Thursday, January 31, 2008

Mental Reset

On Tuesday my good friend Matt Lessinger who is also a pro poker player came by to look over my shoulder for a few hours. The previous Tuesday we did the same thing and although the main purpose of that first visit was to get Matt's opinion on the moves I was making in my $5/$10 games, he said that the time we spent helped him "stop being such a pussy" at the tables.

On both occasions we split all of the action 50/50 and while we only took minor damage the first time, this Tuesday we got smoked. We lost about $800 which is a boat load considering we only played about 750 hands of $5/$10. I'd lost before he came over and I lost more after he left too. It was a shitty day.

So I decided to take Wednesday off to clear my head, rethink things and come up with some short term goals. On February 9th Jen and I are headed to Napa to do some wine tasting and spend the night in a bed and breakfast. I decided that would be a good short time period for which to set goals so I've set a couple for the next 9 days. I have a 3 part plan: 1) play 25,000 hands of $5/$10 (I'm putting the $10/$20 and above games on hold), 2) workout 5 times, 3) win $1,000.

The 25,000 hands will be a little challenging, but not grueling. As far as the workouts go, I'm hoping that the exercise will help me sleep better and keep my mind sharp. Plus after some MAJOR holiday binging which started at Thanksgiving and has stretched through the end of January I've put on a few pounds of pure fat. I figured the $1,000 would be the most difficult part, but I had a fabulous day today winning about $975. This was great timing for a strong win and I'm going to try hard to remind myself that breaking even over the next 8 days is a victory and not a minor defeat.

I'll keep you posted on how I'm doing as far as hitting my post mental reset goals.

Monday, January 28, 2008

That's a Lotta Rake

In cash games the fees that the house takes are often referred to as rake or drop (because in person the dealers literally "rake" the chips out of the pot with their grubby little hands and "drop" them in a little slot in the table where they disappear into a strongbox). Unlike in tournaments where the fees are paid ahead of time, in cash games the house either takes a set amount per hand or a percentage of the pot up to a given maximum.

In the case of pokerstars in the games that I'm playing they take 5% of the pot up to a maximum of $3 and they round off (down) to the nearest dollar. Compared to the Oaks Club where for games of a similar size they take $3 out of every pot (or evil, evil Bay 101 where they take $4), this is a great deal. Also with no dealer to tip and no bad beat jackpot to fund, online poker wins in a landslide as far as value goes.

The problem that I'm having (I think) is that the rake still adds up at an insane rate. To date this year I've earned 60,273 points. That means at a BEAR MINIMUM pokerstars has taken $60,273 from games that I've played in. That would mean that if the tables were always full (6 handed) and they never took $3 from a pot (you get 2 points when they take $2, but no extra when they take $3) my share of that rake would be $10,045.50. Of course when you take into account that I've played thousands of hands where they've taken $3 and thousands of hands where we were playing 2, 3, 4 or 5 handed the amount that they've actually taken and the amount that I've actually contributed to the amount taken is much more.

To earn 60,273 points playing tournaments I would have had to pay $12,054 in fees so I'm guessing that's at least hoe much I've personally paid in rake. Of course they have given me back $3,167 in FPP's (it doesn't seem so generous any more does it!).

So what does this all mean? Well it's by far the biggest reason that I'm having some much trouble breaking even let alone winning in these games. I've lost about $2,500 playing meaning that if there was no rake I'd be ahead $9,500!

Of course it's not reasonable to pay no rake and if there are no games with no rake then who cares how much better I'm doing than the average player (who is getting killed by the way)? Well the epiphiney that I had today was that the rake is the same for the $10/$20 games as it is for the $5/$10 games. This means that if I can match up equally well or even a little worse against the $10/$20 players as I can against the $5/$10 players then the rake will have much less impact.

For example if I'd played the exact same hands with the exact same results (meaning that somehow the same players made the same decisions with the same cards - it's just for the sake of argument, relax people!) at $10/$20 I would have won $19,000 if there were no rake instead of $9,500. I happen to know (don't ask how, it's complicated) that the actual rake taken at $10/$20 is about 1.25 times as much as at the $5/$10 games even though the stakes are twice as high. So instead of paying $12,054 in rake I would have paid $15,067. Those of you who are good at subtraction would be able to tell me that $19,000 minus $15,067 is $3,933 which is a great deal better than -$2,500!

Those of you who are really astute have probably also figured out that if I paid $15,067 in rake I'd make quite a few more points (in the same number of hands) as well. More money and more points! Jackpot! Right!? This looks perfect!

Uh oh...I sense a but coming!

BUT (it's a very big but so I put it in caps) the players are better at $10/$20. I think. At the very least they should be. The real question is how much better are they and what are my chances against them. Now that I've actually sat here and worked through the numbers it seems stupid not to give it a try.

