Wednesday, May 10, 2006

I am Emotionally Dead

Psychology of Poker (Part V)

(If you have not read parts I, II, III and IV in this series, please feel free to read them before you start this post.)
I just had sex today. About fifty times. I stopped counting after maybe the first ten. I mean, if one is going to have sex fifty times straight, why bother counting, it is the same ol' thing over and over again! Oddly enough, I was both the male and the female.

Bees are scarce in these here parts. I was pollinating my garden. Worse, I didn't even orgasm once! So strangely unfulfilling, yet I'm sure I will enjoy the fruits and veggies when they are ready :)

Okay, so this is something I've wanted to talk about for a long time. Because it is both a help and a hindrance to my game.

I am emotionally dead. I could not care less if I win or lose. Naturally I WANT to win, but I don't suffer any ill consequences when I lose. I just don't care.

I thought this was a big neon sign in my favor within the poker world. Until I read Barry's book, that is. And I found out that if I have no emotional investment, I can never really be a world class player.

I had often wondered why I stopped winning tournaments. I had worked my way up from freerolls in 2002.

Here is how it came about, and how it almost destroyed me in the poker world.

I was playing a lot at Sahara in Vegas. Glenn and I had been spending winters in Vegas off and on for many years. AOL was really cool about Glenn, because he was one of those demented programming geniuses. He could fix just about anything. He was one of those guys who is like an idiot savant, when it comes to programming. He didn't need to know the language, didn't need "lessons." He could be seated at an old mainframe or a PC. If someone just let him have a few hours alone in front of a monitor, he could figure out just about anything.

Glenn was a Cobol programmer for many years. Maybe working on dinosaurs all the way until 1996 helped him become so well rounded. Beats me, but at any rate, AOL was very accommodating. What they wouldn't give him in raises and excellent reviews (AOL had a policy about the word "excellent." They figured NO ONE was "excellent." So why did they even have that category? The retards), they gave him in permission to telecommute.

We loved the desert, so we spent a lot of time wintering and playing poker.

I had no aspirations to be anything but a low-limit Stud player (there is something telling in this). I had no interest in tournaments or Hold'em. I thought Omaha was a moronic game, although sometimes I would become hooked on the action of high only.

So then someone at Sahara talked us into signing up for freerolls. After all, we were putting in the hours there, why not take a free shot (plus free rebuy or add-on)? Oy, vey, the world was never the same again.

I played in a tourney that barely got two tables. I think maybe we had 13 participants altogether, and half had gotten in via freeroll, lol. I was hooked, even though it was NLHE.

Over the next few years, I spent a lot of time and money on tourneys, and it was a losing proposition.

While I could kill small tourneys, big ones were unattainable, especially once the poker boom hit and the structure was sped up, while the starting chips were often cut in half.

I worked my way up from the freerolls to $100 buy-in tourneys with relative ease. In fact, it was probably too easy for me. Number one, it had me thinking I had what it takes to win tournaments. While I wasn't thinking of the series at this time, I definitely thought I had something special.

Two, which was a revelation I've never experienced before or since, I was accused of cheating.

This is a long, stupid story for another day, but suffice it to say, the senior citizen losers at the Colorado Belle were just certain that poker is "all luck," since they lose. They are quite sure it is a house game, where only the house wins in the long run. Zero sum.

So when I began running over the cardroom, they noticed that I was winning "more than my fair share." They went to elaborate lengths to "prove" that I must be cheating. Although Glenn and I didn't play at the same table, and tried to always avoid playing at the same table in the tourneys, it did occasionally happen. We played fair against each other, although we were the only couple in the cardroom which actually played AGAINST each other instead of softplaying. He knocked me out of several tourneys.

But that still didn't stop the rumors, and eventually he just quit tourneys there altogether and concentrated on cash games.

Even then, the rumors persisted. If he came to watch me during the final table, the seniors would rush to the CRM and complain that Glenn must be using his Walkman to relay signals to me. They claimed he would be standing behind some opponent of mine, looking at his holecards, and using the Walkman to relay what those cards were. After all, I won way, way, WAY too many tourneys at the Belle.

Eventually that problem got solved, but I learned a lesson in how mean and spiteful losing players can be.

So back to my biggest problem. Which is being so emotionally dead.

I have never really thrown a fit when eliminated during a tournament. I take my lumps and walk away. I'm not "kind and generous," on the other hand. I don't congratulate a dude who calls all-in with 83o against my aces and flops a pair while rivering another pair. He didn't "play well," he's a moron.

But unlike Barry, I don't "have" to win. And with no will to win, I cannot win.

I noticed the less I cared about winning an event, the worse I played. I played to "get into the money," or to "pass the time." I didn't play to win. I thought about how horrible it would be to play 18 hours straight. I thought about how little I wanted to be on TV, or at the TV table. All of these things kept me from winning.

In cash games I can compete. I don't get emotionally invested in individual hands or sessions, so I tend to win. I don't have huge sessions though, because of that very lack of interest and emotion.

