middle stakes games anymore. I will play for fun-stakes, but not the type of money that means anything to me.

I quit tournaments because I realized I didn't have what it takes to win the higher buy-in events. I'm quitting real stakes cash games because I realize I have lost my edge due to chemo. If and when it comes back, I might return to real poker.

No big swan song, no grand exit, just backing off.

I think I've known it for a while now, I just didn't want to say it. It took some really weird sessions on the ship, some backing away from poker over the past few months, and Glenn finally spelling it out for me that I didn't even have the ability to beat the softest games played today (low buy-in NLHE) in order for me to finally make a statement.

Physically I am weak. Mentally I have lost my edge.

Perhaps someday I will have it again. Until then, please feel free to enjoy my writing on "fun" poker sessions, theory, health and cruising. Or please feel free to unsubscribe from my websites and move on to more serious players.

All the best to you,

Felicia :)