On a related note I felt like taking some bigish risks today so I jumped into three 6-handed $15/$30 games. That sounds like something a professional poker player should be doing instead of playing for these stupid tables scraps! I played about 300 hands in about 45 minutes and ended up winning about $225. At one point I was down about $700 and I have to admit that those games might be a little too tough for me. At the very least they'll take some tactical adjustments since they are SUPER aggressive.

For now my plan is to play a mix of $5/$10 and $10/$20 games and track my results in each. I'll keep you posted on the results.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

A little over 5% of the way there

I've been struggling with both the quality of my play and my hours in the past week or two. 24 days into the year I've earned 51,500 of the 1,000,000 points I'll need by year's end. I'm certainly behind pace, but not dramatically so. I expect to end the month with between 70,000 and 75,000 points (83,000 would be on pace).

The bigger problem is I'm having a hard time breaking even. It's taken me about 48,000 hands to earn the points I have so far and I've lost about $2,000 in the process. Of course I have cleared two $1,500 FPP blocks so I've actually made $1,000. Not enough to pay the bills by a long stretch, but better than zero.

The good news is $2,000 over 48,000 hands amounts to about -4.2 cents per hand. It's not going to take a drastic improvement to make up that difference. It amounts to winning one more average sized pot every 1,000 hands or saving one bet (or making one extra bet) about every 250 hands.

I've been trying to do some serious critical thinking about the plays that I've been making and I feel like I'm making strides in the right direction. What's driving me crazy is I've had 4 or 5 instances where I've spent all day playing solid and having small fluctuations and then all of a sudden I drop six or seven hundred bucks in a span of 10-15 minutes. Not only is that money gone, but (not surprisingly) it's hard to get back into the frame of mind that every $5 and $10 bet is critical and precious.

Hopefully I'll get the ship righted soon. If I can have a few $500 days in a row or one $1,000-$1,500 day I'll feel just fine about how I'm doing so far. I'll try to post at least one more time before the end of the month.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Why Not Just Quit Up $600?

In response to my last post where I mentioned that I was ahead $600 after a few minutes "Jennifer" who could be one of about 17,000 Jennifers that I know commented "Here is a question for you: if you start out the day and find yourself up $600, why not quit for the day?"

The short answer is I need to play almost 1,000,000 hands this year in order to get the insanely lucrative bonuses that I want for playing a given amount in a calendar year. Another part of it is while I'd gladly take $600 a day if I could do it every day, I find myself losing well over $1,000 (and on occasion $2,000 or more) a few times a month and I need to have some big wins to balance those out. If I quit every time I was ahead $600 for the day I'd never have any big wins, end up working about 500 hours a year and probably only make 1/4 of the money that I do.

I actually wrote an article for cardschat.com about this very topic since it's something that almost all poker players struggle with when they start out. Here's what I wrote (it's a little more geared towards in person play than online, but almost everything applies to both):

When to Stay and When to Leave

I clearly remember the first time I played poker in a casino. I was 20 years old and I was heading to an Indian casino to play $3/$6 limit hold ‘em when my regular game was a 20 cent/ 40 cent game with my buddies. I made the trip with my first poker mentor who was my friend’s boss. His normal game was $15/$30 or $30/$60 and as we walked in the door he asked me “Are you going to play until you win or lose a certain amount or are you going to play for a given amount of time.” I was so terrified and excited by the anticipation of playing in such a “big game” that I really didn’t have any clue what to say. But after a minute I replied “If I get to the point where I’m ahead $100 I think I’ll get up.” To my credit $100 would have increased my bankroll by 50%, but I was still making a mistake that many players make. You want to play hours not results.

We’ve all been guilty of using the “hit and run” or “stop win” strategy. After jumping into a game and picking up a few quick pots, it can be tempting to lock up that profit and go do something else, but there are a few reasons why you should keep playing. The first and most important reason is it’s much easier to play your best when you’re winning. Generally, you’ll be more patient, more confident and probably be having more fun. No one is 100% tilt proof and most of us have some significant trouble keeping out emotions in check. It’s much, much easier to stay on track when you’re ahead as opposed to behind.

Furthermore winning is a sign that you’re in a game you can beat. Of course if you’ve just sat down and made two full houses and a flush in the first five hands then who knows. But if you’ve been playing for two or three hours and have significantly more than you started with then it’s more likely that you’re in a good game than a tough game.

On the other hand, if you’re losing, it’s easy to convince yourself that making plays that you know deep down are losing plays aren’t so bad. When you’re losing it’s harder to stay patient, losing is never fun, and you might be in a game that you have little chance of beating.

The same players who tend to hit and run don’t like to call it quits when they’re losing. We’ve all thought to ourselves “If I could just get even I’d leave this game in a second,” but you don’t want to play for hours and hours longer than you’d planned in a quest to get even for that one session.