Barry MUST win. He will sit for 24 hours until he is winner. He has the physical and mental fortitude for it. I, however, think that my worst nightmare would be sitting and playing poker for 24 hours straight, especially stuck! I have so little need to get even or winner, that I never push myself to become a world class player. It just ain't gonna happen.

How does being emotionally dead help in poker? It helps in many ways. It is a key attribute to being a world class player, if one also has the eye of the tiger along with it.

Not many of us can be Barry Greenstein's or Phil Ivey's, but we can attain that type of attitude in a smaller way, if we have both of those keys to success.

A story that revolves around Phil is that during the 2003 Series, when he was busted in 9th place, is that he was kind and cordial. It has been said that he shook hands with everyone, went to get his check with a good attitude and eventually left the building. Supposedly he was upbeat and generous to the valet at Binion's, giving a good tip and a smile. Tomorrow is another day.

That is something we all love about Phil. Barry and Ted (Forrest), two players I'm friends with, are the same. Barry, however, has the drive and emotional necessity to force a win. He HAS to win in order to be complete. Ted is a gambler and is very good. He loves to gamble on anything, and also has the drive to force himself to win. No one can beat the luck factor at poker, or Hellmuth would win every tournament...


But...we can make luck work FOR us, instead of AGAINST us. Ted does just that. He sets up situations where he can weather the bad luck, by creating good luck. "Creating" good luck is by building up our chips in advantageous situations. For example, Ted is playing against a player who is timid and not as willing to show his balls as Ted is. So this player makes some kind of standard 3.5x BB raise with a premium hand. Ted decides he can create his own luck, so he smooth calls, heads-up as the closer. The flop comes with an ace, and Ted knows this guy doesn't have an ace, or is certain of it when this guy makes some kind of timid bet or checks. So Ted decides to let his 97o represent the ace, and bluff this guy off of the pot.

Those kind of moves help us build chips and create our own luck. That way, when OUR aces get cracked, we still have some bullets, we aren't DOA.

This is not an advanced concept, btw, but it is important for me to illustrate why people who have good control of their emotions, while at the same time having the drive to succeed, often make the top players in the poker world.

I had the emotional control. I did NOT, however, have the drive, the emotional drive and investment in the game. I had too much apathy. And apathy is a losing strategy in the bigger games and tournaments.

Although emulating my style of emotional control will help you succeed at playing cash games, while keeping you from having a massive stroke during a huge smack of variance, you must also have some kind of WILL to win. You must be emotionally invested in the game to some degree.

You cannot have too much emotional investment. You don't want to be the guy with B.O. sitting at the table for five days straight, barely able to keep his eyes open because he is forcing a win. You cannot have THAT much investment in your drive to win. You must be mature and levelheaded when it comes to these situations. There has to be a balance. Sure, Barry, Ted, Chip and Doyle will play for 24 hours, when there is a fish in the game and they stand to come out winner. But these same players will NOT stick around when the fresh, well rested players step up to the plate. They won't play against fresh players who are also winning players at their game. If Phil, Jennifer and Todd (Brunson) come into the game looking well rested and ready to rumble, the above WCPs know that suddenly they are the dogs in the game, if they are fatigued and not playing their A game due to stress of being stuck and inability to concentrate fully due to lack of sleep. They get the heck out of Dodge, winner or no. They live to fight another day.

So there is a balance that must be had. This is true whether you are playing for play money, low stakes, middle stakes or tournaments. There must be both attributes to win: a lack of steaming (good emotional control), and a will to win.

If you can balance both, you are in a very small minority of players. You have the personality to be a world class player at whatever limits or games you play.

Don't be a whiner or abuser when you catch a beat to knock you out of a tournament. Be mature and professional. Shake hands with those commiserating with you, pick up your check, and be kind to the valet. Be the guy that everyone wants to be. Have that Phil Ivey quality whenever you play, no matter what stakes.

And then, rise to the top and be the best!

Felicia :)

Monday, May 08, 2006

Hyper Awareness

Psychology of Poker (Part IV)

When I started my Psychology of Poker series, the first post was titled, "Learn to Think Like a Fish." It got an overwhelming response, and has been linked to many times from different places on the net. I'm really, really happy that I got such positive feedback.

In the beginning of that first post, I did a bullet list of things that I was interested in exploring. I then made a second Psychology of Poker post, entitled, "Learn to Think Like a Loser," which was based on the first of the bulleted list (outline): 1) I always downplay my ability.

As if it couldn't get any more confusing, I then veered off into an even more elementary post, "Be Yourself," which was not one of my bulleted items, and was based on John Vorhaus' book, "Killer Poker."

Hmmm, at least I never claimed to be a real writer, lol :)

So here I have come full circle, and am still extremely interested in continuing the series. I guess that since it's all free and widely available, I don't need to apologize for my lack of coordination and not sticking to the subject matter very well. Free is free, so you can either take it or leave it, for what it's worth.

The second subject in that original, bulleted list, was named, "I am hyper-aware, which makes up for my lack of skill (and is actually a skill set in and of itself)."

This is something that is tough to develop if the player doesn't already have it within himself.

