Saturday, June 10, 2006

Crash and Burn

Well, another oldie and goodie has bit the dust and decided to turn their festival into an ALL HOLD'EM, ALL THE TIME event. This year both Mirage and Commerce bowed to mo' dollas. I wasn't planning on attending the California State Championship this year anyway, but it sure is sad to see poker being defined as NLHE.
In that same vein, Glenn's latest post reminded me of the many times I have seen new, Hold'em specialists crash and burn.

Howard Lederer said it best when he warned the poker community to specialize at their own peril. I could never say it as well, nor do I have his reputation so that people will listen, but I have long said that once the current boom is over, what is going to be left?

Don't get me wrong, poker will survive. Always has. It might be just a shadow of what we have been experiencing in the past few years, but it will be there. And I truly believe that Hold'em will always be the prominent game in casino poker. I just wonder what will happen to the great games, and if we will go back to scratching like chickens just to survive.

Anyone can win a tournament. Anyone can be "hot" for a year or two and tear up the tourney circuit. We've all seen it. Seen it many times over the years. I get asked all the time, "Hey, what happened to so-and-so who was so hot back in 1999? I haven't seen or heard of him for years!"

And so the crash and burn. The biggest mistake that I see new, hot players make is that they suddenly believe they are the best thing since sliced bread after winning an event or two in short order. This is probably the worst thing that can happen to a young, new player. He's the hot item in town and getting tons of offers, attention, accolades, TV exposure. He convinces himself he is a poker god, and can do no wrong.

I remember playing at a big festival back in late summer 2004. A new 22 year old was playing, and a guy sitting beside him was chatting it up with him.

"Yeah, with the way you're running, you should enter all of the events. You could have a shot for best overall player and earn even more."

The young god bristled, "Are you kidding? I wouldn't play anything except NLHE! Those other games are bogus. They are for kids and old men. REAL poker is no-limit Hold'em."

Long-time pro tried to be polite, "Don't you think it's dangerous to make sweeping statements like that? It could wreck someone to specialize in one form of one game and refuse to learn any others, if for no other reason than to get better at their specialty by excelling in general poker ability."

Hot pro was offended, "Don't you know who I am? Haven't you seen me on TV? I have won hundreds of thousands of dollars this year playing NLHE! How much have you won? You don't know what you're talking about! Poker IS Hold'em and that is all there is to it. You old guys are living in a fantasy world. We are going to take over and you will be left behind because of your refusal to adapt to the new poker situation!"

The young guy cashed in one event during this festival. Bombed out of the rest of the NLHE events. And was virtually dead in the water for the next 18 months.

I saw him again, now aged 24. Head down, a lot more humble. Claimed he had some kind of backing deal now, and had to get a real job off and on during the past year. Did some quasi-illegal activities, according to those expose websites that abound these days.

Suddenly the young poker god didn't seem so omnipotent anymore. Much matured, much weathered, grinding out both big and smaller tourneys, playing some mixed games on the side. Kept his mouth shut. I didn't talk to him, but I could imagine the type of conversation we would have had if I'd brought it up..."Wow, I wish I'd listened to that guy back then. He's been around the poker scene for twenty years. Instead of writing him off, I wish I'd done some studying and opened up a little bit, instead of blowing all of my winnings within six months after the series. I even had to sell my bracelet. That sucked. I thought I was unbeatable. I thought I'd continue to win forever. I never thought I'd actually have to play a cash game, or play anything other than NLHE. I figured I was set for life. Who would have thought that six months later I was dead broke? That guy has supported himself even during the deadest days of poker, and I blew him off like some jackass. I was a moron, a fool."

I see young guys burn themselves out so quickly. It seems to happen overnight. On both 2+2 and poker blogs, they will win one, two, three big tourneys (or make a really high final table finish) and then strut round like false gods. They won't listen to anyone. They are way above poker advice. They use their recent results to try to convince people who have been around a long time that they are omnipotent. It's sad to see the eventual crash. Suddenly their nicknames aren't around anymore on 2+2. Blogs are shut down. Online poker sites they had an agreement with drop their name as one of the "pros."

I think probably one of the worst things that can happen is for a new player to go on a heater. It takes him much longer to recover, if he ever does, when he starts out so hot.

I remember when I went on a heater at the Belle. Seemed like every tournament I either won, or cashed in. It was so consistent that a group of regulars even petitioned the CRM to have me ejected as an "obvious cheat."

Thank God these were only small events. Or I might have never recovered. I also knew that it wasn't so much my skill at poker, as their awfulness at it, lol. I also had my cash game past to bolster me during the rough times. I did, however, fall into the trap of playing almost all tourneys, all the time. Talk about burn-out! Not only did I cool off, but I started playing more cautiously, more tight, more guarded. I got incredibly bored, especially with Hold'em. And my cash game play suffered. And on and on. Every year I was struggling to make up the deficit of my tourney entries by grinding cash games. What a horrible way of life.

It's better to be a guy who stays humble, stays grounded, cashing or winning here and there, gradually rising in the poker world, than to start so hot and then crash.

Felicia :)