The best thing to do is decide about how long you want to play and play for about that long. You don’t need to say “I’m going to play for exactly 8 hours today” and quit the second those 8 hours are up., but if that’s your plan you shouldn’t leave after 4 hours and shouldn’t stay for 12.

Of course, there are a few exceptions. The first one is while you don’t want to set a limit on your wins, setting a limit on your losses can be a good idea. My personal threshold when I’m playing limit hold’em is 50 big bets. While it’s very rare that I find myself down that much, when it happens I know that I won’t be in a state of mind to play my best and I’m better off calling it a day. If you’re more tilt prone, 35 big bets might be a better guideline. The key is you don’t want to bury yourself so much in one session that it takes you several great winning sessions to dig yourself out.

Another exception is when you’ve been on an extended losing streak. No matter how skilled, every player runs into some significant losing streaks and sometimes it feels like you can’t win no matter what you do. If you’ve been getting killed for a string of sessions in a row, sometimes it can help your state of mind to book a win.

You might also push the limits of how long you’re willing to stay if you are in a fantastic game. If you’re just about to leave and all of a sudden one of the worst players in town sits down with two of his equally skilled friends, they all order a shot of tequila and tell you about how they just hit it big betting on a horse race then it’s time to call home and say you won’t be home for a while. On the other hand if you feel irritable, you have something on your mind or like you just can’t play you’re best for whatever reason, then leaving early should be something to consider.

While there are a few exceptions, you’re best bet is playing hours not results. It would be great if we could only play when we’re ahead, but playing while you’re behind is part of the game. Don’t sell yourself short and leave a good situation too early and don’t bury yourself with such a big loss that it takes you weeks to recover.

What happened to me in my first trip to play $3/$6? It turned out the decision on when to leave was easy. When I ran out of chips and opened my wallet only to discover there wasn’t any money left, they wouldn’t let me play anymore.


Friday, January 11, 2008

Stable Success

I've had two more days very much like the last day I wrote about. Yesterday I won about $350 on a day where I was winning all day but never ahead more than $600. In fact I was ahead $600 about 10 minutes into my day after an insane flood of monster hands which made the whole day pretty pleasant.

Today I started off a little rough, but after a few hours I found myself even again and when I decided to call it a day I was up close to $500. These last three days have been exactly the kind of days that I need to make this year long quest a major stress free success.

In other good news I cleared my first $1,500 FPP bonus of the year today (as a supernova I can sell 100,000 FPP's for $1,500). So after a topsy turvy start I'm right where I wanted to be 11 days into the year. I've decided to cash out $1,500 every Saturday as if I was getting a regular pay check. I'm hoping that at some point I'll have enough in my account where I can give myself a raise, but we'll all be happy and in good shape if I can make it through the year with 52 $1,500 cashouts.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Small Bounce Back

I made a minor recovery today winning about $350. Much more valuable than the dollars won was the win itself. If I'd had another significant loss today I'm sure my morale would have suffered dramatically. If fact, despite all the volatility I've been experiencing in general today was a shockingly stable day. At my lowest point I was losing less than $200 and at my best I was winning about $500. That's sort of how I expected things to go at these limits, not plus $1,400 one day minus $1,600 the next.

Also I made a royal flush today. I think it's about the 10th one of my life and unlike most of the others I got good action since I didn't get there until the river. I'm up to 22,100 points and expect to be up to 30,000 by Saturday.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

So Far So Blah!

Well, I'm 8 days into my quest to become supernova elite and so far I've had mixed results. After taking the first off I started off my work year with two moderate winning days and then gave back all of my winnings on the third day. I wasn't too upset because I'm still getting the feel for these 6 handed games and after all, if I can just break even I'll have a pretty good year.

Then on Saturday I kicked some major ass winning a little over $1,400! BANG! I'm going to be rich bitches! I think actual dollar signs appeared in my eyes when I thought about the kind of money I'd make this year if I could break even for the most part and then drop a 4 digit win on the pile every now and then.

I took Sunday off and reveled in the glory of my well earned grand and a half. Unfortunately Monday was a slap in the face. I got rocked all day and ended up dropping $1,600. Today wasn't much better and at one point I was down about $1,400, but I staged a late inning comeback and only ended up losing about half that much. With the amount of money involved, these games shouldn't be so volatile!

Working harder than I'm used to hasn't been so bad. As you might expect, when I'm winning it's fine if not fun, but when I'm losing and it's dark outside and I can hear Peyton giggling in the other room it's really tough to keep playing.

So far I've earned 18,430 of the 1,000,000 points I need by the end of the year. If you extrapolate that our for the year, I'm behind pace. But my plan it to take it month to month and I'm not worried about hitting the 83,000 points I'll need this month to be on pace.

Hopefully next week will be a little more productive on the point side and much more productive on the dollar side.