After years of playing live, in all different venues, at limits ranging from 1/2 all the way up to 20/40 limit, and 1/2 blinds up to 10/20 blinds NLHE, playing both cash games and tourneys, satellites and super sats, Glenn still has almost zero awareness.

He had an opportunity for a free $50 in an "aces cracked" promotion, yet never even showed his hand. He has been involved in situations where he would have won a bad beat jackpot, but didn't even know that the cardroom had one (like someone could miss the extra drop for the BBJ while sitting at the table for hours???). He regularly plunks down a decent amount of money for a satellite and never once asks the floorperson what the juice is, if there is a percentage taken for dealers and/or staff, how many players get a seat, if the winner(s) get lammers or cash, if certificates are resalable, if he is participating in a multi-table sat or STT, and many other questions that I would ask before seating myself at a satellite table.

He just doesn't know, and doesn't really care. At times I have exploded when finding him sitting at a satellite where about 50% was being taken from the prize pool. He looks around in wonder and horror, after confirming from the floor person that I am correct. He, along with the other nine idiots sitting at the table are shocked that they just gave away 50% of their money to the house, without bothering to find out what they are getting themselves into.

I usually call these people "action junkies," along with several other less flattering names.

They simply cannot help themselves. They MUST get into the action the moment they enter a cardroom or tournament arena.

They are the same people who amble up to a Craps table and simply plunk down money, never bothering to find out what odds they can take. They don't know, and probably don't care. They just want to give their money to the house, and as fast as humanly possible. Some are addicts, some are simply there for recreational purposes, and couldn't care less if they are playing the worst house game.

Now, out of these players emerge two groups. The total recreational player, and the good player.

The good player is someone I rarely make money off of. Glenn is one of these. He makes money, more money than me, playing smaller stakes, so he has no incentive to be more diligent about paying attention to a game or promotion. Some people are just good. The elite don't even have to read a poker book in order to win. They just "know" the right play in almost every circumstance. David Sklansky called these players "freaks of nature," and it is exasperating to those of us who struggle and have to use every resource available just to make a little scratch. We gape in wonder as they play in bad situations, under horrible circumstances, completely clueless, yet still win more than the average bear.

Those guys aren't the ones I'm addressing today. I hate them, they should all be killed in a very violent and painful way, and the world would be better. <----this is just a joke

The people I'm addressing today are people like myself. People who NEED to use every resource available in order to win. People who need to be ultra diligent and ultra aware, or they will be break-even at best, probably losers.

I once pulled a trick on Glenn. After playing for several hours, I put my hands over his eyes and asked him how many chips each of his opponents had in front of them. I asked him how they were dressed, whether they were male or female and other details. I asked him how much the rake was, if it was being taken correctly, if there was a BBJ drop, and if so, how much was it?

He could remember a few details. The fish in seat three who had rebought four times. He could usually remember IF there was a woman at the table, but not what seat she was in, or any other details. As far as chips go, he could remember nothing. Ditto on the rake and BBJ drop. Oddly enough, however, Glenn has an uncanny memory when it comes to particular hands. He can remember how a hand played out years later, and sometimes even remember the opponent's name or face. Usually they are situations where he took a "bad beat" (cough), but he does have an amazing ability to remember particulars about a big hand.

Now take me. I am anal about details to a fault. One time I was playing at a casino which still used quarters. I happened to glance down at my stack when not in a hand and noticed I WAS A QUARTER OFF. Yes, I really noticed ONE quarter missing. I later found it under the padded rail.

I know details about each of my opponents. I can close my eyes and tell you those details immediately. I know how much rake each cardroom takes before I take a seat. I know if they are taking it correctly, or if they are over raking the pot. I know if they have a bad beat jackpot, and if so, what the qualifier is. I know other promotions, too, and try to utilize them if it gives me an edge.

Probably the biggest compliment I've ever been given in poker is when someone told me I looked "just like Phil Ivey." Yes, it got a laugh from the table, but later he went on to explain the hyper awareness similarity, although I'd known all along what he was talking about.

Too bad I don't play like Phil, eh?

So, at the top, I stated that someone is probably either born with this type of awareness, or not. I'm not sure that it can be taught properly, and I wonder if some "natural" players will even be handicapped by trying to learn.

At the very least, however, you should be informed of some things that are costing you a lot of money. After all, if you are a winner at poker, why not win more (or save more, as the case may be)? By bringing a check list to the cardroom, you can ask a few simple questions before sitting down, and perhaps double your earnings. It won't intrude on your game at all, nor do you have to be hyper aware while actually playing. It is a win/win situation.

For those of us who ARE capable of being hyper aware, work on honing this edge you have at the tables. Make it a weapon, a blunt object with which to bludgeon your opponents, and get extra winnings into your bankroll.

As far as letting others know just how aware you are at the table, don't do it. Just sit and act like a fish. Don't go there. Don't tell others you know exactly how much money they have in front of them. Don't tell the dealer he or she is raking too much (go to the podium instead), don't give others any indication that you are there for any other reason than they are, to have a good time at the poker tables.

Your hyper awareness can be a valuable tool in poker. Use it to your advantage, and you might find a couple of extra pennies to rub together in an otherwise break even situation.

Felicia :)